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Irish PM aspires to ‘united Ireland’

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"In terms of a united Ireland, our constitution is clear on this," he said. "Our constitution aspires to there being a united Ireland. I share that aspiration."But Varadkar made clear that unity between Ireland and Northern Ireland — which is part of the United Kingdom — could come about only "by consent.""When it does come about I would like to see it command a degree of cross-community support," he added.The remarks, which are likely to provoke criticism from unionist Northern Irish politicians, come just a few weeks after a deal was reached during Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the European Union on the historically sensitive issue of the Irish border. The question had threatened to derail the talks and brought the controversial issue of a united Ireland to the fore.The demilitarization of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland was a key element of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 deal that ended years of sectarian conflict.The UK's planned departure from the European Union raised the prospect of a return to a "hard" border, as Northern Ireland would leave the EU while the Republic of Ireland remained in the bloc. But in an agreement reached in December, the UK and EU pledged that there would be no hard border.Even after the border deal was struck, concerns remained in Dublin over the UK government's handling of the issue. There is also unease that the commitments made by British Prime Minister Theresa May regarding the border may not be as solid as the initial wording suggested, which could strengthen support for Irish nationalism.Jennifer Todd, professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin, said Varadkar's remarks were a direct response to the British government's approach to Brexit negotiations.Todd said the British government — under pressure from pro-Brexit lawmakers — is "asserting an unreformed traditionalist concept of sovereignty over Northern Ireland" and has not listened when the Irish government "tried to say this diplomatically."But Paul Bew, emeritus professor of politics at Queen's University Belfast and cross-bench peer in the British House of Lords, said that Varadkar's insistence on the need for consent and cross-community support had brought a new, more conciliatory tone to the debate."It's not actually provocative, it's meant to be the opposite," Bew said. "What he's doing here is trying to pull back from the irritation he has caused in the unionist community by the stance he took over the past several weeks … this is an attempt to conciliate."Building support for Irish unity across both Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland is "a 50-year project," Bew said. Varadkar's remarks are "a way of saying … we don't want unity any time soon."Whatever his motivation, Varadkar is likely to come under renewed fire from pro-unionist parties in Northern Ireland.In the days before the border deal was brokered, Varadkar and his government were accused of exploiting the negotiations to forward their ambitions for a united Ireland. Varadkar was insisting that talks should not progress until London committed to preventing a "hard" border.Members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — a Northern Irishle party fiercely loyal to the British monarch — were particularly outspoken, with the party's leader, Arlene Foster, accusing the Irish government of hijacking the talks.READ MORE: Who are the DUP?In an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today program in November, Foster was particularly critical of Simon Coveney, Ireland's Foreign Minister, who had previously said he "would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime. If possible, in my political Iifetime.""He's of course entitled to have that aspiration but he should not be using European Union negotiations to talk about those issues," Foster said. Ten days later in the UK Parliament, DUP politician Nigel Dodds described the Irish government's approach as "aggressive" and "disgraceful."Varadkar rejected the claims at the time, insisting: "There is no question of us trying to exploit Brexit … we want to build bridges, not borders."

CNN's Nic Robertson and James Masters contributed to this piece.

