Theresa May asks European Union to delay Brexit until June 30

London: Prime Minister Theresa May asked the European Union on Friday to delay Britain’s departure from the bloc until June 30, with the extension ending earlier if parliament approves her Brexit deal.

“The United Kingdom proposes that (the extension) should end on June 30 2019. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated earlier,” May wrote in a letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk.

 

Downing Street released May’s letter moments after a senior EU official told AFP that Tusk was proposing to postpone Brexit day by up to a year, also pending parliament’s approval of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.

Also Read: EU’s Donald Tusk suggests 12-month extension to Brexit date: Report

The current deadline is April 12, which has already been pushed back once from March 29 because of the UK parliament’s failure on three occasions to back the deal May signed with the other 27 EU leaders in December.

In her letter, May said she wanted to make sure that Britain left the bloc after 46 years in an orderly manner, with an agreement that could help unwind intricate political, security, diplomatic and economic ties.

“The government’s policy has always been and remains to leave the European Union in an orderly way, and without undue delay,” May wrote.

“The government agrees that leaving with a deal is the best outcome,” she said.

Drunk Air India passenger, who went on racist rant, jailed in UK

London: An Irish international human rights lawyer, who was caught on camera making abusive rants at Air India crew after she was refused alcohol on a flight from Mumbai to London, has been jailed for six months in the UK.

Simone Burns was described as “drunk and obnoxious” during a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court in London on Thursday, where it emerged that she also spat at a flight attendant during her foul-mouthed racist tirade after she was refused alcohol on the flight in November last year.

 

“The experience of a drunk and irrational person in the confines of an aircraft is frightening, not least on a long-haul flight, and poses a potential risk to safety,” said Judge Nicholas Wood, as he sentenced the 50-year-old to six months in prison for being drunk on an aircraft and two months for assault, sentences to run concurrently.

Also Read: Watch: Denied more wine, drunk Irish woman abuses Air India crew

“You were drunk and obnoxious almost from the beginning to the end. You were abusive, contemptuous and confrontational and used appalling language,” he said.

Simone Burns, born in Northern Ireland and living in Hove in England, was also ordered to pay 300 pounds compensation to the person she assaulted, with the judge saying that “spitting straight into a crew member’s face at close range is a particularly insulting and upsetting act.”

The court heard how the lawyer drank three bottles of wine on the long-haul flight before calling the cabin crew “Indian money-grabbing c***s” as she was denied a fourth bottle of red wine for being too drunk.

“I’m a f*****g international lawyer,” she told attendants during her tirade before retreating to the toilets to try and smoke. She was given a series of warnings before being arrested on landing in London.

A member of the Air India cabin crew described her conduct as unlike anything he had seen during his 34-year aviation career.

The judge at Isleworth Crown Court said he was satisfied the offence was racially aggravated and the language Burns used would have been extremely upsetting for the airline staff.

Noting Simone Burns’ work with refugees around the world, Judge Wood added: “You are a woman, not just of good character but a positive and impeccable character. What this has done, thanks to social media, (has meant) you have had death threats and been a hermit in your home. You are a person who has done good work throughout your life.”

3 ex-staff of Dutch firm launder $1.2bn in India

The Hague: Dutch investigators have arrested three former employees of a local company suspected of laundering some $1.2 billion for an energy client in India, prosecutors said Friday.

The Dutch company bought materials and services around the world for the Indian firm which has been involved in laying a gas pipeline on the subcontinent since 2006.

 

“It is suspected that the Dutch company used to increase the amounts on the invoices for the materials and services supplied,” said the public prosecutor’s office, which did not name either company.

The company also acted as a so-called “invoice duplicator” meaning the Indian company was able to claim costs twice from gas customers, the statement added.

“The ‘profits’ earned in this way were subsequently creamed off via the Dutch company,” it said.

The gains were then transferred via a complex web of businesses based among others in Dubai, Switzerland and the Caribbean, before eventually ending up at a business owned by the Indian company in Singapore.

The suspects allegedly received payments of up to $10 million (8.9 million euros) for their involvement.

Suspicions were raised after an inspection of the books of the Dutch company, situated south of the central city of Utrecht.

Dutch investigators of the elite Fiscal and Investigation Services raided the company’s premises in November 2017, seizing administrative records.

The three suspects who were arrested on Tuesday are expected to appear before the Rotterdam district court on Friday.

“In this case Dutch companies are suspected of assisting an Indian client to launder suspected illegal earnings,” the statement said. The real losers “were probably individual citizens in India” as the cost of production of gas is passed onto the consumer, it added.

Ukraine’s poll rivals take drug test for debate

Kiev: Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky took drug tests on Friday ahead of their election runoff as the ex-Soviet country’s presidential race becomes increasingly sensational.

