Iraqi prime minister’s main backers agree to oust him

FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi gives a televised speech in Baghdad,Iraq October 9, 2019. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS

Iraqi prime minister’s main backers agree to oust him
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s two main backers have agreed to work to remove him from office as protests against his government gained momentum in Baghdad and much of the Shi’ite south only to be met with violence.

Populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads parliament’s largest bloc, had asked Abdul Mahdi to call an early election. When the premier refused, he called on his main political rival Hadi al-Amiri to help oust him.

Amiri – who leads a parliamentary alliance of Iran-backed Shi’ite militia that holds the second-largest amount of seats in parliament behind Sadr’s alliance – issued a statement late on Tuesday agreeing to help oust the prime minister.

“We will work together to secure the interests of the Iraqi people and save the nation in accordance with the public good,” Amiri said in a statement.

Abdul Mahdi took office just a year ago after weeks of political deadlock in which Sadr and Amiri both failed to secure enough votes to form a government. They appointed Abdul Mahdi as a compromise candidate to lead a fragile coalition government.

Mass protests driven by discontent over economic hardship and corruption have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq. At least 250 people have been killed since the unrest started on Oct. 1.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Michael Perry)

Governor resignation sparks power struggle in Puerto Rico

FILE PHOTO: Puerto Rico's Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez stands next to Governor Ricardo Rossello during a news conference in an undated still image from file video in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy WIPR NOTISEIS via REUTERS.

By Nick Brown

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – The resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor after mass protests has sparked a succession battle, and the winner could be a Washington corporate lawyer not directly linked to his administration, which has been dogged by corruption scandals.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Wednesday he would step down on Aug. 2 in the face of public anger over the release of profane chat messages and embezzlement charges against two former administration officials.

In line with the U.S. territory’s constitution, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez is next in line to succeed Rossello, based on current Cabinet vacancies.

Protesters who forced Rosselló from office have vowed to oppose Vazquez, saying she is too close to the disgraced governor.

That has prompted leaders of Rossello’s pro-statehood party to look to a former Puerto Rico representative in the U.S. Congress as a possible successor, according to four sources familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named so they could discuss it.

Pedro Pierluisi, who represented the island in Washington from 2009 to 2017, has made it clear to party leaders he would accept the job, according to one of these people.

Pierluisi, currently an attorney with Washington law firm O’Neill & Borges, ran against Rossello in the gubernatorial election in 2016, losing in a primary.

A member of Rossello’s New Progressive Party (PNP), Pierluisi could become the commonwealth’s next governor if he is nominated and confirmed as secretary of state before Rossello resigns. That post, currently vacant, is first in line to succeed the governor.

Also vying for the position is Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz of the PNP, these people said.

EYES ON 2020

Foremost in the minds of party leaders is whether Rossello’s successor can help them retain the governorship when it comes up for grabs in November 2020.

Pierluisi, a former Puerto Rico secretary of justice, is favored by some Puerto Rico advocates in Washington for his familiarity with federal politics, according to one of the sources. Another of the sources said Pierluisi has stressed to party leaders that he would not seek re-election in 2020, to keep the door open for Schatz, Puerto Rico’s current delegate to the U.S. Congress Jenniffer Gonzalez, or another candidate.

Schatz is seen by some in the party as too closely linked to Rossello to be a viable successor or 2020 candidate, the people said.

Puerto Ricans want a leader to steer them out of crisis and economic recession after Rossello’s term was marked by back-to-back 2017 hurricanes that killed around 3,000 people just months after the U.S. territory filed for bankruptcy.

Pierluisi had a track record of gaining increased federal funding for Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people while serving in Congress.

He also faced accusations in a 2016 New York Times report of possible conflicts of interest between legislation he introduced and financial consulting work by his wife, allegations they both denied.

Pierluisi has been named by local media as a possible successor to Rossello since his former secretary of state stepped down in the wake of the online chat scandal.

In the chats, published on July 13, Rossello and 11 top aides made offensive statements about female political opponents, gay pop singer Ricky Martin and ordinary Puerto Ricans.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in San Juan; additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Canada says safety of Pakistani woman in blasphemy case a ‘priority’

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada urged Pakistan on Tuesday to ensure the well-being of a Pakistani Christian woman whose life is in danger after having been acquitted in the South Asian country last month of blasphemy charges against Islam, a ruling that sparked mass protests.

The case of Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan before being released, has outraged Christians worldwide. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the United States, and so far, Italy has said it would assist her.

“It’s a very important issue, a central priority for our government,” Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said of Bibi’s case after meeting her European Union counterpart, Federica Mogherini, in Montreal.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after neighbors said she made derogatory remarks about Islam when they objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She is a Protestant and denies committing blasphemy.

“Canada calls on Pakistan to take all measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family,” Freeland said. “Canada is prepared to do everything we can” and is “extremely engaged in this issue,” Freeland said.

Islamists shut down roads in major cities in Pakistan during three days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal. They have threatened to escalate the protests if she is permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands earlier this week because of fears for the safety of his family.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)