UK sets out new proposals on Brexit citizens rights

Illustrative Photo AFP/VNA
Viet Nam News

LONDON Britain set out new proposals on Wednesday for the rights of EU citizens who settle there during a post-Brexit transition period, seeking to bridge the divide with Brussels over the issue.

Europeans will maintain the right to move to Britain to live, study and work after withdrawal from the European Union in March 2019 until the end of the transition, which the bloc has said should last around 21 months.

Like those who arrive before Brexit, these EU citizens and their relatives will be able to apply for the right to stay indefinitely after five years of continuous residence, and stay for as long as they need to accrue this.

However, they will have to register with the authorities if they stay more than three months -- unlike those who are already in the country.

And relatives who want to join them after the transition will have no special status, instead being subject to normal British immigration rules, including a minimum income requirement.

The EU and Britain agreed a deal in December on the rights of around three million EU citizens living in Britain and their relatives.

But Prime Minister Theresa May rejected the EU’s request for these rights to be extended to those arriving during the transition period.

London is hoping that an agreement can be reached by March on the transition, but EU negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that differences on citizens’ rights could delay it. AFP

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Turkey formally requests extradition of Syrian Kurd leader

ANKARA — Turkey on Monday said it had formally asked for the extradition of one of the most prominent leaders of the Syrian Kurds, who was detained by Czech police at the weekend at Ankara’s request.

Saleh Muslim, a key figure of the Syrian Kurdish movement, was detained on Saturday night at an upmarket Prague hotel, Czech and Turkish officials said.

"The justice ministry has completed its preparations (for extradition) and this file has been sent to the Czech judicial authorities as of yesterday," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.

Muslim was a former co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the political wing of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

"Our request is for the extradition for Saleh Muslim – the manager of a terror organisation, a ringleader and who is still involved in terror actions against Turkey – as required by the law that binds us both," Bozdag told NTV broadcaster in an interview.

Bozdag, also government spokesman, has previously noted that both Turkey and the Czech Republic were parties to the European Convention on Extradition.

In Prague, a spokeswoman for the municipal court said it would rule on Tuesday whether to remand Muslim in custody.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Tereza Schejbalova said the Czech authorities had yet to receive the formal extradition request and it could take several more days.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul that Turkish authorities were taking steps to avoid "an adverse outcome" to the extradition request.

However Czech foreign minister Martin Stropnicky denied there was any link between the arrest of Muslim and the jailing in Turkey of two Czech nationals on charges of fighting for the YPG in Syria.

Miroslav Farkas and Marketa Vselichova were sentenced last year to six years and three months behind bars. Some Turkish media had speculated over the possibility they could be released in exchange for the extradition of Muslim.

Turkey last month launched an air and ground offensive supporting Syrian rebels against the US-backed YPG in its western enclave of Afrin.

Ankara says the YPG and PYD are "terrorist" extensions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

The PKK is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies but the US has been working closely with the YPG against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria.

Muslim is wanted by Ankara over a February 2016 attack in Ankara that killed 29 people and the Turkish authorities blamed on Kurdish militants.

He has been charged and faces 30 life sentences if found guilty but he has dismissed the accusations against him.

If he is extradited, he would be one of the most senior Kurdish officials to be in Turkish custody since the detention of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.  — AFP

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Strikes shut down Guinean capital

Viet Nam News

CONAKRY  One man died and several were injured on Monday when thousands of young people erected barricades and blocked traffic in the Guinean capital Conakry as mass strikes gripped the city.

A general strike was called by the Guinea General Union of Workers (UGTG) in addition to an ongoing walkout by teachers and a complete shutdown of economic activity demanded by the opposition after disputed local elections.

Conakry’s biggest market, Madina, failed to open its doors along with the vast majority of businesses, as youths overturned bins and set tyres on fire, cutting off entire sections of the city to vehicles.

Hospital sources said 32-year-old Boubacar Sidy Diallo was shot dead while two of a number of people wounded were in intensive care.

Former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of the main opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) accused police of "entering areas ... assaulting citizens and unfortunately killing a young student."

Police also made 15 arrests in the Kaloum district, where civil society groups were protesting against the two-week closure of schools.

An on-off teachers’ strike that has paralysed the education system shows no signs of stopping despite a government offer at the weekend to increase pay.

The victory of President Alpha Conde’s ruling Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) in the February 4 vote was marred by post-electoral violence involving supporters of the losing parties.

