Soros donation to halt Brexit causes storm in Britain

Business magnate George Soros arrives to speak at the Open Russia Club in London, Britain June 20, 2016.

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – News that billionaire financier George Soros is a backer of a campaign group seeking to keep Britain in the EU added fire to Britain’s Brexit debate on Thursday, with supporters of quitting the bloc accusing opponents of plotting a “coup”.

The Best of Britain campaign group confirmed it had received 400,000 pounds from Soros. Soros, best known in Britain for earning billions betting against the pound in the early 1990s, is the target of a hostile media campaign by the nationalist government in his native Hungary and a hate figure for rightwing campaigners in eastern Europe and the United States.

Best of Britain said it had obeyed all rules on political funding in accepting the donation from Soros.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office repeated its long-standing position that the decision to leave the EU in 2019 after a vote in 2016 was final and would not be reversed. It also defended the right of campaign groups to accept donations.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which first reported Soros’s involvement, said the 87-year-old former hedge fund manager was backing a “secret plot” to stop Brexit. The article was written by Nick Timothy, a former chief of staff to May.

Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who is chair of the Best for Britain campaign group, said the group had never hidden its aims, which include staying in the EU.

“George Soros’s foundations have along with a number of other major donors also made significant contributions to our work,” Malloch-Brown said in a statement, confirming Soros had contributed 400,000 pounds through his charitable foundations.

May’s spokesman said: “There are many political and campaign groups in this country, that’s entirely right and as you would expect in a democracy.”

“The prime minister’s position on this matter is clear, the country voted to leave the European Union, that’s what we are going to deliver and there won’t be a second referendum.”

BREXIT REVERSED?

In the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum, 51.9 percent, or 17.4 million people, voted to leave the EU while 48.1 percent, or 16.1 million people, voted to stay. Both sides accepted large donations from wealthy individuals.

Ever since the shock vote, supporters of EU membership have been exploring an array of different legal and political methods to prevent what they see as the biggest mistake in post-World War Two British history.

Brexiteers say such efforts threaten political stability as they go against the democratic will of 17.4 million people. They have vowed to fight any attempt to stop Brexit.

“The new Soros-led coalition is planning a coup in Britain, against the democratic will of the people,” Richard Tice, who chairs the Leave Means Leave campaign group, told Reuters. “They have been outed and will be defeated.”

May, whose government and party is divided over Brexit, has just eight months to strike a deal with the EU on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

Opponents of Brexit hope to focus their efforts on blocking British parliamentary approval for the exit deal, a step that if successful could sink May’s premiership. There is, though, little sign so far of a change in opinion among voters, and the supporters of EU membership lack a popular leader who could unite the disparate groups opposed to Brexit.

Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage say public opposition to Brexit from the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein are unlikely to sway British public opinion.

With no deal, Britain would face a disorderly Brexit that many investors fear would imperil Britain’s $2.7 trillion economy, disrupt trade across the world’s biggest trading bloc and undermine London’s position as the only financial centre to rival New York.

($1 = 0.7209 pounds)

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff)

Turkey dismisses French marks on Syria campaign as ‘insults’

A Turkish Army vehicle leaves from a military post near the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis province, Turkey January 31, 2018.

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey on Thursday dismissed cautionary remarks from France about its military operation in northern Syria as “insults”, signaling continued strain between Ankara and its NATO allies over the incursion.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday warned Turkey that the operation in the northern Afrin region should not become an excuse to invade Syria and that he wanted Ankara to coordinate its action with its allies.

Turkey launched the air and ground offensive, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch”, nearly two weeks ago to target the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin. But the incursion has put pressure on relations with the West, particularly the United States, which has backed the Kurdish fighters and has its own troops on the ground supporting them in other parts of Syria.

“We consider a country like France giving us reminders about an operation we are carrying out in accordance with international laws to be insults,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

“We are using our right to self defense, this is in line with UN Security Council decisions and not an invasion. They shouldn’t be two-faced,” he said.

France, like the United States, has extended arms and training to a YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. That has infuriated Turkey, which considers the YPG terrorists and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.

Cavusoglu said Syrian peace talks in Geneva needed to be revived, adding that the Syrian government needed to start negotiating in order to do so, after a Russian-sponsored conference on reaching peace in Syria was held this week in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

The talks, which Russia has called a Syrian Congress on National Dialogue, ended on Tuesday with a statement calling for democratic elections, but ignoring key opposition demands after a day marred by squabbles and heckling of the Russian foreign minister.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Peter Graff)

MH370 families launch campaign to fund search for the missing jet

A family member of a passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which went missing in 2014 reacts during a protest outside the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing, July 29, 2016. The hat reads "Pray for MH370" REUTERS/Thomas Peter

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Families of passengers on board missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Saturday launched a campaign to privately fund a search for the aircraft.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, went missing on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, nearly three years ago, on March 8, 2014.

Australia, Malaysia, and China jointly called off a two-year underwater search for the aircraft in January.

Grace Nathan, a Malaysian lawyer whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on the plane, said the families hope to raise $15 million to fund an initial search north of the previous search area.

“We won’t start fundraising until we’re sure that the governments are not going to resume the search and until the current data has been fully reviewed and analyzed,” she said at the campaign launch and MH370 memorial event held at a mall in Kuala Lumpur.

The three governments have said they will resume the search if any credible evidence on the whereabouts of the plane emerges.

International experts last year assisted Voice 370, a support group for MH370 next-of-kin, in mounting their own search along the East African coast where debris had been discovered.

“They pinpointed to us accurately where the debris would have made landfall. They’ve been very helpful both on a personal level and to the investigation,” Grace said.

The memorial event, the first held since the search was suspended, featured musical and dance performances, while family members and friends of those aboard made impassioned pleas for the search to continue.

Jiang Hui, whose mother was on the plane, recounted his experience discovering a piece of potential MH370 debris in Madagascar last year.

“I thought it was very miraculous and fortunate when I found the piece of debris that day, but I thought it was useless because this sort of searching activity should have been done by the government,” said Jiang, who traveled from China to attend the memorial.

“It should not be us, the family members, who should have been subjected to this pain, to go and face this cruel reality.”

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, who attended the event, said authorities had analyzed 27 pieces of potential MH370 debris along the East African coastline, including two new pieces found in South Africa two weeks ago.

The government has also signed several agreements with countries along the East African coastline to coordinate searches for debris, Liow said.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Richard Pullin)