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Blaze destroys 1,600 cars

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Firefighters arrived on scene at Kings Dock around 4.50 p.m. (11.50 a.m. ET) to tackle the blaze involving "a number of vehicles.""Initial investigations indicate that an accidental fire within a vehicle caused other cars to ignite," Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said in a statement.Authorities said that no one was believed to have been seriously injured. Some surrounding buildings were evacuated as a precautionary measure. The fire service warned residents and local businesses to keep doors and windows shut due to smoke. It advised people to stay away from the area.Witnesses described the fire as "unbelievable." Car windows could be heard exploding. Sue Wright, wife of former England footballer Mark Wright, told Britain's Press Association of fleeing the car park as "an old car exploded.""We've lost everything because our car was right next to the car that exploded. My handbag was in it, our cards, cash, everything. We just grabbed the keys and ran."Wright said cars were "just popping every couple of seconds."The Echo Arena, located next to the car park on the waterfront, had been hosting a four-day international horse show. After the fire broke out, animals were evacuated from the venue and the final evening's events were canceled. "The flames and the smoke was unbelievable," said 44-year-old Kevin Booth from Manchester who was visiting the venue with his family for the horse show. "People were saying that they would just wait and get their cars back. I thought, 'Have you seen the fire? Are you joking?' It was frightening, we could hear the bangs of car windows exploding."On Monday morning, Merseyside Police said 21 fire engines were still battling the blaze, with the fire service adding that the fire is now contained to the car park. "All vehicles parked in the car park have been destroyed," police said. They urged owners to contact their insurance companies."We are likely to be engaged at the scene for several hours and further investigation will follow firefighting action," Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said in an update Monday.Liverpool City Council announced it had opened a reception center nearby for anyone unable to get home or in need of temporary shelter. A horse is led away during the Liverpool International Horse Show held at the Echo Arena following a blaze at a multi-storey car park nearby. Organizers confirmed all horses were safe following the incident while Aintree International Equestrian Center opened its stables overnight for horses in need of accommodation.The Liverpool International Horse show said in a statement it had looked into rescheduling the event for Monday "but unfortunately this has not proven possible." Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson took to Twitter to express his gratitude to the community for their offers of assistance."Thank you all so much for your offers of assistance absolutely brilliant response overwhelming, those caught up in the aftermath were so appreciative. Please stop now all sorted. #soproudofyou," he wrote.

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Putin files re-election bid as Kremlin critic calls for protests

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Putin, who has served as either Prime Minister or President of Russia since 1999, filed papers that pave the way for him to rule until 2024.The former KGB leader, who has dominated Russian politics for two decades, is likely to score a comfortable win — his only serious opponent, Alexey Navalny, was barred from standing against him due to a fraud conviction.Navalny called for a day protests on January 28. Writing on his blog on Wednesday, Navalny urged his supporters to "refuse to call Putin's reassignment an election." "We do not want to wait another six years. We want competitive elections right now," he wrote. The opposition leader's call to action comes just days after Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) rejected his bid to enter the country's presidential race, citing a previous embezzlement conviction according to state-run media outlet RIA-Novosti.The decision to bar Navalny from the race came as no surprise. The 41-year old's candidacy was unlikely as Russian law prevents convicted criminals from running for public office. Navalny says his prosecution was politically motivated.Navalny has been instrumental in a political awakening of the country's youth, tapping into deep seated frustrations among supporters that have grown up in a sluggish economy and under endemic corruption.Support for the Russian dissident has been mobilized by a robust social media presence, dedicated teams of grassroots campaigners seen across the country, and Navalny Live, a live-streaming companion to his original YouTube channel that has more than 1.6 million subscribers. Those YouTube videos galvanized supporters to join in on the biggest anti-government protests that Russia has seen in years last March. Thousands joined rallies in almost 100 cities across the country; Navalny was arrested and jailed for 15 days. In October, thousands of people attended marches in 26 cities against Putin on the leader's 65th birthday.At his annual press conference earlier this month, Putin said his aim was for Russia to have a "competitive" and "balanced" political system, but it wasn't his responsibility to create political opponents."I want this," Putin said, "and I will strive for a balanced political system and that is impossible without competition in the political field."The election commission will rule on the validity of Putin's registration in the next few days, with an election set for March 2018.

CNN's Pamela Boykoff, Darya Tarasova and Clare Sebastian in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Prince Harry: No guest list yet for wedding to Meghan Markle