The UFDG has condemned what it terms "massive fraud" during voting, leading to unrest and the deaths of at least 10 people.

Diallo demanded to know the "real" results of the elections.

He said the strikes had shut down the capital Monday. "No market opened. No shop, No taxis ran. Everybody followed the strike."

"It’s only the start. The opposition will not retreat until our rights are restored," he added.

Teachers ignore pay increase

The powerful UGTG union had joined the teachers and opposition figures by calling for workers to stay at home on Monday.

It has cited mismanagement of the national social security system, poor regulation of subcontracted jobs and a perceived indifference to workplace accidents and arbitrary firings for the strike.

The UGTG called on public and private sector employees alike to continue to boycott their workplaces.

The triple challenge will add to the pressure on Conde to complete promised reforms and speed up negotiations with all parties concerned.

The government urged teachers who have held various walkouts since December to head back to class Monday and end their most recent strike, a demand they have flatly refused despite the offer of a 10 per cent pay increase over the weekend.

Guinea’s education ministry said "all measures have been taken to make schools secure so that classes can take place in the best possible conditions," following protests near some establishments by disgruntled students.

Classes will be repeated and examinations potentially delayed to address the days lost by the strike, the ministry said.

Teachers have requested that a pay rise of 40 percent agreed in October 2017 be implemented, with back pay.

"For as long as the 40 per cent (increase) with back pay is unpaid... we will not be going back to school," the teachers’ unions said Saturday.   AFP

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Saudi king replaces top commanders in military shake-up

Viet Nam News

RIYADH  — Saudi King Salman on Monday replaced top military commanders including the chief of staff, state media said, in a major shake-up of the kingdom’s defence establishment.

The monarch replaced the heads of the ground forces and air defences, as well as civilian officials including several deputy ministers, in a series of late-night royal decrees.

No official reason was given for the sweeping overhaul, but it comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues military reform and a bloody campaign against Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels nears the end of its third year.

"Termination of the services of General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, Chief of Staff," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced, adding that Fayyad al-Ruwaili had been appointed as his replacement.

Al-Bunyan was retired after he inaugurated an arms exhibition this week in Riyadh by the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the state-owned defence company, which has drawn several global defence firms.

"A military transformation is underway in Saudi Arabia," Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at the consultancy Gulf States Analytics, said.

"The changes come on the heels of the SAMI exhibition, which is a critical part of the Prince Mohammed’s reform plan to create an indigenous defence programme," he added,

Crown Prince Mohammed, the son of the monarch and heir to the throne, is the country’s defence minister and has been consolidating his grip on power in recent months while pushing major economic and social reforms.

The young prince has pursued an assertive regional policy, including leading a military intervention in neighbouring Yemen since 2015 that is seen as a proxy war with arch-rival Iran.

The Yemen conflict has led to what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

More than 9,200 people have been killed in the conflict and another nearly 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera, according to the World Health Organisation.

King Salman also decreed a series of civilian appointments that saw younger officials being elevated to key positions as deputy ministers, deputy provincial governors and royal court advisors.

Tamadar bint Yousef al-Ramah was appointed the deputy minister of labour and social development, a rare senior government post for a woman in the conservative kingdom.

Prince Turki bin Talal, the brother of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, was appointed deputy governor of the southern Assir Province.

Prince Al-Waleed, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was among princes, ministers and tycoons detained in Riyadh’s luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in an unprecedented crackdown on what the government calls elite corruption.

The Ritz-Carlton reopened for business on February 11, more than three months after becoming a gilded prison for Saudi elites.  — AFP

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Parliamentary committee passes bill on reduced working hours

SEOUL  — A South Korean parliamentary committee on Tuesday passed a bill aimed at shortening legal working hours despite businesses’ concerns over its possible impact on corporate productivity.

The revision bill calls for reducing the country’s maximum statutory working hours to 52 hours a week from the current 68 hours.

The working hours under the revision comprise 40 hours a week and 12 hours available for extended work. Currently, a worker is to labor for 40 hours a week, up to 16 hours over the weekend and 12 hours for extended work.

The National Assembly’s environment and labour committee endorsed the bill after marathon negotiations that stretched into the wee hours of the morning.

The envisioned cut in working hours is one of President Moon Jae-in’s key election pledges to enhance the quality of life for laborers and help create jobs.

To cushion the possible impact from the reduction, the revision will be applied in stages.

