TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Government Grants Ai Weiwei 6-Month Visa

GERMANY- CHINA-RIGHTS-ART-AI
Christof Stache–AFP/Getty Images Chinese artist Ai Weiwei leaves the Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich, southern Germany, after his arrival from China on July 30, 2015.

The British government reportedly apologized to Ai in writing "for the inconvenience caused"

(LONDON) — Britain says it is granting dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei a six-month visa, apologizing for rejecting his application over an alleged criminal conviction.

On Thursday Ai disclosed that the British embassy in Beijing had turned down his request for a business visa, saying he had failed to disclose a criminal conviction. It gave him a visit for 20 days instead.

Ai was jailed for almost three months in 2011 amid a crackdown on dissent. His company was later accused of tax evasion and ordered to pay $2.4 million. Ai’s lawyer said that was not a criminal case.

Britain’s Home Office said Friday that Home Secretary Theresa May had told officials to grant the six-month visa. It said it had written to Ai “apologizing for the inconvenience caused.”

TIME United Kingdom

British Prime Minister David Cameron Holds Emergency Meeting Over Migrant Influx

Cameron has been criticized for saying the U.K. faced a "swarm" of migrants

British Prime Minister David Cameron is to chair an emergency meeting of his government’s Cobra security committee Friday to discuss how to address the migrant situation in the northern French port of Calais.

The meeting comes the morning after migrants made more than 1,000 attempts to breach fences and enter the Channel Tunnel Thursday night, reports Agence France-Presse.

Some 3,000 asylum seekers mainly from Africa and the Middle East are living in a makeshift camp near the port in Calais. Every night, many who have fled war, poverty and persecution risk serious injury as they attempt to enter the tunnel in search of a better life in the U.K.

France has sent in police reinforcements to guard the entrance of the tunnel and stop migrants climbing over the fences and blocking the roads.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense could be called in to make land available for the thousands of backlogged trucks waiting on the U.K. side of the tunnel, on the M20 highway in the county of Kent, reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, Cameron has come under fire from opposition leaders and the Refugee Council for saying there was a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean.”

“He should remember he’s talking about people and not insects,” acting Labour leader Harriet Harman told the BBC.

The U.N. Representative for Internal Migration said there had been a “xenophobic response” from British politicians to the crisis.

Kent social services are struggling to cope with the number of child asylum seekers; numbers have doubled over the past three months.

TIME United Kingdom

This Video of an 8-Year-Old With Cerebral Palsy Finishing a Triathlon Is Everything

"He doesn’t see himself as different to anyone else,” says the mother of Bailey Matthews

Eight-year-old Bailey Matthews from Nottinghamshire, northern England may have cerebral palsy but he wasn’t going to let a condition that affects mobility get in the way of completing a grueling triathlon.

Hundreds of people cheered Matthews over the finish line on Saturday after he completed a 100 meter swim, 4,000 meter bike ride and 1,300 meter run at the Castle Howard Triathlon in North Yorkshire, reports the Yorkshire Post.

Matthews used a specially-adapted walking frame to help him round the course but in footage posted online by YouTube user Andrew Cannon, he can be seen pushing the frame aside to finish the last 20 meters unaided.

“You can see his little face when he came round and saw everyone, that was his way of finishing in style and showing everyone what he could do. It was the response from the crowd that pushed him to do that,” his mother Julie Hardcastle told the Yorkshire Post.

Matthews was born nine weeks early and at 18 months was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills.

“He has always struggled with getting dressed, things that parents of other children take for granted, he does struggle with, just every day things are more difficult for him, but he never lets it bother him. He doesn’t see himself as different to anyone else,” his mother said.

Matthews picked up his determination to complete a triathlon from his father, himself a triathlete, who used to push his son in a wheelchair around weekly running events.

[Yorkshire Post]

TIME beauty

U.K. Fashion Retailer Topshop Drops ‘Ridiculously Shaped’ Mannequins After Complaints

The company has been accused of showing a lack of concern for body-conscious youth

British high-street retailer Topshop has agreed to stop using unrealistically thin mannequins in its stores after a shopper’s complaint went viral.

Laura Berry posted a photo to Topshop’s Facebook page of a “ridiculously shaped” mannequin at a store in a shopping mall in Bristol, reports the Guardian, and said the company was showing a “lack of concern for a generation of extremely body conscious youth.”

“We’ve all been impressionable teens at one point, I’m fairly certain if any of us were to witness this in our teenage years, it would have left us wondering if that was what was expected of our bodies,” wrote Berry, a customer-service assistant from Gloucestershire, England.

