London, Feb 19(AP/UNB) — Seven British lawmakers quit the main opposition Labour Party on Monday over its approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism — the biggest shake-up in years for one of Britain's major political parties.
The announcement ripped open a long-simmering rift between socialists and centrists in the party, which sees itself as the representative of Britain's working class. It's also the latest fallout from Britain's decision to leave the European Union, which has split both of the country's two main parties — Conservatives and Labour — into pro-Brexit and pro-EU camps.
Many Labour lawmakers have been unhappy with the party's direction under leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who took charge in 2015 with strong grass-roots backing. They accuse Corbyn of mounting a weak opposition to Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May's plans for leaving the EU, and of failing to stamp out a vein of anti-Semitism in the party.
Those leaving Labour have between nine and 27 years' experience in Parliament and represent constituencies across England but still make up only a small fraction of Labour's 256 lawmakers, or of the 650 total members of Parliament. But this is the biggest split in the Labour Party since four senior members quit in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party.
Luciana Berger, one of those who quit Monday, said Labour had become "institutionally anti-Semitic."
"I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation," the 37-year-old politician said at a news conference alongside six colleagues.
Labour leaders have admitted that Berger, who is Jewish and pregnant, has been bullied by some members of her local party in northwest England.
Labour has been riven by allegations that the party has become hostile to Jews under Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians. Corbyn's supporters accuse political opponents and right-wing media of misrepresenting his views.
There have long been signs that British voters' 2016 decision to leave the EU could spark a major overhaul of British politics. May's own Conservatives are in the throes of a civil war between the party's pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings. Labour is also split.
Many Labour members oppose Brexit — which is scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, on March 29 — and want the party to fight to hold a new national referendum that could keep Britain in the 28-nation bloc.
But Corbyn, who spent decades criticizing the EU before becoming a lukewarm convert to the "remain" cause in the 2016 referendum, is reluctant to do anything that could be seen as defying voters' decision to leave.
"I am furious that the leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit, which will cause great economic, social and political damage to our country," said Mike Gapes, one of the departing lawmakers.
Gapes said he had been a Labour Party member for half a century and "have always considered myself Labour to my core."
The seven members of Parliament said they will continue to sit in the House of Commons as the newly formed Independent Group.
Corbyn said he was "disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945."
The Labour lawmakers who quit in 1981 eventually became today's Liberal Democrats, a centrist party that has failed to topple the dominance of the two bigger parties.
The new group of seven stopped short of forming a new political party, but the seeds have been sown. The new group has a name, a website and a statement of principles, which argues for a mix of pro-businesses and social-welfare measures and a pro-Western foreign policy that is closer to the "New Labour" of former Prime Minister Tony Blair than to Corbyn's old-school socialism.
Their statement said the Labour Party "now pursues policies that would weaken our national security; accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country; has failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives' approach."
The departing lawmakers said they would not be joining the Liberal Democrats, and urged members of other parties to help them create a new centrist force in British politics.
"We do not think any of the major parties is fit for power," said lawmaker Angela Smith. "People feel politically homeless and they are asking and begging for an alternative."
Victoria Honeyman, a lecturer in politics at the University of Leeds, said history suggests the breakaway group will struggle to gain traction in British politics.
"It's very cold out there as an independent," she said. "It's all well and good leaving because you believe the party has moved away from you, but you can often achieve more from being inside the tent."
Cairo, Feb 19 (AP/UNB) — Egypt's Interior Ministry says a suicide bomber killed two police officers and wounded three more while he was being pursued near Cairo's famed Khan el-Khalili tourist marketplace.
The Monday night explosion in the Gamaliya district was a rarity for a central area of the capital, after progress from a security crackdown under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
A body was seen on the street behind areas cordoned off by dozens of police and soldiers after the explosion, which shattered windows and blew curtains off nearby balconies. Egypt's renowned Al-Azhar mosque is nearby.
Egypt is facing an Islamic State-led insurgency that is largely limited to the northern Sinai but which occasionally spills out to the mainland.
Solon Township, Feb 19(AP/UNBV) — Authorities say three children and a woman were found dead of apparent gunshot wounds at a home in western Michigan.
Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young says authorities responded Monday to a property near Cedar Springs, a community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Grand Rapids. She says someone discovered the bodies and called 911.
LaJoye-Young said the three children were elementary school-aged and younger but declined to provide further information about the victims' relationships to one another. She said authorities were still confirming the victims' identities.
LaJoye-Young called the scene "a horrific thing to be called to" and said "my heart goes out to the families involved here and the community."
Authorities don't believe there is a shooter at large. An investigation is ongoing.
Pakistan, Feb 18 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani police say militants in two attacks on security forces killed six paramilitary troops in the southwestern Baluchistan bordering Iran.
Local police officer Hidayat Ullah said Monday that four troops were killed Sunday when gunmen opened fire on security forces in the town of Turbat. Two troops were killed in the southwestern town of Loralai a day earlier.
