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No jail for those refusing Tory national service plans: UK Home Secretary



London, May 26 (IANS/DPA) Teenagers would not be sent to jail for refusing to comply with the Tories’ proposed “mandatory” national service, said James Cleverly, the UK Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary said there would be no criminal sanctions for young people if they defied the plans under a Conservative government.

In the first major policy announcement ahead of the General Election, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is a member of the Conservative Party, also known as Tories, pledged to get 18 year olds to either join the military for 12 months or do “volunteer” work one weekend a month for a year.

The Prime Minister said the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose.”

In an apparent pitch to older voters and those who may turn to Reform UK, the Conservatives said volunteering could include helping local fire, police and NHS services, as well as charities, tackling loneliness and supporting elderly people.

Touring broadcast studios on Sunday, Cleverly said the Tories would ensure the scheme “fits with different people’s attitudes and aspirations” after questions arose over whether teenagers would be punished for not taking part.

“There’s going to be no criminal sanction. There’s no one going to jail over this,” he told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme.

“This is about dealing with what we know to be the case, which is social fragmentation.”

“Too many young people live in a bubble within their own communities. They don’t mix with people of different religions, they don’t mix with different viewpoints.”

Opposition critics have dismissed the plans as unserious, with Labour saying the pledge would never come to fruition and amounted to “another unfunded commitment.”

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The Prime Minister is seeking to draw a dividing line with Keir Starmer’s party on global security following his pledge to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030.

Heightening his attack on Saturday, Sunak said voters would be left “at risk” with the Labour leader in Number 10 because Britain’s enemies would notice that he “doesn’t have a plan.”

Teenagers who choose to sign up for placement in the forces would “learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement or civil response operations,” the Tories said.

The Conservatives said they would form a royal commission, bringing expertise from across the military and civil society to establish the details of what they described as the “bold” national service programme.

The party said this commission would be tasked with bringing forward a proposal for how to ensure the first pilot is open for applications in September 2025.

After that, it would seek to introduce a new “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, the party said.

It estimates the programme will cost 2.5 billion pounds a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund 1 billion pounds through plans to “crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion.”

The remaining 1.5 billion pounds will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), a key part of the Levelling Up agenda, which supports local charities and community groups, the Tories said.

The Prime Minister said: “This is a great country, but generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve, and there are forces trying to divide our society in this increasingly uncertain world.”

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“I have a clear plan to address this and secure our future. I will bring in a new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country.”

“This new, mandatory national service will provide life-changing opportunities for our young people, offering them the chance to learn real-world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Prime Minister suggested a government led by Keir would be marked by uncertainty and a “more dangerous world.”

“The consequences of uncertainty are clear. No plan means a more dangerous world. You, your family and our country are all at risk if Labour wins,” he said.

Keir’s party pointed out that Lord David Cameron introduced a similar scheme – the National Citizen Service – when he was the Prime Minister.

Cameron’s announcement had no military component to it, instead encouraging youngsters to take part in activities such as outdoor education-style courses as part of his “Big Society” initiative.

A Labour spokesperson said: “This is not a plan – it’s a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon.”

“Britain has had enough of the Conservatives, who are bankrupt of ideas and have no plans to end 14 years of chaos. It’s time to turn the page and rebuild Britain with Labour.”

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Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson MP Richard Foord said: “If the Conservatives were serious about defence, they would reverse their damaging cuts to our world-class professional armed forces, instead of decimating them, with swingeing cuts to the number of our regular service personnel.”

“Our armed forces were once the envy of the world. This Conservative government has cut troop numbers and is planning more cuts to the size of the Army.”

“This would be far better spent reversing Conservative cuts to troop numbers.”

Sunak’s pledge marks the first major policy announcement from either side ahead of the July 4 General Election that he called in a rain-soaked statement outside Downing Street earlier this week.

The Prime Minister has said he is “pumped up” and enjoying himself on the campaign trail despite a difficult start that saw him encounter several hiccups on a whistlestop two-day tour of the four nations.

His trip included a visit to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, which invited undesirable “sinking ship” comparisons with his party’s fortunes, as well as a brewery in Wales where he made a footballing gaffe about the Euros.

Sunak spent Saturday meeting local veterans in his North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond before joining activists on the doorstep in south-west London.

He is understood to be continuing on the campaign trail in the South East, while Rachel Reeves will give a stump speech to party members in West Yorkshire as she heads out for Labour on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Ed Davey will launch the Liberal Democrats battlebus in a marginal constituency, in the so-called Tory blue wall of southern England.



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Ukraine plans solar expansion to stabilise energy security




Kiev, June 21 (IANS/DPA) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is planning to expand the country’s construction of solar systems to stabilise the energy grid, which has been significantly impacted by Russian attacks.

“The government has been tasked with immediately presenting a program to encourage the installation of solar generation and energy storage systems in Ukraine,” Zelensky said in his daily video address on Thursday.

