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London’s Gatwick Airport plagued by drone sightings

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  • LONDON — New drone sightings Friday caused fresh chaos for holiday travellers at London’s Gatwick Airport, which reopened in the morning after a 36-hour shutdown only to hastily suspend flights for more than an hour in the late afternoon on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

    The reopening, closing and re-reopening of Britain’s second-busiest airport due to repeated drone sightings raised a host of questions for British officials. Those included how safe is it really to fly with drones around and why can’t the country’s police, military and aviation experts catch those responsible since they have been investigating the drone invasions since Wednesday night.

    The Friday night flight suspension at Gatwick caused still more delays and cancellations just as the holiday travel season peaked. Tens of thousands of travellers have been stranded or delayed due to the persistent drone crisis at Gatwick, located 30 miles (45 kilometres) south of London.

    The latest drone sighting came after British police and transport officials said extra measures had been put in place to prevent drones from intruding on the airport, which serves 43 million passengers a year.

    Military forces with special equipment have been brought in and police units are working around-the-clock, but the culprit or culprits have not been found. Police say a sophisticated drone operation is targeting the airport to cause maximum disruption during the holiday rush.

    The motive for the drone invasion wasn’t clear but British police said there are no indications it was “terror related.”

    Gatwick reopened at about 6 a.m. Friday after having been shut down Wednesday night and all day Thursday after authorities said drones repeatedly violated the airport perimeter, threatening the safely of incoming and outgoing planes.

    Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said Friday morning there had been about 40 sightings of “a small number of drones” while the airport was shut down. He told the BBC that the drone disruption at Gatwick was “unprecedented anywhere in the world.”

    Greyling said additional “military capabilities” and a range of security measures had been put in place overnight but would not elaborate. He said the airport was considered safe for flights Friday even though the drone operator or operators had not been apprehended.

    The Thursday shutdown upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers, since about 110,000 people had been scheduled to pass through Gatwick that day.

    After flight operations restarted Friday, the airport struggled to resolve a massive backlog of passengers and cancelled, delayed or diverted flights. The number of passengers expected Friday was even higher than the previous day, and about 145 of Friday’s 837 scheduled flights at Gatwick were cancelled to handle the crush.

    Then, in a shock, Gatwick takeoffs and landings had to be suspended again as a “precaution” after reports that a drone was spotted about 5:10 p.m., the airport said.

    Planes circled over London or sat at Gatwick gates, waiting to find out what would happen Friday night, before getting a new “all-clear” about 80 minutes later.

    “The military measures we have in place at the airport have provided us with reassurance necessary to reopen our airfield,” the airport tweeted moments after flights resumed.

    The hundreds of travellers who were stuck overnight at Gatwick by Thursday’s closure described freezing conditions as they slept on benches or the airport floor. Many complained they weren’t being kept informed about re-routed flights.

    British officials, meanwhile, were debating whether shooting down a drone was an available “tactical option” due to concerns that such an action could inadvertently hurt people on the ground.

    “Shooting the drone out of the sky is probably one of the least effective options” available, said Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry of Sussex Police.

    He said police believe there was more than one drone operating around Gatwick in the last two days and that it was possible the drones were being operated from fairly far away.

    Gregory Katz, The Associated Press



















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    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Canada next weekend, April 27-28

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  • OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, when the latter visits Canada next weekend.

    Abe and Trudeau’s two-day meeting on April 27 and 28 will centre on the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka in late June, as well strengthening ties between the two countries.

    Trudeau’s office says in a statement the two will also discuss the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which the PMO says has created opportunities in both countries.

    The Canadian and Japanese leaders are expected to address the media after holding their bilateral meeting.

    The pair most recently spoke at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Papua, New Guinea, last November.

    Abe’s upcoming visit to Canada is part of a week-long trip to Europe and North America that includes stops in the United States, France, Italy, Slovakia and Belgium, as Japan prepares to play host to the G20.

