London, Jan 21 (AP/UNB) — As Prime Minister Theresa May prepared her next move in Britain's deadlocked Brexit battle, a senior opposition politician said Sunday that it's unlikely the U.K. will leave the European Union as scheduled on March 29.
A government minister, however, warned that failure to deliver on Brexit would betray voters and unleash a "political tsunami."
May is due to present Parliament with a revised Brexit plan on Monday, after the divorce deal she had struck the EU was rejected by lawmakers last week. With just over two months until Britain is due to leave the bloc, some members of Parliament are pushing for the U.K. to delay its departure until the country's divided politicians can agree on a way forward.
Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said "it's inevitable" Britain will have to ask the EU to extend the two-year countdown to exit that ends on March 29.
"The 29th of March is 68 days away," Starmer told the BBC. "We are absolutely not prepared for it. It would be catastrophic."
Britain's political impasse over Brexit is fueling concerns that the country may crash out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies. Many economists expect Britain to plunge into recession if there is a "no-deal" Brexit.
May's government is split between ministers who think a disorderly departure must be avoided at all costs, and Brexit-backers who believe it would be preferable to delaying or reversing Brexit.
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who quit the government in opposition to May's agreement with the EU, said a no-deal Brexit would have "short-term risks," but they would be "manageable."
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that "failure to deliver Brexit would produce a yawning gap between Parliament and the people, a schism in our political system with unknowable consequences."
He said public anger could trigger "a political tsunami."
May has spent the days since her deal was thrown out meeting government and opposition lawmakers in an attempt to find a compromise. But the talks have produced few signs that May plans to make radical changes to her deal, or to lift her insistence that Brexit means leaving the EU's single market and customs union.
Fox said one possible solution could be to strike a deal with the Irish government guaranteeing there would be no border controls between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland.
He said that could ease concerns about the deal's most contentious measure — an insurance policy known as the "backstop" that would keep Britain in an EU customs union to maintain an open Irish border after Brexit. Pro-Brexit lawmakers worry that Britain could be trapped indefinitely in the arrangement, bound to EU trade rules and unable to strike new deals around the world.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, however, tweeted that the Irish government was committed to the entire withdrawal deal, "including the backstop."
British lawmakers who want a softer Brexit are preparing to try to amend May's plans in a Jan. 29 debate, and to use parliamentary rules to try to prevent a no-deal Brexit and take control of the exit process.
Conservative lawmaker Nicky Morgan said she and several opposition colleagues planned to introduce a bill to ensure "that if the prime minister can't get an agreement approved by the House of Commons by the end of February," the U.K. will ask the EU to postpone its departure date "so that we can build a consensus and get ourselves more prepared for Brexit. "
Delaying Brexit would require approval from the 27 other EU nations.
Starmer said there was a roadblock in the way of a solution to the Brexit crisis, "and that roadblock is the prime minister."
"Her mind is closed," he said.
Paris, Jan 21 (AP/UNB) — Several thousand protesters have marched in Paris against abortion and medically assisted reproduction.
The protesters, who claim to have received the support of Pope Francis and several French bishops, gathered in the French capital on Sunday as they joined the 13th March for Life.
Organizers urged doctors across the country to use their "conscientious objection" and stop performing abortions.
About 200,000 abortions are performed every year in France.
Organizers were also marching against a recommendation in September by France's highest bioethics body that single women and lesbian couples should have access to medically assisted reproduction. The procedures are currently restricted to heterosexual couples.
The protesters also want euthanasia to remain banned in France.
Congo, Jan 21 (AP/UNB) — Congo is on the brink of its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 after the Constitutional Court on Sunday confirmed the presidential election victory of Felix Tshisekedi, although questions remain about the result.
Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is to be inaugurated on Tuesday.
Congo's 80 million people did not appear to heed runner-up Martin Fayulu's call for non-violent protests, and African neighbors began offering congratulations.
Shortly after the pre-dawn court declaration, opposition leader Tshisekedi said the court's decision to reject claims of electoral fraud and declare him president was a victory for the entire country.