According to the plan, citizens who install solar panels will be able to receive an interest-free loan.

The President said that measures were taken to protect energy facilities from ongoing attacks by Russia and specific deadlines were established for the completion of the protective structures.

Zelensky pledged to build more facilities for decentralised energy supply to ensure administration and critical infrastructure buildings had an alternative energy source during power outages.

Ukraine has been defending itself against a full-scale Russian invasion for more than two years.

Official figures show that about half of Ukraine’s energy production capacity has been lost due to systematic Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities with drones and missiles.

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Strict energy rationing and daily power cuts have been implemented, with concerns about the situation worsening in the winter.



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Thousands of Israelis turn out in renewed rally against govt




Jerusalem, June 21 (IANS/DPA) Thousands of Israelis turned out for fresh protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in a renewed show of anger at the failure to agree on a ceasefire in Gaza and bring about the return of hostages.

According to Israeli media on Thursday, the largest rally took place in front of a private home of the Prime Minister in the city of Caesarea.

The demonstrators demanded new elections and the release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds also gathered in Jerusalem for a protest, according to reports.

These are the latest in months of protests as people accuse Netanyahu of bowing to the demands of the ultra-orthodox partners in his right-wing coalition and obstructing a deal to release the Israeli hostages held by Palestinian Islamist organisation Hamas.

Some Ministers oppose an agreement with Hamas as it would also provide for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

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Israel continues to seek to eliminate Hamas, which attacked sites in southern Israel on October 7, killing nearly 1,200 people and abducting about 250 more to Gaza.

Israel responded by pounding Gaza with airstrikes and launched a ground offensive into the sealed-off Palestinian territory at the end of October.

More than 37,300 people have been killed and more than 85,000 injured in the course of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas-controlled health authority in Gaza.

Months of efforts have failed to bring about a breakthrough in indirect negotiations to persuade Israel to agree to a ceasefire and Hamas to release around 120 hostages.



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WHO warns counterfeit diabetes drugs in circulation worldwide




Geneva, June 21 (IANS/DPA) Counterfeit diabetes drugs have been in circulation since 2022, a problem affecting all regions of the world, the WHO warned in a statement.

The health authority on Thursday referred specifically to findings in Britain, the US and Brazil since October 2023.

The drug concerns Ozempic, a medicine containing the active ingredient semaglutide, which is also approved in the EU for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

The counterfeit version looks identical to the real medicine. Because the product also suppresses the appetite, it is increasingly being prescribed for weight loss.

But counterfeit drugs may not contain the right amount of active ingredients and could therefore lead to uncontrolled sugar in diabetics, the WHO said, adding they may also contain other active ingredients that pose health risks.

The WHO called on doctors, pharmacists, regulatory authorities and the public to be vigilant.

People should only buy medicines on prescription from pharmacies and not online, the WHO said.

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Users should ensure that the dosage scale on insulin pens is displayed correctly, the label looks correct and there are no spelling mistakes on the box, the global health agency added.



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Putin warns S.Korea against arms deliveries to Ukraine




Hanoi, June 21 (IANS/DPA) Russian President Vladimir Putin has said South Korea would be making a “big mistake” if it supplies arms to Ukraine.

“If that happens, then we will make corresponding decisions that will not please the current leadership of South Korea,” Putin said on Thursday during a trip to Vietnam.

The South Korean government had earlier expressed concern over a new Russia-North Korea strategic partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked.

Seoul said the security commitments violated UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.

It also suggested it could reconsider its long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to Kiev.

North Korea, ruled by President Kim Jong Un, is subject to far-reaching UN sanctions and import bans due to its nuclear weapons programme, including the trade in weapons and the transfer of military technologies to the country.

During a state visit to Pyongyang on Wednesday, Putin signed the partnership agreement with Kim.

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At a press conference in Hanoi on Thursday, Putin called Seoul’s concerns unfounded.

He said South Korea had nothing to fear as the pact would only apply if either Russia or North Korea was attacked by a third country.

“As far as I know, (South Korea) is not planning any aggression” against North Korea, he said.

This means that “there is no need to fear our cooperation”.

Putin also said that he would not deploy any North Korean soldiers in Ukraine.

However, he threatened to deliver high-precision weapons to North Korea as a response to Western arms deliveries to Ukraine.



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Washington prioritises Ukraine, postpones military supplies to others




Washington, June 21 (IANS/DPA) The US government plans to postpone the delivery of some military equipment to other countries to prioritise strengthening Ukraine’s air defences.

White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that given Kiev’s urgent needs, the US government had made the “difficult but necessary” decision to postpone certain planned arms sales to other countries, in particular missiles for the Patriot and NASAMS air defence systems.

These should go instead to Ukraine, whose armed forces urgently need additional air defence capacities, he added.

The countries concerned had been informed, Kirby said, though he did not say which countries were involved.

All are to receive what they had ordered, just a little later than originally planned, he added.

This was first mentioned by US President Joe Biden during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a few days ago on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Italy.

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