Zelensky, a 41-year-old actor best known in for playing the president in a TV show, is favourite to become Ukraine’s next leader after he dominated a first-round vote on March 31, despite many dismissing his candidacy as a joke.

 

Poroshenko, who is eager to make up lost ground before a run-off vote on April 21, invited his political novice rival to spar in an election debate.

Zelensky agreed but laid down a number of unusual conditions including a requirement for both of them to undergo medical tests to prove they do not abuse alcohol or drugs.

Zelensky also wants the debate to be held in the country’s biggest sports arena, Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, which seats over 70,000 people.

Poroshenko, 53, chose to play along, presenting himself to medics at a lab at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.

He rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt and had his blood drawn in a video broadcast live on his Facebook page.

“We are creating new traditions,” a smiling Poroshenko said during the procedure.

Ethiopia releases preliminary report into Boeing 737 MAX crash

Addis Ababa: Ethiopia on Thursday released the preliminary report into the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash which claimed the lives of all 157 people on board.

Ethiopian Minister Dagmawit Moges said that the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was in good condition before take-off. Speculations regarding the flight being hit with a foreign object were also ruled out by the officials, according to CNN.

 

“The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft,” Moges stated.

The March 10 incident became the second instance that the Boeing 737 MAX jet was involved in a crash within a span of five months. This triggered safety concerns, leading to several countries and airlines grounding the aircraft around the world.

“We are very proud of our pilots’ compliances to follow the emergency procedures and high level of professional performances in such extremely difficult situations,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO said in a statement on April 4, following the report’s release.

“As the investigation continues with more detailed analysis, as usual, we will continue with our full cooperation with the investigation team,” the airlines noted.

Read: Ethiopian Airlines 737 crash report expected today: sources

Based on the preliminary information gathered during investigations, the report makes two recommendations which include a review by Boeing on flight controllability.

“Aviation authorities shall verify that the review of the aircraft control system related to flight controllability has been adequately addressed by the manufacturer before the release of the aircraft to operations,” the report says.

On March 10, 157 people on board an Ethiopian Airlines flight – a Boeing 737 MAX jet – lost their lives after their flight crashed just a few minutes after take-off from Adis Ababa. Similarly, in October last year, a Boeing 737 MAX Lion Air flight crashed in Indonesia, claiming the lives of all 181 people on board. Investigations are ongoing into both the incidents.

Boeing on Wednesday claimed to have successfully tested its new software update for the 737 MAX 7 jet. The aircraft manufacturer’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg was on board the demo flight, which was upgraded with the new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software update.

According to the manufacturing giant, the new update to the system lets the pilot have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the aircraft, ensuring that the pilot always has the upper hand. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is yet to comment on this.

United Kingdom MPs vote for Brexit delay to stop crash out

London: The British government and the main Opposition were to hold further crisis talks on Thursday after MPs voted in favour of a Brexit delay that would avoid Britain crashing out of the EU on April 12.

Negotiating teams for both sides were to meet again on Thursday for a full day of urgent discussions. In a rushed parliamentary bid to avoid Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal next Friday, MPs voted by the narrowest of margins late on Wednesday in favour of draft legislation that would force the government to seek to delay Brexit beyond April 12.

 

The vote passed by just one — 313 votes in favour and 312 against — in the lower House of Commons and the Bill will now pass to the upper House of Lords for final approval on Thursday, much to the government’s annoyance.

“We are disappointed that MPs have chosen to back this Bill,” a government spokesman said. “The PM has already set out a clear process through which we can leave the EU with a deal and we have already committed to seeking a further extension. “If passed, this Bill would place a severe constraint on the government’s ability to negotiate an extension and reflect this new date in UK statute books before April 12.”

12

May said Wednesday’s talks with Corbyn were “constructive”, suggesting she might be prepared to bend her previous principles and listen to proposals for much closer post-Brexit trade relations with the bloc than many Conservatives are prepared to accept. Both sides showed “flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close”, said a spokesman for May’s Downing Street office.

“We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security,” he added. Corbyn said: “There hasn’t been as much change as I expected but we will have further discussions… to explore technical issues” on Thursday.

He told May that Labour wanted a customs union with the EU, access to its single market and raised “the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or leaving on a bad deal”.

If the talks between the government and Labour fail to reach a compromise that both can support, May hopes the two sides can come up with mutually acceptable options that would be put up for binding parliamentary votes.

The British PM’s change of tack was received with caution by EU leaders who wish to see the split resolved before the European elections begin on May 23.    

UK Brexit chief says May not offering a blank check in talks

London: Britain’s Brexit secretary denied on Wednesday that he was offering a “blank check” to the opposition Labour Party after Prime Minister Theresa May offered to meet with the party leader in hopes of ending the impasse over the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.

