China vows to respond after U.S. enacts sanctions

BEIJING — China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its institutions and enterprises, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday after the U.S. Senate passed a law barring imports from the Xinjiang region unless businesses can prove they were made without forced labor.

The spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said the measure approved Thursday “indicates that the U.S. has no scruples about smearing China by every means.”

“The relevant actions seriously undermine the principles of market economy and international economic and trade rules, and seriously damage the interests of Chinese institutions and enterprises,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.

“China strongly deplores and rejects that and urges the U.S. to immediately correct its mistake. China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese institutions and enterprises,” Wang said without elaborating.

The law is the latest U.S. penalty over China’s alleged systemic and widespread abuse of ethnic and religious minorities in its far western region, especially Xinjiang’s predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the law after overcoming initial hesitation from the White House and what supporters said was opposition from corporations. He also announced new sanctions Thursday that target several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies, a leading drone manufacturer and government entities for their actions in Xinjiang.

Pressure on PM Johnson after Tories election upset

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has suffered a stunning defeat in a parliamentary by-election that was viewed as a referendum on his government amid weeks of scandal and soaring COVID-19 infections.

Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan overturned a Conservative majority of almost 23,000 votes from the last election to win Thursday’s contest in North Shropshire, a rural area of northwest England that has been represented by a Conservative almost continuously since 1832. The election was called after the former Conservative member of Parliament resigned following allegations of improper lobbying.

The result will heap pressure on Johnson just two years after he was reelected with a seemingly unassailable 80-seat majority in the House of Commons. His authority has been dented in recent weeks by allegations that he and his staff attended Christmas parties last year while the country was in lockdown, efforts to shield his ally in the lobbying scandal and suggestions that he improperly accepted donations to fund the lavish refurbishment of his official residence.

N. Korea marks anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Friday commemorated the 10th anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death with calls for greater public loyalty toward his son and current leader Kim Jong Un, who is struggling to navigate the country out of deepening pandemic-related hardships.

In his 10 years at the helm of North Korea since his father’s death, Kim Jong Un, 37, has secured the same absolute power enjoyed by Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather and state founder. Despite massive economic shocks caused by draconian anti-virus measures and long-dormant diplomacy with the United States, North Korea shows no signs of political instability and few outside experts question Kim’s grip on power.

But the long-term stability of Kim Jong Un’s rule could still be questioned if he fails to work out steps to address the ongoing difficulties and improve public livelihoods, some observers say.

At midday Friday, as a siren blared for three minutes, North Koreans fell silent and bowed in respect for Kim Jong Il. Cars, trains and ships blew their horns, national flags were lowered to half-staff and masses of people climbed Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill to lay flowers and bow before giant statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.

— The Associated Press

During an outdoor ceremony, senior North Korean official Choe Ryong Hae called Kim Jong Il “the parent of our people” who built up the potentials for the North’s military and economic might.

Pressure on PM Johnson after Tories election upset

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has suffered a stunning defeat in a parliamentary by-election that was viewed as a referendum on his government amid weeks of scandal and soaring COVID-19 infections.

Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan overturned a Conservative majority of almost 23,000 votes from the last election to win Thursday’s contest in North Shropshire, a rural area of northwest England that has been represented by a Conservative almost continuously since 1832. The election was called after the former Conservative member of Parliament resigned following allegations of improper lobbying.

The result will heap pressure on Johnson just two years after he was reelected with a seemingly unassailable 80-seat majority in the House of Commons. His authority has been dented in recent weeks by allegations that he and his staff attended Christmas parties last year while the country was in lockdown, efforts to shield his ally in the lobbying scandal and suggestions that he improperly accepted donations to fund the lavish refurbishment of his official residence.

Against this backdrop, supporters and opponents are questioning Johnson’s handling of the pandemic after coronavirus infections soared to records this week as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept through the U.K.

“Tonight the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people,” Morgan said in her victory speech. “They said loudly and clearly, ‘Boris Johnson, the party is over. Your government, run on lies and bluster, will be held accountable. It will be scrutinized, it will be challenged, and it can and will be defeated.’”

Thursday’s result is the second by-election defeat for the Conservatives this year. The Liberal Democrats, England’s third-biggest party, in June won a by-election in Chesham and Amersham, a constituency northwest of London that had also been a traditional Conservative stronghold.

John Curtice, a pollster and professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said the Conservative defeat in North Shropshire was “pretty spectacular by historical standards,” noting that the party’s support plunged 34% from the previous election in 2019.

The only time the party suffered a bigger drop during a by-election was in 1993, when it was riven by internal division, he said. The Conservatives lost power to the Labour Party during the next general election in 1997.

