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Ukraine’s president fires spy chief and top state prosecutor

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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has abruptly fired the head of Ukraine’s powerful domestic security agency, the SBU, and the state prosecutor general, citing dozens of cases of collaboration with Russia by officials in their agencies.

The sackings of SBU chief Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelensky, and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who has played a key role in the prosecution of Russian war crimes, were announced in executive orders on the president’s website.

The firings are easily the biggest political sackings since Russia invaded on 24 February, forcing the entire Ukrainian state machine to focus on the war effort.

In a Telegram post, Zelensky said he had fired the top officials because it had come to light that many members of their agencies had collaborated with Russia, a problem he said had touched other agencies as well.

He said 651 cases of alleged treason and collaboration had been opened against prosecutorial and law enforcement officials, and that more than 60 officials from Bakanov and Venediktova’s agencies were now working against Ukraine in Russian-occupied territories.

The sheer number of treason cases lays bare the huge challenge of Russian infiltration faced by Ukraine as it battles Moscow in what it says is a fight for survival.

“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state … pose very serious questions to the relevant leaders,” Zelensky said.

“Each of these questions will receive a proper answer,” he said.

Russian troops have captured swathes of Ukraine’s south and east during an invasion that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

It remains unclear how the southern, Russian-occupied region of Kherson fell so quickly, in contrast to the fierce resistance around Kyiv that forced Russia eventually to withdrew to focus on capturing the industrial Donbas heartland in the east.

In his nightly speech to the nation, Zelensky noted the recent arrest on suspicion of treason of the SBU’s former head overseeing the region of Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 that Kyiv and the West still view as Ukrainian land.

Zelensky said he had fired the top security official at the start of the invasion, a decision he said had now been shown to be justified.

“Sufficient evidence has been collected to report this person on suspicion of treason. All his criminal activities are documented,” he said.

Bakanov was appointed to head the SBU in 2019, one of an array of new faces who rose to prominence after Zelensky, a former comedian, won election earlier that year.

Zelensky appointed Oleksiy Symonenko as the new prosecutor general in a separate executive order that was also published on the president’s site.

By Tom Balmforth and Max Hunder for Reuters SOURCE: RNZ

Politics

Rishi Sunak tops Tory leadership poll, as Tugendhat drops out of race

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Former chancellor Rishi Sunak has topped the third MPs’ vote for the next Tory leader and prime minister, with backbencher Tom Tugendhat eliminated.

Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt took second place, while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was third and ex-equalities minister Kemi Badenoch was fourth.

The four remaining candidates go to another round of voting on Tuesday.

The field will be cut to two on Wednesday, with Conservative Party members then having the final say.

The placings were the same as in the second round of voting last Thursday, but Sunak picked up 14 more votes, Badenoch nine and Truss seven.

Mordaunt’s support dropped by one vote, as did Tugendhat’s.

In a statement, Tugendhat said: “I want to thank my team, colleagues and, most of all, the British people for their support.

“I have been overwhelmed by the response we have received across the country. People are ready for a clean start and our party must deliver on it and put trust back into politics.”

A source within Truss’s campaign told the BBC: “We’ve narrowed the gap to Penny pretty considerably. Story is Penny going backwards. All to play for!”

But Mordaunt said: “My vote is steady and I’m grateful to my colleagues for all their support and thrilled to be in second place once more.”

 

A prominent Sunak supporter said: “That’s a cracking result – Rishi gaining most [votes].”

And a Badenoch campaign source said: “Kemi is pleased to have taken it to the next vote. She has momentum over both Mordaunt and Truss. It’s all to play for and Kemi is in it to win.”

The Tory leadership contest has become increasingly bitter and personal in tone, as those left in it fight for the final two places.

Tugendhat earlier rejected calls to stand aside and throw his support behind another candidate, as did Badenoch.

But most of the rancour has been between Sunak, Mordaunt and Truss, who clashed in an ITV-hosted debate on Sunday over their economic policies.

Sky News debate scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled after Sunak and Truss declined to take part, and amid concern among senior Tories that angry arguments in public could damage the party.

The new Tory leader and prime minister is due to be announced on 5 September.

Separately, the government won a vote of confidence in itself in the House of Commons.

It could have led to a general election, had ministers been defeated.

But this would have required dozens of Conservative MPs to side with Labour and other opposition parties.

Opening the debate, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was still in charge of “one of the most dynamic governments of modern times”.

He told MPs: “He [Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer] wants [a confidence vote] and since they want one, it’s his constitutional prerogative, we will comply and we will win.”

He also told the Commons: “Some people will say as I leave office that this is the end of Brexit, and the Leader of the Opposition and the deep state will prevail in its plot to haul us back into alignment with the EU as a prelude to our eventual return, and we on this side of the House will prove them wrong, won’t we?” Tory MPs cheered in response.

Sir Keir responded to the PM’s speech, saying: “Unlike his predecessors, this prime minister has not been forced out over policy disagreements.

“And despite the delusions he has fostered in his bunker, he has not been felled by the stampede of an eccentric herd. Instead, he has been forced out in disgrace.”

The government won by 349 votes to 238, a majority of 111.

SOURCE: RNZ

 

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Another state of emergency declared in Sri Lanka as acting president takes reins

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Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency, according to a government notice released late on Sunday, as his administration seeks to quell social unrest and tackle an economic crisis gripping the island nation.