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Asked on a BBC radio program whether he would invite former US President Barack Obama Harry swerved the question, saying he didn't want to "ruin that surprise."There has been speculation in the UK media that British officials fear the political consequences if the couple decide to invite Barack and Michelle Obama, with whom they are friends, but not President Donald Trump. Markle, an American actor, has been critical of Trump in the past, and there is already widespread controversy in the UK over the prospect of an official visit by the President to the UK.The wedding is not a full state occasion and the guest list is being drawn up by Buckingham Palace, with the British government in a consultative role. It is not clear whether Downing Street would insist on Trump or a representative being invited, or whether it could block an invitation being extended to the Obamas.The vexed issue came up when Harry appeared as guest editor on BBC Radio 4's flagship morning program, Today, on Wednesday. After a pre-taped exchange between Harry and Obama, the Prince was asked whether his friendship with the former President warranted an invitation to the wedding."We haven't put the invites or the guest list together yet so who knows whether he's going to be invited or not. I wouldn't want to ruin that surprise," the prince said.Harry has become close to the Obamas through their support for the Invictus Games, an event for injured servicemen and women that was started by the UK royal in 2014. The Prince conducted the interview with Obama for BBC Radio 4's Today program while he and the former US President were in Toronto, Canada, for this year's Games. The Prince and Markle, who announced their engagement last month, have set May 19 as their wedding date. The ceremony is to be held in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, west of London. UK newspapers have already begun speculating over who might be on the guest list, which could bring together an intriguing mix of British and showbiz aristocracy.The wedding is expected to be a smaller affair than that of Harry's brother, Prince William, in 2011. He and his wife, Catherine, had two receptions in Buckingham Palace: a traditional lunch for over 600 guests, which was hosted by the Queen and included dignitaries and officials, and a more intimate evening party for roughly 300 friends and family.Meghan Markle intends to become UK citizen after marriage to Prince HarrySt George's Chapel was most recently the scene of the wedding of Peter Phillips — son of Princess Anne and cousin to Harry — who married Canada-born Autumn Kelly there in 2008.Harry and Markle spent Christmas with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, as well as other family members, at Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in rural Norfolk, about 100 miles north of London.Asked on air Wednesday how his first Christmas was with Markle, Harry said they had had an "amazing time" and a lot of fun with William and his family. "Oh it was fantastic, she really enjoyed it. The family loved having her there," he said of his fiancee.Related: How much does a royal wedding cost?

CNN's Hilary McGann and Amanda Coakley contributed to this report.

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Meghan and Harry join royals at Sandringham

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The pair, who announced their engagement last month, joined Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, as well as other family members at Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in rural Norfolk, about 100 miles north of London.According to British media, it is the first time someone who has yet to marry into the royal family has been invited to take part in the celebrations.Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry walk to church.The pair walked arm-in-arm with Harry's father, Prince Charles, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.Charles, Prince of Wales, attended the traditional Christmas Day service.The Queen, dressed in orange, led the family into St. Mary Magdalene Chapel. Queen Elizabeth II leaves the Christmas Day morning church service.Last year was the first time since she began spending Christmas at Sandringham in 1988 that the Queen had missed a Christmas Day service. She had been diagnosed with a "heavy cold."Read: Meghan Markle to spend Christmas with royal familyPrince Charles attends Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene.Hundreds of people lined up to meet members of the royal family, with Harry and Meghan this year's big draw.Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh gestures to the crowd.The couple attended their first royal event together in the city of Nottingham earlier this month.Meghan Markle and Prince Harry meet well-wishers outside the church.They have announced they are getting married on Saturday, May 19.

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Putin files re-election bid as Kremlin critic calls for protests

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Putin, who has served as either Prime Minister or President of Russia since 1999, filed papers that pave the way for him to rule until 2024.The former KGB leader, who has dominated Russian politics for two decades, is likely to score a comfortable win — his only serious opponent, Alexey Navalny, was barred from standing against him due to a fraud conviction.Navalny called for a day protests on January 28. Writing on his blog on Wednesday, Navalny urged his supporters to "refuse to call Putin's reassignment an election." "We do not want to wait another six years. We want competitive elections right now," he wrote. The opposition leader's call to action comes just days after Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) rejected his bid to enter the country's presidential race, citing a previous embezzlement conviction according to state-run media outlet RIA-Novosti.The decision to bar Navalny from the race came as no surprise. The 41-year old's candidacy was unlikely as Russian law prevents convicted criminals from running for public office. Navalny says his prosecution was politically motivated.Navalny has been instrumental in a political awakening of the country's youth, tapping into deep seated frustrations among supporters that have grown up in a sluggish economy and under endemic corruption.Support for the Russian dissident has been mobilized by a robust social media presence, dedicated teams of grassroots campaigners seen across the country, and Navalny Live, a live-streaming companion to his original YouTube channel that has more than 1.6 million subscribers. Those YouTube videos galvanized supporters to join in on the biggest anti-government protests that Russia has seen in years last March. Thousands joined rallies in almost 100 cities across the country; Navalny was arrested and jailed for 15 days. In October, thousands of people attended marches in 26 cities against Putin on the leader's 65th birthday.At his annual press conference earlier this month, Putin said his aim was for Russia to have a "competitive" and "balanced" political system, but it wasn't his responsibility to create political opponents."I want this," Putin said, "and I will strive for a balanced political system and that is impossible without competition in the political field."The election commission will rule on the validity of Putin's registration in the next few days, with an election set for March 2018.