"It is Congo that won," Tshisekedi said, speaking to supporters. "The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security."
Supporters of his UDPS party celebrated in the streets of Kinshasa.
The largely untested Tshisekedi faces a government dominated by Kabila's ruling party, which won a majority in legislative and provincial elections. The new National Assembly will be installed on Jan. 26.
However, Tshisekedi's victory was rejcted by rival opposition candidate Fayulu, who declared that he is Congo's "only legitimate president" and called for the Congolese people to peacefully protest against a "constitutional coup d'etat." If Fayulu succeeds in launching widespread protests it could keep the country in a political crisis that has simmered since the Dec. 30 elections.
The court turned away Fayulu's request for a recount, affirming Tshisekedi won with more than 7 million votes, or 38 percent, and Fayulu received 34 percent.
The court said Fayulu offered no proof to back his assertions that he had won easily based on leaked data attributed the electoral commission. It also called unfounded another challenge that objected to the commission's last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters over a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
Outside the court, Fayulu and his supporters have alleged an extraordinary backroom deal by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to rig the vote in favor of Tshisekedi when the ruling party's candidate did poorly.
"It's a secret for no one inside or outside of our country that you have elected me president," with 60 percent of the votes, Fayulu said. He urged the Congolese people and international community to not recognize Tshisekedi as president.
Congo's government called Fayulu's statements "a shame."
"We consider it an irresponsible statement that is highly politically immature," spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press.
Many worried that the court's rejection of Fayulu's appeal could lead to more instability in a nation that already suffers from rebels, communal violence and the Ebola outbreak.
"It might produce some demonstrations, but it won't be as intense as it was in 2017 and 2018," when Congolese pushed for Kabila to step aside during two years of election delays, said Andrew Edward Tchie, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The African Union said it had "postponed" its urgent mission to Congo planned for Monday after it noted "serious doubts" about the vote and made an unprecedented request for Congo to delay the final results.
Some neighbors, notably Rwanda, worried about violence spilling across borders from Congo, a country rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world.
The AU statement notably did not name or congratulate Tshisekedi, merely taking note of the court's decision. It called "all concerned to work for the preservation of peace and stability and the promotion of national harmony."
A number of African leaders congratulated Tshisekedi, including the presidents of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The 16-nation Southern African Development Community, after wavering in recent days with support for a recount, called on all Congolese to accept the vote's outcome.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli, in a post on Twitter, said that "I beseech you to maintain peace."
Washington, Jan 21(AP/UNB) — Thirty-one days into the partial government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans appeared no closer to ending the impasse than when it began, with President Donald Trump lashing out at his opponents after they dismissed a plan he'd billed as a compromise.
Trump on Sunday branded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a "radical" and said she was acting "irrationally." The president also tried to fend off criticism from the right, as conservatives accused him of embracing "amnesty" for immigrants in the country illegally.
Trump offered on Saturday to temporarily extend protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and those fleeing disaster zones in exchange for $5.7 billion for his border wall. But Democrats said the three-year proposal didn't go nearly far enough.
"No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer," Trump tweeted Sunday, noting that he'd offered temporary, three-year extensions — not permanent relief. But he added: "Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else."
The criticism from both sides underscored Trump's boxed in-position as he tries to win at least some Democratic buy-in without alienating his base.
With hundreds of thousands of federal workers set to face another federal pay period without paychecks, the issue passed to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to bring Trump's proposal to the floor this week.
Democrats say there's little chance the measure will reach the 60-vote threshold usually required to advance legislation in the Senate. Republicans have a 53-47 majority, which means they need at least some Democrats to vote in favor.
McConnell has long tried to avoid votes on legislation that is unlikely to become law. And the Kentucky Republican has said for weeks that he has no interest in "show votes" aimed only at forcing members to take sides after Trump rejected the Senate's earlier bipartisan bill to avert the shutdown.
