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Starmer win would embolden Putin as UK election looms: Rishi Sunak

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London, May 13 (IANS/DPA) British Prime Rishi Sunak warned giving opposition leader Keir Starmer the keys to Downing Street would leave the country less safe and embolden Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in an early indication of bitter general election battles to come.

Sunak claimed Labour’s refusal to adopt the government’s plan to spend 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence sent the wrong message at a time when the world was facing “one of the most dangerous periods we’ve ever known.”

The highly personal attack on Starmer came as Sunak attempted to revive Conservative hopes with his party more than 20 points behind in the opinion polls and licking its wounds after a local election mauling.

The next UK general election must be held no later than January 2025, but Sunak has indicated he could call an election this autumn.

Starmer rejected the attack, saying “I know first-hand the importance of national security” from his role as director of public prosecutions.

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Sunak said that despite the dangers over the coming years, there was also opportunity and voters will have a choice between the Conservatives’ “optimistic” view of the future and Labour’s “doomsterism.”

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, Sunak said he remained “confident” that his party could win the general election as it was “the only party really talking about the future” and offering “bold ideas and a clear plan” rather than “lofty platitudes.”

The prime minister’s wide-ranging address warned of threats over the next five years from an “axis of authoritarian powers” including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, extremists seeking to sow division at home, fears about new technologies such as artificial intelligence and global forces imperilling people’s financial security.

He said: “People want to know that they have got someone in charge who understands these dangers, because only if you understand what’s happening can you be trusted to keep us safe.”

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Sunak has set out a plan to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence by 2030, with the money largely coming from slashing the size of the Civil Service.

Labour has said it wants to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP, but has not set a date for achieving that target and would carry out a defence review if it wins the election.

Sunak said: “I believe that we will keep this country safe and Keir Starmer’s actions demonstrate that he won’t be able to do that.”

He added: “The Labour Party and Keir Starmer not matching our investment on defence spending emboldens our adversaries.

“What do you think Putin thinks when he sees that? That he thinks the West isn’t prepared to make the tough choices to invest in their security?

“Because Russia’s economy has mobilised for war, he is continuing to be aggressive, we need to meet that aggression with strength.”

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Sunak also accused the opposition of attempting to “depress their way to victory” with “talk of doom loops and gaslighting and scaremongering about pensions”.

He said: “They have just one thing: a calculation that they can make you feel so bad about your country, that you won’t have the energy to ask what they might do with the incredible power that they seek to yield.”

Sunak acknowledged that the public felt “anxious and uncertain,” but denied that this was all due to “14 years of Conservative government.”

But while he painted a picture of a difficult period ahead, the prime minister also pointed to significant opportunities presented by transformational technologies such as AI, adding it was “incumbent upon us to make this a period not just of great danger but of great progress too.”

–IANS

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Solomon Islands University says 'thank-you India' after receiving Tata buses

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Honiara (Solomon Islands), May 29 (IANS) The Solomon Islands National University (SINU) on Wednesday thanked India for its “generous contribution” of donating Tata buses to the southwestern Pacific Ocean nation, saying it will significantly enhance the mobility and accessibility for its staff and students across three campuses.

Last year, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted 20 Tata buses worth $1 million for use by the National Hosting Authority during the Pacific Games for transporting sporting contingents from camps to games venues.

On Wednesday, the country’s Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele handed over the buses to various organisations – including educational institutions, city council, and local police force – in a ceremony held at the National Stadium.

Solomon Islands National University received three Tata buses, which can carry 31 passengers and have handles for additional passengers.

“This generous contribution from the Government of India, facilitated by the Solomon Islands Government and the National Hosting Authority, exemplifies the lasting positive impact of the Pacific Games. These buses will not only improve our daily operations but also foster a greater sense of unity and convenience within our University community,” said SINU Vice Chancellor Transform Aqorau.

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India’s warm gesture has been appreciated by the Manele government which considers it as yet another symbol of friendship between the two nations and their shared commitment to address common goals.

“Felicitations to SINU for making best use of the made-in-India Tata Motors buses. This is a testament to the warm bilateral ties between India and Solomon Islands and our development partnership in education, capacity-building,” the High Commission of India in Papua New Guinea posted on X.

–IANS

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Islamic State threatens India-Pakistan T20 World Cup match in New York, officials assure heightened security

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New York, May 29 (IANS) The Islamic State terrorist organisation has issued an ominous threat against the T20 World Cup match between India and Pakistan to be held here next month and New York officials said on Wednesday that they are heightening security.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that she has “directed the New York State Police to engage in elevated security measures, including an increased law enforcement presence, advanced surveillance, and thorough screening processes”.

Bruce Blakeman, the head of Nassau County, bordering New York City, where the match will take place, said: “We make sure that we are on top of every situation that could potentially arise. Now to that end, we have taken many many precautions.”

“We take every threat seriously. There are the same procedures for every threat. We don’t minimise threats. We track down all of our leads,” he added.