Topshop says the mannequin is based on a standard U.K. size 10 (U.S. size 6), but Berry points out she’s not sure that it even looks like a U.K. size 6 (U.S. size 2).

“Perhaps it’s about time you became responsible for the impression you have on women and young girls and helped them feel good about themselves rather than impose these ridiculous standards,” Berry said.

Topshop responded to the post publicly saying the mannequin was “not meant to be a representation of the average female body,” but said it was “not placing any further orders on this style of mannequin.”

[Guardian]

TIME United Kingdom

Prince George, Age 2, Tells Everyone He’s 3

Prince George
Mario Testino/Art Partner In this handout image supplied by Mario Testino/ Art Partner, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge, who celebrates his second birthday.

"He thinks he's older," Kate Middleton said

Seems like someone’s already sick of the terrible twos.

Prince George, who turned two on July 22, has already tired of the age and is (wrongly, but amusingly) informing others he is actually three.

The royal tidbit came to light on Sunday when George’s mother, Kate Middleton, met two-year-old Freddie Wilson at the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing’s headquarters in Portsmouth, England, People reports.

“Hello Princess, my name is Freddie Wilson,” Freddie, a precocious tot, announced. When Middleton asked Freddie how old he was, he answered, “I’m three,” without any hesitation, according to Freddie’s mother, Wendy Maxwell.

When Maxwell jumped in to admit that Freddie was actually just two, Middleton said, “George says that. He thinks he’s older.”

TIME United Kingdom

British Politician Resigns After Video Shows Him Snorting Cocaine With Prostitutes

john sewel house lords
Suzanne Hubbard—AP This Dec. 16, 1997 file photo shows the deputy speaker of the Houe of Lords John Sewel.

"You're such a party animal!" an alleged prostitute tells John Sewel

John Sewel, deputy speaker of Britain’s House of Lords, has resigned after The Sun published photos and video allegedly showing him snorting lines of cocaine with prostitutes.

Sewel, an ally of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, will retain his membership within the House of Lords, the Associated Press reports. Leaked photos and videos appear to show Sewel stripped naked and snorting cocaine. At one point in the video, an escort tells Sewel, “You’re such a party animal!” Sewel responded, “I know. Disgusting, isn’t it?”

One of Sewel’s former responsibilities as deputy speaker was to enforce standards and ethics within the House of Lords.

House of Lords Speaker Baroness Frances D’Souza branded Sewel’s alleged involvement “shocking and unacceptable,” pushing for police to investigate the incident.

TIME United Kingdom

Watch This 20-Year-Old Legislator Completely Own the U.K. Parliament With a Dazzling Speech

So what were you doing at 20?

At 20 years old, Mhairi Black may be the youngest lawmaker in the U.K. Parliament since 1667, but she has already shown to her peers in the House of Commons that when it comes to issues of social justice, she will pull no punches.

In her stunning debut speech Tuesday, the Member of Parliament for the Scottish constituency of Paisley and Renfrewshire South attacked the government for rising poverty levels, the reliance on food banks and cuts to the welfare system.

Black, who has just graduated from Glasgow University, said Britain had “one of the most uncaring, uncompromising and out-of-touch governments that the U.K. has seen since Thatcher.”

She called out the chancellor George Osborne for abolishing housing support for under-21-year-olds, saying that, “We are now in the ridiculous situation whereby, because I am an MP … I am also the only 20-year-old in the whole of the U.K. the chancellor is prepared to help with housing.” (British lawmakers who do not live in London get housing subsidies from the government.)

Black’s Scottish National Party won an unprecedented number of seats in May’s general election, and she lambasted their political rivals, the Labour Party, for forgetting “the very people they are supposed to represent.”

She ended her rousing speech by calling on all the parties of the opposition to work together to “be the signpost of a better society.”

 

TIME world affairs

What the Iran Nuclear Deal Means—and What It Doesn’t

The deal may be a good one for all sides, but it still doesn't resolve regional issues

Iran and the 5+1/E3+3 Powers (U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) have at last completed a comprehensive nuclear agreement after years of discussions and threats of conflict. The deal sets out requirements for keeping Iran’s nuclear programme from producing nuclear weapons, and establishes a timeline for lifting sanctions that have pushed the country to the brink.

But how can the complexities of the 139-page document be understood, especially amid the already charged argument between those who support and those who oppose the deal? Here are the fundamental points.

This is a good deal for all sides

An excellent agreement is not based on one side “winning” and the other “losing.” It is based on each side compromising but still reaching important objectives.

For the first time, Iran gets international recognition of its enrichment of uranium for civil purposes. That legitimacy also brings the prospect of re-opened trade and investment links, vital for an economy that has been crippled by sanctions and mismanagement over the past decade.

