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HMS Queen Elizabeth captain flown off ship in ‘company car’ row

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Nick Cooke-PriestImage copyright
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Cdre Cooke-Priest has been in command of the HMS Queen Elizabeth since October last year

The captain of the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier has been removed from the ship amid claims he misused an MoD car.

Commodore Nick Cooke-Priest was flown off the ship as it was anchored in the Firth of Forth.

The Navy said it was a “precautionary measure” in an “ongoing investigation”.

It had earlier said Cdre Cooke-Priest was being “reassigned” duties, but would sail on HMS Queen Elizabeth from Rosyth to Portsmouth as planned.

Despite being removed from the ship, it is understood he remains officially in charge and will formally hand over to a new commanding officer of the £3bn carrier later this month.

‘Unaccounted miles’

Cdre Cooke-Priest, who joined the Royal Navy in 1990, has been in command of the HMS Queen Elizabeth since October last year.

Last week it was revealed the Navy was investigating reports he had used his Ministry of Defence car – a Ford Galaxy – for his own personal trips.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth sits in the Firth of Forth on 22 May

Anyone who has use of an MoD vehicle can only use it for official business, with each mile needing to be recorded.

But the BBC has been told that thousands of miles on the clock of Cdre Cooke-Priest’s vehicle have not been accounted for.

In a statement a Navy spokesman said: “In light of the ongoing investigation, as a precautionary measure, to protect the individual and the ship’s company, the Royal Navy has decided that Captain Cooke-Priest will not be at sea with HMS Queen Elizabeth.”

The Royal Navy has already been accused of handling this affair badly -and its latest actions may make matters worse.

Removing a commanding officer from his ship while still at sea is nothing short of brutal, particularly when many have already spoken out in his support.

But it’s a sign that Cdre Cooke-Priest had already lost the trust of his superiors – and at least some of his crew.

Not a mutiny, but certainly a question of confidence.

The offence of using a work car for personal trips may appear to be relatively minor. But to the top brass it was more serious.

Navy sources have told the BBC he had repeatedly ignored warnings.

It wasn’t just about breaking rules. It was seen as a sign of “arrogance and sense of entitlement”.

Friends of Cdre Cooke-Priest still plead that he was ignorant of the rules. But it is hard to see how his career will recover.

What was at first described as “administrative” action might now turn into more serious disciplinary proceedings.

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PICS: Firefighters save two-week-old baby – and then spoil her with clothes, gifts

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As if saving a two-week-old baby was not heroic enough, a group of firefighters in Belhar, Cape Town, followed up their life-saving act with a heart-warming act of kindness last week.

On June 1, firefighters were called on to resuscitate Bronlyn-Lee Jansen.

The baby’s mother, Chantel Jansen, had rushed her to the fire station after she had stopped breathing.

The firefighters sprang into action, clearing mucus from her airways and administering oxygen. After several tense minutes, Bronlyn-Lee started crying and regained her natural colour after she had initially turned blue.

“Usually, we don’t have good results with babies. We try our utmost and give our utmost support and expertise to the patient, and this time we were lucky to revive this baby. So there’s a good ending to this story,” said firefighter Alroy Pieterse.

Belhar firefighters

Bronlyn-Lee Jansen was saved by these fire officers. (City of Cape Town)                       

Pieterse’s colleague, Liesl George, then initiated the follow-up visit.

“I just had to see her, alive and kicking, because when they left the station, we never heard from them again, and I just had to see her. I went to their house and then the mom came out and she was all pink and dressed up and she looked so cute,” said George.

On June 14, Jansen and her now four-week-old daughter visited the Belhar fire station to thank the staff for their heroics, but little did she know that she was in for a surprise.

Belhar firefighters

Mum Chantel Jansenand baby Bronlyn-Lee Jansenwith the Belhar firefighters. (City of Cape Town)

George had rallied her colleagues and contacts to collect an assortment of baby clothes and products to hand over to their young patient.

“These selfless acts where staff members go above and beyond the call of duty fill me with immense pride, because it embodies the spirit of safety and security, which is to serve and protect our residents. I applaud the actions of the staff members, not only in saving the life of little Bronlyn-Lee, but also the added joy they’ve brought to her and her family through their kind-heartedness,” said the City’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith.

Belhar firefighters

The group of Belhar firefighters also donated baby clothing and products. (City of Cape Town)

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Tunisia approves law excluding presidential candidate leading in polls

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TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s parliament passed an amendment to its electoral law on Tuesday that would bar businessman Nabil Karoui, owner of a private TV station critical of the government, from running for president in a vote expected later this year.

The amendment says that Tunisia’s elections commission must reject candidates who benefit from “charitable associations” or foreign funding during the year before an election.

In April, police stormed the offices of Karoui’s Nesma television station and took it off the air over accusations it had breached broadcasting rules, which Nesma called a move to silence its voice criticizing the government.

Karoui, who polls show to be in the lead in the presidential campaign, ahead of the prime minister and incumbent president, described parliament’s action on Tuesday as “a strong setback to nascent democracy”.

“It is a law dedicated to my exclusion from the race after polls revealed that millions of Tunisians intend to vote for me,” Karoui told Reuters.

Karoui founded the Khalil Tounes Foundation in 2017 to provide aid to the needy in the economically troubled North African country and the charity garnered widespread publicity thanks to coverage by Nesma.

