Bangladesh heads to the polls amid deep polarization; Voters are casting their ballots in an election that has been tainted by a crackdown on opposition parties and rights groups. The ruling Awami League party is widely expected to retain power amid vote-rigging claims. Voters were lining up at polling stations across Bangladesh on Sunday to cast their ballots in a general election that is widely expected to hand a third straight term to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The election is taking place following a weekslong campaign that was dominated by deadly violence and allegations of a crackdown on thousands of opposition activists. Opposition supporters said their workers faced attacks and intimidation, including shootings and arrests in the run-up to the poll. Authorities have deployed more than 700,000 troops and security personnel to maintain order during the vote. “I will cast my vote no matter what,” Shiuly, a Dhaka-based physiotherapist, told DW on Saturday. The mother of two is wary of a prevailing climate of fear ahead of the polls, but sees casting a ballot as her duty. “The ruling Awami League party has performed well in the past few years. It should have relied on the Bangladeshi people to win another election. Instead, the regime is responsible for creating a sense of fear among the public. Hundreds of people have been arrested, which has damaged the image of the party,” she said. But not many people in the capital, Dhaka, are as determined to vote as Shiuly. Mohammad Rafique, a rickshaw puller in Dhaka’s Farmgate area, said he would monitor the situation on Sunday and then decide whether it was safe enough to head to the polling center.
EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker offers to fast-track post-Brexit talks if UK accepts divorce deal; The UK Parliament is set to vote on a Brexit divorce deal in January. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said both sides could start talks on post-Brexit ties a day after the deal’s approval. The European Union should immediately enter talks on its future relations with the United Kingdom in the event that British lawmakers pass a draft deal on the UK’s exit from the bloc, the head of the EU’s executive has said. “If lawmakers in the House of Commons approve the withdrawal agreement in mid-January, we should begin work the very next day on the future relations between the UK and the EU,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper. Following more than a year and a half of difficult negotiations, the UK Parliament is set to vote on the withdrawal agreement sometime after January 14. Prime Minister Theresa May delayed the vote in early December amid widespread opposition from both pro- and anti-EU lawmakers toward the agreement.
Colombia investigates plot to assassinate President Ivan Duque; Authorities have said an alleged plot to kill the president may involve three Venezuelans who were recently arrested with assault weapons. Ivan Duque has been a vocal critic of his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro.Colombia’s intelligence services have been monitoring chatter for several months about “credible” plans to assassinate President Ivan Duque, Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Saturday in a video message. The possible plot may involve three Venezuelans who were recently arrested with assault weapons, he said, without giving further details. “Intelligence investigations into possible attacks have been going on for several months,” Trujillo said. “Added to that is the recent capture of three Venezuelan citizens found in possession of weapons of war, which further increases concerns.” Two of the Venezuelan men were captured on December 21 on a bus in the northern city of Valledupar, Reuters news agency reported, citing unnamed police and military sources. The third, also armed, was arrested days later. Weapons found on the men included an assault rifle with a telescopic scope as well as a 9-mm mini-Uzi, ammunition and a stun grenade. Security for Duque has been increased with the help of the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel, Reuters reported.
China orders fresh trial for Canadian drug trafficker; Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was set to begin a 15-year jail sentence for smuggling drugs. But the Canadian could now face the death penalty after a Chinese court ordered a retrial of his 2016 conviction.A Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling in China could face the death penalty after an appeals court found his initial 15-year jail sentence too lenient and ordered a retrial. The case threatens to add further strain to a tense diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Ottawa. Judges on the Higher People’s Court of the northeastern province of Liaoning, near North Korea, said Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s punishment for the 2016 conviction, which also included a 150,000 yuan (€19,000/$21,800) forfeiture, was “obviously inappropriate” given the severity of his crimes. Evidence also showed he was not merely an accomplice but someone who had played an “important role” in smuggling drugs into China, the court added. Authorities have not released any details of the accusations against Schellenberg. Ottawa said it was following the case closely. China permits the death penalty in severe drug trafficking cases. In 2009, it executed Briton Akmal Shaikh for smuggling 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of heroin into the country.
EU, Mercosur aim to make world’s biggest trade bloc by end of 2019; The EU and Japan will soon become the world’s biggest free trade area. But this record might be short-lived with Brussels chasing a deal with South America’s Mercosur, EU’s Cecilia Malmström has said.After the trade deal between the EU and Japan goes into effect on February 1, Brussels will focus on clinching a deal with South American Mercosur group before the end of next year to form an even bigger trading bloc, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told the German DPA news agency on Saturday. The Mercosur trade area includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela with the total population of some 260 million people. Venezuela’s membership has been suspended in 2016 due to issues including its human rights record. If the deal is completed, businesses on both sides of the Atlantic could save billions on tariffs. The EU and Mercosur representatives have been working on a free trade deal since 2000. Earlier this year, Argentina’s foreign minister Jorge Faurie said the accord might be concluded by September, but the talks have seemingly stalled in recent months. One of the reasons for the delay was the victory of far-right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, EU’s Cecilia Malmström told DPA on Saturday. With Bolsonaro set to take office in January, the outgoing government was unable to make clear commitments on trade.
Serbia: Thousands march against President Aleksandar Vucic for 4th week; Tens of thousands have turned out for a fourth week of anti-government demonstrations in Belgrade. The protesters accuse President Aleksandar Vucic of gagging mainstream media and sidelining critical voices. More than 20,000 Serbs took to the streets in the capital, Belgrade, on Saturday to march against President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party. The protesters, who accuse the president of stifling democratic freedoms, chanted “Vucic thief!” as they marched peacefully through the city center in the fourth such protest in as many weeks. Vucic’s opponents say the president is an autocrat who has imposed tight controls on mainstream media and sidelined critical voices. Vucic has denied the allegations.
Netherlands, German police thwart Dutch ‘terror plot’; Security forces in the Dutch city of Rotterdam and the German city of Mainz have arrested five people suspected of plotting a “terrorist crime.” Rotterdam police are investigating the scale of the terror threat. The Dutch public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation on Saturday into a suspected terror plot in the Netherlands. The counterterrorism Special Intervention Service (DSI) and police initially arrested four people in Rotterdam who were suspected of plotting a “terrorist crime,” police said. Police in the western German city of Mainz later detained a fifth suspect, a 26-year-old Syrian man with no prior criminal record, after searching the apartment where he was found. Police said they sought the suspect’s arrest after receiving an extradition request from Dutch authorities.
“He is strongly suspected of taking part in the preparation for an attack in the Netherlands,” police said.