Tony Blair's institute gets $10m from Saudi Arabia for modernization help – report

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘Institute for Global Change’ has reportedly received multi-million dollar payments from the Saudi Arabian government for its role in advising the kingdom on its ambitious modernization plan.

Founded in 2016, the not-for-profit Tony Blair Institute for Global Change received $ 10 million (£7.6 million) from Riyadh in January for an advisory role in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ program, the UK’s Sunday Telegraph has revealed.

Geared at restructuring and invigorating the Saudi economy, the program looks to reduce Saudi reliance on oil revenues after a worldwide drop in oil prices in 2016 caused shock in the Kingdom amid never-before-seen austerity measures.

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Prisoners at the infamous Guantanamo Bay military prison © T. McCoy/Handout/Reuters

The Telegraph investigation says that Blair’s institute received the payment from Media Investment Ltd (MIL) – a subsidiary of the publisher Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) – registered in the island jurisdiction of Guernsey, which was listed by the EU as a tax haven in 2015. Until recently, SRMG was chaired by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Farhan, who left the position upon becoming Saudi Arabia’s first ever culture minister in June.

Sources quoted by the paper added that total funding provided by Saudi Arabia to Blair’s outfit currently exceeds $ 12 million (£9 million).

The Tony Blair Institute has provided glowing reviews of the king-in-waiting, praising bin Salman as having “demonstrated a level of conviction, clarity and coherence in identifying and understanding the nature of Islamist extremism that Western policymakers should seek to learn from.”

Addressing the audience at September’s Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Blair himself hailed the modernization plan as “the most important and the most exciting thing that has happened in this region in the last few years.”

Responding to Telegraph’s queries, a Tony Blair Institute spokesperson acknowledged that the institute had “received a donation from MIL” for the “not for profit” work of the institution, which was intended to support the institute’s “declared mission in the Middle East,” that is, to increase “stability and understanding.” Mr. Blair’s office maintained that it was under “no duty” to disclose the identities of its donors.

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'We must act as allies': Trump's trade offensive against EU lambasted at G20 summit

The US president’s branding of European allies as “foes” while slapping them with tariffs is “inappropriate,” EU finance chief said at the G20 summit, which saw European countries upping their criticism of Trump’s trade onslaught.

European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici argued that the EU has done nothing to become the target of constant attacks, both economic and verbal, by US President Donald Trump. 

“What I stressed several times in my meetings here is that the EU is certainly not the author of major trade imbalances,” the EU financial chief told reporters on Sunday on the sidelines of the G20 summit taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Calling on Trump to reconsider his ham-fisted trade policy towards the 28-member bloc, Moscovici argued that “targeting us [with sanctions] is certainly inappropriate… and that we must act with the US as allies – not foes but allies.”

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© Shannon Stapleton

The EU official, who is a former French minister of economy, was referring to the recent remark by Trump that he made during a CBS interview, which caused a massive backlash among European allies. Listing America’s adversaries, Trump first named the EU, noting that it was a “foe” because of “what they do to us in trade.”  

“Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe,” he doubled down, prompting the dumbfounded interviewer to ask why his first choice was Europe, rather than the usual suspects China or Russia.

Trump’s criticism of the European trade policy has also been denounced by Germany’s Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz, who argued that the EU policy “is very rational” and it does not seek “to achieve economic benefits through exchange rate parities.”

On a more conciliatory note, Scholz urged the US to pull back from the verge of a trade war. “The prosperity gains are greater for all if we cooperate,” he said.

In a rare departure from strong-worded rhetoric towards the EU, the Trump administration’s delegate to the summit, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, seemingly extended an olive branch to Washington’s allies, proposing a free trade deal, albeit on Washington’s conditions.

“If Europe believes in free trade, we are ready to sign a trade agreement with no tariffs, no tariff barriers and no subsidies, “Mnuchin said at the summit, noting that “all three conditions would have to be fulfilled.”

However, the US proposal, hailed by Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau as a “great idea,” does not sit well with French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said France is not prone to negotiating “with a gun to our head.”

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FILE PHOTO © Kevin Lamarque

The US has imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the EU; a move that has strained relations between Washington and its traditional allies, which responded with tit-for-tat measures in June. US goods that have been impacted include bourbon whiskey, orange juice and motorcycles.