No one immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell on militants and the Islamic State group, which emerged as a major force behind violence in the region in recent years.
Sunday's two attacks on Pakistani troops came days after an attack on Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard killed 27.
Iran claims that attack was "planned and carried out from inside Pakistan." Pakistan rejected the charge and condemned the violence in Iran and offered cooperation.
United Arab Emirates, Feb 18 (AP/UNB) — The United Arab Emirates' yearslong war in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia bled into the start of a biennial Abu Dhabi arms fair Sunday, which saw the Emirates sign $1.3 billion in weapons deals.
One manufacturer displayed a model of a machine gun on sale that's now in the hands of Emirati-backed militiamen in Yemen, while the armored personnel carriers and tanks used in the war in the Arab world's poorest country also could be seen at the show. Even the military show that began the fair included troops raiding a militant hideout equipped with both mobile and land-based ballistic missiles, just like those in the possession of Yemen's Houthi rebels.
While Emirati officials avoided discussing Yemen, allied American officials linked arms smuggling there to what they described as the wider malign activities of Iran across the greater Middle East.
"My assumption is there are still things going into Yemen that I need to stop. . There is nothing good happening by arms being illegally shipped into Yemen," said Vice Adm. James Malloy, the head of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet command that oversees the region. "It is destabilizing. It delays peace there. It exacerbates the disastrous humanitarian crisis that we're facing in Yemen and delays humanitarian efforts coming in."
Discussing the Houthis, Malloy added: "We see the world trying to end this thing and one group doing nothing to end it — probably the opposite."
The UAE entered Yemen's war in March 2015 alongside Saudi Arabia to back Yemen's internationally recognized government, which the Houthis had pushed out of the capital, Sanaa. The Emirates largely has handled ground operations in the conflict while the Saudis have bombed from the air.
The war has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 60,000 people since 2016, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.
Atrocities have been common in the war.
Saudi airstrikes have hit markets and hospitals, killing civilians. Associated Press investigations have shown how the UAE negotiated secret deals with al-Qaida in Yemen fighters and that coalition forces tortured and sexually abused detainees. Meanwhile, the Houthis have indiscriminately laid land mines, employed child soldiers and tortured political opponents.
The U.S. had backed the Saudi-led coalition with midair refueling and targeting information. American lawmakers, angered by the Oct. 2 assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, have been pushing to withdraw U.S. support.
The Houthis also have fired over 150 ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, some even reaching as far as its capital, Riyadh. The West, United Nations experts and the Saudi-led coalition say Iran has helped supply the Shiite rebels with the missiles, something Iran denies.
That preoccupation with ballistic missiles fueled the opening ceremony of the International Defense Exhibition and Conference. The unnamed militia threatened to launch ballistic missiles, leading to an all-out assault by troops in armored vehicles, tanks, helicopters and jets. The demonstration's climax saw a fake ballistic missile slowly emerge from an underground silo, only to be destroyed by an airstrike.
That worry also saw the Emirates sign a $355-million deal Sunday with Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, for surface-to-air Patriot missiles to protect against such launches.
Drones and other weaponry have been recovered from the Houthis and appear to be Iranian, experts say. Meanwhile, Western-made arms like those on display Sunday have ended up in the hands of militiamen in Yemen.
Rights group Amnesty International criticized Belgium's FN Herstal for displaying its 5.56 mm Minimi machine gun at the arms fair as it has been seen in the hands of Emirati-aligned militiamen. FN Herstal officials at the fair declined to comment.
The military buildup in the Emirates and elsewhere in the region has come amid concerns about Iran's influence after the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers. While Iran continues to abide by its promise to limit its enrichment of uranium, the U.S. under President Donald Trump has pulled out of the accord.
Malloy, the head of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, didn't hesitate to describe Iran's actions in the region as "destabilizing," citing its renewed threats about cutting off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.
"The activities and the exercises that they engage in are inherently offensive in nature," the vice admiral said.
Iran, however, didn't represent the only ongoing geopolitical challenge seen at the arms fair. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who often attends the arms fair, was a no-show amid the ongoing protests challenging his rule though his country displayed some of its weapons for sale. Bangladesh Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina attended the fair's opening ceremony, as did Guinea's prime minister and Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Meanwhile, China displayed weapons for sale ranging from missile launchers to drones. Already, China has sold armed drones to Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The Emiratis in particularly had wanted American-made armed drones, but the Obama administration opposed the sales over the Missile Technology Control Regime, a 30-year-old agreement that aims to limit the spread of missile technology. Under Trump, the U.S. has permitted U.S. manufacturers to directly market and sell drones, including armed versions. The government still must approve and license the sales.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, acknowledged those efforts Sunday.
"We do understand that it's a very competitive world out there and we want to ensure that we're doing everything in our power to provide us systems the best in the world to our partners," Hooper said.