Serbian Opposition Activists Block State TV-Radio Building Over Media Freedom Concerns

Serbian opposition activists have blockaded the entrance of the building hosting the state Radio and Television service (RTS) in Belgrade to protest what they say are deteriorating media freedoms in the Balkan country under populist President Aleksandar Vucic.
Members of the Alliance of Serbia (SzS), an opposition umbrella group, began the eight-hour blockade at noon in the capital on December 13, holding a banner reading “EU, It’s Your Choice: Vucic Or Democracy” in both English and Serbian.WATCH: video report
Serbian independent media have repeatedly complained of being pressured by officials and have accused the government of fueling an atmosphere of intolerance toward journalists.
Vucic, who vowed to lead Serbia toward European Union membership, has been accused of curbing media freedoms and democracy, accusations he has denied.
The activists called on RTS to “perform its role and inform the public on all issues that matter.”
Vuk Jeremic, the leader of the People’s Party and the SzS chairman, said the protesters had no intention of entering the building and that they were not seeking personnel changes.
Jeremic told a news conference that “members of SzS organizations, activists, and citizens” blocked the entrance because the RTS, as he put it, “has been blocking the truth for the past eight years.”
Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party ascended to power in 2012. Vucic has been president since 2017 and his government has strengthened relations with traditional Slavic ally Russia.
Jeremic also said that the move was a “warning” to RTS journalists that they “should do their job professionally.”
He said that while the blockade was peaceful, participants were concerned about possible provocateurs “sent by Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party.”
Police refused to sanction the protest because the request was not filed at least five days in advance, Jeremic said.
The rally came a day after a few dozen Serbian journalists staged a protest in Belgrade against what they said were deteriorating media freedoms under Vucic.
Members of the Independent Journalists’ Association said there have been more than 100 cases of pressure and attacks on the media in the past year alone.
The protest also marked a year since the house of journalist Milan Jovanovic was torched outside Belgrade. Jovanovic was investigating alleged local government corruption. He escaped the fire, but his home burned to the ground.
The suspected arsonists are currently on trial. A senior official in Vucic’s ruling party has been accused of ordering the attack, which he has denied.With reporting by AP

Canadian Opposition Conservative Leader Resigns

Canada’s opposition Conservative leader said Thursday he will resign as party leader after weeks of infighting and a disappointing performance in parliamentary elections.Andrew Scheer, 40, called resigning “one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made.” He will stay on until a new leader is elected.”Serving as the leader of the party that I love so much has been the opportunity and the challenge of a lifetime,” Scheer said on the floor of Parliament.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a second term in Canada’s October elections despite losing the majority in Parliament. It was an unexpectedly strong result for Trudeau following a series of scandals that had tarnished his image as a liberal icon.The vote led several Conservative officials to call for Scheer to step aside.Even members of his own party said Scheer is bland. They once touted it as a virtue, the antidote to Trudeau’s flash and star power. In the words of Canada’s former Conservative foreign minister, John Baird: “He’s not the sizzle, he’s the steak.”But Scheer was criticized during the campaign for embellishing his resume by saying he had worked as an insurance broker when, in fact, he was never licensed.He also took heat for holding dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship — something he and his party had blasted other Canadian political figures for and never mentioned until the Globe and Mail newspaper revealed it during the election campaign.He stumbled at several points in the campaign. He was widely panned after a debate when Trudeau grilled Scheer about his stance on abortion and the Conservative refused to answer.In 2005, he gave a speech in Parliament attacking same-sex marriage and his social conservative beliefs hurt him in Eastern Canada.Following the resignation, Trudeau said in Parliament, “I want to thank him deeply for his service to Canada on behalf of all Canadians.”Scheer plans to stay on as the member of Parliament for the Saskatchewan district he has represented since he was first elected in 2004 when he was 25. The Conservative caucus chair Tom Kmiec later announced Conservative Party Members of Parliament voted unanimously for Scheer to remain as leader until a new leader is elected.Political careerHe has spent most of his adult life in politics. At age 32, he became the youngest speaker of the House of Commons, a non-partisan role overseeing debate in Parliament.Scheer became Conservative leader in 2017 after other prominent Conservatives decided not to run because they thought Trudeau could not be beaten in the 2019 election.Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties are now expected to win at the first opportunity.”If they don’t, the knives are out,” Wiseman said. “Scheer could see the writing on the wall; he would have almost certainly failed to win a majority at his party convention’s scheduled review of his leadership in April.”Antonia Maioni, McGill University’s dean of arts, said Scheer’s party recognized that he and his social conservative beliefs were not a winning strategy for forming a government in Canada.Dustin van Vugt, the executive director of the Conservative Party, issued a statement that appeared to dismiss suggestions the resignation could be tied to reports that party funds were used to subsidize private school education for Scheer’s five children.”Shortly after Mr. Scheer was elected leader, we had a meeting where I made a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa. This includes a differential in schooling costs between Regina and Ottawa. All proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people,” van Vugt said.

