Brexit: Race to host EU agencies relocated from London – BBC News

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The agencies are currently based in London’s Canary Wharf

EU countries have until midnight to enter a race to bid to provide a new home for two agencies that will be relocated from the UK after Brexit.

The European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, based in Canary Wharf in London, employ just over 1,000 staff between them.

The banking and medicines agencies are seen as the first spoils of Brexit by the 27 remaining members of the EU.

About 20 countries are expected to enter the bidding process.

Glossy brochures

There will be fierce competition to attract the agencies’ highly skilled employees, their families and the business that comes with them.

This includes 40,000 hotel stays for visitors each year.

Countries have printed glossy brochures, posted promotional videos online and hired lobbying firms.

The contest has pitched larger countries against smaller ones from across the EU.

The European Commission will assess the entries based on the quality of office space, job opportunities for spouses and transport links.

European ministers will use a complicated voting system to choose the winners in November.

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Brexit: UK will not cut taxes, says Philip Hammond – BBC News

Image copyright PA

The UK will not cut tax and regulations after Brexit in a bid to undercut EU rivals, Philip Hammond has suggested.

The chancellor told French newspaper Le Monde that tax raised as a percentage of the British economy “puts us right in the middle” of European countries.

“We don’t want that to change, even after we’ve left the EU,” he added.

It has been viewed as a softer tone from Mr Hammond, who in January said the UK would do “whatever we have to do” post-Brexit to stay competitive.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason says that having lost their majority at this year’s general election, the Conservatives would struggle to persuade the Commons to support slashing taxes and regulation.

In his latest interview, Mr Hammond told Le Monde: “I often hear it said that the UK is considering participating in unfair competition in regulation and tax.

“That is neither our plan nor our vision for the future.

“I would expect us to remain a country with a social, economic and cultural model that is recognisably European.”

Our correspondent said those words “appeared to be at odds with some of his own comments earlier this year”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cutting taxes and business regulations would make the UK more like Singpore

During an interview in January, Mr Hammond was asked by Welt am Sonntag whether the UK could become a tax haven after leaving the EU.

He said he was “optimistic” about securing a good trade deal with the EU but if this did not happen “you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do”.

“If we have no access to the European market, if we are closed off, if Britain were to leave the European Union without an agreement on market access, then we could suffer from economic damage at least in the short-term,” he said at the time.

“In this case, we could be forced to change our economic model and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness.”

‘Risky strategy’

Those comments were seized upon by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said it sounded like “a recipe for some kind of trade war with Europe”.

He told the BBC it seemed “an extremely risky strategy”.

In his latest interview, Mr Hammond also said the UK wanted EU workers be part of the British economy and carry on with their family life in the country, and the same for British expats working in Europe.

He said the bill for Brexit was not a question about money, but how the UK leaves the EU without causing problems for businesses and people.

Breaking up the City of London would benefit New York not Frankfurt or Paris, he added.

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Deadly Clashes Erupt As Venezuela Holds Widely Boycotted Election

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela, July 30, (Reuters) – Deadly protests rocked Venezuela on Sunday as voters broadly boycotted an election for a constitutional super-body that unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro vowed would begin a new era of combat in the crisis-stricken nation.

Anti-Maduro activists wearing hoods or masks erected barricades on roads, and scuffles broke out with security forces who moved in quickly to disperse demonstrators who denounced the election as a naked power grab by the president.

Authorities said 10 people were killed in the confrontations, which made Sunday one of the deadliest days since massive protests started in early April.

Maduro, widely disliked for overseeing an unraveling of Venezuelas economy, has promised the assembly will bring peace by way of a new constitution after four months of opposition protests in which more than 120 people have been killed.

Opposition parties sat out the election, saying it was rigged to increase Maduros powers, a view shared by countries including Spain, Canada, Colombia and the United States.

The Trump administration is considering imposing U.S. sanctions on Venezuelas vital oil sector in response to Sundays election, U.S. officials said.

Potential U.S. sanctions on sales of light crude to Venezuelas oil company PDVSA would hamper its already weak refining network.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters
Flames erupt as clashes break out while the Constituent Assembly election is being carried out in Caracas on Sunday.

Caracas was largely shut down, streets were deserted and polling stations were mostly empty, dealing a blow to the legitimacy of the vote. A bomb exploded in the capital and wounded seven police officers in what could be the spread of more aggressive tactics.

Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out of power. The opposition vowed to hold protests again on Monday and to keep pressuring Maduros cash-strapped government until hes forced from office.

