UK: May suffers defeat over vote on no-deal Brexit

             By Muhammad Mussa </p>  <p>LONDON (AA) - British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday suffered a humiliating defeat in the House of Commons after both ruling Conservative and main opposition Labour MPs voted to strengthen parliament’s hand in heading off a no-deal Brexit.</p>  <p>The cross-party group of MPs voted 303-296 in favor of an amendment to a bill submitted by Labour MP Yvette Cooper to curb government powers in bypassing parliament should Britain crash out of the EU without a deal. </p>  <p>The government’s defeat could boost MPs looking to use parliament to head off a no-deal Brexit or even push for a second referendum on the deal at hand. </p>  <p>“The majority tonight that is expressed in this house will sustain itself. We will not allow a no-deal exit to occur at the end of March,” said Sir Oliver Letwin, a Tory MP who defied his party’s whip to vote with Labour on the amendment.</p>  <p>Twenty Tory MPs defied the government whip to support Cooper’s amendment, including former Cabinet Minister Nicky Morgan, Sarah Wollaston, Nick Boles, and Sir Nicholas Soames. </p>  <p>The amendment, as it stands, will have little effect on no-deal preparations. However, it could galvanize support for future amendments on similar bills and prove that there is a parliamentary majority against a no-deal Brexit. </p>  <p>“I’m worried we could come to the crunch and parliament will not have the powers to stop [no deal] happening” Cooper said in the aftermath of the vote, adding: “I think we have a responsibility not to just stand by.” </p>  <p>Applauding the victory on the Commons floor was Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition, who said that the vote was an important step in preventing a no-deal Brexit and that it shows there is no majority for it in parliament, the Cabinet, or the country. </p>  <p>May postponed the vote on the Brexit deal last month after admitting that her government would have faced a humiliating defeat. </p>  <p>The vote is set for Jan. 15, and May is still expected to lose after the DUP, which props up her government, have reiterated they will still vote against her deal over opposition to the Irish backstop arrangement. </p>  <p>May has also failed in renegotiating her deal with the EU, with officials in Brussels saying the deal on the table is non-negotiable. 

Nigeria inks deal with labor over minimum wage

             By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria’s government on Tuesday struck a deal with the country's labor union to send a bill to parliament recommending a 30,000 naira ($98) minimum wage, a key demand workers said must be met to stave off pending strike and protests.

Labor Minister Chris Ngige said the government agreed to send the bill by Jan. 23, when parliament reconvenes from the holiday break.

“The government will religiously implement all the processes that will enable us to transmit this bill within the stipulated time,” Ngige told reporters in the capital Abuja after a meeting with labor leaders.

“We will take all statutory meetings of the Federal Executive Council, National Economic Council, and the National Council of State meetings to enable us transmit the bill on the new national minimum wage.”

The seeming breakthrough came on the day labor and its civil society allies held nationwide protests to demand immediate transmission of the minimum wage bill to parliament. Labor leaders had said that the protests would be followed by a strike which could cripple the economy.

UK MPs request to visit detained female Saudi activists

            By Muhammad Mussa <br>

LONDON (AA) – A cross-party panel of British parliament members and lawyers has written an open letter to the Saudi Arabian ambassador in London asking permission to visit female activists detained in the Kingdom.

In the letter to Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz on Wednesday, they expressed their concern for the imprisoned activists and requested permission to check on their wellbeing.

The group includes Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who chairs the panel, Labour MP Dr. Paul Williams, who worked with refugees, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, the first MP of Palestinian heritage, Dr. Tim Moloney QC, a leading British lawyer, and Tayab Ali, a senior partner at ITN Solicitors representing a detained Saudi activist.

“You will be aware that there have been some serious allegations made about the treatment of Women Activist Detainees in Saudi Arabia,” Blunt said in the letter.

“I have been asked by ITN solicitors, on behalf of a Saudi Arabian citizen (the Client), to convene together an independent panel of UK parliamentarians to review the conditions of these Women Activist Detainees (the Detainees) currently in detention in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“I am therefore writing to you as Chair of the Detention Review Panel for Detained Women Activists who have been detained and/or imprisoned by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. We would like your assistance in arranging a visit to Saudi Arabia to visit and speak with these Detainees.”