Britain Takes Decisive Electoral Turn

Britons woke Friday to an utterly transformed political landscape following an electoral earthquake that has ripped up modern British politics, and whose tremors will be felt for years to come.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s emphatic win in the country’s third general election in four years — giving the Conservatives, also known as Tories, their biggest parliamentary majority in more than a quarter of a century — marks a decisive turn in the country’s fortunes following the instability triggered by the 2016 Brexit referendum, say analysts.Armed with an 80-seat majority, the biggest at a general election since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987, Johnson’s government now will be able to end the deadlock in Britain’s Parliament and deliver on the Conservative promise to “get Brexit done” without further delay. Britain will almost certainly exit the European Union by the end of January, triggering a second and likely trickier stage of negotiations with Brussels over the country’s future political and trade relations with the European continent.Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement at Downing Street after winning the general election, in London, Britain, Dec. 13, 2019.Speaking from the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, Johnson said Thursday’s election results show the “irrefutable” decision of the British people is to leave the EU and to end the “miserable threats” of a second Brexit referendum, a rerun plebiscite backed by Britain’s main opposition party, Labor, and the centrist Liberal Democrats.The huge victory, which saw the country’s main opposition Labor Party record its worst electoral performance since 1935, is a vindication of Johnson’s decision, say analysts, to focus the election campaigning on Brexit and not to be drawn in too much by Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn’s effort to make the poll about the crumbling state of Britain’s public services. Johnson’s strategy was posited on the idea that Britons, even those who would prefer to remain in the EU, have become sick and tired of the long-running Brexit mess and want the saga to end.’Red wall’Johnson also had his fair share of luck, “the biggest piece of which was Jeremy Corbyn,” according to Daniel Finkelstein, a onetime adviser to former Conservative leader David Cameron and now a columnist with The Times. “Corbyn kept more moderate Conservatives voting Tory even when they had doubts about Boris Johnson. He neither united the liberal left and center behind a policy of stopping Brexit nor the traditional Labor vote behind a populist manifesto,” he said.Britain’s opposition Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves Islington Town Hall through the backdoor after a meeting following the results of the general election in London, Britain, Dec. 13, 2019.In the final days of the campaign, Johnson focused on Labor’s so-called “red wall” of constituencies searching for cracks to widen in former mining towns and farming villages crucial to the Conservatives’ hopes of winning Thursday’s election, warning voters they face a “great Brexit betrayal,” if they voted for an increasingly metropolitan and far-left Labor Party.On Thursday, Johnson managed not just to breach what was once considered an impregnable wall, but he bulldozed through it by persuading traditional working-class voters who favor Brexit in the north of England to ditch their lifetime habit of voting Labor. Constituencies that have been synonymous with Labor for decades fell like dominoes — seats like Workington in the northwest English county of Cumbria, which has been held by Labor for 97 out of the last 100 years.
Johnson’s Landslide Victory Sets Britain On Course for January Brexit video player.