The U.S., other powers, and the international community get defined limits on that enriched uranium. Put bluntly – and in defiance of the hyperbolic objections of the deal’s critics – Iran has been pushed far back from a militarised program for many years, even if it really was seeking nuclear weapons in the first place.

It no longer has any 20% uranium in a form that can be developed for a bomb, and even its 5% uranium is sharply reduced. Its nuclear facilities, including enrichment plants and a proposed heavy-water nuclear reactor, are under an extensive and tightly defined system of inspections. Some of its military sites will be visited to ensure that no traces of any past quest for nuclear weapons remain. Iran will finally adhere to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The situation will still be far from “normal” given the years of tension. Nonetheless, for the first time, there is the prospect of Iran becoming part of the global challenge over nuclear proliferation, rather than a pariah.

The loudest objections will come from the U.S.

Despite the Supreme Leader’s deep hostility towards the U.S., repeated in a speech only a few days before the deal was handed down, the biggest challenge to the new agreement will not come from Iran. Those who oppose the agreement will be shunted to the side, with even hardliners in the military and parliament having to swallow any criticisms.

The reason is the Iranian economy. Without an agreement, Iran would have been headed for a disastrous economic collapse, setting up years of punishment for most ordinary Iranians. It was this prospect, presented to Ayatollah Khamenei in September 2013 by president Rouhani, that brought Iran to the table for the decisive talks. And it was this prospect that ensured the compromises needed to avert breakdown of discussions.

So Iran’s domestic politics pose little threat to the deal. Instead, the far bigger threat to the agreement will come from critics in the U.S.

For weeks before the announcement, American hardliners – not only members of Congress but also “think tanks” and former Government officials in media outlets such as Fox News – were busy venting their doom-laden assessments, usually with complete detachment from the negotiations. They have insisted that Iran will continue to pursue the bomb through covert activities, and that it will use an agreement to spread its pernicious influence across the Middle East and even attack Israel.

But even in the U.S.’s poisonous political climate, the odds are stacked against the hardliners. President Obama’s decision to persist with the talks, despite all the pressure, has changed the political game. To break an agreement, the objectors need at least 67 of 100 U.S. Senators to override the veto that Obama has promised to use.

Barring concrete evidence that Iran is “cheating”, it will be hard to get that two-thirds majority. For all the media noise, the prospect of a reduction in tension rather than a return to confrontation – and even the possibility of military action – is unlikely to be welcomed by most Americans.

The deal is just another beginning

The agreement is not the end of the Iran’s nuclear road, but another step on it. Iran’s hope that all sanctions could be removed as soon as the deal was signed was scotched by the other powers, who made sure that verification of Iran’s full compliance was necessary for an end to restrictions. The timing of that verification was one of the reasons for the protracted final stage of the talks.

We are now entering a months-long process in which the Iranians will have to establish that they have drawn down stocks of enriched uranium, that they have dismantled operating centrifuges, that they are putting required limits on nuclear facilities, and that they will not pursue a “secret” program at an undisclosed site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency – in a separate deal announced on the same day as the big one – will verify their compliance by December, and only then will the sanctions finally be eased.

So Iran’s oil exports, halved since 2012, will not be boosted until spring 2016 at the earliest. It will still face the challenge of attracting foreign investment for the oil and gas sector and other vital industrial areas. By the time that they have righted the economic ship, their adherence to the agreement should be well established.

This doesn’t resolve regional issues

In the last weeks before the agreement, some who objected to a deal invoked a nightmare scenario wherein Iran would use an economic windfall of up to $100 billion in unfrozen funds to support tyranny and spread terror throughout the Middle East.

Their vision is overwrought. Iran’s first priority for released funds will be the alleviation of internal economic problems. But these objectors are right inasmuch as conflict is still tearing up the Middle East, and Iran is clearly a key player.

In Iraq, Tehran is still an important backer of the Iraqi Government and Shia militias fighting Islamic State. Even though the U.S. is nominally on the same side, the suspicions of the Supreme Leader and the military will likely prevent any reconciliation, at least in the short term.

In Yemen, the Iranians will continue to give political and economic aid, if not military assistance, to the Ansar Allah (Houthi) movement who are being challenged by Saudi-led air attacks. And the Islamic Republic will continue to shout loudly about Palestine and the need to defeat Israel – even if its strategy on the ground is far more limited than the rhetoric suggests.

Most importantly, there is Syria. Iran has been vital in propping up the Assad regime in the four-year conflict, and with the release of economic pressure under the nuclear agreement, it could bolster that support.