CNN's Pamela Boykoff, Darya Tarasova and Clare Sebastian in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Meghan and Harry join royals at Sandringham

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The pair, who announced their engagement last month, joined Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, as well as other family members at Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in rural Norfolk, about 100 miles north of London.According to British media, it is the first time someone who has yet to marry into the royal family has been invited to take part in the celebrations.Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry walk to church.The pair walked arm-in-arm with Harry's father, Prince Charles, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.Charles, Prince of Wales, attended the traditional Christmas Day service.The Queen, dressed in orange, led the family into St. Mary Magdalene Chapel. Queen Elizabeth II leaves the Christmas Day morning church service.Last year was the first time since she began spending Christmas at Sandringham in 1988 that the Queen had missed a Christmas Day service. She had been diagnosed with a "heavy cold."Read: Meghan Markle to spend Christmas with royal familyPrince Charles attends Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene.Hundreds of people lined up to meet members of the royal family, with Harry and Meghan this year's big draw.Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh gestures to the crowd.The couple attended their first royal event together in the city of Nottingham earlier this month.Meghan Markle and Prince Harry meet well-wishers outside the church.They have announced they are getting married on Saturday, May 19.

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Prince Harry: No guest list yet for wedding to Meghan Markle

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Asked on a BBC radio program whether he would invite former US President Barack Obama Harry swerved the question, saying he didn't want to "ruin that surprise."There has been speculation in the UK media that British officials fear the political consequences if the couple decide to invite Barack and Michelle Obama, with whom they are friends, but not President Donald Trump. Markle, an American actor, has been critical of Trump in the past, and there is already widespread controversy in the UK over the prospect of an official visit by the President to the UK.The wedding is not a full state occasion and the guest list is being drawn up by Buckingham Palace, with the British government in a consultative role. It is not clear whether Downing Street would insist on Trump or a representative being invited, or whether it could block an invitation being extended to the Obamas.The vexed issue came up when Harry appeared as guest editor on BBC Radio 4's flagship morning program, Today, on Wednesday. After a pre-taped exchange between Harry and Obama, the Prince was asked whether his friendship with the former President warranted an invitation to the wedding."We haven't put the invites or the guest list together yet so who knows whether he's going to be invited or not. I wouldn't want to ruin that surprise," the prince said.Harry has become close to the Obamas through their support for the Invictus Games, an event for injured servicemen and women that was started by the UK royal in 2014. The Prince conducted the interview with Obama for BBC Radio 4's Today program while he and the former US President were in Toronto, Canada, for this year's Games. The Prince and Markle, who announced their engagement last month, have set May 19 as their wedding date. The ceremony is to be held in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, west of London. UK newspapers have already begun speculating over who might be on the guest list, which could bring together an intriguing mix of British and showbiz aristocracy.The wedding is expected to be a smaller affair than that of Harry's brother, Prince William, in 2011. He and his wife, Catherine, had two receptions in Buckingham Palace: a traditional lunch for over 600 guests, which was hosted by the Queen and included dignitaries and officials, and a more intimate evening party for roughly 300 friends and family.Meghan Markle intends to become UK citizen after marriage to Prince HarrySt George's Chapel was most recently the scene of the wedding of Peter Phillips — son of Princess Anne and cousin to Harry — who married Canada-born Autumn Kelly there in 2008.Harry and Markle spent Christmas with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, as well as other family members, at Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in rural Norfolk, about 100 miles north of London.Asked on air Wednesday how his first Christmas was with Markle, Harry said they had had an "amazing time" and a lot of fun with William and his family. "Oh it was fantastic, she really enjoyed it. The family loved having her there," he said of his fiancee.Related: How much does a royal wedding cost?

CNN's Hilary McGann and Amanda Coakley contributed to this report.

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A response to Nick Cave- Silencing of whose voice?

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Nick Cave is preparing to play the second of two concerts in Israel. Justifying his decision to perform despite the cultural boycott of Israel, Cave framed his act as a statement against “the silencing of artists.”

A few miles away from Cave’s press conference celebrating his concerts, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour remains under house arrest. Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was arrested in 2015 for posting a poem online. Numerous civil liberty organisations including PEN International, have campaigned for her release. 300 writers, including 11 Pulitzer Prize winners, signed a 2016 letter condemning the attempt to silence her voice. Tatour has announced that if she is released from detention she will leave Israel as she cannot be truly free under its apartheid regime.

