UNHCR: Bosnia Must Shelter Migrants Ahead of Winter 

Bosnia should do more to organize shelter for migrants before the arrival of winter, including for hundreds sleeping outdoors in towns near the Croatian

border, the U.N. said Tuesday.

About 15,000 refugees and migrants from Asia and North Africa have passed through Bosnia this year on their way to Europe’s wealthier countries.

“The key challenge now is how to prepare for winter,” said Stephanie Woldenberg, senior protection officer for the UNHCR refugee agency. “It is the race against time and UNHCR is particularly concerned about vulnerable families and individuals who are most at risk.”

Woldenberg, speaking at an event sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said more than 1,000 refugees and migrants were sleeping outside in Bihac and Velika Kladusa, two towns in northwestern Bosnia near the Croatian border.

Several thousand migrants remain in Bosnia after Croatia tightened its borders, and new people arrive daily, crossing illegally from Serbia.

Bosnia’s state authorities say they are trying to refurbish inadequate facilities where migrants are currently accommodated but the process has been slow because of a lack of funding and cooperation from local counterparts.

Woldenberg said a priority for the authorities was to protect families with children, single women and unaccompanied minors. “Safe, appropriate accommodation must be provided for these groups as a priority,” she said.


Austrian Leader Rejects Far-Right Plan to Shut Out Some Media

Austria’s chancellor said on Tuesday a proposal by a far-right coalition partner to shut out several newspapers was unacceptable, suggesting further tensions between the ruling parties, though the far right later disowned the plan.

Two of Austria’s three main national newspapers on Tuesday published details of an email sent to police spokespeople by the Interior Ministry, controlled by the far-right Freedom Party (FPO). It suggested communications with the papers and one other be reduced to “what is absolutely necessary.”

“Any restriction of press freedom is unacceptable,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a statement, although he avoided referring to the reports specifically.

“The shutting out or boycotting of selected media cannot take place in Austria,” he said. “That goes for those in charge of communications at all ministries and all public institutions.”

The email accused the broadsheets Kurier and Der Standard and left-wing weekly newspaper Falter of “very one-sided and negative reporting” about the ministry or the police, without providing examples or details.

The Interior Ministry confirmed that the email was authentic and sent by its chief spokesman but said it was not binding and consisted of suggestions rather than instructions.

The FPO is critical of some media for what it says is biased coverage, but its accusations are less frequent and generally less vociferous than the “fake news” charges made by some right-wing figures, such as U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a posting on Facebook in February, FPO leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache accused national broadcaster ORF of lying. He defended the posting as a prank but later agreed to pay damages to the news anchor pictured in the posting and issued an apology.

The FPO, which controls the foreign, interior and defense ministries, and Kurz’s conservatives have largely managed to avoid public disputes while in government together, but anti-Semitism scandals involving FPO officials and accusations of an attempted purge at an intelligence agency have caused tension.

Media rights advocates including the Vienna-based International Press Institute and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s media freedom representative condemned the memo. President Alexander Van der Bellen issued a statement similar to Kurz’s, and the ministry later rowed back.

“The formulations regarding dealing with ‘critical media’ do not meet with my approval,” FPO Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said in a statement issued by his ministry on Tuesday, adding: “A restriction of press freedom is unthinkable.”




Regional Election Losses Seen as Growing Rejection of Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is normally sure-footed when it comes to domestic politics, is facing an increasing challenge to his rule in Russia’s Far East, where his party suffered rare electoral setbacks Sunday amid rising anger over government plans to raise the national retirement age.

Election victories by the vehemently nationalist and anti-Western Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) of Russia have sent shockwaves through the Kremlin, which hadn’t expected to get trounced in the voting in second-round run-offs for governors in the region of Khabarovsk as well as in Vladimir region, east of Moscow.

In Khabarovsk, the LDPR candidate won 70 percent of the vote with the incumbent from Putin’s ruling United Russia party attracting just 28 percent.  In the Vladimir region, the LDPR pushed out another United Russia incumbent, winning 20 percent more of the vote than Putin’s party.

Gary Kasparov, the former chess grandmaster and anti-Putin activist, says the collective election rout should be seen as a personal setback for the Russian president.  He tweeted, “Even when every true opposition figure is banned from Russian ballots, Putin’s party has now lost two elections in a row to ‘anyone but Putin’ turnout.”

