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News brief: U.K. prime minister's race, Weinstein trial, Haiti teeters on collapse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will not run for the office again, conceding that he can't unite the fractured Conservative Party.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Johnson's surprise announcement leaves Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor of the exchequer, the heavy favorite to become the country's next prime minister and its first person of color to hold the office.

FADEL: For the latest, we turn to NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK. So Johnson was expected to run. His allies said he was running. And some even said he was the person with the legitimacy to fill the job despite the cloud of scandal that he left under. So why did Johnson announce he's not running?

LANGFITT: Well, there's some speculation about that today. He - Johnson's supporters and he said he had over a hundred lawmakers in his own party supporting him, which would have put him on the ballot. But there's - you know, he never provided proof for that. There's some doubt among his party members about that. And so it's quite possible that, in fact, he didn't - he wasn't going to make it, and that's why he pulled out. The other thing, though, Leila, is that his own lawmakers did not want him, the people that he works in parliament with. He - you know, you remember, he pushed Brexit through. He was a champion...

FADEL: Right.

LANGFITT: ...For Brexiteers. Even Brexiteer parliamentarians wanted Sunak. And William Hague, he's a former chairman of the party. He said that if Boris Johnson were to take over the party again, it could go into a death spiral. So there was a big effort to get him - in his own party - not to do this.

FADEL: OK. So let's talk about the man that the prime minister might be. Let's talk about Rishi Sunak. What is his track record? And what does he bring to the job?

LANGFITT: Well, I mean, if you look at him on paper, he's the obvious person for this job. He was the former chancellor, long financial background - Stanford MBA, Goldman Sachs. He planned the budget in the past. He's a fiscal conservative. He admitted that there was a need to raise taxes because the financial problems in this country. And what's interesting, Leila, is the conservative membership of the party, they rejected him last August in favor of Liz Truss, who was in favor of unfunded tax cuts and trickle down economics. And what became very clear in the last month is Rishi Sunak was right and Liz Truss was wrong.

FADEL: He's also - if he becomes prime minister, he would be the first person of color to be prime minister in the U.K. That sounds pretty significant.

LANGFITT: It is significant. He'd also be - you know, he's Hindu, so he'd also be the first non-Christian as well. I think there's no doubt this would be a major milestone in British politics. But, Leila, what's interesting to me is if you look at the coverage today, there's very little mention of this at all in the British press. And I think the reason for that is that the Conservative Party has had people of color in key positions for years.

The last four chancellors - this is the second most important job in the government - they're all people of color. And close to half of the candidates who ran for prime minister last time, they were all minorities, ethnic minorities. And one expert I was talking to on race and identity, he said, you know, diversity is sort of the new normal in British politics. And, you know, no one's suggesting that the U.K. is a post-racial society at all.

FADEL: Right. Right.

LANGFITT: There was a talk radio exchange just a couple of days ago where someone said, oh, Rishi Sunak isn't even British, which is absurd. He was born here. He's extremely British. But polling suggests that that's increasingly a fringe view here.

FADEL: OK. Let's talk about the big takeaway here from all this drama in the past week. What's going on with the Conservative Party?

LANGFITT: Well, I think they're deeply divided. And I think Sunak's job now is to try to unite them. He is more of a centrist. He's certainly more fiscally conservative. But the other thing that's kind of interesting in sort of an encouraging way is this was an effort, I think, to also make the political system a bit more meritocratic. I mean, Sunak was obviously the most qualified for this. And even though the system of choosing people here in terms of leaders can be flawed, the lawmakers kind of took it into their own matters and told Boris Johnson, you know, your time is up.

FADEL: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Thanks, as always.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Harvey Weinstein, once one of Hollywood's most powerful movie producers, is back in Los Angeles to face sexual assault charges.

MARTINEZ: Weinstein was extradited to California for this second criminal trial. He's charged with 11 counts of sexual assault. Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year sentence in New York after being convicted on similar charges there.

FADEL: NPR culture correspondent Mandalit del Barco has been following the story. A warning that this report includes descriptions of sexual assault. Good morning, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So could you outline the charges in this particular trial?

DEL BARCO: Sure. Well, in California, five women allege that Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted them between 2004 and 2013. Now, Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to counts of what the law calls forcible rape, oral copulation, sexual battery by restraint and sexual penetration by use of force. According to the district attorney's office, some of these alleged attacks happened in hotel rooms. And that's in line with the pattern documented by The New Yorker and The New York Times, who made this news public, as you might remember.

Women say that the Hollywood producer lured them with promises of career advice. And then he demanded sexual favors with threats that he would ruin their careers if they didn't comply. And as you noted, Leila, Weinstein is already serving a 23-year prison sentence in New York for similar charges by a former actress and a former assistant to a TV show. And here in LA, he could face a sentence of up to 140 years in prison.