Even if they win today, this wont last long, said opposition supporter Berta Hernandez, a 60-year-old doctor in a wealthier Caracas district. Ill continue on the streets because, not long from now, this will come to an end.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader narrowly elected in 2013, dismisses criticism of the assembly as right-wing propaganda aimed at sabotaging the brand of socialism created by his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

The emperor Donald Trump wanted to halt the Venezuelan peoples right to vote, said Maduro as he rapidly voted at 6 a.m. in a low-income area of Caracas that has turned on the government.

A new era of combat will begin. Were going all out with this constituent assembly, he said.

But with polls showing some 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the vote, the countrys 2.8 million state employees are under huge pressure to participate – with some two dozen sources telling Reuters they were being threatened with dismissal. Workers were being blasted with text messages and phone calls asking them to vote and report back after doing so.

The opposition estimated participation was at around a paltry 12 percent, but warned the government was gearing up to announce some 8.5 million people had voted.


Fueling anger against Maduro is an unprecedented economic meltdown in the country of some 30 million people, which was once a magnet for European migrants thanks to an oil boom that was the envy of Latin America.

However, nearly two decades of heavy currency and price controls have asphyxiated business. Venezuelans have seen their purchasing power shredded by the worlds highest inflation rate.

Millions of Venezuelans now struggle to eat three times a day due to shortages of products as basic as rice and flour.

Sometimes I take bread from my mouth and give it to my two kids, said pharmacy employee Trina Sanchez, 28, as she waited for a bus to work. This is a farce. I want to slap Maduro.

To show the massive scale of public anger, the opposition organized an unofficial referendum over Maduros plan earlier this month.

More than 7 million voters overwhelmingly rejected the constituent assembly and voted in favor of early elections.

The oppositions bid last year to hold a recall referendum against Maduro was rejected, regional elections have been postponed and the president has repeatedly ignored Congress.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters
Demonstrators burn police uniforms amid clashes with authorities.


In Sundays gravest incident, a bomb went off as a group of police officers on motorbikes sped past Caracas Altamira Plaza, an opposition stronghold. The state prosecutors office said seven officers were wounded and four motorbikes incinerated.

Clashes were also reported in the volatile Andean state of Tachira, whose capital is San Cristobal, where witnesses told Reuters an unidentified group of men had showed up at two separate street protests and shot at demonstrators.

Fatalities over the weekend included two teenagers and a candidate to the assembly killed during a robbery in the jungle state of Bolivar. The states Socialist Party governor, Francisco Rangel, said the death was a political hit job and blamed it on the opposition.

Supporters of Chavismo, the movement founded by Chavez, Maduros more charismatic predecessor who enjoyed high oil prices for much of his mandate, said they wanted to halt the unrest.

The (opposition) wants deaths and roadblocks and the government wants peace, said Olga Blanco, 50, voting for candidates to the assembly at a school in Caracas.

The assembly is due to sit within 72 hours of results being certified, with government loyalists such as powerful Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello and Maduros wife and son expected to win seats.

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Trump makes US seem a ‘kleptocracy’, says ex-ethics chief Walter Shaub

Shaub, who quit job at head of Office of Government Ethics this month, describes embarrassment of Trumps business ties as president

The former head of the US government ethics watchdog has warned that Donald Trumps conflicts of interest put the country at risk of being seen as a kleptocracy.

Speaking to the Guardian, Walter Shaub, who quit this month as director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), condemned the president for using his hotels and other properties for government business in what is in effect a free advertising campaign.

His actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency, and the appearance here is everything, because the demand Im making is so much more than have a clean heart. Its: Have a clean heart and act appropriately, Shaub said.

The fact that were having to ask questions about whether hes intentionally using the presidency for profit is bad enough, because the appearance itself undermines confidence in government.

He added: It certainly risks people starting to refer to us as a kleptocracy. Thats a term people throw around fairly freely when theyre talking about Russia, fairly or unfairly, and we run the risk of getting branded the same way. America really should stand for more than that.

The outspoken Shaub, 46, was a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, turning him into an unlikely star of the resistance. His name was spotted on placards at anti-Trump demonstrations and a fan page materialised on Facebook. The career government lawyer left the OGE almost six months before his five-year term was due to finish and is now senior director of ethics at the not-for-profit Campaign Legal Center, where he reckons he will be better placed to to push for reforms.

These are vital, Shaub argues, because Trumps intertwined business and political interests, while notviolating any laws, mark such a break from past norms that there is an ethics crisis in Washington.