The elections Sunday followed weeks of protests across the country against plans to raise the retirement age for men from 60 to 65 and for women from 55 to 60 years.  On September 9, Russia’s ruling party suffered election defeats at the hands of the Communist Party in parliamentary polls in Siberia and central Russia as well as in another eastern region.

Crumbling aura

The election drama, with mounting reverses for United Russia in three weeks of voting, is seen by some analysts as marking a crumbling of Putin’s aura of invincibility.  With mounting popular anger at the retirement-age changes, Putin’s approval ratings have been tumbling.

According to the Levada Center, a pollster, the Russian president’s public opinion ratings are at a four-year low.

The Bell, a Russian news site founded by Liza Osetinskaya, a former editor of Forbes Russia, says the elections are a “serious test for the Kremlin’s domestic political system in the context of falling approval ratings sparked by unpopular pension reform.”

Sunday’s defeats are all the more surprising, say analysts, because the LDPR hardly campaigned, while the Kremlin sent its top spin doctors to Vladimir and Khabarovsk and dispatched top celebrities to try to ensure United Russia candidates won the elections.  There were promises by the Kremlin of more federal investment.

The LDPR is the party of 72-year-old Vladimir Zhirinovsky, considered by many an eccentric figure, who has urged Putin at various times to bomb Turkey and the Baltic countries, and in his own presidential election campaigns has called for vodka to be free.  He has campaigned for the legalization of polygamy.

Pension reform at center

Some analysts put the defeats down to the Kremlin’s backing of incumbent regional governors.  In regions where United Russia fielded new candidates, the ruling party won.

In Far East regions, many time zones from Moscow, protest votes have flared before.  And in the Vladimir region, anger at the scale of poverty has been a factor in previous elections.  But United Russia’s support for the unpopular pension reform appears to have been a key factor in the upsets, say analysts.

Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky argues a “gap” is emerging between the Kremlin’s usual managed politics and “the way people lead their daily lives” and that unfair election practices aren’t enough to overcome popular frustration.

Last week, in a gubernatorial election in Primorsky Krai, in Russia’s Far East, a Communist challenger appeared to win, but the election was declared invalid after there was uproar when his United Russia opponent was announced as the victor.  There were accusations of wide-scale election fraud, forcing the hand of the country’s elections chief Ella Pamfilova to abort the poll.

Some analysts fear the Kremlin may react by cracking down even more on dissent.  On Monday, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, the anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, was released from jail and then immediately arrested again and sentenced to another 20 days of detention for protest violations.




Greece Uses High-tech Drones to Fight Tax Evasion in Holiday Hot Spots

Greece are using drones to buzz over boats running day trips on the Aegean at the start of a new effort aimed at cracking down on rampant tax evasion at holiday hotspots.

With the black economy by some accounts representing about a quarter of national output in a country which depends hugely on tourism, Greek authorities are turning to high-tech to stamp out undeclared earnings.

Finance ministry tax inspectors and the coast guard launched the drones project on Santorini, an island highly popular with tourists, to check on whether operators offering short day trips were issuing legal receipts to all their passengers.

Based on data from the drones, authorities were able to establish how many passengers were on board, then cross-referenced it with declared receipts and on-site inspections.

“We used the drones for the first time on an experimental basis to monitor how many tourists were on board,” said an official at the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. “The results were excellent”, he added.

Nine tourist vessels checked were alleged to have not issued a number of receipts, totalling about 25,000 euros ($29,460).

Their owners now face fines.

Tourism is a much-needed motor of growth and tax revenue for the economy, accounting for about a fifth of Greek gross domestic product.


Soros Foundation Turns to Strasbourg Court to Repeal Hungary’s NGO Law

U.S. billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) said on Monday it would challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg Hungarian laws that make it a crime to help asylum-seekers.

But Budapest, which accuses Soros and the liberal groups and causes he backs of trying to destroy Europe’s Christian culture by promoting mass migration, said it would not repeal the laws, whatever the outcome of the court appeal.

Under legislation named “Stop Soros,” anybody who helps migrants not entitled to protection to apply for asylum, or helps illegal migrants gain status to stay in Hungary, can be jailed. Orban has also introduced a 25 percent special tax on aid groups it says support migration.

OSF said the “Stop Soros” legislation, approved by the Hungarian parliament in June, “breaches the guarantees of freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and must be repealed.”

