London, Dec 5 (AP/UNB) — Britain's Brexit debate has become a bruising battle between lawmakers and Prime Minister Theresa May's government.
May is trying to keep her EU divorce deal on track Wednesday after her government was dealt a double blow by Parliament.
Legislators found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to publish legal advice about the agreement, a symbolic defeat that means the advice will now be released.
Parliament also forced an amendment to Brexit plans giving lawmakers more say over what happens next if the deal agreed between the government and the EU is defeated.
Wednesday is the second of five days of debate before Parliament votes on the deal Tuesday. Strong opposition from all sides suggests the government is headed for defeat — with unknown consequences.
Wellington, Dec 5 (AP/UNB) — A powerful magnitude 7.5 earthquake has struck in the southern Pacific Ocean near New Caledonia, prompting authorities to warn of a tsunami threat to nearby islands.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake struck about 168 kilometers (104 miles) east of Tadine in New Caledonia at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Earthquakes are generally more destructive when the epicenter is near the surface.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says there's a tsunami threat for parts of the Pacific located close to the quake but there is no threat to Hawaii.
New Caledonia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes and volcanic activity occur.
Paris, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — The French government's decision to suspend fuel tax and utility hikes Tuesday did little to appease protesters, who called it a "first step" and vowed to fight on after large-scale rioting in Paris last weekend.
In a major U-turn for the government, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced in a live televised address that the planned increases, which were set to be introduced in January, were now being postponed until the summer.
The backpedaling appeared to be designed to calm the nation, coming three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades.
"No tax is worth putting the nation's unity in danger," said Philippe, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn't change course and remained determined to help wean French consumers off polluting fossils fuels.
Protesters wearing their signature fluorescent yellow vests kept blocking several fuel depots Tuesday and many insisted their fight wasn't over.
"It's a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb," Benjamin Cauchy, a protest leader.
More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend in Paris, with dozens of cars torched. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neighborhoods around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.
The Arc de Triomphe, which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was visited by world leaders last month to mark the centenary of the end of World War I, was sprayed with graffiti and vandalized inside.
"This violence must end," Philippe said.
Philippe also announced that electricity and natural gas prices will be frozen until May 2019 in a move aimed at improving spending power.
Philippe's announcement is unlikely to put an end to the road blockades and demonstrations, though, with more possible protests this weekend in Paris.
A soccer game between Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier which was scheduled for Saturday in Paris was postponed after police said they couldn't guarantee security amid expected protests in the capital.
"If another day of protests takes place on Saturday, it should be authorized and should take place in calm," Philippe said. "The interior minister will use all means to ensure order is respected."
Prominent Socialist figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Philippe's decision but said it came too late.
"This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged," she said. "We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from retirees. They should have withdrawn (the tax hikes) right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede."
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the decision as too little, tweeting that it was "obviously not up to the expectations of the French people struggling with precariousness."
After a third consecutive weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests, Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday. He also met with Macron and other ministers in order to find a quick solution to the crisis.
Facing the most serious street protests since his election in May 2017, Macron has canceled a two-day trip to Serbia to stay in France this week.
The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax hike but have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming that Macron's government doesn't care about the problems of ordinary people.
Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.
London, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May brushed aside questions Monday about whether she will resign if her Brexit deal is rejected by Parliament next week, saying she's confident she'll still have a job after the crucial vote.
The beleaguered leader made her sunny prediction while facing another Brexit-related headache - opposition lawmakers seeking to force May's government to publish legal advice it received about Britain's departure from the European Union.
May is battling to persuade lawmakers to support the divorce agreement she has sealed with the EU when the House of Commons votes on Dec. 11. Opposition parties say their representatives will vote against the deal, and so have dozens of lawmakers from May's Conservative Party.
Defeat would leave the U.K. facing a messy, economically damaging "no-deal" Brexit on March 29 and could topple the prime minister, her government, or both.
May predicted Monday that despite the blowback "I will still have a job in two weeks' time."
"My job is making sure that we do what the public asked us to: We leave the EU but we do it in a way that is good for them," she told broadcaster ITV.
The Conservative prime minister has consistently refused to say what she plans to do if — as widely predicted — the British Parliament rejects the deal her government reached with the EU.
"I'm focusing on ... getting that vote and getting the vote over the line," she said.
Politicians on both sides of Britain's EU membership debate oppose the agreement that May struck with the bloc — pro-Brexit ones because it keeps Britain bound closely to the EU, and pro-EU politicians because it erects barriers between the U.K. and its biggest trading partner.
May's opponents argue that Britain can renegotiate the deal for better terms.
But the British government and the EU insist that the agreement, which took a year and a half to negotiate, is the only one on the table and rejecting it would mean leaving the bloc without a deal.
"There is no Plan B," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
Rutte cited the "red lines" drawn by both sides during negotiations, including the U.K.'s refusal to accept the free movement of people between Britain and the EU, and the need to keep an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
"When you take all these red lines into account, it's simply impossible to come up with something different than we have currently, the deal on the table," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference in Poland.
May's government is also facing a battle in Parliament over confidential advice from the country's top law officer about the Brexit deal.
