RAF HITS ISIS TARGETS IN IRAQ AND NORTHERN SYRIA
The Daily Mail reports that the RAF has helped clear a stronghold of ISIS in Iraq after a 10-day operation using missiles and bombs, according to the Ministry of Defence.The air force worked in conjunction with Iraqi Security Forces ground troops and other coalition aircraft to clear ISIS forces from the Makhmur mountain region, south west of Erbil in northern Iraq, the MoD said in a statement. The operation came to a head on March 22 when ISIS extremists were confirmed to be based in a network of caves in the Makhmur mountains. ‘Three Typhoon FGR4s were tasked to conduct an attack using Storm Shadow missiles, the remote area having first been checked to ensure that no civilians would be placed at risk,’ the MoD said. In a separate operation last Sunday, an RAF Reaper armed with Hellfire missiles completed a successful strike on a small ISIS camp in northern Syria, some 50 miles west of Al Hasakah, the MoD said.
RUSSIAN MILITARY BUILD UP WORRIES UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT
The Guardian reports that Ukraine’s president has called on Nato and key member states to hasten his country’s membership of the western military alliance in response to a growing buildup of Russian forces on his country’s borders. Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Tuesday, and urged for Ukraine to be put on a pathway to future membership to halt the long-running conflict in the eastern Donbas region. A statement released by the Ukraine presidency following the call said that “the most urgent issue” in relation to Nato was “the possibility of obtaining the Nato membership action plan”, seen as a pathway to future membership. The Ukrainian president has been engaged in a frantic round of diplomatic activity in the past few days as Russia has markedly increased the number of troops deployed to the north and east of Ukraine and in occupied Crimea.
PUT A PRICE RISE IN YOUR TANK
The Daily Mail reports that fuel prices accelerated in March for a fifth consecutive month, latest data shows. The average price of petrol rose 2.7p-a-litre last month, pushing unleaded to an average of 126.28p. Diesel prices have grown more steadily at 2.4p per litre in March, reaching 129.07p-a-litre on average. Simon Williams, the RAC’s spokesman on all things fuel related, said recent pump hikes ‘seem unrelenting’ and have frustratingly come at a time when drivers are ‘now starting to use their vehicles more with the easing of the national lockdown’. The analysis comes as official figures show the huge dent the coronavirus pandemic on fuel demand, with petrol and diesel consumption falling by 8.7billion litres in 2020 – the equivalent of no vehicles visiting a filling station for almost 10 weeks. For motorists who have barely used their cars in 2021 due to the existing Covid lockdown, filling up for the first time in months will likely be far more expensive than they last remember. At the beginning of November, average petrol prices were around 114p-a-litre.
NICE WORK AS A COUNCIL FAT CAT
The Daily Mail reports that spiralling town hall pay pushed the number of local government officials who earned above £100,000 last year to more than 2,800. As council tax rises have soared above inflation, councils have pushed ahead with salary increases for some of their best-paid employees, analysis showed. The breakdown – covering the financial year 2019-20, which ended just as the coronavirus pandemic struck – was published amid evidence of growing public discontent at council tax levels. Concern about high public sector pay has also focused on other areas, notably salaries paid to university managers. However the TPA report pointed to growing public unhappiness over town hall pay as council tax rises above inflation have returned in recent years.
WE WANT CHANGE SAY TEACHING UNION DELEGATES
The Morning Star reports that delegates at the National Education Union’s annual conference backed a motion today calling for the abolition of Ofsted and performance-based league tables. Over three quarters (77 per cent) of the more than 10,000 school staff who responded to the union’s State of Education survey, published to coincide with this week’s online event, said that reducing the role of the education inspectorate was vital to help schools recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Respondents said that reducing the pressure of “accountability measures” such as Ofsted and league tables that rank schools based on national exam results would enable them to focus on helping students catch up on learning after school closures during the pandemic. Regular full school inspections have been suspended since March 2020 but they are set to resume in September.