“The Hungarian government has fabricated a narrative of lies to blind people to the truth: that these laws were designed to intimidate independent civil society groups, in another step towards silencing all dissent,” OSF president Patrick Gaspard said in a statement.

The provisions of the legislation are so broadly written that “they will have a far-reaching and chilling effect on the work of civil society far beyond the field of migration,” said the OSF statement.

“Will of the Hungarian people”

Budapest responded with defiance to the OSF move.

“The government stands by the Stop Soros package of laws. … as the legislation serves the will of the Hungarian people, and the security of Hungary and Europe,” a government spokesman told Reuters.

“The Soros organization attacks the Stop Soros package with all possible means as the legislation stands in the way of illegal immigration. The aim of George Soros and organizations supported by him is to flood Europe with migrants.”

Hungarian-born Soros denies trying to promote mass migration into Europe from the Middle East and elsewhere. In May the OSF announced it would shut its office in Budapest after more than 30 years and move to Berlin.

Orban, who has been in power since 2010 and won a third consecutive term in April with a big majority, has increased his control over Hungary’s media and courts and put allies in control of once independent institutions.

The legislation on asylum seekers has drawn condemnation from the U.N. refugee agency and the European Union. This month the European Parliament voted to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy and civil rights.


Italy to Narrow Asylum Rights in Clampdown on Immigration

Italy’s populist government on Monday escalated its clampdown on irregular immigration with a decree aimed at slashing the number of people awarded asylum and doubling the time irregular migrants can be detained.

The legislation promoted by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the far-right League party, comes as boat arrivals plummet and the minister refuses to allow charity ships carrying rescued migrants to dock in Italy’s ports.

“This is a step towards making Italy safer,” Salvini tweeted.

The League, which took power in June in coalition with the 5-Star Movement, has promised to deport hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants. Already, the move to refuse to let rescue boats dock has proven popular, doubling opinion poll support for the League since the election in March to more than 30 percent.

The Salvini Decree aims to limit the use of a form of international protection that has been widely used in recent years but is not strictly tied to political persecution or war.

“Humanitarian” asylum was given to more than 20,000 people last year, or 25 percent of those who sought asylum, against the 16 percent of asylum seekers awarded one of the other two forms of international protection.

It is given to migrants who are deemed to have “serious reasons” to flee their home country — a category that has often included homosexuals fleeing harsh anti-gay laws in Africa.

The decree limits humanitarian protection to victims of domestic violence, trafficking, work exploitation and natural disasters, to those needing urgent medical care, and to people who carry out “particularly valuable civic acts,” Salvini said.

“Humanitarian protection was supposed to be used sparingly,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters. “In Italy, there has been an indiscriminate reception [of migrants] and the rules helped support this.”

Migration packaged with security

Other immigration measures include extending to 180 days from 90 the time an irregular migrant can be detained before being freed, to give the state more time to complete the deportation procedure.

The decree would also widen the range of criminal offenses that trigger the stripping of asylum privileges applied for or already granted.

Such a move could fall foul of the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which is intended to protect all refugees, whether formally recognized or not, from being forcibly returned, except where they are a danger to public safety or national security.

Before the government approved the draft decree, a source in President Sergio Mattarella’s office had said parts of it might be unconstitutional — which could open the way for Mattarella to block it

The new immigration guidelines were packaged together with new security rules in an emergency decree, which has 60 days to secure parliamentary approval. Salvini said parliament was likely to make changes.

The security measures include heightened controls on those who rent trucks, in response to a series of attacks in Europe aimed at causing mass casualties. It also foresees stripping naturalized foreigners who are convicted on terrorism charges of their Italian citizenship.

The head of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, Nunzio Galantino, on Sunday criticzed the decision to link immigration and security in the same piece of legislation, saying: “We cannot consider the immigrant’s condition to be automatically that of a criminal.”


Poll: Optimism About the Future Greater in Youths from Lower-Income Countries

Out of 15 countries polled, young people in China, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico were found to be more optimistic about the future than youths in the other countries, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Young people in these countries are more likely to believe they can affect the way their countries are governed and that their generation will have a more positive impact on the world than their parents’ generation, according to the Goalkeepers Global Youth Poll, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

The poll surveyed more than 40,000 people age 12 and older and asked for “their outlook on their personal lives, challenges for their communities, and the direction of their countries,” according to the foundation report. Youths expressed more optimism than older people about their futures at home and globally.