The letter also said the panel will conduct an independent review of the conditions of the detained women activists and will inquire into the conditions in which they are living and how they are being treated. Once the review has been conducted, its findings will be released in a report.

Among the detainees the panel hopes to visit are those named in Human Rights Watch’s November 2018 report, including Loujain al‐Hathloul, Aziza al‐Yousef, Eman al‐Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al‐Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al‐Saada and Hatoon al‐Fassi, all of whom are women’s rights activists.

The panel highlighted their concern over allegations made about the treatment of the activists and that such allegations that have been documented by human rights organizations “appear to be credible, but we acknowledge that the Saudi Arabian government says that the allegations are unfounded”.

They include torture with electric shocks, being tied down to a bed and whipping with a rope, sexual harassment, threats of rape and assault, threats of the death penalty or life imprisonment for “treason” and denial of access to family members or independent lawyers.

“The allegations made and recorded by these human rights advocates are extremely damaging to the credibility of the progressive reforms announced recently by the Saudi Arabian government,” said the letter.

“We hope that following our review, we will be able to assist Saudi Arabia in regaining confidence from the international community that its commitment to progressive reform and the protection of the rights of peaceful pro‐reform activists is both credible and sincere.”

At least 5 detained in Yellow Vest clash in Netherlands

             <p>By Abdullah Asiran

HAGUE, Netherlands (AA) – At least five people were detained in Yellow Vest protests in the Netherlands on Saturday.

Responding to calls on social media, around 200 protesters gathered in front of the country's parliament and marched to the city center, and clashed with security forces.

Police detained five people for making insults, setting off fireworks, or ignoring official warnings.

Pauline Krikke, the mayor of The Hague, said the protests were being called off due to security concerns.

Another group of activists dubbed Red Vests announced an anti-government protest in the central city of Utrecht on Jan. 13.

Earlier, in a social media post, the group said they would protest in Utrecht for a stronger welfare state, adding that they were different from Yellow Vest protesters.

The Yellow Vest protests first started in France on Nov. 17 as a reaction to fuel tax hikes but quickly took on larger themes and also spilled over to other European countries.

Israeli Knesset votes to disband ahead of early polls

            By Ali Semerci </p>  <p>JERUSALEM (AA) – Israel’s parliament voted late Wednesday to dissolve itself ahead of early elections on April 9. </p>  <p>According to local daily Yedioth Ahronoth, 102 votes were cast in the Knesset in favor of the dissolution bill against two dissenting ballots. </p>  <p>On Monday, the partners of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party decided to call for snap polls in April. </p>  <p>The decision came after the United Torah Judaism party vowed to withdraw from the coalition if the Knesset voted in favor of a compulsory military service bill targeting ultra-Orthodox men. </p>  <p>Army service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens -- three years for men and two years for women -- with the exception of members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. </p>  <p>Ultra-Orthodox Jews account for roughly 10 percent of Israel's population. They tend to live in closed communities and adhere to strict interpretations of Jewish religious law. 

Hamas rejects court move dissolving legislative council

            <p>By Mahmoud Haboush </p>  <p><br></p>  <p>GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Hamas on Wednesday rejected a Constitutional Court ruling dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council (Palestine’s parliament), insisting that the assembly would “remain intact until a new one is elected”.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>The 132-member PLC largely ceased to function following a 2007 split between Hamas and Fatah (Palestine’s two leading political factions) after the former swept legislative elections one year earlier.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>At a meeting held at the PLC’s Gaza City headquarters, leading Hamas member Ahmed Bahr described the court ruling to dissolve the council as “an attempt to delegitimize the majority [i.e., Hamas] and hijack Palestinian decision-making”.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>&quot;The Constitutional Court has no legitimacy,&quot; Bahr asserted, going on to call for presidential and legislative elections, along with polls for the Palestinian National Council (a PLO-affiliated legislative body responsible for formulating PLO policy).</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>He also accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of seeking to “maintain control over all institutions”.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>“He doesn’t want anyone to challenge what he does,” Bahr said of Abbas.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>On Saturday, Abbas pledged to implement the court decision dissolving the legislative council and called for fresh parliamentary polls within six months. </p>  <p><br></p>  <p>In a statement released the following day, Hamas accused Abbas of “trying to advance his agenda by wrecking the Palestinian political system, ending political pluralism, and destroying legitimate state institutions”. </p>  <p><br></p>  <p>The group went on to urge all Palestinian political forces -- and Egypt -- to oppose what it described as attempts by Abbas “to undermine all efforts aimed at achieving inter-Palestinian unity”. </p>  <p><br></p>  <p>Hamas and Fatah (of which Abbas has long served as chairman) have remained bitter rivals since 2007, when the former wrested the Gaza Strip from the latter after days of street fighting.</p> 