The police raid in April followed the revocation of the Nesma channel’s licence last year by broadcasting regulator HAICA. It fined Nesma for broadcasts the body described as exploiting poor people and promoting Karoui’s political agenda.

Nesma rejected the fines and said it did not recognize the rulings by HAICA, which it said were motivated by the broadcaster’s criticism of the government.

The government, a coalition of the secular Tahya Tounes party and the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, has denied any responsibility for rulings by the HAICA.

Nesma has since resumed broadcasting without a license and police to date have taken no further action.

Government spokesman Iyad Dahmani said political parties had been banned from receiving support from charities or foreign funds since 2014, and Tuesday’s decision had extended the measure to independents like Karoui “to protect democracy”.

Parliamentary elections are expected to be held on Oct. 6 with a presidential vote following on Nov. 17.

Among the declared presidential candidates are Hamadi Jbeli, the former Islamist prime minister, and Karoui.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorship, with a new constitution and free elections in 2011 and 2014.

But political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stands at about 15 percent, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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Exclusive: Pompeo blocks inclusion of Saudis on U.S. child soldiers list – sources

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using under-age fighters in Yemen’s civil war, according to four people familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a joint news conference in The Hague, Netherlands June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw/File Photo

The decision, which came after a fierce internal debate, could prompt new accusations by human rights advocates and some lawmakers that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is prioritizing security and economic interests in relations with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally and arms customer.

Pompeo’s move comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, the Saudis’ bitter regional rival.

State Department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the soon-to-be released list based in part on news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that the desert kingdom has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the U.S.-backed coalition in Yemen, the four sources said.

The Saudi government, Saudi embassy in Washington and Saudi-led coalition did not respond to requests for comment. The coalition has previously said it was upholding international human rights standards and denied the use of child soldiers.

The experts’ recommendation faced resistance from some other State Department officials who, according to three of the sources, argued that it was not clear whether the Sudanese forces were under the control of Sudanese officers or directed by the Saudi-led coalition.

A New York Times report in December cited Sudanese fighters saying their Saudi and United Arab Emirates commanders directed them at a safe distance from the fighting against the coalition’s foes, Iran-aligned Houthi militias.

Pompeo rejected the recommendation from the experts, who are from the State Department’s anti-human trafficking office, said the four sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The office has a key role in investigating the use of child soldiers worldwide.”The United States condemns the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. We place great importance on ending the practice wherever it occurs,” a State Department official said in response to Reuters’ questions. The official, however, did not specifically address the Saudi decision or whether any consideration was given to Riyadh’s security ties to Washington.

Instead of adding Saudi Arabia to the list, Sudan will be reinstated after being removed last year, three of the sources said.     

A spokesman for Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has contributed fighters to the Yemen war, said the force is affiliated with Sudan’s military. “Based on Sudanese laws, it does not recruit minors,” he said. He did not directly respond to a question on who controlled Sudanese forces in Yemen.

The UAE government did not respond to a request for comment.

The child soldiers list will be part of the State Department’s annual global Trafficking in Persons report, which the sources said is expected to be released as early as Thursday.

BAN ON U.S. AID

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 requires the State Department to report annually on countries using child fighters, defined as “any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces.”

Foreign militaries on the list cannot receive U.S. aid, training and weapons unless the president issues full or partial waivers of those sanctions based on “national interest.” Trump and his predecessors have done this in the past for countries with close security ties to the United States.

While internal debates over issues like child soldier violations often take place ahead of the release of the annual State Department list, this one was especially heated, several of the sources said.

Since the end of 2016, the Saudi-led coalition has deployed as many as 14,000 Sudanese at any given time, including children as young as 14, to fight in Yemen, offering payments of up to $10,000 per recruit, according to the New York Times. The article cited Sudanese fighters who had returned home and Sudanese lawmakers.

In Washington, the Yemen conflict is a contentious issue well beyond the State Department.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, citing evidence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and angered by the civilian toll from the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, have ramped up efforts to block Trump’s multibillion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Congressmen Tom Malinowski and Ted Lieu organized a letter to Pompeo from more than a dozen lawmakers in March that said they were “gravely concerned by credible reports” of the Saudi-led coalition deploying Sudanese child fighters in Yemen.

They called for a U.S. investigation, including into whether they had been armed with U.S.-made weapons, and also asked for an inquiry into “credible evidence of Houthi forces forcibly conscripting minors into combat.”

BLOODY CONFLICT

Sudan sent thousands of troops to Yemen with the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the civil war in 2015 against the Houthis, who had captured most of the main populated areas of the country and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.

Almost from the start, accusations of the use of child soldiers have dogged the parties to the bloody conflict.

A report by an independent group of experts to the U.N. Human Rights Council in August 2018 found that all sides in Yemen “conscripted or enlisted children into armed forces or groups and used them to participate actively in hostilities.”

The Trump administration has faced controversy in the past over its handling of the child soldier issue.

Reuters reported in 2017 that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opted to remove Iraq and Myanmar from the child soldiers list and rejected a recommendation to add Afghanistan to it, despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were still being conscripted in those countries.

The State Department said at the time that while the use of child soldiers was “abhorrent,” it was still in “technical compliance with the law.” Pompeo, who succeeded Tillerson, reinstated Iraq and Myanmar on the list last year.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Ghaida Gantous and Aziz Yaakoubi in the Gulf; Editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin

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