In the poll, Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, the United States and Saudi Arabia were deemed higher-income countries. Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia were considered middle- or lower-income. 

Happiness ratings show general contentedness among the 15 countries, but youths in lower- and middle-income countries reported the highest levels of optimism. 

Relationships with friends and family were the most important influence on a person’s life, and was highest in Sweden, the poll found.

Mexicans, Kenyans and Americans also ranked their relationships very high, like most countries, and more important than the impact of social media. And while social media scored high among Mexican youths, it remained lower than the positive impact of friends and family.

Health or well-being, and finances followed family and friends in importance. If they could have any job, most youths said they wanted to be doctors, while most adults said they wanted to be entrepreneurs.

Optimism about the ability to find good jobs was highest in China and lowest in Nigeria. Most countries hovered in the midrange. 

Worldwide, most people, young and old, agreed “life is better for men and boys than for women and girls,” and will continue that way, and there was very little difference between male and female responses, the poll found.

“This is particularly true in India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the U.S. and Brazil,” the results said. Most responses said they thought conditions would improve for women.

Religion was most important to youths in Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, Sweden and Kenya, and least important to youths in China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Mexico and Russia.

In China, both youths and adults reported overwhelming optimism in the future of their country: 90 percent of youths and 78 percent of adults feel good about the future of their country. India, Nigeria, Mexico, Kenya and Indonesia reported similar levels of optimism about their countries.

In the U.S., 35 percent of youths and 18 percent of adults reported feeling optimistic about their country. Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain and France also reported feeling less optimistic.

In response to the sentence, “My generation is better off than my parents were,” both Chinese youth (90 percent) and adults (80 percent) were most positive. Nigerian, Indian, Indonesian and Saudi Arabia youths followed in line for youths. Indian, Indonesian, German, Saudi Arabian and Swedish adults in succession said their generation was better off than their parents.

Government or political leaders, and climate change or pollution had the most negative impact on life for both youths and adults.

Both younger and older respondents cited ending poverty and improving education as paramount over other issues, including ending conflicts.

Cancer was the No. 1 health concern universally. HIV/AIDS came in second globally, with greatest concern in Kenya, Nigeria and Mexico.

The “sadness of aging” bummed out everyone, youths and adults, with responses ranking in the negatives, meaning no one was happy about aging. 


Nigeria: Pirates Kidnap 12 Crew Members of Swiss Ship

Twelve crew members of a Swiss commercial ship have been taken hostage by pirates who attacked the vessel as it sailed off the coast of Nigeria.

Massoel Shipping said in a statement Sunday that the ship MV Glarus, with 19 crew on board, was attacked as it was carrying wheat from the Nigerian commercial capital Lagos to Port Harcourt.

Reuters news agency reported late Sunday the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had identified the nationalities of the kidnapped crew. It said seven crew members were from the Philippines and others were from Slovenia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia and Bosnia.

Nigerian officials said the 12 were still unaccounted for.

Massoel Shipping said the vessel was attacked around 45 nautical miles southwest of Bonny Island early Saturday.

“It is understood the pirate gang boarded the Glarus by means of long ladders and cut the razor wire on deck to gain access to the vessel and eventually the bridge,” the company said. “Having destroyed much of the vessel’s communications equipment, the criminal gang departed, taking 12 of the 19 crew complement as hostage.”

Piracy has been rising in the southern Niger Delta region in the past few years, along with the number sailors kidnapped for ransom.

According to a study published by the EOS Risk Group in July, the number of kidnappings in the region rose from 52 in 2016 to 75 last year. In the first half of this year, pirated kidnapped 35 sailors, it said.


International Organizations Join Tech Powerhouses to Fight Famine

The United Nations, the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross are partnering with technology powerhouses to launch a global initiative aimed at preventing famines.

“The fact that millions of people — many of them children — still suffer from severe malnutrition and famine  in the 21st century is a global tragedy,” World Bank President Jim Young Kim said announcing the initiative.

The global organization will work with Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services to develop the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM), a system capable of identifying food crisis area that are most likely to turn into a full-blown famine.

“If we can better predict when and where future famines will occur, we can save lives by responding earlier and more effectively,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement.