Liberal Democrats candidate Jo Swinson speaks after losing her seat in East Dunbartonshire constituency, at a counting center for Britain’s general election in Bishopbriggs, Britain, Dec. 13, 2019.Labor moderates want him to go immediately, and they fear he wants to oversee the choice of his successor, which his internal party opponents see as a sign that he and the left wing of the party will not easily relinquish control.  Left-wingers attribute the party’s failure to Brexit and say it has nothing to do with Corbyn or his ideology. Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, tweeted that this had been a “Brexit election.” “Johnson must continue to be fought with radical alternatives, not triangulation, that challenge the Tories head-on,” he added.But moderate Labor candidates say that on the doorsteps while campaigning, they found the main problem for the party wasn’t Brexit but deep distrust for the Labor leader. They note that while Labor did worse in seats that voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, they also fared badly in constituencies that voted to remain in the EU.One Labor candidate, Phil Wilson, who failed to keep what had been a safe Labor seat in the north, said it was “mendacious nonsense” for Corbyn loyalists to blame the result on Brexit. “Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was a bigger problem,” he said. “To say otherwise is delusional.”Scotland, Northern IrelandDespite their huge win, the victorious Conservatives will face challenges of their own, say analysts, both when it comes to Brexit and in terms of London’s relations with Scotland and Northern Ireland.Johnson’s victory may have seen a remaking of the Conservatives, a party now more working-class than it has ever been, but it may have come at the cost of unmaking Great Britain. North of the English border, in Scotland, the pro-EU Scottish Nationalists, or SNP, also pulled off a landslide win, heralding a coming battle over Scottish independence and setting London and Edinburgh on course for a possible constitutional showdown that risks being fraught as the current clash in Spain between Catalan separatists and Madrid.Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks in Edinburgh, Dec. 13, 2019.The nationalists gained a dozen seats as the Tories, Labor and the Liberal Democrats were wiped out north of the border with the SNP winning 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats, up from the 35 it won in 2017. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, vowed Friday to formally request a second independence referendum before the end of the year, saying that the election results north and south of the border showed “the divergent paths” Scotland and the rest of the UK are on.”Boris Johnson has a mandate to take England out of the EU, but he must accept that I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future,” Sturgeon told the BBC. Johnson repeatedly has promised to reject any demand for another independence ballot, saying that if there is any formal demand, “we will mark that letter return to sender and be done with it.”Nationalists enjoyed success, too, in British-run Northern Ireland. For the first time, nationalists, who favor reunification with the Irish Republic, now hold a majority of seats in the province, which voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum.Brexit debateOn Brexit, Johnson likely will continue to face internal Conservative party disputes, say analysts, with half his Cabinet favoring a so-called soft Brexit, entailing a close trading and political relationship with the EU. Johnson is aiming to conclude a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020, but EU leaders have warned the timetable is unrealistic and the complicated negotiations will be daunting and take years.  European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 13, 2019.The new president of the European Council, Charles Michel, warned that Brussels won’t agree to a free trade deal that does excludes Britain agreeing to abide by EU regulatory rules and product standards. “The EU is ready for the next phase,” he said. “We will negotiate a future trade deal, which ensures a true level playing field,” he added.EU officials formally welcomed Johnson’s victory but added they hope the prime minister will negotiate a “close as possible future relationship.” Some European officials say the Conservatives’ big parliamentary majority should give Johnson political space to maneuver and override the objections of those Tories who want a “clean break” with the EU.Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, which failed to win any parliamentary seats Thursday, says he fears Johnson will pivot now that he has a large majority and will eventually conclude a closer relationship with the EU than hard-line Brexiters would like.