Sri Lanka’s beleaguered leaders have imposed a state of emergency several times since April, when public protests took hold against the government’s handling of a deepening economic crisis and a persistent shortage of essentials.

“It is expedient, so to do, in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” the notification stated.

Wickremesinghe had announced a state of emergency last week, after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country to escape a popular uprising against his government.

It was unclear whether that order been withdrawn or had lapsed, or whether Wickremesinghe had reissued the order in his capacity as acting president, having been sworn in on 15 July. A spokesman for Wickremesinghe’s office did not respond to Reuters request for comment.

The specific legal provisions of the latest emergency are yet to be announced by the government but previous emergency regulations have been used to deploy the military to arrest and detain people, search private property and dampen public protests.

The country’s commercial capital Colombo remained calm on Monday morning, with traffic and pedestrians out on the streets.

Centre for Policy Alternatives senior researcher Bhavani Fonseka said declaring a state of emergency was becoming the government’s default response.

“This has proven ineffective in the past,” Fonseka told Reuters.

Rajapaksa’s resignation was accepted by parliament on Friday. He flew to the Maldives and then Singapore after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters came out onto the streets of Colombo a week ago and occupied his official residence and office.

Sri Lanka’s parliament met on Saturday to begin the process of electing a new president, and a shipment of fuel arrived to provide some relief to the crisis-hit nation.

Wickremesinghe, who had previously been prime minister and was regarded as an ally of Rajapaksa, is one of the top contenders to take on the presidency full-time but protesters also want him gone, leading to the prospect of further unrest should he be elected.

SOURCE: RNZ

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National’s Uffindell easily wins Tauranga by-election

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National’s Sam Uffindell has easily won the Tauranga parliamentary by-election for Simon Bridges’ former seat.

With 100 percent of the preliminary vote results counted as of 9pm, National’s Sam Uffindell leads 10931 votes to Labour’s Jan Tinetti’s 4893, a margin of 6038 votes. ACT’s Cameron Luxton is in third with 1991 votes and all other candidates trail.

“What’s made this so fantastic are the people on the ground here in Tauranga,” Uffindell said at a celebration tonight. “The people here have done such an incredible job.”

“I just want to say to the people of Tauranga that voted for me, and those that didn’t vote for me, I’m here for you and I’m going to deliver for you.

“I’m going to get our roads improved. We’re going to tackle crime and gangs. We’re going to ease the cost of living crisis, and we’re going to work to restore local democracy in Tauranga.”

“We want Tauranga to be the greatest city to work, play and raise a family in New Zealand and that’s where we’re heading.”

“I have to say this is an exciting night,” National Party leader Christopher Luxon told attendees. “A very big congratulations to Sam. I know how hard you’ve worked. You’ve been door-knocking, you’ve been holding up signs in the rain … you’ve worn out probably several pairs of shoes.”

Uffindell said he was very happy with how his campaign went, and said he had a hard working, disciplined team.

Together, National and ACT captured approximately 66 percent of the vote in Tauranga.

Tinetti has called Uffindell to concede.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a statement congratulating Uffindell.

“Congratulations to Sam Uffindell on his win tonight. I also want to acknowledge Jan Tinetti, who has returned one of Labour’s better results in Tauranga in recent elections.

“Jan is a huge advocate for the community she lives in, and has campaigned on the work we’ve been doing as a government to support families through the current global financial challenges, as well as our plan for economic recovery as our borders reopen and tourism resumes. Jan has proven why she’s such a valuable part of our team, and why in the recent reshuffle her responsibilities in education have grown.”

The official results including special declaration and overseas votes are expected to be available by 1 July.

The by-election is New Zealand’s first in four years and was triggered by the resignation of Simon Bridges after nearly 14 years in the role.

National was widely expected to retain the seat. Labour last won the seat in 1935.

Advance voting started on 4 June but early turnout has been low with a total of 14,168 votes cast, compared to 28,951 votes which were cast during the 2020 election advanced voting period.

Te Pāti Māori chose not to stand a candidate in Tauranga, while the Green Party backed Labour’s candidate.

The new MP

Uffindell was chosen as National’s candidate to contest the seat, which National has held since 2005.

That election saw National’s Bob Clarkson defeat New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who had previously held the seat from 1984 to 2005. Peters chose not to run again this time.

Uffindell, a graduate of the University of Otago, spent 10 years working in senior banking roles in Sydney.

Before settling in the Bay of Plenty with his family last year, he was vice president of Deutsche Bank in Singapore. In his campaign announcement, he said he wanted to focus on helping fix cost-of-living issues and infrastructure projects like the Tauranga Northern Link.

“I’m aspirational for Tauranga and want it to remain one of the best places in New Zealand to live, work and raise a family. I’m asking for your support because you deserve a strong local voice to make this happen.”

Possible issues for Tinetti campaign

Tauranga Labour candidate Jan Tinetti’s campaign could get in trouble with the Electoral Commission, after it made posts encouraging people to vote for her on by-election polling day.

Under electoral law, candidates and parties are forbidden from campaigning on polling day.

This includes social media posts.

But the Facebook page for the Labour candidate made a post saying “hashtag vote, hashtag Tinetti for Tauranga”, and reminding people today was their last chance to vote.

A spokesperson says they became aware of the post within an hour of it being up, and took it down immediately.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said in a statement, ” I can confirm we became aware of the posts earlier today and contacted the Labour Party. The posts were taken down.”

SOURCE: RNZ

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