We cant know whether his decisions are motivated by his policy aims or his financial interests, he said, and that uncertainty alone creates the problem because, whatever his intent, people having to ask undermines the faith in governmental decision-making and puts a cloud over everything the government does.

The president regularly spends weekends on his familys properties. On Saturday night, he dined at the Trump International hotel, halfway between the White House and the US Capitol. The luxury hotel is situated in the government-owned Old Post Office building, for which Trump signed a 60-year lease in 2013.

Shaub said: Its wildly inappropriate for him to be running a hotel that hes leasing from the federal government. As a president, you shouldnt be doing business with the United States government. Hes his own landlord at this point.

Presidents such as John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson put their assets in a blind trust; Jimmy Carter did the same with his peanut farm and warehouse. Trump, who has not released his tax returns, announced before taking office that he would place his business interests which include hotels, golf courses and merchandise into a trust run Donald Trump Jr, his eldest son, and Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization.

Trump is the sole beneficiary of the trust and retains the power to revoke it at any time.

Shaub said the steps Trump had taken were meaningless and he should at least have declared that he and his appointees would not attend events at his properties, removing the incentive for foreign businesses and politicians to hold gatherings there.

But hes not willing to do that because hes too busy running around giving free advertising to his properties, he said.

The Trump hotel has become a magnet for lobbyists and foreign diplomats. In February, Kuwait held its national day celebration there; in May, the hotel hosted a conference organised by the Turkey-US Business Council and American Turkish Council. Trump has business interests in at least 20 countries, including a $150m tower in the Philippines, golf courses in Ireland and Scotland and numerous projects in India.

Shaub continued: Youve had countries in the world who have suddenly booked major events at his hotel that they used to hold elsewhere. Youve had businesses and charities and these could be international businesses with the ability to hold events at his place and basically funnel money to the president in the hopes that it will influence his decision making, and we cant know for sure that it doesnt.

It may not, but again, it undermines faith in the integrity of government if we dont know.

Trump has praised the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, leaders of countries where he has financial interests, Shaub noted.

Or you have his ban on people from certain Muslim-majority countries coming into the United States and the countries excluded from that list, in that region of the world, include countries where he has significant financial interests. So this raises questions about the extent to which the United States interests are coming first.

A stormy month for the Trump administration has included the revelation that in June last year, Donald Trump Jr met a Russian lawyer he believed would offer damaging information about Hillary Clinton provided by the Russian government. The president claimed that any politician would have taken the meeting as part of opposition research. Shaub disagrees.

Thats just a shocking claim, he said. Thats just terrible. Its ridiculous to say that just about anybody else would have taken that meeting. No, you dont go and meet with a foreign government that wants to share something with you while youre in the inner circle of a campaign for the presidency.

Over four decades, Democratic and Republican presidents have worked closely with the OGE. Shaub met Barack Obama but never came face to face with Trump, who showed little interest in government ethics and little support for the OGE. Shaub recalled that delegations from around the world had come to learn about the ethics programme and regard it as the gold standard.

Now were anything but that, he said. In fact, were running around the world trying to promote anti-corruption measures and we dont even have our own house in order. So its an embarrassment.

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My idea to improve the world: force everyone to try standup comedy | Jack Bernhardt

The benefits to society would be profound not least that people would learn the difference between a joke and a threat, says comedy writer Jack Bernhardt

We all like to think our chosen profession is the most important. Firefighters will tellyou that they save people from burning buildings. Scientists working at Cern will tell you they pushthe boundaries of human understanding and achievement. They are wrong. The most important profession, objectively and definitively more so than soldier, than paramedic, than the social media intern for Southern Trains is standup comedian.

Right now, we need them more than weve ever needed them. Which is why I am proposing compulsory standup lessons for every single person in the country so that we can all think more like comedians and save our society.

It would work like jury duty. You would get a letter in the post that would summon you to the back room of your local theatre/pub/bingo hall/converted cotton mill that is now a trendy bar, where you would do an intense week-long course in all things standup: how to hold the mic close enough so people can hear you but not so close that you accidentally make out with it; how to deal with hecklers without resorting to screaming, You think this is easy, mate?; and how to alternate your material depending on your audience.

For example, a your mama joke during a Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen is not suitable, but a your mama joke during a Royal Variety Performance in front of just Charles is to be actively encouraged.

At the end of the week, you would have to perform a 10-minute set in front of 50 randomly selected audience members. Depending on the difficulty of the class, the audience has either been given a free pint each and theyve been warmed up by Angela Barnes (beginner class), or its in a non-air-conditioned room, the show has started 25 minutes late and the warm-up act is a man reading out a list of the dead from the second world war (expert class).