It will be applied to companies with 300 or more workers on July 1, while firms with 50 to 299 workers and those with five to 49 will be subject to the new rule starting January 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, respectively.

Under the revision, working hours for workers between the ages of 15 and 18 will be reduced to 40 hours a week from the current 46 hours.

The parliamentary committee also agreed to curtail the number of business types exempt from the working hour limits from the current 26 to five that involve transportation services and health care.  — YONHAP

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Russia vetoes Western bid at UN to pressure Iran over Yemen

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Russia vetoed on Monday a UN draft resolution presented by Britain and strongly backed by the United States that would have pressured Iran over its failure to block supplies of missiles to Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

Britain had sought to include in the measure renewing sanctions on Yemen an expression of "particular concern" from the Security Council over a UN report that found Iran had violated the 2015 arms embargo on Yemen.

The report by a UN panel of experts in January concluded that Iran was in violation after determining that missiles fired by the Huthis at Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran.

The text, which was backed by France, other European countries and Kuwait, won 11 favorable votes at the 15-member Security Council but was blocked by Russia’s veto.

China and Kazakhstan abstained, while Bolivia also voted against the measure.

Nine votes and no vetoes from the five permanent council members – Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States – are required to adopt resolutions at the Security Council.

After hours of negotiations in a bid to reach a compromise, Russia made clear it had strong reservations about the findings of the UN report and would not support a draft resolution that mentioned them.

"We cannot concur with uncorroborated conclusions and evidence which requires verification and discussions within the sanctions committee," Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.

While the report found that Tehran had violated the embargo by failing to block the shipments, the experts said they were unable to identify the supplier.

Nebenzia warned that taking aim at Iran could have had "dangerous destabilising ramifications" in the Middle East by exacerbating tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.

After the veto, the council unanimously adopted a Russian-drafted measure that extended for one year the sanctions regime against Yemen, but that text made no mention of Iran.

US accuses Russia

Iran has repeatedly denied arming the Huthis in Yemen, despite claims by the United States and Saudi Arabia that the evidence of an arms connection is irrefutable.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley released a statement accusing Russia of shielding Iran and warned the United States would consider other ways to take action against Tehran.

"Today, Russia protected the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Iran," said Haley, who was traveling to Honduras.

"If Russia is going to use its veto to block action against Iran’s dangerous and destabilising conduct, then the United States and our partners will need to take actions against Iran that the Russians cannot block."

Haley has taken a hawkish stance on Iran, accusing Tehran of sowing instability in the Middle East and failing to live up to its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

Russia, which has traditionally friendly relations with Iran, is providing military support along with Tehran to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations charged that the United States and Britain had pushed an "unwarranted draft resolution" to advance an anti-Iran political agenda.

Iran "categorically rejects allegations regarding arms transfer to Yemen," said a statement from the mission that described the draft resolution as an attempt to "distract" the world’s attention from the "catastrophic humanitarian situation" in Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government has been fighting the Huthis since 2015 in a war that has led to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

An alarming 17 million people in Yemen – 60 per cent of the total population – are in need of food aid, of whom seven million are on the brink of famine because of the conflict, according to the United Nations.  — AFP

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Conservative rural politician is Australia’s new deputy PM

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SYDNEY A conservative rural politician who once expressed strong anti-gay views was today chosen to replace scandal-plagued Barnaby Joyce as Australia’s deputy prime minister after he resigned over an affair with his now-pregnant aide.

Michael McCormack, 53, was chosen by the Nationals -- the junior partner in the governing Liberal-National coalition -- to take over as leader and deputy PM in a party-room vote.

"We are the party for small business and farmers and we want to make sure that continues and that can only continue with a close relationship with the Liberals," McCormack told reporters in Canberra after winning the vote.

"Look forward to having a good discussion with (Prime Minister and Liberals leader) Malcolm Turnbull in a few moments," he added.

McCormack, who had been serving as veterans’ affairs minister, was widely expected to win the leadership role after other Nationals MPs withdrew from the race.

Maverick Queensland MP George Christensen launched a late bid for the leadership, but was defeated. The vote count was not released.

McCormack is not as well-known as Joyce, who made international headlines for threatening to euthanise Hollywood star Johnny Depp’s dogs over a quarantine violation.

But he is seen as a safe pair of hands as the Liberal and National parties seek to repair their relationship after the Joyce scandal.