CHIEF CONSTABLE STANDS DOWN
The Telegraph reports that Bristol’s police chief has announced he is stepping down from the role after the Colston statue chaos and violent Kill the Bill protests, saying it was the “right time” for someone else to take over. Andy Marsh, 55, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset police, would not seek to extend his contract when it expired in July following 34 years of police service, the force announced on Wednesday. Mr Marsh’s decision to step down follows him making “a number of mistakes” over the past year, a source close to the force said. Mr Marsh, who took up the role in 2016, is leaving in the wake of significant unrest in Bristol over the past 12 months, including recent protests against the new police powers bill which saw officers clash with protesters. Politicians criticised the excessive force against protesters,including a journalist who was pushed and hit with a baton.
THE ASTRA ZENECA JAB IS SAFE SAY SCIENTISTS AND MINISTERS
The Evening Standard reports that scientists and ministers today said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is “safe” and appealed to the public to take it when offered. They spoke ahead of an expected statement from the official medicines regulator over a possible link between the jab and a rare form of blood clots in a small number of adults. Trials on children in the UK were paused yesterday while parts of Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and France have restricted the roll-out to younger people pending further announcements. Experts said the risks of not having an AstraZeneca jab far outweighed any risk of having one.
ANGELA MERKEL’S MPs DEMAND A VOTE TO CHOOSE SUCCESSOR
The Times reports that MPs from Angela Merkel’s party have demanded a vote to choose their candidate to succeed her as chancellor amid a power struggle between the two frontrunners. With less than six months to go before the general election, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is in turmoil, with its lead in the polls steadily evaporating. A number of CDU MPs are pressing for the matter to be put to a vote, for the first time in more than 40 years. Merkel, 66, has said she will retire in September after 16 years as chancellor but her succession plans are unravelling as the party prepares to pick its contender before May 23.
MACRON FACES THE TRUMP AND BREXIT PHENOMENON
The Express reports that with the French election in 2022 little over a year away, French President Emmanuel Macron could face a big challenge from far-right rival Marine Le Pen. The leader of France’s Rassemblement National party is doing so well in the polls that she threatens to foil Mr Macron’s re-election bid. Arnaud Montebourg, a Socialist who was Mr Macron’s predecessor as economy minister under Francois Hollande, warned that “Le Pen will win.” He told the Financial Times: “It’s like the Trump phenomenon or the Brexit phenomenon. “Macron is hated because he’s arrogant. For years, criticism of the French President has been mounting as frustrations grow from the poorest in France. Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister, said: “I observed that En Marche wasn’t really democratic, in fact, there were no real party elections.The reality is that the power is concentrated at the Elysee more than ever, and that power is exercised almost exclusively by young men.”
LONG WAIT FOR THAT DRIVING TEST
From the Telegraph: Driving tests are to resume this month, the Transport Secretary has announced as learners have been warned that they face up to an eight-month wait, with instructors fully booked. Grant Shapps confirmed on Wednesday that lessons could restart from Monday April 12, with tests then due to resume on April 22. Tests have been paused since the first lockdown and industry experts estimate this has caused a backlog over 1.1 million untaken driving tests. A survey of more than 1,700 learners carried out by the company found they were now facing waits of up to 8 months to retake their tests. Meanwhile, the Approved Driving Instructors National Joint Council has warned that the backlog could be exacerbated by the fact there were now fewer qualified instructors than before the pandemic. Analysis by the council showed there were 38,778 instructors in the country, a reduction of more than 2 percent from a year ago.
From the Express: Fans of the humble crisp sandwich can now get one on the go from Subway. From today, the high street sandwich chain will offer Walkers ready salted crisps as topping option. Customers will be asked if they want “crisp in” or “crisp out” on their order. It costs 20p extra to add the crunchy snack to sandwiches, wraps or salads. But the crisp sandwich won’t be around for long, as it’s only a limited edition menu offer and it’s only available when ordering in-store. Fernando Kahane, from Walkers said: As a nation, we may not agree on everything, but we are united in the fact that a lunchtime sandwich without crisps is just not the same. The crisp sandwich option is only available until May 23.