“I don’t think they will leave me alone…I cannot live without poetry. They will examine everything I write. Therefore, I will do what every poet who wants to be free does: leave. I will look for my life elsewhere. It is very hard for me to say this, but it comes after much thought. They want me to stop writing. For me to be a poet without a pen and without feelings. But if I cannot mourn for my compatriots who are being killed, how will I be able to be a poet?”

Her lawyer, Abed Fahoum, told the press “I believe that they aim to use her to intimidate and silence all Palestinians.”

Dareen Tatour’s case is a prominent example of Israel’s systematic suppression of Palestinian culture, art and freedom of political expression. In recent years, these have included the banning of public readings of Palestinian poetry , closing down of plays as well as the detention of artists. The writer Ahmad Qatamesh, who has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has been jailed in eight of the last 25 years.

But it is not the silencing of voices like Tatour, and Qatemeh, nor of any Palestinian suffering under Israeli oppression, that Nick Cave has chosen to protest. It is the threats he perceives to his own freedom of expression that concern him. As for the nature of those threats, they emerge it seems from his being asked to sign petitions and from fans and other artists asking him to make a moral choice not to perform in Israel until it ends its systematic violations of Palestinian human rights.
Nick Cave will play his concert tonight and like Radiohead before him will doubtless be celebrated by the Israeli authorities for his decision. Israeli diplomats worldwide celebrated Radiohead’s decision to play a concert in Tel Aviv earlier this year and the Jerusalem Post described their decision as “the best hasbara [advocacy] Israel has received lately”.

As Cave plays and celebrates his “artistic freedom” Dareen Tatour, entering the 769th day of her detention, will continue to receive support from the artists of conscience around the world who know the real meaning of artistic integrity and courage.

As the writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin said, “There is such a thing as integrity. Some people are noble. There is such a thing as courage. The terrible thing is that the reality behind these words depends ultimately on what the human being (meaning every single one of us) believes to be real. The terrible thing is that the reality behind all these words depends on choices one has got to make, for ever and ever and ever, every day.”

Ben Jamal, Director- Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The post A response to Nick Cave- Silencing of whose voice? appeared first on News Wire Now.

Putin files re-election bid as Kremlin critic calls for protests

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Putin, who has served as either Prime Minister or President of Russia since 1999, filed papers that pave the way for him to rule until 2024.The former KGB leader, who has dominated Russian politics for two decades, is likely to score a comfortable win — his only serious opponent, Alexey Navalny, was barred from standing against him due to a fraud conviction.Navalny called for a day protests on January 28. Writing on his blog on Wednesday, Navalny urged his supporters to "refuse to call Putin's reassignment an election." "We do not want to wait another six years. We want competitive elections right now," he wrote. The opposition leader's call to action comes just days after Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) rejected his bid to enter the country's presidential race, citing a previous embezzlement conviction according to state-run media outlet RIA-Novosti.The decision to bar Navalny from the race came as no surprise. The 41-year old's candidacy was unlikely as Russian law prevents convicted criminals from running for public office. Navalny says his prosecution was politically motivated.Navalny has been instrumental in a political awakening of the country's youth, tapping into deep seated frustrations among supporters that have grown up in a sluggish economy and under endemic corruption.Support for the Russian dissident has been mobilized by a robust social media presence, dedicated teams of grassroots campaigners seen across the country, and Navalny Live, a live-streaming companion to his original YouTube channel that has more than 1.6 million subscribers. Those YouTube videos galvanized supporters to join in on the biggest anti-government protests that Russia has seen in years last March. Thousands joined rallies in almost 100 cities across the country; Navalny was arrested and jailed for 15 days. In October, thousands of people attended marches in 26 cities against Putin on the leader's 65th birthday.At his annual press conference earlier this month, Putin said his aim was for Russia to have a "competitive" and "balanced" political system, but it wasn't his responsibility to create political opponents."I want this," Putin said, "and I will strive for a balanced political system and that is impossible without competition in the political field."The election commission will rule on the validity of Putin's registration in the next few days, with an election set for March 2018.

CNN's Pamela Boykoff, Darya Tarasova and Clare Sebastian in Moscow contributed to this report.

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