On the face of it, this sounds like a dystopia, up there with Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming prime minister. Hour upon hour of first-time open-mic night sets from every single person in the country? People who hate comedy would dread getting on stage; people who love comedy would dread having to watch it. The only people who would actively enjoy it are people who love performing comedy but also actively enjoy the suffering of others. So, Andrew Lawrence.

But standup is unlike any other artform. With music or theatre, there is something else to keep an audience entertained: a story, a melody, other actors. With standup, it is just a microphone and a comedian. Think of the assumed arrogance of it: a standup is telling the audience that their point of view deserves your undivided attention for at least five minutes their jokes, their observations about Donald Trumps hair, and nothing else.

That power you can hold over an audience is intoxicating. I once span around in a circle on stage for 40 seconds for a joke. It was as underwhelming as it sounds. But I kept going, because I knew the audience had no choice but to indulge me. What were they going to do, leave? Nice try, but I was in front of the only exit. I had the power. Why else do you think every MP tries to cram in a tedious joke about the Mars rover or Andy Murray during PMQs? Because they love the sound of their own voices? No! Its the power.

If everyone was made to have a go at standup comedy not just white middle-class men from Notting Hill, but elderly black women from Birmingham, farmers from Somerset, Bangladeshi teenagers living in Mile End they would feel like their words mattered, if only for a moment. They deserve to have that confidence of a mediocre male politician flow through them, even if only once.

And the words matter. No one standup comedian is the same because no one standup has the same angle on the world. Standup is intensely personal I cant do a set of jokes about growing up delivering Hovis in Yorkshire, or about living as a fabulous drag queen in New York, as much as I desperately want to. I have to stick to tedious middle-class white guy jokes about why Waitrose avocados are squishier than M&S avocados (its something to do with how theyre transported, I think).

Joan Rivers performing in Hollywood in 2002. Photograph: Larry Marano/Getty Images

Not enough people stop and think about what their take on the world is. We just assume were all unremarkable or worse, that were all the same. Identifying what makes us unique not in a bad HSBC advert at an airport kind of way, but actually analysing who you are, and what our biases, privileges and limitations are, makes understanding and empathising with other people easier.

Comedy is as much about making a connection with an audience as it is about self-expression: my jokes about squishy avocados from Waitrose are going to go down great at a corporate event for M&S, but theyd bomb in a working-class suburb of Detroit because no one would be able to recognise it, and even if they did, it wouldnt be relevant. Moreover, if the audience is randomly selected and diverse, jokes that rely on sexist or racist tropes would bomb. Its the same reason Roy Chubby Brown wont ever do a show in Brick Lane, or why the men tweeting tedious jokes about Jodie Whittaker becoming the new Doctor Who will never, ever have sex with a woman, ever.

These are all pretty good reasons, but the most compelling is simple: a lesson in standup would let everyone know what a joke is and isnt. Over the past few months, it has become increasingly hard in this country to tell whether its the disgusting hate speech of Rhodri Colwyn Philipps against Gina Miller, poorly disguised as irony, or Trumps use of a gif of him beating up CNN, or basically anything that comes out of Boris Johnsons mouth to do with the EU. After each scandal, each gaffe, someone inevitably offers up the defence that it was just a joke.

The problem is that more often than not it wasnt originally presented as one its a veiled threat that is retroactively bestowed with the status of a joke when someone challenges it. Its intent wasnt to amuse or to satirise, but to intimidate and ultimately silence. Maybe, just maybe, if were all forced to craft our own comedy, well be able to spot the difference between a joke and a threat masquerading as a joke.

Perhaps next time more people would be able to look at the death threats and racism that Philipps spewed out online and realise that it doesnt have a set-up and it definitely doesnt have a punchline. Unless you count the fact that Philipps is now going to prison which, to be fair, is a pretty solid punchline.

Yes, it may be arduous. Yes, the idea of listening to millions of five-minute sets on why self-checkout machines are so hard to use fills me with dread (its because theyre a machine that replaced actual humans. Try replacing your mortgage adviser with a toaster, see how that works out). But for the good of society, we have to try to think more like comedians to spot those bullying threats, to empathise with our fellow man, to give confidence to those who have none. So please, dust off that Letterman-style jacket, grab a microphone, and start asking what the deal is with those compare the meerkat ads. Its our only hope.