Johnson’s Landslide Victory Sets Britain On Course for January Brexit

Britain looks certain to leave the European Union by the end of January after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a big majority of 78 seats in Thursday’s general election. His Conservative Party seized control of dozens of constituencies that had voted to leave in the 2016 referendum, vindicating Johnson’s decision to call an election. However,  as Henry Ridgwell reports, the country remains deeply divided – and the prime minister will face big challenges early on in his new term.

Russia Raises Concerns Over new US Ballistic Missile Test

Russia said on Friday it was alarmed after the United States tested a ground-launched ballistic missile that would have been prohibited under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the RIA news agency reported.The United States carried out the test on Thursday. Washington formally withdrew from the 1987 INF pact with Russia in August after determining that Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation the Kremlin has denied.”It alarms us. Of course we will take this into account,” said Vladimir Ermakov, head of the foreign ministry’s arms control and non-proliferation department.It was the second test by the United States that would have been prohibited under the INF treaty and too place as the future of another major nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States is under question.New START, the last remaining major nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries, is due to expire in February 2021 and Moscow has warned there is already not enough time left to negotiate a full-fledged replacement.

UK Conservatives Secure Historic Parliamentary Majority

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a solid majority of seats in Britain’s Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month.With just over 600 of the 650 seats declared, the Conservatives reached the 326 mark, guaranteeing their majority.Johnson said it looked like the Conservatives had “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.”The victory will likely make Johnson the most electorally successful Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in almost equal measure. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in. The party looked set to gain around 200 seats.Corbyn called the result “very disappointing” for his party and said he would not lead Labour into another election, though he resisted calls to quit immediately,Results poured in early Friday showing a substantial shift in support to the Conservatives from Labour. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262.The result this time looked set to be the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher’s 1980s’ heyday, and Labour’s lowest number of seats since 1935.The Scottish National Party appeared set to take about 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats — a big increase — with a lackluster dozen or so for the centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson lost her own Scottish seat.The Conservatives took a swathe of seats in post-industrial northern England towns that were long Labour strongholds. Labour’s vote held up better in London, where the party managed to grab the Putney seat from the Conservatives.The decisive Conservative showing vindicates Johnson’s decision to press for Thursday’s early election, which was held nearly two years ahead of schedule. He said that if the Conservatives won a majority, he would get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline.Speaking at the election count in his Uxbridge constituency in suburban London, Johnson said the “historic” election “gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people to change this country for the better and to unleash the potential of the entire people of this country.”That message appears to have had strong appeal for Brexit-supporting voters, who turned away from Labour in the party’s traditional heartlands and embraced Johnson’s promise that the Conservatives would “get Brexit done.”“I think Brexit has dominated, it has dominated everything by the looks of it,” said Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell. “We thought other issues could cut through and there would be a wider debate, from this evidence there clearly wasn’t.”The prospect of Brexit finally happening more than three years after Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU marks a momentous shift for both the U.K. and the bloc. No country has ever left the union, which was created in the decades after World War II to bring unity to a shattered continent.But a decisive Conservative victory would also provide some relief to the EU, which has grown tired of Britain’s Brexit indecision.Britain’s departure will start a new phase of negotiations on future relations between Britain and the 27 remaining EU members.EU Council President Charles Michel promised that EU leaders meeting Friday would send a “strong message” to the next British government and parliament about next steps.“We are ready to negotiate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.The pound surged when an exit poll forecast the Tory win, jumping over two cents against the dollar, to $1.3445, the highest in more than a year and a half. Many Investors hope a Conservative win would speed up the Brexit process and ease, at least in the short term, some of the uncertainty that has corroded business confidence since the 2016 vote.Many voters casting ballots on Thursday hoped the election might finally find a way out of the Brexit stalemate in this deeply divided nation. Three and a half years after the U.K. voted by 52%-48% to leave the EU, Britons remain split over whether to leave the 28-nation bloc, and lawmakers have proved incapable of agreeing on departure terms.On a dank, gray day with outbreaks of blustery rain, voters went to polling stations in schools, community centers, pubs and town halls after a bad-tempered five-week campaign rife with mudslinging and misinformation.Opinion polls had given the Conservatives a steady lead, but the result was considered hard to predict, because the issue of Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties.Johnson campaigned relentlessly on a promise to “Get Brexit done” by getting Parliament to ratify his “oven-ready” divorce deal with the EU and take Britain out of the bloc as scheduled on Jan. 31.The Conservatives focused much of their energy on trying to win in a “red wall” of working-class towns in central and northern England that have elected Labour lawmakers for decades but also voted strongly in 2016 to leave the EU. That effort got a boost when the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage decided at the last minute not to contest 317 Conservative-held seats to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote.Labour, which is largely but ambiguously pro-EU, faced competition for anti-Brexit voters from the centrist Liberal Democrats, Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties, and the Greens.But on the whole Labour tried to focus the campaign away from Brexit and onto its radical domestic agenda, vowing to tax the rich, nationalize industries such as railroads and water companies and give everyone in the country free internet access. It campaigned heavily on the future of the National Health Service, a deeply respected institution that has struggled to meet rising demand after nine years of austerity under Conservative-led governments.It appears that wasn’t enough to boost Labour’s fortunes. Defeat will likely spell the end for Corbyn, a veteran socialist who moved his party sharply to the left after taking the helm in 2015, but who now looks to have led his left-of-center party to two electoral defeats since 2017. The 70-year-old left-winger was also accused of allowing anti-Semitism to spread within the party.“It’s Corbyn,” said former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Johnson, when asked about the poor result. “We knew he was incapable of leading, we knew he was worse than useless at all the qualities you need to lead a political party.”For many voters, the election offered an unpalatable choice. Both Johnson and Corbyn have personal approval ratings in negative territory, and both have been dogged by questions about their character.Johnson has been confronted with past broken promises, untruths and offensive statements, from calling the children of single mothers “ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” to comparing Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.”Yet, his energy and determination proved persuasive to many voters.“It’s a big relief, looking at the exit polls as they are now, we’ve finally got that majority a working majority that we have not had for 3 1/2 years,” said Conservative-supporting writer Jack Rydeheard. “We’ve got the opportunity to get Brexit done and get everything else that we promised as well. That’s investment in the NHS, schools, hospitals you name it — it’s finally a chance to break that deadlock in Parliament.”