Tensions between the two parties rose after 50-year-old Joyce’s affair with ex-staffer Vikki Campion, 33, was splashed across the frontpage of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in early February.

Revelations about the affair and allegations that Joyce breached ministerial rules made daily headlines, prompting Turnbull to harshly criticize his deputy’s behaviour and impose a formal ban on sex between ministers and their staff.

Joyce in turn slammed Turnbull’s comments as "inept" and initially refused to step down, before resigning Friday after a separate sexual harassment complaint was lodged against him. He denied the allegation.

Turnbull welcomed McCormack’s appointment, saying he expected the more than 70-year coalition between the two parties would continue under his leadership.

McCormack was first elected to the lower House of Representatives in 2010 representing Riverina, a rural region in southwest New South Wales state.

More than two decades ago as a local newspaper editor he wrote a column in which he described homosexuality as "sordid behaviour".

In August, as he oversaw a voluntary nationwide postal vote on same-sex marriage as the minister in charge of the government agency running the poll, he "apologised wholeheartedly for the comments at the time".

McCormack later voted in parliament in support of amending the Marriage Act to legalise gay unions. — AFP

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Nigeria confirms 110 girls missing after Boko Haram school attack

Viet Nam News

ABUJA — The Nigerian government has  confirmed that 110 girls were missing after a Boko Haram school attack in the northeast, following days of silence on the children’s fate.

"The Federal Government has confirmed that 110 students of the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, are so far unaccounted for, after insurgents believed to be from a faction of Boko Haram invaded their school on Monday", the information ministry said in a statement.

The statement came after authorities were unable to account for 110 of the school’s 906 students, the ministry said.

The kidnapping has raised questions about the military’s repeated claims that the Islamist militants are on the verge of defeat, after nearly nine years of bitter fighting.

It has also revived memories of the 2014 mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok that shook the world.

On Monday night, terrified pupils fled the boarding school night when heavily armed fighters in military fatigues and turbans stormed the town, shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest").

The authorities initially denied that any student had been kidnapped.

On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari apologised to the girls’ families, saying: "This is a national disaster. We are sorry that this could have happened."

Targeting education

Former military ruler Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, after the jihadists grew in strength under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.

Jonathan was lambasted for his tardy response to the Chibok abduction, which saw 276 girls from the town in Borno state taken in the dead of night.

In his first expanded comments on Dapchi, Buhari said: "This is a national disaster. We are sorry that this could have happened."

A teacher at the school, Amsani Alilawan, said there were soldiers in Dapchi until last month but they were then redeployed.

"One month back, they carry (take away) all soldiers, they transferred them to another side, they leave us without security," he said.

Enraged relatives of the missing girls this week tried to surround the convoy of the state mayor of Yobe, only to be pushed back by the security forces.

The kidnapping is the worst jihadist assault to have hit Nigeria since Buhari came to power.

Schools, particularly those with a secular curriculum, have been targeted by Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates from Hausa as "Western education is forbidden".

Boko Haram’s quest to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead and made more than 2.6 million others homeless since 2009.

The jihadists have increasingly turned to kidnapping for ransom as a way to finance their operations and win back key commanders in prisoner swaps with the Nigerian government. — AFP

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White House denies being weak on Russia, says more sanctions to come

WASHINGTON — The White House is weighing additional sanctions against Russia, senior administration officials said Wednesday, pushing back against allegations that Donald Trump has been a soft touch on Moscow.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials said a "task force" has been set up to address potential meddling in the 2018 congressional elections and work is underway to introduce more sanctions in response to Moscow’s 2016 campaign.

Highlighting one potentially far-reaching step, a senior administration official said they have already warned governments around the world that they could face sanctions for "significant transactions" with the Russian military.

That includes NATO ally Turkey, which has publicly announced the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense missile system, which is seen as a challenge to US air superiority.

A second official said that "a couple of big countries" were reconsidering their purchases as a result of the global diplomatic "demarche."

Those type of third country sanctions were part of a package of measures passed by Congress approved last July, that were opposed by the White House.

Trump’s vocal opposition to the package -- which entered into law earlier this year -- and his regular praise of Vladimir Putin has raised questions about whether the administration is dragging its feet.

Several members of Trump’s campaign have been charged or admitted to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Kremlin-related officials who are accused of trying to sway the 2016 vote in Trump’s favor.

