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Weakened UK leader Boris Johnson survives no-confidence vote

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By Jill Lawless in London

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a no-confidence vote on Monday, securing enough support from his Conservative Party to remain in office despite a substantial rebellion that leaves him a weakened leader with an uncertain future.

Known for his ability to shrug off scandals, the charismatic leader has struggled to turn the page on revelations that he and his staff repeatedly held boozy parties that flouted the COVID-19 restrictions they imposed on others. Support among his fellow Conservative lawmakers has weakened as some see a leader renowned for his ability to connect with voters increasingly as a liability rather than an asset in elections.

Johnson won the backing of 211 out of 359 Conservative lawmakers in a secret ballot, more than the simple majority needed to remain in power, but still a significant rebellion of 148 MPs.

Johnson called it a “convincing” win and said the party should now “come together.”

“What it means is that as a government we can move on and focus on stuff that I think really matters to people,” he said.

With no clear front-runner to succeed him, most political observers had predicted Johnson would defeat the challenge. But the rebellion could still be a watershed moment for him — and is a sign of deep Conservative divisions, less than three years after he led the party to its biggest election victory in decades.

Johnson’s winning margin is less than that secured by his predecessor Theresa May in a similar vote in December 2018. She was forced to resign six months later.

Since replacing May as prime minister in 2019, Johnson has led Britain out of the European Union and through a pandemic, both of which have shaken the U.K. socially and economically. The vote comes as Johnson’s government is under intense pressure to ease the pain of skyrocketing energy and food bills.

But the main blow to his leadership has been revelations that he and his staff repeatedly held boozy parties that flouted the COVID-19 restrictions they imposed on others. That caused anger in the country, and unease among many Conservatives.

Discontent that has been building for months erupted after a 10-day parliamentary break that included a long weekend of celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. For many, the four-day holiday was a chance to relax — but there was no respite for Johnson, who was booed by some onlookers as he arrived for a service in the queen’s honor at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday.

Conservative Party official Graham Brady announced Monday that he had received letters calling for a no-confidence vote from at least 54 Tory legislators, enough to trigger the measure under party rules. Hours later, party lawmakers lined up by the dozen in a corridor at Parliament to cast their ballots in a wood-paneled room, handing over their phones as they entered to ensure secrecy.

Johnson addressed dozens of Conservative lawmakers in a House of Commons room before the vote as he tried to shore up support, vowing: “I will lead you to victory again.”

Johnson’s allies had insisted he would stay in office if he won by even a single vote.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said Johnson had won the vote “handsomely,” and urged the party to “draw a line under this now.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, one of the favorites to succeed Johnson if he is ousted, tweeted: “Pleased that colleagues have backed the Prime Minister. I support him 100%. Now’s the time to get on with the job.”

But previous prime ministers who survived no-confidence votes emerged severely weakened.

Johnson became prime minister in July 2019, capping a rollercoaster journey to the top. He had held major offices, including London mayor and U.K. foreign secretary, but also spent periods on the political sidelines after self-inflicted gaffes. He kept bouncing back, showing an uncommon ability to shrug off scandal and connect with voters that, for many Conservatives, overshadowed doubts about his ethics or judgment.

But concerns came to a head after an investigator’s report late last month that slammed a culture of rule-breaking inside the prime minister’s office in a scandal known as “partygate.”

Civil service investigator Sue Gray described alcohol-fueled bashes held by Downing Street staff members in 2020 and 2021, when pandemic restrictions prevented U.K. residents from socializing or even visiting dying relatives.

Gray said Johnson and senior officials must bear responsibility for “failures of leadership and judgment.”

Johnson also was fined 50 pounds ($63) by police for attending one party, making him the first prime minister sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.

The prime minister said he was “humbled” and took “full responsibility” — but insisted he would not resign. He urged Britons to “move on” and focus on righting the battered economy and helping Ukraine defend itself against a Russian invasion.

But a growing number of Conservatives feel that Johnson is now a liability who will doom them to defeat at the next election, which must be held by 2024.

“Today’s decision is change or lose,” said Jeremy Hunt, who ran against Johnson for the Conservative leadership in 2019 but has largely refrained from criticizing him since. “I will be voting for change.”

Lawmaker Jesse Norman, a longtime Johnson supporter, said the prime minister had “presided over a culture of casual law-breaking” and had left the government “adrift and distracted.”

Despite his victory, Johnson is likely to face more pressure. The war in Ukraine, a simmering post-Brexit feud with the EU and soaring inflation are all weighing on the government.