Chile Finds Debris, Human Remains from Missing Plane

Chilean authorities announced Thursday that rescue workers had found debris and human remains from the military transport plane that went missing on a regular flight to Antarctica.The head of the Chilean air force, General Arturo Merino, told reporters that based on the condition of the remains, it would be “practically impossible’ that any survivors would be found.”Remains of human beings that are most likely the passengers have been found among several pieces of the plane,” Merino said. “I feel immense pain for this loss of lives.”The C-130 Hercules was carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers, including members of the Chilean air force, army and three civilians.  The wreckage was found 30 kilometers from the plane’s last-known position.

Former Bolivian President Granted Asylum in Argentina

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales has arrived in Argentina, where he has been granted asylum by the new left-wing government.Morales had fled to Mexico after nationwide protests over election fraud forced him to resign early last month.”He feels better here than in Mexico, which is far away,” Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Sola said Thursday. The two countries are neighbors.Morales will live in the capital, Buenos Aires, with his two children. Sola said four former high-ranking officials in his administration had accompanied Morales and had also requested asylum.Morales fled Bolivia after the Organization of American States concluded that the October elections had been rigged to grant him a fourth term in office.”We expect the Argentine government to comply with international norms of political asylum,” Bolivian Foreign Minister Karen Longaric warned. “We don’t want to see what happened in Mexico, where Evo Morales had an open microphone and a stage.”Interim Bolivian President Jeanine Anez has said Morales will not be allowed to run in new presidential elections that are expected to be held early next year.But on Sunday, Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (Mas) party named him its campaign manager.”Thank you for not abandoning me. I will always be with you,” Morales tweeted after that decision was announced.

Britain Brexit Bound as Johnson Set for Big Parliamentary Majority

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party will win an overwhelming victory in Britain’s election with a majority of 86 seats in parliament to deliver Brexit on Jan. 31, an exit poll showed Thursday.The exit poll showed Johnson’s Conservatives would win a landslide of 368 seats, more than enough for a very comfortable majority in the 650-seat parliament and the biggest Conservative national election win since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph.Labour were forecast by the poll to win 191 seats, the worst result for the party since 1935. The Scottish National Party would win 55 seats and the Liberal Democrats 13, the poll said.The Brexit Party were not forecast to win any.”That would be a phenomenal victory for the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson will feel completely vindicated with the gamble that he took,” said John Bercow, the former speaker of the House of Commons.”That would be an absolutely dramatic victory,” he said.Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives with his dog Dilyn at a polling station, at the Methodist Central Hall, to vote in the general election in London, Britain, Dec. 12, 2019.Sterling surged after the exit poll, hitting its highest against the euro since July 2016, shortly after the Brexit referendum. Versus the dollar it jumped 2.3% to $1.3480.Official results will be declared over the next seven hours.In the last five national elections, only one exit poll has got the outcome wrong — in 2015 when the poll predicted a hung parliament when in fact the Conservatives won a majority, taking 14 more seats than forecast.If the exit poll is accurate and Johnson’s bet on a snap election has paid off, he will move swiftly to ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the European Union so that the United Kingdom can leave on Jan. 31, 2020 — 10 months later than initially planned.Britain’s paralysis Johnson called the first Christmas election since 1923 to break what he said was the paralysis of Britain’s political system after more than three years of crisis over how, when or even if to leave the European Union.The face of the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, 55-year-old Johnson fought the election under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done,” promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.The exit poll was produced by three broadcasters — the BBC, ITV and Sky — who teamed up to jointly produce similar surveys in the last three elections, held in 2010, 2015 and 2017.In 2010 and 2017, their exit polls accurately predicted the overall outcome and were close to forecasting the correct number of seats for the two main parties.Johnson’s strategy was to breach Labour’s so-called “Red Wall” of seats across the Brexit-supporting areas of the Midlands and northern England where he cast his political opponents as the out-of-touch enemies of Brexit.Brexit far from overWhile a majority will allow Johnson to lead the United Kingdom out of the club it first joined in 1973, Brexit is far from over: He faces the daunting task of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU in just 11 months.After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the EU27.This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.