“There is no doubting the size of this rebuff to the Conservatives and further evidence that the party has indeed now hit something of an electoral hole in the wake of those various scandals,” Curtice told GB News.

But whether this decline in Conservative support will spell the end of Johnson’s government is still unclear. Johnson is unlikely to resign any time soon, and ousting him would require support from Conservative lawmakers who want to hold on to their own seats in Parliament.

Johnson on Friday took responsibility for the defeat, saying the government’s work in bolstering the National Health Service and rolling out booster vaccines had been obscured by headlines about “politics and politicians” that have little to do with everyday life.

“I totally understand people’s frustrations ...” Johnson said at a vaccination center n London. “In all humility, I have got to accept that verdict. I understand that what voters want us as the government to be doing at all times is to focus on them and their priorities.”

The U.K.’s next general election isn’t scheduled to take place until May 2, 2024.

Johnson became prime minister almost 2½ years ago, riding his support for Brexit and his carefully curated image as a bumbling but likable politician.

He solidified his position by calling a snap election just five months later after Parliament rejected the withdrawal agreement he negotiated with the European Union. The Conservatives won 365 seats in the election, 80 more than all the other parties combined.

But Brexit is no longer the central issue in British politics.

Many voters are frustrated after two years of a pandemic that has claimed more than 145,000 lives, triggered a series of lockdowns and battered the economy.

Conservative lawmakers rebelled earlier this week, with 99 members of Johnson’s party voting against his proposal to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter nightclubs and large events. The measure passed only because the opposition Labour Party supported it.

Then there are the scandals and missteps that have made Johnson look more like someone who has lost control than his preferred persona of a slightly disheveled leader who’s so busy he can’t be bothered to comb his hair.

He was forced to apologize last month after trying to change parliamentary rules to avoid censure for Conservative lawmaker Owen Paterson who lobbied government agencies on behalf of companies he worked for. Paterson eventually resigned, triggering the by-election in North Shropshire.

Since then Johnson has been buffeted by a series of news reports alleging that he and his staff attended Christmas parties last November and December at a time when COVID-19 restrictions barred everyone else from visiting friends or even comforting dying relatives in the hospital.

Johnson initially stonewalled, saying that there were no parties and no rules had been broken. After a video surfaced in which staff members appeared to make light of the violations Johnson was forced to call for an investigation.

Even some members of his own party have now had enough.

Roger Gale, a Conservative lawmaker since 1983, said the result in North Shropshire was a clear indication that the public is dissatisfied with the way Johnson is running the government.

“I think this has to be seen as a referendum on the prime minister’s performance, and I think that the prime minister is now in last orders time,” Gale told the BBC. He has “two strikes already. One earlier this week in the vote in the Commons, now this. One more strike and he’s out.”

Nigerian lawmakers reject bill seeking gender equality

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian senators have for the third time in five years rejected a bill that sought to promote gender equality, citing “socio-cultural and Islamic concerns.”

The proposed law was dropped after some lawmakers in the country’s upper legislative chamber, mostly northern Muslims, argued that the bill went against their interpretation of their religion’s principles.

The bill would have criminalized discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status, and also was aimed at improving enforcement of existing laws against gender-based violence.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is deeply divided along religious and ethnic lines. Women rarely make it to top positions of power, and only 7% of nation’s senators are women.

Among them is the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti state in southern Nigeria, who said the proposed law would stem a tide of gender-based violence against women.

Cynthia Mbamalu, program manager at YIAGA Africa, a nonprofit leading the campaign for the legislation’s passage, called its latest defeat “a major setback on our path towards a more developed society.”

The reason senators gave for rejecting the bill “shows the Senate is yet to appreciate the importance of advancing equality of all citizens,” Mbamalu said Thursday. “It means our country is not ready to realize its full potentials for the benefits of all citizens.”

Many of the senators who opposed the legislation during a plenary session on Wednesday said their resistance was strictly a religious issue.

“Equating opportunities actually infringes on the provisions of the Quran...and also the Bible,” argued Sen. Yusuf Yusuf, who is from Taraba state in northern Nigeria. “If we have it as ‘Gender Opportunities Bill,’ fine. But when you bring equality into it, it infringes into the practice of the Islamic religion.”

Others echoed his concern, prompting the sponsoring senator to change the bill’s title from “Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill” to “Gender Equity Bill.”

Opponents nevertheless blocked the bill from going forward.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan said lawmakers see the need for gender equity in Nigeria but acknowledged a need for “further consultations” on the bill.

Olujimi, the bill’s sponsor, vowed to make another attempt, saying she had the support of 62 of the 108 senators.