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HSBC chief sounds alarm over financial regulation and Brexit

UKs biggest bank reports big rise in profits to $10.2bn as outgoing chairman Douglas Flint calls for global regulation to keep markets safe

The outgoing chairman of Britains biggest bank, HSBC, called for an overhaul of the system to tackle financial crime as he sounded the alarm over attempts to fragment global financial regulation, and the impact of Brexit.

His warning came as HSBC reported a 5% rise in first half profits to $10.2bn (7.8bn) and announced a $2bn share buy-back, taking the total amount returned to shareholders since the second half of 2016 to $5.5bn.

Douglas Flint who has been at HSBC for 22 years and chairman for the last six years used his last statement at the bank to call for the rules designed since the financial crisis to be implemented globally, and also warned on the impact of Brexit on Europes financial markets.

A divergence in regulation runs the risk of skewing financial market activity to where the rules are less onerous, while the discussions over the UKs departure from the EU will be complex and time-consuming.

The essential questions that have to be addressed are whether, at the conclusion of the negotiations, the economies of Europe will continue to have access to at least the same amount of financing capacity and related risk management services, and as readily available and similarly priced, as they have enjoyed with the UK as part of the EU, he said.

The City is focused on HSBCs attempts to clean up its business after a series of scandals about the tax avoidance strategies used by its Swiss arm and the 1.2bn fine for money laundering by the US Department of Justice, which led to a monitor being installed at the bank as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.

The American lawyer Michael Cherkasky was appointed as the monitor five years ago and his concerns have prompted an investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority into potential breaches of money laundering rules.

Flint said there need to be increased cooperation to route out bad actors.

What is…. clear is that greater cooperation between the public and private sectors, together with a refresh of bank secrecy laws and regulation designed for a different age, would significantly increase the effectiveness of our joint efforts, he said.

Douglas Flint Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian

Among the ideas he endorsed was a mandatory register of beneficial ownership of corporate and other non-personal structures in every country.

HSBCs results were accompanied by pages of legal warnings, including a legal case which began in April 2017 into allegations that it conspired with other banks to manipulate the the US bond market. There are other disclosures covering requests for information relating to the Mossack Fonseca files, investigations by tax authorities and its cooperating with the DoJ over the way it packaged up toxic bonds in the run up to the crisis. The investigation by DoJ – which has already reached settlements with eight other banks – is nearing completion.

In the UK, the banks results included a $300m hit for the payment protection insurance scandal. HSBC said it had moved 170,000 accounts to new sort codes to comply with the new ringfencing rules – known as the Vickers rules – which come into force at the start of 2019. Implementing these rules, which ring fence high street bank operations from riskier investment banks, has cost 500m and involved 2,000 staff.

Stuart Gulliver, the banks chief executive, focused on the amount paid out to shareholders in the last year. In the past 12 months we have paid more in dividends than any other European or American bank and returned $3.5bn to shareholders through share buybacks, said Gulliver, who in the financial stages of a global plan to make savings of $5bn, cut 25,000 jobs and pivot the business towards Asia.

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‘Human life is more expendable’: why slavery has never made more money

New research shows modern slavery is more lucrative than it has ever has been, with sex traffickers reaping the greatest rewards

Slave traders today make a return on their investment 25-30 times higher than their 18th- and 19th-century counterparts.

Siddharth Kara, a slavery economist and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Business School, has calculated that the average profit a victim generates for their exploiters is $3,978 (3,030) a year. Sex trafficking is so disproportionately lucrative compared to other forms of slavery that the average profit for each victim is $36,000.

In his book Modern Slavery, to be published in October,Kara estimates that sex trafficking accounts for 50% of the total illegal profits of modern slavery, despite sex trafficking victims accounting for only 5% of modern slaves.

Kara based his calculations, shared exclusively with the Guardian, on data drawn from 51 countries over a 15-year period, and from detailed interviews with more than 5,000 individuals who have been victims of slavery.

The first move to eradicate slavery was made in 1833, when the British parliament abolished it, 26 years after outlawing the trade in slaves. Nonetheless, at least twice as many people are trapped in some form of slavery today as were traded throughout the 350-plus years of the transatlantic slavery industry.

Experts believe roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves by professional traders between the 15th and 19th centuries. Today, the UNs International Labour Organisation believes at least 21 million people worldwide are in some form of modern slavery.

It turns out that slavery today is more profitable than I could have imagined, Kara said. Profits on a per slave basis can range from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars a year, with total annual slavery profits estimated to be as high as $150bn.