What's unclear is how McConnell will bring Trump's plan forward — or when voting will begin. The Republican leader is a well-known architect of complicated legislative maneuvers. One question is whether he would allow a broader immigration debate with amendments to Trump's plan on the Senate floor.
McConnell spokesman David Popp said Sunday, "When we have (a plan) we will be sure to let everyone know."
One key Republican, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, said that he and other lawmakers had been encouraging the White House to put an offer on the table — any offer — to get both sides talking.
"Get something out there the president can say, 'I can support this,' and it has elements from both sides, put it on the table, then open it up for debate," Lankford said on ABC's "This Week."
"The vote this week in the Senate is not to pass the bill, it is to open up and say 'Can we debate this? Can we amend it? Can we make changes?'" Lankford said. "Let's find a way to be able to get the government open because there are elements in this that are clearly elements that have been supported by Democrats strongly in the past."
"The president really wants to come to an agreement here. He has put offers on the table," said Rep Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''The responsible thing for the Democrats to do is put a counteroffer on the table if you don't like this one."
Vice President Mike Pence said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump had "set the table for a deal that will address the crisis on our border, secure our border and give us a pathway" to reopen the government.
Democrats, however, continue to say that they will not negotiate with Trump until he ends the shutdown, the longest in American history.
"The starting point of this negotiation ought to be reopening the government," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told NBC. "We cannot reward the kind of behavior of hostage taking. Because if the president can arbitrarily shut down the government now, he will do it time and again."
As news media reported the outline of Trump's proposal ahead of his Saturday speech, Pelosi and other Democrats made clear the president's plan was a non-starter — a quick reaction Trump took issue with Sunday.
"Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak. They don't see crime & drugs, they only see 2020," he said in first of a flurry of morning tweets.
Trump also lashed out at Pelosi personally — something he had refrained from early on — and accused her, without evidence, of having "behaved so irrationally" and moving "so far to the left that she has now officially become a Radical Democrat."
He also appeared to threaten to target millions of people living in the country illegally if he doesn't eventually get his way, writing that "there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!"
Pelosi responded with a tweet of her own, urging Trump to "Re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer also dug in during an appearance in New York, where he predicted Democrats would block the president's proposal from passing the Senate.
"If he opens the government, we'll discuss whatever he offers, but hostage taking should not work," Schumer said as he pushed legislation that would protect government workers who can't pay their bills because of the government shutdown. "It's very hard to negotiate when a gun is held to your head."
Wetuzmpka, Jan 21(AP/UNB) — Homes, businesses, government offices and churches were among the buildings badly damaged or demolished when tornadoes struck central Alabama over the weekend.
The severe weather hit Saturday and another tornado was reported later that evening at an air base in the Florida Panhandle.
On Sunday, the National Weather Service says its initial surveys indicated there was an EF 1 tornado in Autauga County, and a stronger EF2 twister in Wetumpka, Alabama.
"We suffered a tremendous amount of damage," Mayor Jerry Willis said at a morning news conference with city and Elmore County officials. "Something that we've never had here before."
The familiar steeple of the First Baptist Church of Wetumpka was missing after the storm. And much of a historic Presbyterian church was reduced to rubble.
Officials said at a news conference Sunday morning that at least 25 homes were seriously damaged or destroyed. Also severely damaged were the Wetumpka police station, senior citizens center and recreation center, according to WSFA-TV .
"Thus far we've seen damage indicating wind speeds of 120 to 130 mph," John DeBlock, of the National Weather Service in Birmingham, said during the news conference.
No deaths or life-threatening injuries were reported.
Willis advised Wetumpka residents to avoid the downtown area as debris was being removed Sunday. There were no immediate estimates of the dollar value of the damage. Willis said that was being documented in anticipation of seeking federal aid. The Central Alabama Community Foundation is raising money to help Wetumpka storm victims.
In the Florida Panhandle, authorities said buildings on an air base were damaged by a tornado early Saturday evening. Tyndall Air Force Base posted a message on its official Facebook page that no one was injured but that the tornado damaged structures and vehicles on the military installation. The air base was hammered by Hurricane Michael in October.