Athens, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — Greece's left-wing prime minister narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament late Wednesday days after the governing coalition he leads collapsed over an agreement to end a long-running dispute over neighboring Macedonia's name.
Lawmakers voted 151-148 on a motion called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, giving his government the minimum it needed in the 300-seat legislature to survive. During a heated debate earlier in the day, Tsipras argued the Macedonia deal would bolster stability in Europe's Balkan region.
"At the critical times, we all must have a clear position," he said before the vote, which coincided with the one British leader Theresa May won over her Brexit deal with the European Union.
The leader of a small Greek nationalist party, Panos Kammenos, quit as defense minister in Tsipras' government last weekend over the proposed agreement with Macedonia. The deal calls for the country to be renamed North Macedonia in exchange for Greece lifting its objections to its young northern neighbor joining NATO and the European Union.
Several members of Kammenos' party voted to support the government. Along with independents and opposition dissenters, they gave the 44-year-old Tsipras six votes from outside his party, allowing him to remain in power. His term ends in October.
Greece's western allies also strongly back the deal Tsipras and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed to in June. Russia remains strongly opposed to the prospect of Macedonia's NATO membership.
Tsipras has strongly defended his efforts to end the 27-year dispute with Macedonia over that country's name, which Greece long argued implied designs on its own Macedonia and on Greek cultural heritage.
Tsipras had said he would seek to get the Greek parliament's approval of the name-change deal soon after the confidence vote.
Hardliners in both countries claim the deal conceded too much to the other side. But Greek government officials say they are optimistic the agreement will be ratified in Athens even though most opposition parties reject it.
In Greece, sentiment is particularly high in the northern Macedonia province, where opponents say their regional identity and heritage is being signed away. Posters have appeared in recent days with pictures of local lawmakers who back the deal and the caption: "Will you betray our Macedonia?"
Four people were arrested Wednesday over the posters in the northern towns of Grevena and Kozani and charged with breaching advertising laws and traffic codes.
Opponents of the name-change deal are planning a protest rally in Athens on Sunday.
London, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday to remain in office — but saw more of her power ebb away as she battled to keep Brexit on track after lawmakers demolished her European Union divorce deal.
May won a narrow victory, 325 votes to 306 votes, on an opposition motion seeking to topple her government and trigger a general election.
Now it's back to Brexit, where May is caught between the rock of her own negotiating red lines and the hard place of a Parliament that wants to force a radical change of course.
After defeating the no-confidence motion, May said she would hold talks "in a constructive spirit" with leaders of opposition parties and other lawmakers in a bid to find a way forward for Britain's EU exit.
She appeared outside her 10 Downing St. residence after meeting the leaders of several smaller parties. The prime minister named the parties in a statement in which she called on opposition politicians in Parliament to "put self-interest aside" and find a consensus on Britain's path out of the EU.
Legislators ripped up May's Brexit blueprint Tuesday by rejecting the divorce agreement she has negotiated with the EU over the last two years. That it would lose was widely expected, but the scale of the rout — 432 votes to 202, the biggest defeat government defeat in British parliamentary history — was devastating for May's leadership and her Brexit deal.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn responded with the no-confidence motion, and urged the government to "do the right thing and resign."
May, who leads a fractious government, a divided Parliament and a gridlocked Brexit process, said she was staying put. May said an election "would deepen division when we need unity, it would bring chaos when we need certainty, and it would bring delay when we need to move forward."
The government survived Wednesday's vote with support from May's Conservative Party and its Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Many pro-Brexit Conservatives who voted against May's deal, backed her in the no-confidence vote to avoid an election that could bring a left-wing Labour government to power.
Had the government lost, Britain would have faced a snap election within weeks, just before the country is due to leave the European Union on March 29.
Political analyst Anand Menon, from the research group U.K. in a Changing Europe, said May had a remarkable ability to soldier on.
"The thing about Theresa May is that nothing seems to faze her," he said. "She just keeps on going."
May's determination — or, as her foes see it, her inflexibility — might not be an asset in a situation calling for a change of course. The prime minister has until Monday to come up with a new Brexit plan.
Despite May's pledge to seek a broad consensus, there was no sign of an immediate breakthrough. Opposition leaders brought her a laundry list of sometimes conflicting demands.
Labour's Corbyn said he would not meet with May until she ruled out a no-deal Brexit. Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said she needed to keep the option of a second Brexit referendum on the table.
More meetings were planned for Thursday. May said she was disappointed Corbyn had not met her yet but added "our door remains open."
May insisted that any new Brexit plan must "deliver on the referendum result," which she has long interpreted to mean ending the free movement of workers to Britain from the EU and leaving the EU's single market and customs union.
Many lawmakers think a softer departure that retained single market or customs union membership is the only plan capable of winning a majority in Parliament. They fear the alternative is an abrupt "no-deal" withdrawal from the bloc, which businesses and economists fear would cause turmoil.
Labour lawmaker Ben Bradshaw accused May of being "in a total state of denial" about how radically her Brexit plan needed to change.