Steve Barclay told the BBC that some Labour proposals, such as a customs union, would be “very difficult” for the government to accept, but both sides need to sit down and work out an agreement to avoid a damaging no-deal Brexit.

 

But he added that the “remorseless logic” of Parliament’s failure to back the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU is that Britain must move toward a softer form of Brexit “We’re not setting pre-conditions, but nor is it a blank check,” Barclay said.

With Britain dashing toward a disorderly exit from the EU within days, May pivoted away from the cliff edge on Tuesday, saying she would seek another Brexit delay and hold talks with the opposition to seek a compromise.

After failing repeatedly to win Parliament’s backing for her Brexit blueprint, May said the country needs “national unity to deliver the national interest.” Following the defeat of the government’s plan and a range of lawmaker-written alternatives, May said Britain would need a further delay to its EU departure, currently scheduled for April 12.

She offered to hold talks with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to find a compromise solution. European Council President Donald Tusk gave a cautious welcome to May’s change of course.

“Even if, after today, we don’t know what the end result will be, let us be patient,” he tweeted — a suggestion the EU would wait for Britain to present a clear plan. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining countries have given the U.K. until April 12 to leave the bloc or to come up with a new plan, after British lawmakers three times rejected an agreement struck between the bloc and May late last year.

The House of Commons has also failed to find a majority for any alternative plan in two days of voting on multiple options. Labour’s business secretary suggested May’s offer was long overdue, but that the opposition would enter talks with an open mind.

“We’re not setting any red lines for these discussions with the prime minister,” she said.

EU panel backs visa-free travel for Britons after Brexit

Brussels: A European Parliament committee on Wednesday backed giving Britons the right to travel to the European Union without visas after Brexit, following weeks of controversy over the way the draft legislation dubs Gibraltar a UK “colony”.

As the EU prepares for Brexit, Spain — which ceded Gibraltar to Britain after an 18th century war — insisted that the UK territory be described that way in the draft law, which has upset London.

 

EU member states were then unable to agree on a joint position with the European Parliament for weeks as the lawmakers’ point man for the file, Briton Claude Moraes, blocked it over the use of the term “colony”, while other capitals took the side of Madrid.

As Britain faces the risk of an abrupt split from the bloc as soon as next week, EU states put pressure on the parliament this week to approve the file, with the chamber’s head eventually removing Moraes from his role in a rare step.

The new so-called parliamentary rapporteur, Bulgarian EU lawmaker Sergei Stanishev, was picked on Tuesday, and on Wednesday spoke before the committee voted 38 to 8 in favour of the law, which still calls Gibraltar a UK “colony”.

“The 12th of April is coming and the faith of millions of UK citizens and EU citizens and their right to travel is in our hands,” he said when asking the committee to back the proposal.

Some lawmakers said the legislation was “ludicrous”, accused the Spanish government of intransigence ahead of national elections later this month, and complained about how the European Council which brings together member states bulldozed the European Parliament on the issue.

The decision must still be approved by a plenary session of the EU parliament on Thursday to become EU law.

It would give Britons visa-free travel to the EU even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, on condition that Britain offers the same terms to EU citizens visiting for up to 90 days.

EU leaders next meet on Brexit on April 10. British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday that she would be asking them for another Brexit delay beyond April 12 to agree her stalled EU divorce deal with the opposition Labour party in the hope that it would then be ratified by the UK parliament.

Tories horrified by Theresa May’s Brexit pact with Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn

London: British Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer to work with the Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in order to deliver a Brexit deal has not gone down well within her party. She has been cautioned that it could destroy the Conservative party. Eurosceptic MPs have been horrified with her offer.

A string of Tory MPs directly challenged her opening the door to a softer Brexit, which could involve tearing up a manifesto commitment not to pursue a customs union.

 

The PM wrote to all Conservative MPs on Wednesday morning explaining her decision, blaming the failure of the Democratic Unionist party and leave-supporting backbenchers to support her deal.

“The question is how can we get parliament to ratify the deal? The government would have preferred to do so based on Conservative and DUP votes. But, having tried three times, it is clear that is unlikely to happen,” she said.

She added: “I realise some of you will be concerned about the government discussing the way forward with the Opposition. However, with some colleagues unwilling to support the government in the division lobbies, this is the only way to deliver the smooth, orderly Brexit that we promised and for which the British people voted.”

May and Corbyn were due to hold talks later on Wednesday with the possibility of hammering out a common position by the end of the week. Any deal would then be presented to the EU at a summit next week with the aim of leaving on May 22 and avoiding European parliamentary elections.

If that fails, No 10 will move to holding a series of votes in parliament on options, including a runoff between her deal and alternatives such as a customs union, while agreeing to abide by the results.