While slavery two centuries ago involved lengthy, expensive journeys and high mortality rates, the modern slave trade is producing higher profits per victim thanks to quick and inexpensive modern transportation and lower risk. Huge global migration flows are producing a ready and easily exploitable supply of victims who can be fed into a large number of industries linked to the global economy such as fashion, beauty, seafood and commercial sex.

Human life has become more expendable than ever, said Kara. Slaves can be acquired, exploited and discarded in relatively short periods and still provide immense profits for their exploiters. The deficiency in the global response to slavery has allowed the practice to persist. Unless slavery is perceived as a high-cost and high-risk form of labour exploitation, this reality will not change.

Last week, the UNs Office on Drugs and Crime warned that spiralling global conflict is exposing more and more populations to human trafficking and other forms of slavery. According to the UNODC, human trafficking is now a global criminal industry on a par with arms and drug trafficking in scope and scale.

I dont think there is any real comprehension of what we are facing, said Kristiina Kangaspunta, chief of the organisations global trafficking report.

Conflict is creating more vulnerabilities to those who need to move or flee and traffickers are moving in to exploit these vulnerabilities. Yet we must also acknowledge that much human trafficking is domestic and small-scale. Every single person will have come into contact with a victim of trafficking without noticing it.

The UNODCs Global Report on Human Trafficking, released last December, concluded that no country is immune from the crime of slavery. It identified more than 500 different trafficking flows or major routes between 2012-2014. Despite the fact that slavery is illegal in every country, and the large numbers of victims involved, worldwide there were only 9,071 convictions for crimes of forced labour and trafficking last year.

Yet Kevin Bale, professor of contemporary slavery at the University of Nottingham and co-author of the global slavery index, said slavery could be eliminated within two decades.

It is my belief that we could end slavery at a cost of as little as $23bn, he said.

That is 15% of the estimated illegal profits of forced labour. It is a dire challenge that we face but slavery can be a thing of the past, it is just a question of the political will and determination to do it.

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Australian authorities arrest 4 in alleged airplane terrorist plot

(CNN)Authorities in Australia foiled a terrorist plot to bring down an airplane and arrested four men Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced at a news conference Sunday in Sydney.

Police said it was an Islamist-inspired plot, but they did not link the plan to a specific terrorist group.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said officers became aware people in Sydney were allegedly planning to carry out a terrorist attack using an “improvised device.”
    Turnbull said it was an elaborate conspiracy that involved bringing down an airplane.
    The suspects were rounded up in raids in four Sydney suburbs, Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Police Force said in a news release.
    The investigation is ongoing, officials said. Police did not specify the date or location of the threat to Australia’s aviation industry.
    The suspects are in police custody but have not yet been charged, Colvin said.
    “Exactly what is behind this is something that we will need to investigate fully,” he said.
    The Prime Minister said extra security measures have been in place at Sydney Airport since Thursday and have since been put in place at the country’s other major airports.
    Transport security officials advised travelers to get to their airports two hours before their scheduled flight departures.
    “Those traveling should go about their business with confidence,” Turnbull added.
    Australia’s terrorism threat level remains in the middle at “probable,” the Prime Minister said, between “possible” and “expected.”
    “The number one priority of my Government, and my commitment to the Australian people, is to keep them safe,” he said.
    Last month, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack at a suburban Melbourne apartment building where one man was killed and three police officers were wounded.
    The attacker, who was known to police and out on parole, was shot dead after he ended a standoff by bursting out of an apartment.

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    Nawaz Sharif, disqualified Pakistan PM, wants brother to take his place

    Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN)Nawaz Sharif, removed from office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, said Saturday he has selected his brother to be the nation’s next prime minister.

    Shahbaz Sharif, however, cannot step into the role right away because he is not a member of the National Assembly. He would have to resign his provincial position and run for the Parliament seat vacated by his brother first.
    With the election 45 days away, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League named Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim prime minister.
      Shahbaz Sharif, who has been a major player in Pakistani politics since the 1980s, likely will win election and the ruling party will install him as prime minister until the next general election in April.
      The US-educated Abbasi has been a party loyalist for years and until the cabinet was dissolved Friday, he was the minister of petroleum and natural resources.