Under opposition pressure, the government promised last month to show Parliament the legal briefing that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox gave May's Cabinet. Such advice is usually kept confidential.
On Monday the government published a 43-page document outlining Cox's legal opinion. Opposition parties demanded the attorney general's full, original advice, claiming the government would be in contempt of Parliament if it did not comply.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow agreed late Monday there was an "arguable case" that contempt had been committed. His assessment means Parliament will debate the issue Tuesday, likely delaying the start of the main Brexit debate.
Lawmakers can send the issue to a committee with the power to sanction ministers.
The most contentious legal issue arising from the Brexit agreement is how Britain could get out of a "backstop" provision that would keep the country in a customs union with the EU to guarantee an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The backstop is intended as a temporary measure, but pro-Brexit lawmakers say it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely and unable to strike new trade deals around the world.
The legal advice confirmed that Britain can't unilaterally opt out of the backstop, which requires either an agreement with the EU or a decision by an arbitration panel.
In a statement to Parliament, Cox confirmed that "there is no unilateral right of either party to terminate this arrangement."
Cox said he would have preferred that not to be the case, but that he supported the divorce deal as "a sensible compromise."
"The divorce and separation of nations from long and intimate unions, just as of human beings, stirs high emotion and calls for wisdom and forbearance," he said.
Katowice, Dec 3 (AP/UNB) — Negotiators from around the world opened the United Nations' annual climate change conference Sunday in a Polish city built around mining coal, widely seen as a main culprit behind global warming.
Arriving for two weeks of talks on tackling climate change, conference participants cast off hats, scarves and heavy coats as they entered cavernous halls in Katowice heated by coal-fired power plants nearby.
Coal is center-stage at the U.N. summit, which is taking place three years after a landmark deal in Paris set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
While the Polish government claims Katowice is in the process of transforming into a green city , power plant chimneys pumped plumes of smoke into a dull December sky and monitoring sites showed elevated levels of air pollution.
Poland, which is presiding over the meeting, plans to use Monday's official opening event to promote a declaration calling for a "just transition" for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental activists have expressed concerns about the non-binding declaration, arguing that it could be cited as justification for propping up dying industries instead of investing in renewable energy sources. Some also have questioned why coal companies are among the meeting's sponsors.
Poland's deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, who is chairing the conference, urged envoys from almost 200 nations to use the time between Sunday and Dec. 14 to make progress on fleshing out the 2015 Paris agreement.
"We are here to enable the world to act together on climate change," he said. With further meetings next year meant to build on what's decided in Katowice, Kurtyka urged all countries to "show creativity and flexibility."
"The United Nations secretary-general is counting on us, all of us to deliver," he added. "There is no Plan B."
The World Bank Group said Monday it is doubling funding for poor countries preparing for climate change to $200 billion over five years. It said about $50 billion will be earmarked for climate adaptation, a recognition that some adverse effects of global warming can't be avoided anymore but require a change in practice.
The meeting, known as COP24, received a boost over the weekend when 19 major economies at the G-20 summit affirmed their commitment to the Paris accord. The only holdout was the United States, which announced under President Donald Trump that it is withdrawing from the climate pact.
"Despite geopolitical instability, the climate consensus is proving highly resilient," said Christiana Figueres, a former head of the U.N. climate office.
"It is sad that the federal administration of the United States, a country that is increasingly feeling the full force of climate impacts, continues to refuse to listen to the objective voice of science when it comes to climate change," Figures said.
She cited a recent expert report warning of the consequences of letting average global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).
"The rest of the G-20 have not only understood the science, they are taking actions to both prevent the major impacts and strengthen their economies," said Figueres, who now works with Mission 2020, a group that campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While the United States is withdrawing from the climate pact, the State Department said it is sending a delegation to the Katowice conference.
The meeting in Katowice is regarded as a key test of countries' willingness to back their lofty but distant goals with concrete measures, some of which are already drawing fierce protests . At the top of the agenda is the so-called Paris rulebook , which will determine how governments record and report their greenhouse emissions and efforts to cut them.
Separately, negotiators will discuss ramping up countries' national emissions targets after 2020, and financial support for poor nations that are struggling to adapt to climate change.
The shift away from fossil fuels, which scientists say has to happen by 2050, is expected to require a major overhaul of world economies.
"The good news is that we do know a lot of what we need to be able to do to get there," said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.
Waskow, who has followed climate talks for years, said despite the Trump administration's refusal to back this global effort the momentum is going in the right direction.
"It's not one or two players anymore in the international arena," he said. "It's what I think you could call a distributed leadership, where you have a number of countries — some of them small or medium-sized — really making headway and doing it in tandem with cities and states and businesses."
Not far from the meeting venue, Polish anti-coal activists held a small protest Sunday. It was dwarfed by marches in Brussels, Berlin and Cologne over the weekend calling for greater action to curb climate change.
But the governor of Germany's most populous state said Sunday it was premature to set a firm date for phasing out the use of coal-fired power plants. Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, told the Funke media group that Germany's decision to stop mining and burning lignite coal "must be considered seriously and decided with broad consensus."
German officials had hoped to present a blueprint for the country's exit from coal at the meeting in Katowice, but an expert committee delayed issuing its recommendations until next year.