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Israelis go to polls in referendum on Netanyahu’s record reign

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JERUSALEM: Israelis vote in an election that could hand conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record fifth term or see him dethroned by an ex-general who has pledged clean government and social cohesion.

Dubbed “King Bibi” by both Time and Economist magazines, Netanyahu has rallied a rightist camp hardened against the Palestinians and played up Israeli foreign policy boons that are the fruit of his ties with the Trump administration.

But the 69-year-old Likud party leaders hope of overtaking Israels founding father, David Ben-Gurion, as longest-serving premier in July has been dented by a looming graft indictment. He denies any wrongdoing.

 

Critics warn of “Bibi fatigue” and argue that the parliamentary election should bring fresh faces to high office.

Stalking Netanyahu in the opinion polls has been Benny Gantz, a former chief of the armed forces and centrist political novice. Buttressed by two other former generals at the top of his Blue and White party, Gantz, 59, has sought to push back against Netanyahu`s self-styled image as unrivalled in national security.

“This is a choice between a strong right-wing government under Netanyahu or a weak leftist government under Gantz,” Likud said in a statement. Gantz told Reuters in response: “Netanyahu is not the messiah, nor an irreplaceable legend. The people of Israel long for something else.”

With little policy daylight separating the two candidates on Iran and the Palestinians, or on Israel`s humming economy, much of the voting will by guided by the question of their character.

In vitriolic campaigns waged largely over social media rather than in town squares or street corners, they have exchanged escalating allegations of corruption, of fostering bigotry and even of conspiring with Israel`s adversaries.

Netanyahu casts himself as the victim of media bias and judicial overreach. Gantz casts himself as a salve for Israel`s religiously and ethnically riven society and its relations with liberal Jews abroad.

“This election is about one thing – whether or not Netanyahu should remain in office. It`s the only thing that really defines 12 out of the 13 parties which will be in the next Knesset,” said Anshel Pfeffer, author of the biography “Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu”.

Which man wins is unlikely to be decided when the polling stations close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). No party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, meaning days or even weeks of coalition negotiations will lie ahead.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, will consult with the leaders of every party represented in the Knesset and choose whoever he believes has the best chance of forming a government.


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Will make sure no air conditioning, TV for Sharif’s in jail: Imran

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Washington: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is on a visit to the United States, addressed the Pakistani diaspora in Washington. During the address he said that former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif eats home-made food in his air-conditioned jail cell that has a television in it too.

His government will ensure that Sharif does not receive such treatment in jail.

“Nawaz Sharif wants food from home in jail, he wants air conditioning in jail. But in a country where half the population has no air conditioning or TV, what kind of punishment this is?” said Imran Khan in a 50-minute speech televised by Samaa TV.

 

“I am going to go back and make sure there is no air conditioning or TV for Nawaz Sharif, who is a criminal. I know (PML-N leader) Maryam Bibi will make some noise, but I say to her, return the money. It’s as simple as that,” he added.

The 69-year-old former Prime Minister has been convicted in the Al Azizia Steel Mills case and sentenced to seven years in jail. He is serving the sentence in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

Imran Khan made these remarks while addressing the Pakistani diaspora at Capital One Arena Stadium, which was attended by 30,000 Pakistanis.

Continuing his attack against Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister alleged that the PML-N leader was “propped up” by a military dictator.

“Nawaz Sharif was propped up by military dictator. Shahbaz Sharif was propped up because he was his brother.” said Imran Khan.

Khan said that the government has started seizing their undeclared properties. He claimed that these leaders have looted the country when they were in power.

“We have started seizing their undeclared properties, the billions they have taken overseas. We are in talks with other governments to bring that looted wealth back to Pakistan. We will not let accountability go,” he said.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump at the White House. He will be accompanied by Pakistan Army chief and Lieutenant General Hameed.

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Abe claims victory in upper house election

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TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, vowing to keep alive plans to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution.

With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington.

“The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

 

“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take between 67 and 77 of the 124 seats — about half the chamber — up for election on Sunday, according to NHK.

The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority.

NHK’s projection and similar estimates by other media are based on exit polling and other analysis. Final numbers were not expected until Monday at the earliest.

“The results, which were within expectations, indicated that voters chose the status quo, not a change,” Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, said.

Abe is almost certain to stay in power until November when he will break the record for the nation’s longest-serving premier held by Taro Katsura, a revered politician who served three times between 1901 and 1913.

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‘Window dressing, made no difference,’ says US on Hafiz Saeed’s previous arrest

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Washington: The Trump Administration expressed doubts over Pakistan’s intentions in arresting terrorist Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack, saying his previous arrests made no difference either to his activities or that of his outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past. And we have been looking for sustained and concrete steps, not just window dressing,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US next week.

Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist was arrested on Wednesday — the seventh times since December 2001, when he was nabbed in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

 

“Let me reassure you, we are clear eyed about the history here. We’re under no illusions about the support that we could see from Pakistan’s military intelligence services to these groups. So we will look for concrete action,” the official said when asked about the actions that Pakistan has taken against terrorist group and if the US believes in them.

“I noticed that Pakistan has taken some initial steps such as pledging to seize assets of some of these terrorist groups. And, of course, they put under arrest yesterday Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” said the official requesting anonymity.

But the official quickly noted that this was the seventh time that Saeed was arrested since 2001 attack on India’s Parliament when he was detained right after that attack and was subsequently released.

“That is why we are very clear eyed and realistic when you see him arrested” as he has been arrested and released in the past. “So we would look to see that Pakistan take sustained action in actually prosecuting these people,” the official said.

“Quite frankly, the previous arrest of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed hasn’t made a difference and the LeT has been has been able to operate. So we’re monitoring the situation,” said the senior administration official as reporters asked questions on the links between Pakistani intelligence services and terrorist groups.

The US “remains concerned” about terrorist groups that continue to operate in Pakistan, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Haqqani network. “We do have concerns about link between these groups and Pakistan intelligence services in military. That’s no secret,” the official said.

The US, the official said, welcomes Prime Minister Khan’s pledge that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used by militant groups and its vocal leadership and the Trump Administration is pressing for a new direction in this regard.

According to the official, the US has seen some initial steps with Pakistan pledging to seize the assets of some of these terrorist leaders, pledged to reform the madrasa and has taken under administrative control some of the facilities owned by these groups.

Prime Minister Khan himself said that Pakistan cannot reach its full potential unless it has peace and stability in the region. Of course, peace and stability in the region would require it to crack down on the terrorist and militant groups that are creating the instability, the official said. Pakistan really needs to prove that this time they are something different, he said.

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