      Children linked in Panama Papers

      Nawaz Sharif was removed from office after revelations of his family’s finances that emerged in the Panama Papers leak led to a corruption probe.
      The high court ruled that Sharif had been dishonest to Parliament and to the judicial system and was no longer fit for office.
      A five-judge panel announced its unanimous decision Friday afternoon. The courtroom was silent as Justice Ejaz Afzal read the judgment, and the opposition distributed candy in celebration following the verdict.
      The panel investigated Sharif’s alleged links to offshore accounts and overseas properties owned by three of his adult children. The assets were not declared on his family’s wealth statement, but the Panama Papers leak in April 2016 revealed them.
      The huge cache of documents allegedly connected to a Panama law firm revealed the financial dealings of some of the world’s best-known people.
      Sharif was not named in the Panama Papers, but his three children were linked in the documents to offshore companies.

        What are the Panama Papers?

      The Panama Papers leak sparked mass protests in Pakistan and calls from opposition political groups for a panel to investigate Sharif and his children over their alleged offshore accounts.
      No civilian prime minister in Pakistan has ever completed a full term in office. Friday’s ruling marked the first time in the country’s history that a leader was disqualified from office following a judicial process.
      The 68-year-old leader hasbeen at the helm of Pakistan’s turbulent politics for more than three decades.

      ‘Lion of Punjab’

      Under Sharif, Pakistan has experienced economic growth and a marked drop in terrorism. The government also has initiated a bold foreign policy that led to strong ties with China and the formation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
      Known as the “Lion of Punjab,” Sharif is one of Pakistan’s leading industrialists and richest men as well as a fearsome political operative — having been Prime Minister twice before.
      But his long political career has been dogged with missteps and allegations of corruption. He was forced to step down during his first term as Prime Minister after a family-owned business, Ittefaq Industries, grew tremendously while he was in office.
      Sharif was re-elected in 1997 and ordered Pakistan’s first nuclear tests, but a showdown with the nation’s powerful military saw his second term end prematurely as well.
      In 1999, Sharif fired then-army head Pervez Musharraf after a failed invasion of Kargil in Indian-controlled Kashmir. But in a dramatic turnaround, Musharraf launched a coup and eventually had his former boss imprisoned on charges of hijacking for attempting to stop a plane carrying the general from landing.
      Sharif was later sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison on corruption charges, but he was released after six months when Saudi Arabia brokered a deal to allow him to go into exile there.
      In 2007, Sharif returned to his homeland after his PML-N party teamed up with the Pakistan Peoples Party, or PPP, to force Musharraf out of office.
      After some legal and constitutional wrangling, Sharif was re-elected Prime Minister for a third time in 2013 despite accusations of vote-rigging.

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      The Observer view on Donald Trumps unfitness for office | Observer editorial

      The incompetence and infighting at the White House dismay Americas allies and encourage its enemies

      The sense of things falling apart in Washington is palpable and a matter of growing, serious international concern. Donald Trumps latest asinine act of gesture politics, the forced resignation of his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has shone a spotlight on the extraordinary chaos inside the White House. Even normally sober, experienced Washington observers now refer to the West Wing as a vipers nest of seething rivalry, bitter feuds, gross incompetence and an unparalleled leadership vacuum.

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      Like some kind of Shakespearean villain-clown, Trump plays not to the gallery but to the pit. He is a Falstaff without the humour or the self-awareness, a cowardly, bullying Richard III without a clue. Late-night US satirists find in this an unending source of high comedy. If they did not laugh, they would cry. The world is witnessing the dramatic unfolding of a tragedy whose main victims are a seemingly helpless American audience, Americas system of balanced governance and its global reputation as a leading democratic light.

      As his partisan, demeaning and self-admiring speech to the Boy Scouts of America illustrated, Trump endlessly reruns last years presidential election campaign, rails against the fake news media and appeals to the lowest common denominator in public debate. Not a word about duty, service, shared purpose or high ideals was to be found in his gutter-level discourse before a youthful gathering of 30,000 in West Virginia. Instead, he served up a sad cocktail of paranoia and narcissism. It was all about him and what he has supposedly achieved against the odds.

      Which, for the record, is almost precisely nothing. After more than six months in office, and despite full Republican control of Congress, Trump cannot point to a single substantial legislative achievement. The bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which finally went down in flames in the Senate last week, was the most spectacular and telling of Trumps failures. His executive orders, such as the racist ban on Muslim travellers and last weeks bigoted attack on transgender people in the military, have mostly run foul of the courts or been pre-emptively ignored by those charged with implementing them.

      Trump has instead squandered the political goodwill that traditionally accompanies a presidential honeymoon, shocked and outraged many middle-of-the-road voters who initially gave him the benefit of the doubt, thoroughly alienated Republican party traditionalists, who had tried in vain to swallow their doubts, and undermined the authority of the office of the president. Trump, a supposedly ace chief executive, has now lost a chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff, a national security adviser, a communications director and a press secretary in short order. To lose one or even two of his most senior people might be excused as unfortunate. To lose all five suggests the fault is his.