Palestinian security forces hold parliament speaker

RAMALLAH, Palestine (AA) – Palestinian security forces on Wednesday prevented the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (parliament), Aziz Dwaik, from going to the West Bank city of Ramallah, amid tension over a recent court ruling dissolving the assembly.

“I was briefly held by security forces near the city of Bethlehem, which banned me from heading to Ramallah,” Dwaik told Anadolu Agency.

Dwaik was scheduled to hold a press conference outside the parliament headquarters in Ramallah to comment on a recent decision by the Palestinian Constitutional Court to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections within six months.

“I received a telephone call from a person who identified himself as an officer in the Palestinian intelligence service, who asked me to go to the headquarters of the General Intelligence in Hebron city,” he said.

Dwaik said he refused the order and decided to hold the press conference.

There was no comment from Palestinian authorities on the claim.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to implement the court ruling dissolving the Hamas-held parliament and holding new parliamentary elections within six months.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has denounced the decision, warning that Abbas' measures undermine all efforts aimed at healing Palestinian rift.

Palestinian factions slam verdict dissolving parliament

By Nour Abu Aisha

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Palestinian factions have decried a Constitutional Court ruling dissolving the Hamas-led parliament.

On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to implement the court ruling dissolving the parliament and holding new parliamentary elections within six months.

In a statement on Sunday, Islamic Jihad group described the verdict as “catastrophic”.

Group spokesman Mosab al-Berem underlined the necessity "not to mix legal matters with political ones".

“National unity should be achieved on the basis of partnership and internal harmony to stand against the [Israeli] occupation,” he said.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine described the motion as a "political decision that would add new obstacles to efforts for the Palestinian reconciliation".

This would bring the "division to a new level that could complicate the domestic affairs even more, and drag the Palestinian arena into a struggle over legitimacy."

The group called on the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority not to apply the court decision and focus instead on the implementation of the reconciliation deals”.

The Palestinian National Initiative also warned that the verdict “would drag the Palestinians into the trap of the Oslo accords (signed with Israel in 1993) of the self-rule which the Palestinian people and its leadership have overridden successfully”.

The decision is "a flagrant violation of Article 47 of the Palestinian Basic Law which states that the Legislative Council's term is only terminated when members of the newly elected assembly are sworn in."

Also, the Popular Resistance Committees rejected the verdict, saying in a statement that such a move would "deepen the Palestinian division."

Hamas has earlier decried the court decision, saying the verdict has “no constitutional or legal value”.

In 2006, Hamas won the majority of votes in the parliamentary polls, however; the legislative process was disrupted after the Palestinian rift in 2007, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip.

Since then, a rift has prevailed between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah group despite mediation efforts for rapprochement.

Although the Palestinian Basic Law calls for holding parliamentary elections every four years, no vote was held since 2006.

Hamas slams court ruling dissolving parliament

By Mohamed Majed

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Palestinian group Hamas has decried a Constitutional Court ruling dissolving parliament, saying the verdict has “no constitutional or legal value”.

The court "was established by [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas to pass and protect his arbitrary decisions of dissolving the legislative council," Hamas said in a statement on Sunday.

The Gaza-based group described the court ruling as “political” and “will not change the reality a bit”.

"The formation of the constitutional court is invalid and so are its decisions," it said.

On Saturday, Abbas pledged to implement the court ruling dissolving the Hamas-held parliament and holding new parliamentary elections within six months.

Hamas said Abbas “is carrying out a desperate attempt to pass his policies by liquidating and destroying the Palestinian political system, ending political pluralism and destroying the legitimate institutions."

The group called on all Palestinian forces and Egypt to stand against "Abbas' procedures that undermine all efforts to protect the unity of the Palestinian people."

Since 2007, a rift has prevailed between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah group despite mediation efforts for rapprochement.