That means president Rouhani, foreign minister Zarif, and their allies are now pushing for an “engagement” strategy to deal with these regional conflicts, including discussions with others such as the U.S. They are likely to be opposed by elements of the Iranian military, including the Revolutionary Guards, with the Supreme Leader weighing his options.

None of this means the nuclear deal shouldn’t have been struck. Instead, it flags up a need that’s always been present: the U.S. and other countries have to come up with a sensible strategy for issues from Syria to Yemen to Iraq to Palestine, one that heads off the worrying trend towards proxy war.

Those in Iran should not be left behind

In autumn 2009, the U.S. and its allies pressed for a renewal of nuclear talks, even as the Iranian regime was putting down the protests after the disputed presidential elections. Even though scores of demonstrators were killed and thousands of others detained – some of whom are still held, including opposition leaders – the negotiations proceeded.

That almost forgotten moment is a reminder that the advance on the nuclear issue has not been accompanied by justice and rights for many inside Iran.

Despite his campaign promises, Rouhani has been unable to open up political and social space. Lawyers, students, labour activists, and journalists – including foreign nationals – are still being arrested. Communications, including the Internet, are still restricted. Political activity is carefully monitored. Hardliners within the regime have even pushed back the government by banning concerts and preventing women from attending sporting events.

The optimistic reading of the nuclear agreement is that, with most Iranians joyously backing it, President Rouhani will be strengthened to renew his campaign for political and social advances. However, this will be a heated battle, with any breakthrough likely to take months or even years.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME United Kingdom

London Marks the 10th Anniversary of the July 7 Terrorist Attacks

"Ten years on from the 7/7 London attacks, the threat from terrorism continues to be as real as it is deadly"

On Tuesday, London will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the July 7, 2005, bombings that killed 52 people — the worst single terrorist attack on British soil.

A service will take place in St Paul’s Cathedral to remember those who died in what became known as the 7/7 bombings, reports the BBC. Family members of the victims and some of those who were injured will attend the ceremony.

A minute’s silence will be held across London’s transport network at 11:30 a.m. BST (6:30 a.m. ET) with London Underground trains and buses coming to a halt wherever possible.

There will also be a service at Hyde Park’s July 7 Memorial.

Just after 8:30 a.m. on 7 July, four suicide bombers with links to al-Qaeda detonated homemade bombs on three subway trains and one bus during the morning rush-hour.

Twenty-six people lost their lives in the bombing at Russell Square, six died at Edgware Road and seven in the explosion at Aldgate.

About an hour later, 13 people were killed as a fourth device detonated on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. More than 700 people were injured in the bombings.

“Ten years on from the 7/7 London attacks, the threat from terrorism continues to be as real as it is deadly — the murder of 30 innocent Britons whilst holidaying in Tunisia is a brutal reminder of that fact,” said U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. “But we will never be cowed by terrorism.”

[BBC]

TIME France

Chaos at French Port as Migrants Continue to Storm Trucks Headed for the U.K.

A strike has shut the port, causing long tailbacks of vehicles that migrants are trying to board, at times forcibly

In chaotic scenes over the past week, hundreds of migrants in the northern French port of Calais have been trying to jump onto trucks bound for the U.K.

The migrants, most of whom had fled war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, took advantage of a strike by French MyFerryLink workers on Tuesday. The striking workers forced the port and the Channel Tunnel, which links France to the U.K., to close, causing long tailbacks of trucks on highways around Calais.

Footage shows migrants desperately trying to board the vehicles, sometimes jumping onto moving trucks, breaking locks or attempting to hold onto the underside of the carriages.

“Drivers were unable to open their windows or leave their vehicles for fear of either being threatened or would-be stowaways getting on board,” Don Armour, the Freight Transport Association’s international manager, told the Guardian.

There are believed to be about 3,000 migrants living in a squalid makeshift camp near Calais. They are determined to reach the U.K., where they say they’ll have the chance of a better life.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the scenes in Calais “totally unacceptable” and vowed to work more closely with French authorities. U.K. ministers are considering sending extra border-control officials, sniffer-dog teams and equipment to strengthen fences around the port and rail crossings.

But several of the city’s politicians have accused the British government of not doing enough to calm the situation. Philippe Mignonet, the deputy mayor of Calais, said the city had been “sacrificed” by the British and Europe, reports the Guardian.

The chaos in Calais comes as European Union leaders struggle to decide what to do with huge waves of migrants entering Europe via risky sea journeys across the Mediterranean.

At heated talks in Brussels on Thursday night, E.U. leaders agreed to relocate 40,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy and Greece, plus a further 20,000 currently in camps outside the E.U., to member states over the next two years, reports the BBC.

But there would not be mandatory quotas for taking in refugees, the leaders said.

 

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