The tech giants will help develop a set of analytical models that will use the latest technoligies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to not only provide early warnings but also trigger pre-arranged financing for crisis management.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning hold huge promise for forecasting and detecting early signs of food shortages, like crop failures, droughts, natural disasters and conflicts,” Smith said.

According to the U.N. and World Bank, there are 124 million people experiencing crisis-level food insecurity in the world today.

FAM will be at first rolled out in five countries that “exhibit some of the most critical and ongoing food security needs,” according to the World Bank, which didn’t identify the nations. It will ultimately be expanded to cover the world.


Russia Blames Israel for Downing of Plane by Syrian forces

The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday again blamed Israel for the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian government forces and said Israel appeared “ungrateful” for Moscow’s efforts to rein in Iran-backed fighters in Syria.

Syrian government forces mistook the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane for an Israeli jet and shot it down Monday, killing all 15 people aboard. While the Russian military initially blamed the plane’s loss on Israel, President Vladimir Putin later attributed it to “a chain of tragic, fatal circumstances.”

The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday presented its latest findings on the Il-20’s downing, laying the blame squarely on Israel.

“We believe that the Israeli Air Force and those who were making decisions about these actions are fully to blame for the tragedy that happened to the Russian Il-20 plane,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Russia has provided key air support to President Bashar Assad’s forces since 2015, while Israel has carried out dozens of strikes against Iran-linked forces. Israeli military officials have previously praised the hotline’s effectiveness.

But Konashenkov on Sunday accused Israel of using the hotline to mislead Russia about its plans. He said the Russians were unable to get the Il-20 to a safe place because an Israeli duty officer had misled them, telling them of an Israeli operation in northern Syria while the jets were actually in Latakia, in the country’s west.

Konashenkov said an Israeli fighter jet flying over Syria’s Mediterranean coast shortly before the downing deliberately used the Russian plane as a shield, reflecting “either lack of professionalism or criminal negligence.”

He also complained that the Israelis over the years have waited until the last minute to notify Russia of their operations, endangering Russian aircraft. He described Israel’s actions as “a highly ungrateful response to everything that Russia has done for the State of Israel recently.”

He referred to efforts by Russia to rein in Iran-backed forces in Syria, including a deal struck in July to keep such fighters 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.


Pope Warns Lithuanians to Guard Against Anti-Semitism

Pope Francis warned Sunday against any rebirth of the “pernicious” anti-Semitic attitudes that fueled the Holocaust as he marked the annual remembrance for Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community that was nearly wiped out during World War II.

Francis began his second day in the Baltics in Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, where an estimated 3,000 Jews survived out of a community of 37,000 during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation.


During Mass in Santakos Park under a brilliant autumn sun, Francis honored both Jewish victims of the Nazis and the Lithuanians who were deported to Siberian gulags or were tortured, killed and oppressed at home during five decades of Soviet occupation.


“Earlier generations still bear the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors,” Francis told the crowd, which was estimated by the local church to number 100,000. “Kaunas knows about this. Lithuania as a whole can testify to it, still shuddering at the mention of Siberia, or the ghettos of Vilnius and Kaunas, among others.”


He denounced those who get caught up in debating who was more virtuous in the past and fail to address the tasks of the present — an apparent reference to historic revisionism that is afflicting parts of Eastern Europe as it comes to terms with wartime-era crimes.


Francis recalled that Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Ghetto in the capital Vilnius, which had been known for centuries as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its importance to Jewish thought and politics. Each year, the Sept. 23 anniversary is commemorated with readings of the names of Jews who were killed by Nazis or Lithuanian partisans or were deported to concentration camps.


The pope warned against the temptation “that can dwell in every human heart” to want to be superior or dominant to others. And he prayed for the gift of discernment “to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs.”


Across Europe, far-right, xenophobic and neo-fascist political movements are making gains, including in Lithuania.


Francis noted that he would pray later in the day at a plaque in the Ghetto itself and called for “dialogue and the shared commitment for justice and peace.”


Francis will also visit the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius that is now a museum dedicated to Soviet atrocities, and will hear from Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, who was persecuted by the Soviet regime and was detained in the facility’s chambers.


Francis is travelling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark their 100th anniversaries of independence and to encourage the faith in the Baltics, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism. Lithuania is 80 percent Catholic; Lutherans and Russian Orthodox count more followers in Latvia and Estonia, where Francis visits on Monday and Tuesday.