Ratcheting up tensions further, Trump threatened to impose a 20 percent tariff on all EU cars, despite reported opposition from his own trade advisers.

The US has been waging its most expansive trade war with China. The US has already enacted tariffs against $ 34 billion in Chinese goods, with Trump saying Friday he “is ready” to impose taxes on all $ 505 billion worth of Chinese goods imported by the US in 2017.

Meanwhile, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has cautioned that tariff races will hinder global economic growth, warning that “in the worst case scenario” the impact will be “in the range of 0.5 percent of GDP on a global basis.”

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Libya, migrants & karma: Europe's new migration policy wrecks on North African reality

The EU’s new plan to create refugee camps in North Africa is unlikely to ever work, as it’s never considered the situation on the ground – something that Europe helped create when it intervened in Libya, experts warn.

Years of unending migrant influx have apparently stretched both the capacity and hospitality of some European nations to the limit. While the new Italian Euroskeptic government has outright refused to take in any new arrivals, arguing that it has too many already, the Swedish government struggles with a crime wave that followed a mass influx of migrants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was once one of the most adamant champions of the ‘open borders’ policy, has had a tough time facing pressure both at home and at the EU level. As Europeans bicker over the fair share of migrants, a new major threat looms on the horizon.

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© Eric Vidal

In April, the head of the UN World Food Program, David Beasley, warned that Europe might soon face a new massive wave of migration from the Sahel, the potentially unstable African region lying south of the Sahara Desert. “My comment to the Europeans is that if you think you had a problem resulting from a nation of 20 million people like Syria because of destabilization and conflict resulting in migration, wait until the greater Sahel region of 500 million people is further destabilized. And this is where the European community and international community have got to wake up,” he said.

As tensions over the migration policy inside the EU continue to escalate, the bloc has been attempting to stay afloat by literally shipping the problem abroad. However, its plan to establish migrant processing centers in the North African countries has run into a brick wall, which Europeans built themselves with their invasion of Libya back in 2011.

Money not enough to buy N. African support

When Europeans hastily drafted a new plan to deal with the migration issue to alleviate the tensions within the EU, they never bothered to consult the North African nations, Marianna Belenkaya, an analyst and a columnist at the Russian Kommersant business daily, told RT. All Europe’s potential partners turned out to effectively be against any deals involving the creation of migrant centers on their territory. 

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FILE PHOTO Migrants from Syria and Iraq take selfies with Angela Merkel, Berlin, Germany ©Fabrizio Bensch

Most recently, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the UN-backed Libyan unity government (GNA) in Tripoli, told the German Bild daily that Libya will never take back asylum seekers rejected in the EU, nor will it agree to build refugee centers on its soil, even if such a deal would involve financial assistance from Europe.

Other North African nations, such as Tunisia and Morocco, were also reluctant to agree to Europe’s proposals, according to Belenkaya. Such an outcome was unfortunate for Europe, which actually expected that “an incentive of European investments” would be enough to win the North African governments’ support, she added.

The Europeans expected Libya to become the cornerstone of its new migration policy, as “any Libyan government under the current circumstances [was expected] to be dependent on the European financial aid and political support,” Grigory Lukyanov, a Middle East analyst and senior lecturer at the Russian Higher School of Economics told RT.

However, “the Libyan government officials understood that, in its present form, this deal would equal to solving European problems at the expense of the Libyan interests,” he said, explaining that Europe has, in fact, little to offer Libya in exchange for tackling “what Europe itself sees as a threat but Libya does not perceive as a problem.”

Country of jobs turned migrant limbo

In recent years, the Libyan territory has become a major route used by migrants fleeing conflicts, poverty and persecution in Africa to reach Europe. However, this was not always the case – particularly not when the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ruled the country. Under Gaddafi, who was branded a ruthless dictator by the West and eventually killed by the Western-backed ‘rebels,’ Libya experienced significant economic growth. Back then, it was not a transit country but a desired destination for many Africans seeking a better life.

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A historic building, that was ruined during a three-year conflict, is seen in Benghazi, Libya February 28, 2018. © Esam Omran Al-Fetori

The booming Libyan oil economy “experienced a constantly growing labor demand, which its own population could not fill,” Lukyanov said. As a result, the North African state welcomed a large number of migrants not only from Africa but also from Europe and even China. The country, which, according to the UN, had a “high human development rank,” was capable of not only providing the new arrivals with jobs but also offered them “decent living standards.”