FADEL: Now, nine men and three women have been selected. Do we know anything about the jury that will determine Weinstein's fate?

DEL BARCO: You know, during jury selection, some people admitted that they were ambivalent or they had no opinion about or they never heard of the #MeToo movement. That, of course, is the social media movement sparked by the news of Harvey Weinstein. That movement has exposed sexual misconduct by very powerful men in business, politics and entertainment. One of the jurors who was selected reportedly said she was on the fence about #MeToo. And she said, quote, I believe most women but not necessarily all. Some of the jurors reportedly expressed some doubt about whether they could find a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case with no DNA evidence. In this trial, there is no such evidence.

FADEL: I have to say, I'm surprised there's anyone left who hasn't heard of the #MeToo movement.

DEL BARCO: Right.

FADEL: So we're expected to hear from a number of accusers. How long will the trial last?

DEL BARCO: Well, here in Los Angeles, nine of Weinstein's alleged victims are expected to testify against him. That includes fashion models and also Jennifer Siebel Newsom, an actress and documentary filmmaker. She's married to California Governor Gavin Newsom. And she's been public about being sexually assaulted during a purported work meeting with Weinstein.

Also, the prosecutors plan to call dozens of witnesses to testify against Weinstein in the coming weeks, maybe 50 of them. Their identities are not yet known except for the very famous actor Mel Gibson, who is a friend of one of the accusers. The judge has ruled that he can testify. And this trial in LA could take a few months. But even after it's over, it's not the end of legal proceedings for Harvey Weinstein. He's appealing his New York verdict. And prosecutors in London have authorized charges against him from alleged incidents in 1996.

FADEL: NPR's Mandalit del Barco in Los Angeles. Thank you so much, Mandalit.

DEL BARCO: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Now to Haiti, a country on the verge of collapse. The gangs of Port-au-Prince have a stranglehold on much of the capital, including the main oil terminal. Cholera is on the rise. And food and fuel prices are out of control.

MARTINEZ: And added to this, there's a political crisis. Prime Minister Ariel Henry is struggling to maintain his grip on power, with protesters regularly taking to the streets to demand his removal. His decision to ask the outside world to send a specialized armed force to help has only served to inflame people's anger.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Port-au-Prince and joins us now. Good morning, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with this specialized armed force that the prime minister has asked for. The U.N. Security Council could vote on a resolution to send in a limited armed force as early as this week. But intervention, it's a dirty word in Haiti, right? Why are people upset about this request?

PERALTA: Well, I mean, look, it's complicated. Pretty much everyone I've spoken to here, from the people on the streets to intellectuals and politicians, believe that an intervention is a bad idea. And this is because Haiti has a long history of international interventions, including an occupation by the U.S.

FADEL: Right.

PERALTA: And none of it has ever led to any long-term solution. So people here have been protesting against the new intervention. And demonstrators actually plan to march to the U.N. compound today to express their displeasure. But nearly everyone agrees that, while this is a bad idea, it's also hard to think of any other way to bring Haiti back from the brink.

FADEL: Let's talk about Haiti being at the brink. We just described the incredibly difficult and dangerous conditions in Haiti. Is this borne out by what you've seen and heard in the past few days?

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, things are pretty bad here. I spent some time at a big park just across from the airport. And it reminded me of some of the refugee camps I have seen in some of the warzones I've covered.

FADEL: Right.

PERALTA: There were a couple of thousand people who had to leave their homes in a hurry because of violence. They say that gangs are fighting for territory in their neighborhoods. And they've gotten caught in the crossfire. Some people had lost family members. Others say that as gangs took territory, they set their homes on fire. So they lost everything that they owned.

FADEL: So who's really in control there in the capital where you are?

PERALTA: That is the huge question. As one senator told me, what is clear is that the government of Haiti has collapsed. And I'll give you one big example. Gangs have erected blockades on major roads. And for more than five weeks now, they have not allowed fuel trucks to get gasoline from the fuel depots here. But so for now, what you have is these guys who used to drive motorcycle taxis selling gasoline in little water bottles on the side of the road. And I spoke to some of them. They didn't want us to use their names because they say they were being harassed by police. Let's listen to what they said.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: So he's saying that sometimes, the police officers, they ask for money to let them pass with the fuel. But he said this gentleman said, no, they don't want money. They want our gasoline.

PERALTA: So according to these guys, the police here in Haiti are relying on them to get gasoline.

FADEL: Wow.

PERALTA: And it left them wondering, how is it that they could break the blockade but the government has been incapable of doing so?

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Port-au-Prince. Thank you so much for your reporting.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.