Polls give the left-of-center opposition Labour Party a lead nationally, and the Conservatives could lose special elections later this month for two parliamentary districts, called when incumbent Tory lawmakers were forced out by sex scandals.

Johnson tried to focus on broader issues, promising colleagues he would cut taxes — a policy popular with Tories — and noting that he spoke Monday to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine’s cause, a stance shared by his possible successors.

Cabinet minister Steve Barclay, a Johnson ally, said toppling the leader now would be “indefensible.”

But Steve Baker, a strong Brexit supporter whose opposition to May helped Johnson take power, said he was voting for Johnson to go because the prime minister had broken the law.

He predicted before the vote that Johnson would likely “formally win” but said that would not settle the matter.

“What that means over the months ahead, I don’t know,” Baker said.

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Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.

Some fans were stopped by stadium security from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.

The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked Iran for weeks.

Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”

Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.

After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.

One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.

“We want to raise awareness about his arrest and about the women’s rights movement,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist. All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”

Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad for this year in Qatar.

“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”

Furious protesters in Iran have been venting their anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The turmoil has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign. The opening match against England on Monday was the scene of protests as anti-government fans waved signs and chanted in the stands. Before that match, which Iran lost 6-2, its players remained silent as their national anthem played and didn’t celebrate their two goals. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored twice against Wales.

Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.

“We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.

Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been given orders to confiscate anything but the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you are only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.

An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and and put it in his bag.

“They’re not liking that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.

A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, scrambled after the match to retrieve her hat and flag that had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.

“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I’ve ever been in, before and after the match,” she said. She described dozens of men who surrounded her and tried to smother her face with their Iranian flags, snatching her signs as Qatari security stood by.

“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. That’s not my priority.”

After the game, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed footage of people bursting out into cheers across the country.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Isabel Debre And Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press

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Sajjan mum on human rights during World Cup visit to Qatar

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By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa

OTTAWA — International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing opposition criticism because he did not make a public statement about human rights during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup.

“If we don’t raise the issue of human rights when we are in countries where we know human rights abuses are taking place, we have no moral authority,” said NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson.

Sajjan attended the World Cup on behalf of the Trudeau government, where the Canadian men’s team is competing for the first time in years. He met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and local officials.

Yet Sajjan’s social media postings make no mention of the host country’s documented mistreatment of migrant workers, nor the emirate’s anti-LGBTQ policies.

Those concerns have led some broadcasters and players to sport armbands that say “One Love.” The German team covered their mouths when their official photo was taken.

Sajjan’s office said he was unavailable Thursday for comment as he was flying back to Canada.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who is gay, said he felt split on Qatar’s hosting.

“I’ll be honest, it’s very conflicting. I’m cheering on my team; I’m cheering on my country and (want) nothing but the best. But I’ll tell, you it’s kind of difficult,” he said

O’Regan said he could not speak for Sajjan, but noted the government voiced concerns about Qatar before the games got underway.

“We know exactly where we stand on it; we’ve voiced our displeasure clearly,” he said.

The NDP had called for a diplomatic boycott of the tournament.

“This is talking out of both sides of your mouth, with this government,” McPherson said.

“This government once again has shown that they don’t really care about human rights.”

On Monday, MPs passed a unanimous motion condemning FIFA for threatening to penalize players who wore the “One Love” armbands. The motion argued that “international sporting governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in highlighting the fight for equality against homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination in sport.”

Captains of several European countries scrapped plans to wear a “One Love” armband after FIFA, soccer’s governing body, warned they would face on-field sanctions.

Media reports from Qatar also said some fans wearing rainbow attire were refused entry to the stadiums.

This month, Amnesty International rebuked Soccer Canada for its “deafening silence” on the thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, who “have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation.”

Soccer Canada released a statement last month in support of ongoing reforms, but steered clear of criticizing the emirate.

Amnesty noted that peer federations from Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands all endorsed calls for a compensation fund for migrant workers who were mistreated while preparing Qatar for the games.

The Conservatives did not have a direct comment on Sajjan’s actions. Instead, MP Michael Chong said his party prefers that the World Cup be hosted by countries with better reputations, such as a bid by Ukraine to co-host the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal.

“Conservatives condemn in the strongest terms all human rights abuses around the world and are prepared to work with our democratic allies to support human rights,” Chong wrote in a statement.

The Bloc Québécois had also called for a diplomatic boycott, and lamented Sajjan’s attendance in Qatar. “Canada has no excuse to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses,” MP Martin Champoux tweeted in French on Monday.

During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Liberals urged the Harper government to raise the issue of human rights in China.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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