    The Canadian Press


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    All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

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  • After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince Edward Island appear poised to stir things up and make some history when they cast their ballots Tuesday.

    The Island’s Green party, led by Scottish-born dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, has recorded upward momentum in the polls for more than a year, suggesting the smallest province may be ready to elect Canada’s first Green government.

    “It has not been a particularly fascinating campaign, but I think it’s going to be a fascinating election night,” says Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island.

    “There’s something going on here. You can’t deny that after a whole year of solid numbers for the Green party that they’ve attracted attention and are being regarded with great favour.”

    A Narrative Research poll for the Charlottetown Guardian released this week suggests the Greens had maintained a lead, but it was within the margin of error and the Tories and Liberals were not far behind.

    The close numbers also raised the spectre of a minority government, which would itself mark a historic moment for the Island: The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    Islanders have been electing either Liberal or Conservative governments since Confederation. And a clear pattern has held since the mid-1960s, with majority governments being regularly replaced after serving three terms — though the Liberals eked out a fourth term in 1978, only to lose power a year later.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on April 23, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    Though the province’s economy is among the strongest in the country, voters have been reluctant to attribute any of that success to MacLauchlan.

    Donald Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration at the Universite de Moncton, says he’s bewildered by the lack of credit given to the Liberals.

    “It is difficult to imagine how the MacLauchlan government could have produced a better report card on the economy before going to the polls,” Savoie wrote in a recent editorial, noting the numbers look great for wages, employment, immigration, housing starts, exports, retail sales and tourism.

    “And yet public opinion surveys reveal that the MacLauchlan government is confronting a serious political challenge. This suggests that there are forces at play in the Maritime provinces that are playing havoc with the region’s political landscape.”

    So what is it about the Greens that has moved the Island’s traditionally small-c conservative voters to consider a more progressive party?

    Bevan-Baker says the shifting political sentiments on P.E.I. are a reflection of a broader movement away from traditional, mainstream politics. He’s called it the local expression of a global phenomenon.

    “People are looking for something that doesn’t sound or smell or taste like a conventional politician,” he said in an interview late last year.

    Bevan-Baker became the first member of the Green party to win a seat in the P.E.I. legislature in 2015, having failed to win a single election after 10 attempts on the Island and in Ontario.

    As party leader, he has spent the past three years carefully crafting the party’s brand by consistently challenging the notion that the Greens are a single-issue entity devoted only to environmental activism.

    During the election campaign, Bevan-Baker made a point of broadening the party’s public appeal by focusing on social issues.

    When the party released its entire $30-million platform at the beginning of the campaign, the largest chunk of that planned spending — $10-million — was earmarked for increasing social assistance rates. Increasing the inventory of affordable housing was also a top priority.

    “They’re really broadened out their platform to talk about socially progressive issues,” says Desserud. “It’s a rebranding of the party that has been extremely successful.”

    The party has been talking about environmental issues, “but they have not foregrounded them,” the professor said.

    And when it comes to climate change and carbon taxes, Bevan-Baker has been careful to link a healthy environment with a prosperous economy.

    As for the Progressive Conservatives, the party may have deep roots on the island, but it has been plagued by infighting. In the past eight years, the party has had no fewer than six leaders, including Dennis King, who was elected in February.

    The party enjoyed a boost in the polls in March, when it was in a virtual dead heat with the Liberals and this week’s Narrative poll suggests they have continued momentum.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    On Tuesday, voters will also learn the results from a binding referendum on electoral reform, which will determine if Islanders want to keep the first-past-the-post system or change to a mixed-member-proportional-representation model.

    In a 2016 plebiscite, 52 per cent voted in favour of switching to a mixed-member system, but MacLauchlan rejected the results, saying the 36 per cent turnout rate was too low.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to abolish the first-past-the-post system federally during the 2015 election, but he later abandoned that pledge, saying Canadians were not eager for change. Voters in British Columbia rejected making such a change in December 2017.

    Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


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