The Islamic State terrorist organisation known by its initials, IS, posted on a British chat site an image of the cricket stadium at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County with drones flying over it showing the date, “9/06/2024”, the date of the India-Pakistan match.

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A screenshot of the post was broadcast on a news report by NBC New York TV. The channel reported that county leaders “say they’ve made the request to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to make Eisenhower Park a no-fly zone for drones”.

New York officials downplayed the ISIS post as not a “credible threat”, while at the same time asserting that they were monitoring the situation. increasing security measures and committing resources for any eventuality.

Governor Hochul said: “While there is no credible public safety threat at this time, we continue to monitor the situation closely.”

“My Administration has been working for months with federal law enforcement and Nassau County to ensure New Yorkers and visitors are safe,” she said.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said that while “to date, there are no credible threats”, his department “continues to monitor the situation and we are proactively deploying resources to maintain safety as you continue your day-to-day activities”.

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Even if ISIS has not organised an attack, the threat of lone wolf attacks — members or sympathisers launching attacks on their own — remains.

The World Cup Cricket stadium, which has a 30,000-capacity, was built specially for the tournament and will share the matches in the US with the arena in Dallas. It will kick off on June 1 with an exhibition match between India and Bangladesh, which will be followed by the regular tournament matches starting on June 3, pitching India and Sri Lanka, and running till June 12 with an India vs US match.

NBC New York said that the security preparations for the World Cup event were the largest that Nassau County has undertaken and it is being treated on par with presidential debates.

As part of the safety precautions, it said: “Local hospitals also involved just in case they’re needed”.

The British newspaper Express first reported on the threat, which it said was also directed against sporting events in Europe. It said that ISIS “followers are encouraged to target major events” including the Cricket World Cup.

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“There were also extensive discussions on the forum as to how the terror group should use drones laden with explosives to murder civilians at major sporting events across Europe,” the Express said of the postings on a chat group posted on the British website Matrix.

The Express said: “Chat room members who shared the stadium threats listed their terror skills, including firing AK47 rifles, and discussed sums of money in pound Sterling, suggesting some might be based in Britain.”

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

–IANS

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Russia says prisoner swaps with Ukraine are paused, blames Kiev

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Moscow, May 29 (IANS/DPA) Russia’s commissioner for human rights on Wednesday blamed Ukraine for a months-long pause in prisoner exchanges by the two warring sides.

“Unfortunately, swaps have been suspended for several months because of Ukraine, which constantly puts forth new contrived demands,” Tatyana Moskalova told a session of the parliament, the TASS state news agency said.

Still, officials from both countries continue to visit prisoners of war held by the other side to monitor compliance with their rights, she said.

Moskalkova did not provide any further details on Kiev’s alleged demands.

The editor-in-chief of the state-controlled broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonyan, earlier published a list of 500 captured Ukrainian soldiers. She claimed that Kiev had only selected 38 fighters from the Azov regiment – an elite unit that has been accused in the past of far-right sympathies – and rejected the rest.

Russia has been waging a war against Ukraine for more than two years and currently occupies around a fifth of the country. The exact number of prisoners of war on both sides is unknown, but according to observers, the Russians have taken several times as many prisoners as Ukraine.

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The accusations from Moscow are likely aimed at destabilizing the political situation in Kiev and increasing the pressure on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky has vowed to return all captured soldiers to their homeland. The last exchange between the two countries took place in February 2024.

–IANS/DPA

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Turkey detains nine police officers over links to failed coup in 2016

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Istanbul, May 29 (IANS) The Turkish police on Wednesday detained nine police officers in the western province of Izmir over their alleged links to a network accused of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Six police officers currently serving in the Izmir Police Department, along with three former deputy police chiefs, were detained in a large-scale operation, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The operation was launched by the Izmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office following the determination that the suspects were in contact with members of the Gulen movement, a network led by US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.

The network was accused by the government of infiltrating the state bureaucracy and then attempting a coup on July 15, 2016, which killed at least 250 people. Following the attempt, the government initiated a widespread crackdown on individuals suspected of having ties to the movement.

–IANS

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Sharp rise in fees for foreigners at elite Swiss universities

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Bern, May 29 (IANS/DPA) Studying at the elite Swiss universities ETH Zurich and EPFL Lausanne looks likely to become significantly more expensive for people from abroad in future.

The lower chamber of Switzerland’s parliament, the National Council, voted in favour of increasing tuition fees on Wednesday.

The proposal would mean that those who move to Switzerland to study would in the future pay at least three times as much as those already living in Switzerland.

At the moment Swiss citizens and foreigners pay the same amount, at ETH and EPFL less than €1,500 ($1,625) per year. The upper chamber of parliament still has to agree on the fee increase.

Members of parliament argued that Swiss students at renowned foreign universities also pay more, up to 40 times as much as domestic students. Another argument is that educational institutions are financed with taxpayers’ money, which is only raised from people who live in Switzerland.

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–IANS/DPA

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