Faced with the deadlock, lawmakers from all parties are trying to wrest control of the Brexit process so that Parliament can direct planning for Britain's departure.
But with no clear majority in Parliament for any single alternative, there's a growing chance that Britain may seek to postpone its departure date while politicians work on a new plan — or even hand the decision back to voters in a new referendum on Britain's EU membership.
European leaders are now preparing for the worst, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was still time for further talks. She told reporters in Berlin that "we are now waiting to see what the British prime minister proposes."
But her measured remarks contrasted with the blunt message from French President Emmanuel Macron, who told Britons to "figure it out yourselves." He said Britain needed to get realistic about what was possible.
"Good luck to the representatives of the nation who have to implement something that doesn't exist," Macron said.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc was stepping up preparations for a disorderly "no-deal" Brexit after Parliament's actions left Europe "fearing more than ever that there is a risk" of a cliff-edge departure.
Economists warn that an abrupt break with the EU could batter the British economy and bring chaos at borders, ports and airports. Business groups have expressed alarm at the prospect of a no-deal exit.
France's parliament on Wednesday adopted a law allowing for emergency measures, including extra customs officers, to deal with a "no-deal" Brexit.
Investors appeared to shrug off both the rejection of May's deal and welcomed the survival of her government. The pound was up against the dollar early Wednesday and rose further after the no-confidence vote to $1.2880.
May's deal was doomed by deep opposition from both sides of the divide over the U.K.'s place in Europe. Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal will leave Britain bound indefinitely to EU rules, while pro-EU politicians favor an even closer economic relationship with the bloc.
The most contentious section was an insurance policy known as the "backstop" designed to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. Assurances from EU leaders that the backstop is intended as a temporary measure of last resort failed to win over many British lawmakers.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was now up to opponents of the backstop "to come up with an alternative solution to honor their commitment to avoiding a hard border."
Varadkar said if May's government was willing to shift some of its "red lines" in negotiations — such as leaving the customs union and EU single market — then the position of EU negotiators would also change.
"The onus is on Westminster" to come up with solutions, Varadkar said.
London, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — British lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal with the European Union on Tuesday, plunging the Brexit process into chaos and triggering a no-confidence vote that could topple her government.
The defeat was widely expected, but the scale of the House of Commons' vote — 432 votes against the government and 202 in support — was devastating for May's fragile leadership.
It followed more than two years of political upheaval in which May has staked her political reputation on getting a Brexit deal and was the biggest defeat for a government in the House of Commons in modern history.
Moments after the result was announced — with Speaker John Bercow bellowing "the noes have it" to a packed Commons chamber — May said it was only right to test whether the government still had lawmakers' support to carry on. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn quickly obliged, saying May's government had lost the confidence of Parliament.
Lawmakers will vote Wednesday on his motion of no-confidence. If the government loses, it will have 14 days to overturn the result or face a national election.
Although May lacks an overall majority in Parliament, she looks likely to survive the vote unless lawmakers from her Conservative party rebel. Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's government, said it would support her.
"The House has spoken and the government will listen," May said after the vote, which leaves her Brexit plan on life support just 10 weeks before the country is due to leave the EU on March 29.
May promised to consult lawmakers on future moves, but gave little indication of what she plans to do next. Parliament has given the government until Monday to come up with a new proposal.
She faces a stark choice: Steer the country toward an abrupt "no-deal" break with the EU or try to nudge it toward a softer departure. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both government and opposition parties are trying to wrest control of the Brexit process from a paralyzed government, so that lawmakers by majority vote can specify a new plan for Britain's EU exit.
But with no clear majority in Parliament for any single alternate course, there is a growing chance that Britain may seek to postpone its departure date while politicians work on a new plan — or even hand the decision back to voters in a new referendum on EU membership.
"If you can't resolve the impasse here in Westminster, than you have to refer it back to the people," said Labour Party lawmaker Chuka Umunna, who supports a second referendum.
May, who had postponed a vote on the deal in December to avoid certain defeat, had implored lawmakers to back her deal and deliver on voters' decision in 2016 to leave the EU.
But the deal was doomed by deep opposition from both sides of the divide over U.K.'s place in the bloc. Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal will leave Britain bound indefinitely to EU rules, while pro-EU politicians favor an even closer economic relationship with Europe.
The most contentious section of the deal was an insurance policy known as the "backstop" designed to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Assurances from EU leaders that the backstop is intended as a temporary measure of last resort completely failed to win over many British skeptics.
Two and a half years after the referendum, Britain remains divided over how, and whether, to leave the EU.
As lawmakers debated in the chamber, there was a cacophony of chants, drums and music from rival bands of pro-EU and pro-Brexit protesters outside. One group waved blue-and-yellow EU flags, the other brandished "Leave Means Leave" placards.