The Baltic countries declared their independence in 1918 but were annexed into the Soviet Union in 1940 in a secret agreement with Nazi Germany. The Vatican and many Western countries refused to recognize the annexation. Except for the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation, the Baltic countries remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the early 1990s.


Francis’ trip changed its schedule three weeks ago to allow him to acknowledge the slaughter of some 90 percent of Lithuania’s 250,000 Jews at the hands of Nazi occupiers and complicit Lithuanians.


The issue of Lithuanian complicity in Nazi war crimes is sensitive here. Jewish activists accuse some Lithuanians of engaging in historical revisionism by trying to equate the extermination of Jews with the deportations and executions of other Lithuanians during the Soviet occupation.


Many Lithuanians don’t make any distinctions between the Soviets who tortured and killed thousands of Lithuanians and the Nazis who did same with Jews.


Until recently, the Vilnius museum was actually called the “Genocide Museum” but changed its name to the “Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights” since it focuses on Soviet atrocities, not Nazi German ones.



UK’s Labour Party Considers Backing New Brexit Vote

Britain’s Labour Party may hold the fate of Brexit in its hands — if only it can decide what to do.

With the U.K. and the European Union at an impasse in divorce talks, many Labour members think the left-of-center opposition party has the power — and a duty — to force a new referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave the 28-nation bloc.


Labour’s leadership has long opposed that idea, and a showdown on the issue looms at the party’s annual conference, which starts Sunday in the port city of Liverpool.


Ever since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, Labour has said it will respect the result, though it wants a closer relationship with the bloc than the one Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government is seeking.


Now, with divorce negotiations stuck and Britain due to leave in March, many Labour members think the party must change course.


“Labour have to come to a decision. The time has gone for sitting on the fence,” said Mike Buckley of Labour for a People’s Vote, a group campaigning for a new referendum.


More than 100 local Labour associations have submitted motions to the conference urging a public plebiscite, with a choice between leaving on terms agreed by the government or staying in the EU.


Party chiefs will decide Sunday, the first day of the four-day conference, which motions will be up for debate and votes.


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — a veteran socialist who views the EU with suspicion — has long been against holding a second public vote on Brexit, though his opposition appears to be softening.

Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror newspaper “I’m not calling for a second referendum.” But, he said, if Labour’s conference “makes a decision, I will not walk away from it and I will act accordingly.”


Deputy leader Tom Watson was even firmer.


“We must back it if Labour members want it,” he told The Observer newspaper.


Still, Labour faces a major political dilemma over Brexit. Most of the party’s half a million members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit.


“For Labour to adopt a second referendum policy would spell political disaster in all those Labour seats that voted leave,” said Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave.


Since the 2016 referendum, Labour has stuck to a policy of “constructive ambiguity” in a bid to appeal to “leave” and “remain” voters alike. The party opposes May’s “Tory Brexit” but not Brexit itself. It calls for Britain to leave the EU but remain in the bloc’s customs union with “full access” to the EU’s huge single market.


Pro-EU party members, including many Labour lawmakers, say that is both vague and unachievable as long as Labour remains in opposition.


The Conservative government’s blueprint for future trade ties with the bloc was rejected last week by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg, Austria. That left May’s leadership under siege and Britain at growing risk of crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no deal in place.


Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords who supports holding a second referendum, said Labour can’t sit on the sidelines while the country staggers toward political and financial chaos.


“This is as big a crisis as I can remember in my lifetime,” Adonis said. “And no one has a clue at the moment what is going to happen.


 “That’s why I think we now need to take a stand — we the Labour Party and we the country.”

Brexit is one of several challenges facing Corbyn, who heads a divided party. He has strong support among grassroots members, many of whom have joined since he was elected leader in 2015. But many Labour lawmakers think his old-fashioned socialism is a turnoff for the wider electorate.


Labour has also been roiled by allegations that Corbyn, a long-time critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitism to fester inside the party. He has denied it and condemned anti-Semitism, but the furor has angered many Jewish party members and their supporters.


If Corbyn does back a second Brexit referendum, he will be going against his long-held euroskepticism. Labour backed the “remain” side during the 2016 referendum, but Corbyn’s support was lukewarm.


“Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer and always has been,” said Chilton of Labour Leave.


“More and more people now support us leaving the European Union and getting on with it,” he said. “They don’t want to re-fight the referendum. They don’t want to open up old wounds.”