US officials on Wednesday admitted no specific sanctions had been introduced yet, but said that was because the administration was doing its due diligence, rather than an attempt to slow-walk the process.

’National security issue’

The first official also stressed the need to avoid leaks that could tip off potential sanction targets, allowing them to move money out of bank accounts or take other mitigating steps.

"We are doing an awful lot of work, we are taking this very seriously, it is a national security issue," the official said, answering criticism.

"I would hope you would just give us a little bit of an indulgence to do some of these things behind the scenes and be able to reveal them when we can."

"We would like to get after these guys and we would like to catch them in the act and not enable them to change course … so that we have a harder time detecting them."

One example given was the shuttering of the Russian consulate in San Francisco, which was ordered closed late last year, taking Moscow by surprise.

"The Russians did not see that coming" said the first official, adding, "which is an absolute bloody miracle frankly" given reporting before a decision was made.

A third administration official hit back directly at unfavorable comparisons to Barack Obama’s administration.

"The categorical thing that I’ve seen in so much coverage... that it is an abject fact that the previous administration was tougher than this administration is provably false," a third official said.

Trump has recently tried to shift the blame for election meddling -- which he had once decried as "fake news" -- onto Obama, arguing it occurred on his watch.

"Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation?" he tweeted on Wednesday morning.

"Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!" he added, urging his Attorney General to act. — AFP

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Abbas calls for Mideast peace conference in rare UN speech

Viet Nam News

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday called for an international conference to be held later this year to launch a new, wider Middle East peace process and pave the way to Palestinian statehood.

In a rare address to the UN Security Council, Abbas presented a plan to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks under a new international peace process that would replace the US-led mediation.

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital infuriated the Palestinians, who declared that Washington could no longer play a role as peace broker.

"To solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference," Abbas said.

Abbas said the conference would be attended by Israel and the Palestinians, regional players, the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and the diplomatic Quartet comprised of the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations.

The gathering should lead to full UN membership for the state of Palestine, mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine, and the creation of a new international mechanism to reach a final settlement, he said.

The Palestinian leader immediately left the council chamber following his address, leading Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon to complain that Abbas was "running away" from dialogue.

Path to ’nowhere’

Addressing the council, US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that turning to the United Nations and rejecting the US role in peace talks "will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations."

Haley was accompanied to the council meeting by Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy for Middle East peace and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

"Our negotiators are sitting right behind us, ready to talk," she said, before adding: "But we will not chase after you. The choice, Mister President, is yours."

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been deadlocked since a major push by the administration of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama ended in failure in April 2014.

The Trump administration is preparing a new peace plan even though chances for agreement appear dim.

The Palestinians hope that greater international involvement in the peace process will serve to counter what they see as a US stance biased in favor of Israel after Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.

Israel, which often accuses the European Union and the United Nations of bias against it, is reluctant to accept any other mediator than the United States.

US envoys meet ambassadors

Greenblatt and Kushner later met with council ambassadors behind closed doors to discuss US peace efforts, but they did not provide specific details of the Trump plan.

"They talked about the progress in their efforts and contacts, and this was useful," said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.

France, which hosted a Middle East peace conference in Paris last year, is ready to examine Abbas’s proposal for a revamped approach, but this "would not cast doubt" over the "indispensable" role of the United States, Delattre told the council.

The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and UN resolutions call on countries to refrain from moving their embassies to the city until its status is resolved in an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

In December, the General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions, to reject the US decision to recognise Jerusalem.

That vote in the 193-nation assembly came after 14 of the 15 council members voted in favor of a similar measure. The United States vetoed that draft resolution.

Tensions have also flared over the US decision to cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

The United Nations granted Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012, but an upgrade to full membership would require unanimous backing from the Security Council -- an unlikely outcome, given the near-certainty of a US veto. — AFP

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Albanian PM moots co-presidency with Kosovo

PRISTINA — Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said Sunday his country and Kosovo could one day have a single president as a "symbol of national unity" between Tirana and Pristina.

In a remark certain to anger Belgrade, Rama noted that the two neighbours, both predominantly ethnic Albanian, already share diplomatic missions around the world, adding: "Why not a single president, as a symbol of national unity?"

Rama was addressing Kosovo’s parliament to mark the 10th anniversary of the country’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, a move recognised by more than 110 countries, though not by Belgrade or Moscow.

Serbia has repeatedly accused Tirana of wanting to build a "Greater Albania", an aspiration it denies.

