Politics Summary: Monday, March 29th

Dozens killed in Moscow metro suicide bombings, hunt supporters organise for the Tories, Presidnt Obama's Afghanistan visit and more.

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Female suicide bombers have killed more than 30 people in blasts on the Moscow metro this morning in an apparent attack on the FSB headquarters. The first explosion, reports Times Online, occured at 7:56 local time at Lubyanka station, underneath the hq of Russia’s federal security services, killing 22. The second explosion came at 8:38 local time at Park Kultury station, killing at least 12 more.

This is the first terrorist strike on the Moscow metro in six years, and the first on the Russian transport system since the bombing of a passenger train between Moscow and St. Petersburg last November that left dozens dead, adds the Telegraph, while The Guardian reports Andre Mishenko, the deputy in charge of the resuce operation, as saying: “We are going through the wagon at the moment and taking out the dead. The victims are being taken to a morgue in Moscow and survivors to Moscow hospitals. Investigations are continuing.” And The Independent reports the scene on the ground: The blasts practically paralyzed movement on the city center’s main roads, as emergency vehicles sped to the stations. Helicopters hovered overhead … Passengers, many of them in tears, streamed out of the station, one man exclaiming over and over ‘This is how we live!'”

Hunt supporters are mobilising in droves to “ride to the rescue” of the Tories in key marginals, “in the knowledge that David Cameron will allow a return to hunting with dogs if he gets to Downing Street”. The Independent reveals the hitherto hidden strategy, which involves mobilising thousands of hunt supporters in targeting Labour MPs and candidates, including ministers Jim Knight, Phil Hope and Ben Bradshaw. Opponents of hunting, however, claim those who bring it back have “lost the argument”, pointing to opinion polls showing substantial majorities in favour of a ban. The Indy also reports the latest weekend polls: “Two more opinion polls yesterday pointed to a hung parliament. YouGov for The Sunday Times suggested that Labour had narrowed the gap from seven to five points since last week. It put the Tories down one percentage point, on 37 per cent, Labour up one on 32 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats unchanged at 19 per cent. ICM for the News of the World showed the Tories up one point on 39 per cent, Labour down one on 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 19 per cent.”

Britain’s “special relationship” with the US “is over”, MPs on the foreign affairs select committee have warned, while a former ambassador has claimed President Obama is “less sentimental” about UK-US links. Sir David Manning, Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser during the Iraq war told MPs Britain needed to use “sharp elbows” in its dealing with the US, reports The Guardian. He tols MPs: “We now have a Democrat who is not familiar with us … If we are going to be heard and use our sharp elbows … we have to have something important to say and something important to offer.” This led the MPs to say: “The use of the phrase ‘the special relationship’ in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided … The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to devalue its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK.”

Coalition forces “will beat the Taleban” and “get the job done” pledged President Obama on his first visit to Afghanistan last night. Mr Obama, who flew into the main US airbase at Bagram under cover of darkness, also warned President Karzai to “crack down on corruption”, reports The Times. The visit comes as thousands of extra troops prepare for an offensive in Kandahar, to reassert government control in Taleban heartland, as part of the latest “surge”. The president, reports the Telegraph, said: “I want to send a strong message that the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is going to continue. We have already seen progress with respect to the military campaign against extremism in the region We also want to continue to make progress on … good governance, rule of law, anti-corruption efforts – all these things end up resulting in an Afghanistan that is more prosperous, more secure, independent.” With Mr Karzai adding: “The partnership will continue in the future towards a stable, strong, peaceful Afghanistan that can sustain itself, that can move forward into the future.”

And a cross-party Commons committee has pleaded for Sure Start to be spared the axe, saying it would be “catastrophic” to scale it back. The children’s committee describes Sure Start as “one of the most innovative and ambitious initiatives of the last two decades”, reports the Mirror, warning against proposals, backed by David Cameron, “to return Sure Start to its original focus on the most disadvantaged children”. It says the operation of the centres is “based on research evidence and a sound rationale”, adding that it was the “unambiguous” belief of workers in the sector that they “delivered improvements to the lives of families who use them”, though it cautions that they have “not yet decisively shown the hoped-for impact”.

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