African migrants did not travel further to Europe from Libya “not because they were somehow forbidden [to do that] but because they could effectively find a job and better live there,” Lukyanov said. However, everything changed in 2011 when Libya fell into chaos after the toppling and murder of Gaddafi amid the foreign intervention in the civil war, in which anti-government rebels were actively supported by many European nations, the US and NATO.

Unresolved faction war

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FILE PHOTO. Benghazi, Libya. © Esam Omran Al-Fetori

The reckless Western invasion, disguised as help to the “freedom fighters,” has left the North African state in shambles. Warlords and clan-based militias have seized upon the opportunities in both human trafficking and oil smuggling created in the post-Gaddafi chaos.

For years, the country was also unable to overcome a period of diarchy that emerged from the vacuum of power left by the toppling of the Gaddafi government. In 2014, Libya was divided between the UN-backed government in Tobruk and a Tripoli-based government formed by Islamists. One could now hardly call it a simple coincidence that the number of migrants and refugees coming to Europe through the Libyan territory drastically increased at that time, with the refugee crisis reaching its highest point a year later.

In 2016, the Government of National Accord (GNA) was formed to unify the country but it eventually failed to do that as a new center of power emerged in Tobruk. With political process stalled and local warlords and tribal militias determining the daily lives of people with little regard to the central authority, any idea of establishing migration centers in Libyan territory seems unviable.

“All attempts to restart the political process and hold elections as well as to put an end to the resumed hostilities in many parts of the country have been futile so far. Under such circumstances, it makes no sense to reach any agreements with just one center of power,” Lukyanov believes.

He further explained that creation of a “buffer zone” hosting migrant processing centers in the Libyan coastal area in the current situation would be absolutely impossible. “This region hosts the most populated areas with many settlements and ports, which are constantly contested by various warring parties. Any refugee centers here would immediately become a part of a trade-off or a conflict between the armed groups,” the analyst said.

‘People will still come’

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© Zoie O’Brien

Unlikely as it is to be brought to life in the current situation, Europe’s current plan to deal with migrants with the help of North Africa might also be flawed in its essence, Belenkaya warns.

Europe hopes it “could separate real refugees from those, who just seek a better life, in these centers, thus discouraging the latter from embarking on these perilous journeys in the first place,” she said. However, “the people will still come and the situation in such camps would only get worse.”

A potential solution to the European migration crisis might lie in trying to undo what the Europeans did to Libya years ago. The EU has to effectively embrace the legacy of Colonel Gaddafi if it wants to stem the influx of migrants from Africa, experts believe.

“Only a functioning state and a healthy economy in Libya would … create conditions for at least part of the [migrants] to stay there instead of moving further to Europe,” Lukyanov argued.

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Scared dog forces emergency landing after opening luggage compartment mid-flight

A passenger jet was reportedly forced to make an emergency landing in Moscow after a small dog, which somehow opened the luggage compartment from the inside, triggered an alarm onboard.

The commander of a Boeing 737 travelling from St. Petersburg informed the ground services of the complications as it was approaching the Russian capital on Sunday.

The alarm went off when the passenger craft was at an altitude of 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). “The crew safely performed an emergency landing, no one was hurt,” a source at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport told Interfax.

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© Ксения Слизкая

It was then revealed that the opening of the luggage compartment hatch was caused by a small dog whose cage wasn’t properly locked. The scared animal apparently got out and went at it tooth and nail trying to escape, ignorant of the kilometers that separated it from the ground.

The persistent pooch “tore the inner lining of the luggage compartment and somehow provoked the opening of its front half-door,” the source told Interfax.

Lucky for the desperate animal, the plane’s electronics wouldn’t let it open the hatch all the way, triggering the alarm and blocking it. “There was a gap of several dozen centimeters, but the dog was unable to get into it and stayed alive,” the source said.

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Brits reject May’s Brexit plan, want BoJo to hold talks & lead Tories instead – poll

British voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, a fresh poll suggests. Instead, they would pin their hopes on a man who was only recently seen as a “liability” – Boris Johnson.

May seems to be facing an unprecedented confidence crisis, as just 11 percent of the voters said they would support her Brexit plan, which is also known as the Chequers deal, if a referendum on it is held, a recent YouGov poll conducted for the Sunday Times has revealed.