Efforts to normalise ties between Belgrade and Pristina, begun in 2011, have stalled.

Rama said he saw a future in which "Albanians and Serbians will co-exist... like two countries with good neighbourly relations that are an integral part of the European Union."

The 1998-99 Kosovo war, the last of the conflicts that broke up Yugoslavia, claimed more than 13,000 lives including more than 11,000 ethnic Albanians of Kosovo.

The conflict ended after a three-month NATO air campaign that forced Serbs out of Kosovo and put it under UN protection. — AFP

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Florida students to march on Washington in call for gun reform

Viet Nam News

WASHINGTON — Students who survived a mass shooting at their Florida school on Sunday (February 18) announced plans to march on Washington in a bid to "shame" politicians into reforming laws that make firearms readily available.

The "March for our Lives" will take place on March 24, with sister rallies planned across the country, a group of students told ABC News’ "This Week."

They pledged to make Wednesday’s slaughter in Parkland, Florida a turning point in America’s deadlocked debate on gun control.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, a troubled former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, confessed to killing 17 people with a legally-purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the latest such atrocity in a country with more than 30,000 gun-related deaths annually.

Among the students announcing the march was Emma Gonzalez, who captured worldwide attention with a powerful speech in which she assailed President Donald Trump over the multi-million-dollar support his campaign received from the gun lobby.

She vowed Stoneman Douglas would be "the last mass shooting."

On Sunday, Gonzalez, 18, urged politicians to join a conversation about gun control - citing Trump as well as his fellow Republicans Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott.

"We want to give them the opportunity to be on the right side of this," she said, as she and her four classmates called on students nationwide to help push the message.

Trump will host a "listening session" with high school students and teachers on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement, though it did not specify who would attend the event.

Singling out the links between politicians and the powerful National Rifle Association, fellow student Cameron Kasky said any politician "who is taking money from the NRA is responsible for events like this."

"This isn’t about the GOP," he said, referring to the Republican Party. "This isn’t about the Democrats."

The NRA, a traditional ally of the Republicans who currently control Congress and the White House, defends a literal view of the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment which promises a right "to keep and bear arms."

Even after last October’s killing of 58 people by a gunman in Las Vegas who amassed 47 firearms to commit the worst mass shooting in recent US history, legislators accomplished nothing in the way of tighter controls.

Accusing the NRA of "fostering and promoting this gun culture," Kasky said the students seek "a new normal where there’s a badge of shame on any politician who’s accepting money from the NRA."


"People keep asking us, what about the Stoneman Douglas shooting is going to be different, because this has happened before and change hasn’t come?" said Kasky.

"This is it," he continued. "We are going to be marching together as students begging for our lives."

The students did not indicate how many people they expected to join their rallies. But their aims won support from Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who said they can make a difference.

"After what they saw, the worst things imaginable, they’re not going to just sit back and take it," he told "This Week." "All I’ve heard all week is how frustrated people are with rhetoric. They want action."

Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, speaking on the same programme, said he is working towards bipartisan solutions that could prevent similar tragedies.

"There are a lot of Republicans who are prepared to support reasonable, common-sense gun safety laws," he said.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said that although Republicans have faced a bigger hurdle in making gun control a priority, "it’s been a challenge in the Democratic Party as well."

Speaking on CNN’s "State of the Union," Schiff asked, "How much more of this are we gonna to take? How many more shootings?"

Congress has to get "off its backside" to "stare down the NRA and do the right thing," he said.

The student survivors’ calls for change "should matter," said Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut whose wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and wounded by a deranged gunman.

He said on "Fox News Sunday" that the student activists "are going to vote on this issue probably for the rest of their lives and they’re going to encourage others to do that as well."

Speaking on CNN’s "State of the Union," Schiff asked, "How much more of this are we gonna to take? How many more shootings?"

Congress has to get "off its backside" to "stare down the NRA and do the right thing," he said.

The student survivors’ calls for change "should matter," said Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut whose wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and wounded by a deranged gunman.

He said on "Fox News Sunday" that the student activists "are going to vote on this issue probably for the rest of their lives and they’re going to encourage others to do that as well."

But conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, speaking on the same show, said neither legislation nor marches are the answer.

"It’s not the fault of the NRA," he said, calling for concealed weapons to be allowed in schools. "If we are really serious about protecting the kids, we need a mechanism to be defensive." — AFP

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