Corbyn said he was “very happy” to talk to May about Labour’s vision for Brexit, which would include a permanent customs union and stronger workers’ rights protections. However, he will face a dilemma over whether to push for any deal to be put to a public vote through a second referendum, a key demand of many senior figures in his party and many of its members.

Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, did not rule out giving in to demands for a second referendum, telling MPs: “I don’t think we should have a second referendum because it takes us back to square one, is my personal view, but the PM will have discussions and we will see where they lead.”

However, he also suggested there may be limited appetite for a compromise on the Conservative side, while insisting the talks were being pursued in good faith. “I personally think a customs union is highly undesirable. We’re not setting preconditions, but nor is this a blank cheque,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

Eurosceptics appeared to be deeply shocked by May’s move, as many of them had been holding out hope that she would pivot towards a no-deal Brexit after her withdrawal agreement failed to get through the House of Commons three times.

Stewart Jackson, a former Tory MP and Brexit adviser, suggested a fresh move be made against May. “Isn’t it time Graham Brady and the executive committee of the 1922 reviewed the rules and instigated a fresh leadership ballot? May has no mandate to pursue the Corbyn pact,” she said.

In hidden mountain air base, Albania stores jets for sale

Albania: On a barren hillside in northern Albania lies a portal to the country’s communist past: a massive steel door creaks open to reveal a hidden former air base burrowed into the heart of the mountain.

Made up of 600 metres (1,980 feet) of tunnels that once teemed with military life, the secret Gjader air base is now a depot for dozens of hulking communist-era MiG jets collecting dust in the darkness.

 

Three decades after shedding communism, Albanian authorities are still trying to sell off the Soviet and Chinese-made aircraft, of which there are dozens more in another nearby air base.

“Aligning our equipment and our weapons to the NATO standards” is part of Albania’s “new chapter” with the Alliance, which it joined in 2009, says the military’s Chief of Defence Bardhyl Kollcaku.

As for the MiGs, “apart from nostalgia, (for which) we will keep some of them in our museum… the rest will be treated according to the domestic legislation for sale or other usage,” he told AFP.

The communist-era jets, which include MiG-19, MiG-17 and MiG-21 models among others, have been out of commission for well over a decade.

But museums, collectors and other aviation aficionados have already expressed interest in giving the relics a new home.

When Albania first discussed selling the MiGs in 2016, requests came in from the Air and Space Museum in France, as well as a flight school in Germany.

Yet no sales have been completed to date, with legal paperwork holding up the process.

Individuals are also on the waiting list, including Albania-based French businessman Julien Roche, who plans to install the plane in his garden.

“It’s not so easy to get this kind of aircraft now, because all of them have been mainly destroyed, not stored like they are in Albania,” he told AFP, from a house brimming with eccentric items.

He has put his name down for one of the oldest models, a Chinese-made MiG-15 with a price tag of around 10,000 euros (USD 11,000), which was used by North Koreans before being gifted to Albania.

Closed to the public

Like the 7,000 concrete security bunkers that dot the countryside, the clandestine Gjader base was part of former communist dictator Enver Hoxha’s plan to fortify his hermit state against feared foreign invasions that never materialised.

More than 600 military personnel used to work inside the maze of tunnels that were shuttered in 2000 and remain off limits to the public.

Jets flown after 2000 used a different military base, until the last of the planes were taken out of service following an accident in 2004.

After opening up the dark and damp tunnels to AFP, the base’s current commander Fatmir Danaj admits the old planes evoke an unexpected nostalgia.

“The pleasure of flying and of working in this base was unimaginable,” 52-year-old Danaj said, as he shone his torch on a row of silver jets, which, as a young pilot, he used to land on the runway that feeds into the mountain.

Today, the scores of rooms inside — including a cafeteria, dorms and array of other offices — are empty except for a scattering of debris and the faded signs on their doors announcing their function.

In one empty office, a reminder still hangs on the wall: “Attention! Put documents in their files and submit them to the secret administrative office before leaving the workplace.”

NATO comes to ‘Stalin City’

During his nearly 40 years of rule, Hoxha turned Albania into the most militarised country in the Balkans.

That backfired spectacularly in 1997, seven years after the fall of communism when the country was swept up by an armed rebellion that saw citizens raid armories and military bases for weapons.

Gjader was also breached, with people looting weapons and selling parts of some MiGs as scrap metal.

Today the Albanian Airforce has only a small fleet of helicopters and its air space is protected by NATO.

In a sign of the changing times, the first NATO base in the Balkan region will be built in Albania’s Kucova, once known as “Stalin City” as a symbol of friendship at that time between Albania and the Soviet Union.

But Danaj still dreams of seeing Gjader returned to its former glory.

“The base could serve as a museum, but with its modern infrastructure, its tunnel system, it can be functional again and serve NATO,” he said.