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 © Rob Pinney

Just 12 percent of respondents generally believe that the plan, which envisages the UK abiding by EU rules in return for free trade, is “good” for the UK while 43 percent believe otherwise, according to the survey conducted on Thursday and Friday.

Furthermore, only 16 percent of Brits approve of May’s handling of Brexit in general. An earlier YouGov poll conducted last week, meanwhile, showed that three-quarters of the population think that the government is doing “badly” at negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU. The same poll also demonstrated that more voters (43 percent) would like to see May stand down as a Conservative leader rather than stay (36 percent).

The only gleam of light between the clouds over May’s head is the fact that those who call themselves Tory voters still mostly believe she should stay and fight by a margin of 58% to 32%. However, when it comes to Brexit, people unexpectedly give preference to Boris Johnson, who just recently resigned from the position of the British foreign minister following a spat with May over the Chequers deal. Now, more than one-third of Brits (34 percent) believe he would fare better than the current prime minister in the Brexit talks.

Johnson, who was considered a “liability” to the government by almost half of respondents just a week ago, is now named as one of the most popular candidates for the post of the Tory leader. At least he is considered to fare best against the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn among all potential Tory candidates at the next elections, according to YouGov.

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Former UK Prime Minister John Major on The Andrew Marr Show.

Meanwhile, the general support for the major British establishment parties is apparently waning. The poll showed that almost four in 10 Brits would vote for a “new party on the right committed to Brexit,” while a further 24 percent of respondents would support a far-right anti-immigrant and anti-Islam force.

One in three voters are also prepared to back a new centrist party, which would advocate the UK staying in the EU. Notably, the poll showed that more than a half of UK citizens would now vote to ‘remain’ if another Brexit referendum is held.

The prolonged Brexit talks have left the Tory government in dire straits. First, it saw a string of ministerial resignations, which involved not only Johnson but also the now former Brexit Secretary David Davis. Then, Conservative MP Philip Davies called for a no confidence vote in Prime Minister Theresa May and submitted a relevant letter to the backbench 1922 Committee. Forty-eight letters must be sent to the chairman of the committee, Graham Brady, before a no confidence vote is triggered.

Meanwhile, the former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader, Nigel Farage, as well as some of his allies and Tory donors, are allegedly planning to establish a new party advocating hard Brexit, the Sunday Times reports. Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, is also reportedly holding talks on the creation of a new centrist party.

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‘Racism and disrespect’: Mesut Ozil announces shock international retirement

The 92-times capped midfielder was critical of the public reaction to his pre-World Cup meeting with Turkish President, declaring that he “no longer wants to wear the German national team shirt”.

Ozil, whose social media statement also stated that he believes he is being blamed for Germany’s poor showing in this summer’s World Cup, met Turkish President in May along with Manchester City’s German international Ilkay Gundogan.

READ MORE: Some in German media are using my Turkish background as right-wing propaganda – Ozil

Photographs from the meeting were later used by Turkey’s AK Party in advance of elections in the country which Erdogan won outright. Several prominent German politicians were critical of the players’ meetings, saying that they inconsistent with German democratic values.

The German political establishment have heavily criticized Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissent in Turkey.

Ozil and Gundogan say that they discussed football in their meeting with the President.

The Arsenal player, who is of Turkish descent, said that he would be “disrespecting his ancestors’ roots” had he declined the invitation. He added that he has been receiving hate mail and harassing telephone calls since the incident.

The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt,” Ozil stated. “I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.

It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect. I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t…Racism should never, ever be accepted.

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Massive firework explosion causes injuries & damage at Spanish fiesta (VIDEO)

Some 20 people have reportedly received minor injuries after a pyrotechnic explosion interrupted celebrations at a festival in northern Spain, shattering windows and putting the area on lockdown.

The blast occurred around midnight on Saturday in the municipality of Cangas del Narcea in Asturias during the closing celebrations of the city’s La Magdalena festival, according to Europa Press.

A “huge roar” was heard by the crowds watching the display as the explosion blew out the windows of a nearby house and shop windows, causing glass to shatter into the streets. Several walls were also demolished. One of the buildings that sustained damage is said to have been a bank.

Those caught up in the explosion suffered minor cuts from broken glass and at least one of the organizers suffered burn injuries.