      Perhaps John Kelly, the retired general hired to replace Priebus, can restore some semblance of order to the White House. It looks like a tall order. Kelly has no political experience beyond his brief tenure at the department of homeland security. Perhaps he will find an ally in HR McMaster, another army veteran, who is Trumps national security adviser. But there is no good reason to believe the internal feuding, and Trumps inability or disinclination to halt it, will end.

      Anthony Scaramucci, the recently appointed, foul-mouthed communications director, has unfinished business with Steve Bannon, Trumps top strategist. Trump seems determined to undermine his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Then there is the self-interested leverage exerted by Trump family lightweights Ivanka Trump, Donald Jr and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. On top of all that, Kelly must work out how to handle the ever-expanding investigations of special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaigns dealings with Russia. A good start would be to halt scurrilous White House efforts to dig up dirt on Mueller and his team.

      Yet even if Kelly succeeds in cracking the whip, curbing the in-fighting and containing the Russia scandal, he still has to deal with Trump himself. He has proved far more interested in settling scores, berating adversaries and showing off than in advancing a coherent domestic policy agenda. The next prospective car crash, following the Obamacare pile-up, is a September deadline for a federal budget and linked tax reforms and increased military spending promised by Trump. A budget deal proved impossible last spring and may do so again. If there is no agreement, a government shut-down looms, an outcome in line with current Washington trends. Lazy, feckless Trump has no interest in the onerous business of lobbying Congress or working the phones. He wants quick, easy wins or else he walks away.

      This latter is one of several disturbing truths about Trump absorbed, to varying degrees, by Washingtons friends and allies in the past six months. Naive, misguided Theresa May and Liam Fox, the Brexit trade secretary, still seem to think Trumps word can be trusted and that he will deliver a favourable trade deal. It is one of many delusions explaining why Britains government is so disrespected. In sharp contrast, Angela Merkel, Germanys chancellor, heads the realist, pragmatic group of leaders who are learning to deal with a post-Obama world where the word of the American president cannot be trusted. In this new world, longstanding US commitments and treaties may not be honoured and future collaboration on key policies, such as climate change, Russia and Chinese military expansionism, is held hostage to presidential whim and the blinkered perspectives of the Ohio bar-room.

      Merkel suggested earlier this year that the US (and Britain) could no longer be wholly relied upon. While not entirely true, for instance in the case of Anglo-American security guarantees for Germany and its sheltered exporters, it was plain what she meant. And this lesson has been understood by Americas enemies, too. In provocatively firing off another long-range, possibly nuclear-capable missile last week, North Korea seems to be testing how far it can go, geographically and politically. It is counting on Trump proving to be the blowhard that, until now, he has appeared to be.

      Recent months have produced a litany of Trump threats and boasts over North Korea. There was no way, he said, that Pyongyang would deploy an ICBM capable of hitting the mainland US. Its not going to happen, he tweeted. Wrong again, Donald. It did. By conducting its own satellite launch last week, ignoring western concerns, Iran has similarly thumbed its nose at Washington. Irans leaders should understand there would be very serious consequences if they pursued their ballistic missile programme, Trump had warned. Additional hints from Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, Pentagon chief, about regime change in Iran further darkened the strategic horizon. But guess what? Tehran took no notice at all. It went ahead anyway.

      Or take Russia. Having played Trump to its advantage, Moscows open hand is turning into a clenched fist as it threatens reprisals over a new Congressional sanctions package. It was not hard to see this tactical switch coming, once it was clear Trump could not deliver the sort of concessions on Ukraine Putin craves. Except, in his fecklessness and blind vanity and courting Putin to the end, Trump didnt see it coming at all. You can almost see Putins lip curl.

      The common factor in all these situations is Trumps self-induced powerlessness and ignorance, his chronic lack of credibility and presidential authority and consequent perceptions of US and western weakness. And in the case of all three actual or potential adversaries North Korea, Iran and Russia these perceptions are highly dangerous. Precisely because US responses, actions and reactions can no longer be relied upon or predicted, by friends and enemies alike, the potential for calamitous miscalculation is growing. This uncertainty, like the chaos in the White House and the extraordinary disarray of the American body politic, stems from Trumps glaring unfitness for the highest office. As is now becoming ever plainer, this threatens us all.

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