Inside, the government and opposition parties ordered lawmakers to cancel all other plans to be on hand for the crucial vote. Labour legislator Tulip Siddiq delayed the scheduled cesarean birth of her son so she could attend, arriving in a wheelchair
Some Conservatives want May to seek further talks with EU leaders on changes before bringing a tweaked version of the bill back to Parliament, even though EU officials insist the 585-page withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said May was unlikely to get changes to her deal from that could "placate her Brexiteers."
"Or, she reaches out to Labour and goes for a softer Brexit than most Brexiteers would contemplate" — but which the EU might accept, Bale said.
Frustrated EU leaders called on May to make her intentions clear on the future of Brexit.
"Now, it is time for the U.K. to tell us the next steps," said Michel Barnier, the bloc's chief negotiator.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker — who returned to Brussels late Tuesday to deal with fallout from the vote — said the rejection of May's deal had increased "the risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom."
"Time is almost up," he said.
Economists warn that an abrupt break from the EU could batter the British economy and bring chaotic scenes at borders, ports and airports. Business groups expressed alarm at the prospect of a "no-deal" exit.
"Every business will feel no-deal is hurtling closer," said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry. "A new plan is needed immediately."
European Council President Donald Tusk highlighted the quagmire the U.K. had sunk into, and hinted that the best solution might be for Britain not to leave.
"If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?" he tweeted.
Canberra, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — An Australian state government on Tuesday announced plans to mechanically pump oxygen into lakes and rivers after hundreds of thousands of fish have died in heatwave conditions.
Up to a million dead fish were found floating last week in the Darling River in western New South Wales state and the state government announced that 1,800 more rotting fish had since been found in Lake Hume in the state's south.
Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said 16 battery-powered aerators had been bought and would be placed in various drought-affected waterways after they are delivered by Wednesday.
"They are a Band-Aid solution; we admit that," Blair told reporters.
"Nothing will stop this fish kill unless we get proper river flows and water levels in our dams back up to normal. We are doing everything we can to try and limit the damage," he added.
Experts blame heatwave conditions across much of Australia, drought and algal blooms for starving waterways of oxygen.
Blair rejected some criticisms that governments were allowing irrigators to take too much water from the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia's main river system, which winds across four states and is where a third of the nation's food is produced.
Water experts were meeting in Canberra on Tuesday to decide how the nation should respond to the water quality crisis.
Australian National University water expert Daniel Connell said many more fish would likely die with heatwave conditions forecast to continue until the weekend.
"It's a very predictable crisis," Connell said.
Connell said taking water from the system to irrigate had likely contributed to the poor water quality in rivers as well as the drought which is impacting most of New South Wales.
"By massively reducing the amount of water in the system, you produce much hotter water, you produce conditions that are much more conducive to algal blooms," he said.
London, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) -British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to win support for her European Union divorce deal by promising that her government won't try to water down environmental standards and workers' rights after Brexit.
The commitment is an attempt to gain backing from opposition Labour Party lawmakers, who suspect the government plans to reduce the protections after Britain leaves the EU.
May's deal has drawn opposition from both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers, and is facing likely defeat in Parliament on Tuesday.
The prime minister used a speech Monday to argue that the only alternatives to her deal were leaving the EU in March without an agreement, or reversing voters' decision to leave the bloc.
May said that a no-deal Brexit would hurt the British economy and "put the future of our Union at risk," while failing to leave the EU would be "a subversion of the democratic process."
A top European Parliament leader is urging British lawmakers to "behave responsibly" and approve the UK's divorce deal with the European Union.
Manfred Weber said Monday that "we ask, we invite our British colleagues to behave responsibly and vote for this agreement."
A vote in the U.K. Parliament is expected Tuesday. Many British lawmakers object to the agreement between Brussels and Prime Minister Theresa May, raising fears that Britain may leave the EU on March 29 without a deal in place.
Weber, a German conservative who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament, said lawmakers in London should accept the "extended hand" of their colleagues on the continent.
He said the European Parliament will approve the agreement.
Weber also slammed the far-right Alternative for Germany party's threat to quit the EU, saying this could cause "a situation like in London today: economic instability and political chaos."
The British government has published a letter from European Union leaders that it hopes will ease U.K. lawmakers' worries over the Brexit agreement between Britain and the bloc.
The letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offers an assurance that the most contentious part of the deal — the "backstop" insurance policy to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — is intended as a temporary measure and "would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary."
But the letter also reiterates the bloc's refusal to renegotiate the divorce deal. The two men say "we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement."
U.K. lawmakers are due to vote Tuesday on the Brexit deal, and it looks likely they will reject it.
British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to tell lawmakers she has received further assurances about her Brexit deal from the European Union, in a last-ditch attempt to win support for the unpopular agreement.
May is due to make a statement in the House of Commons Monday afternoon, a day before lawmakers are due to vote on her EU divorce deal.
May argues that defeating the deal could open the way for EU-backing legislators to block Brexit, with "catastrophic" results for Britons' faith in democracy.
A handful of previously opposed legislators got behind the agreement in the last few days, but they remain outnumbered by those determined to vote against it.
Defeat would throw Brexit plans into disarray, weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29.