Local police closed off roads surrounding the area and stepped up patrols in order to prevent any looting of nearby businesses. The rest of the planned program for the festival has been suspended.

A fireworks rocket that veered off course during the display has been blamed for the incident, as it apparently ignited the rest of the unlit pyrotechnics.

Writing on Facebook, Mayor of Cangas del Narcea Jose Víctor Rodriguez said that the incident could have been much worse and might have been a major tragedy. An investigation into the exact cause of the accident is now underway, he said, adding that urgent measures were being taken to prevent such an event from happening again.

Such incidents are not uncommon during Spanish celebrations. In 2012, 28 people were injured in the eastern Spanish town of Elche after a rogue firework ignited thousands of others being stored in a church bell tower, causing sparks and burning material to rain down on observers.

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Iranian referee hounded in home country for shaking hands with woman

Iranian football referee Alireza Faghani has been lambasted in his home country after he was spotted hugging and shaking hands with a woman during the World Cup in Russia.

Faghani, who officiated in four matches at the tournament, including the bronze-medal game between England and Belgium, was asked for an explanation by the Iranian Football Federation, which deemed his actions to be inappropriate.

Under Iran’s Islamic law, it is strictly forbidden for a man to touch an unrelated woman – except in an emergency. The friendly handshake of the referee was viewed as disgraceful and immoral by some of conservative Iranians.

Such behavior in cyberspace is only natural,” Faghani said in explanation of the episode that was caught on camera. “This lady is a colleague of mine and is also married to one of my closest referee friends. I am sorry for those who are looking for a scandal in such a situation.”

After the criticism intensified, the referee’s tone became more assertive and he threatened to leave the country if people did not stop hounding him.

READ MORE: Iranian women watch World Cup match in stadium for 1st time in 40 years (VIDEO)

I don’t understand this,” he said. “I have known her since 2013 and I am close to both her and her spouse. When we met she congratulated me for my judgments. If they want to create problems because of this, I tell you right now: I will leave… I will take my wife and my family and go.”

Iran has long been criticized for the rigid rule that prohibits women from entering stadiums with men.

Last month, Iranian authorities temporarily lifted the ban and allowed women to watch a World Cup football game between Iran and Spain in a stadium for the first time in 40 years.

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2nd Brexit vote ‘morally justified’ after ‘fantasy promises’ by leave campaigners – John Major

Former UK Prime Minister John Major said it is “morally justified” to hold a second Brexit referendum because of “fantasy promises” which he believes tilted the vote in favour of Leave Campaign.

The one-time leader of the UK Conservative Party said another referendum has democratic downsides, but the British people want it after they had been led to believe that Brexit was going to be the “easiest trade deal in history.”

“Many of the things they [the Leave Campaign] said were absolutely pie in the sky and if you look at any possible deal we’re going to get and compare it to what people were promised, there will be a gaping gap. Now that is a reason why people might want a second referendum,” Major said.

Last week, UK officials travelled to Brussels to carry out further Article 50 negotiations centering on a withdrawal agreement and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. New Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has since indicated that the UK could refuse to pay the £39 billion ‘divorce bill’ from Europe if a trade deal is not reached.

“If we crash out without a deal the people who have least are going to be hurt most. It would be a terrible betrayal of everyday people who really are not political,” Major said in his interview on The Andrew Marr Show. He stated that he did not much like the Chequers deal put forward by the prime minister, which could allow Britain to be a separate legal jurisdiction like Norway, with links to the trading bloc. However, he suggested that Brexiteers should be prepared to put their loathing of the EU aside for the good of the people.

With Boris Johnson and David Davis among those teasing a rebellion against Prime Minister Theresa May, fractions have become apparent in the Conservative Party. Major said that despite Brexit creating fissures in the party, MPs should work towards an exit package with the mantra: “People, people, people.”

He added that a Brexit deal satisfactory for Britain and Europe should not be allowed to be jeopardized by a minority of “anti-European” politicians.

“Both the European Union and the UK are going to have to compromise if we get a deal. But if every compromise reached by the cabinet is blocked by this minority of irreconcilable, hardline, utterly committed anti-Europeans – anti-Europe on all occasions – then we will not actually get to negotiations. We will fall out without a deal and it will be damaging for Europe, but catastrophic for us [the UK].”

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