British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to take on opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the last head-to-head debate before a general election in six days — and facing allegations that he's shirking tough questions about his character and record.
Friday's televised showdown comes amid an ongoing controversy over Johnson's decision to avoid an in-depth interview with Andrew Neil, a BBC journalist known for his forensic questioning. Four other party leaders, including Corbyn, endured such a grilling, and Neil has accused Johnson of "running scared.''
Neil issued a challenge to Johnson on national television Thursday, saying political leaders in the last two U.K. elections had agreed to be interviewed by him: "All of them. Until this one."
He said Johnson needed to answer questions about trust, "and why at so many times in his career, in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy."
Cabinet minister Michael Gove, a Johnson ally, urged voters to call 10 Downing St. and ask whether Johnson would agree to the interview.
He recited the number on LBC radio and said "if you ring the prime minister's diary secretary, he will know, or she will know, what the prime minister is going to do."
Johnson shrugged off the pressure, insisting he had done plenty of interviews during the campaign, and appeared to lump Neil in with a joke candidate in the election.
"We cannot accommodate everybody," he said. "There's guy called Lord Buckethead who wants to have a head-to-head debate with me. Unfortunately, I'm not able to fit him in."
Johnson, a former mayor of London who helped lead the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, has long faced questions about his character. As a journalist, he was once fired for fabricating a quote. In politics, he was sacked as party vice chairman for lying about an extramarital affair. In a magazine article last year he called Muslim women who wear face-covering veils "letter boxes." Authorities are investigating his relationship with American tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, who allegedly received favors and public funds while Johnson was the mayor of London. But Johnson has insisted that "everything was done with full propriety."
And yet opinion polls put Johnson's Conservatives ahead of the Labour opposition ahead of the election next Thursday, in which all 650 House of Commons seats are up for grabs. The Tories are keen to avoid any slip-ups that could endanger that lead.
The Conservatives had a minority government before the election, and Johnson pushed for the December vote, which is taking place more than two years early, in hopes of winning a majority and breaking Britain's political impasse over Brexit. He says that if the Conservatives win a majority, he will get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline.
Labour has promised to negotiate a new Brexit deal, then give voters a choice between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc. It also has a radical domestic agenda, promising to nationalize key industries and utilities, hike the minimum wage and give free internet access to all.
The party has struggled to persuade voters that its lavish spending promises are deliverable without big tax hikes. Labour's campaign also has been dogged by allegations that Corbyn — a long-time champion of the Palestinians — has allowed anti-Jewish prejudice to fester in the left-of-center party.
Corbyn has called anti-Semitism "a poison and an evil in our society" and says he is working to root it out of the party.
This election is especially unpredictable because the question of Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties. For many voters, their identities as "leavers" or "remainers" are more important than party affiliations.
The Conservative lead suggests the party has managed to win over many Brexit-backing voters, while Labour faces competition for pro-EU electors from the centrist Liberal Democrats and several smaller parties.
But the Conservatives have also lost support from some pro-EU voters by taking a strongly pro-Brexit stance. Several ex-Conservative lawmakers who were expelled for rebelling over Brexit are running against their old party as independents.
The independent former Tories were endorsed Friday by former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, who called Brexit the "worst foreign policy decision in my lifetime."
"It will make our country poorer and weaker," he said. "It will hurt most those who have least."
The death toll from a migrant boat capsizing off Mauritania has risen to 63 after the coast guard found five more bodies.
It was one of the deadliest disasters this year among young Africans trying to reach Europe.
Search and rescue operations continue off the coast near the northern city of Nouadhibou.
At least 83 survivors swam through rough seas to shore after their boat capsized Wednesday. Some 150 migrants, including children, had been on the boat for about a week. The U.N. migration agency said they were trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands but diverted toward Mauritania as fuel and food ran low.
Most of the migrants on the boat were from Gambia, though six Senegalese survivors.
The coast guard on Friday said it found another boat carrying at least 150 Gambian migrants on their way to Spain. Officials detained everyone on the boat, which lacked food, water and fuel.
Three people injured in the London Bridge attack have been sent home after receiving medical treatment as more details emerged on the stabbings.
Dr. Vin Diwakar, medical director for the National Health Service in London, said Friday that the victims of the attack were recovering and that the last patient had been discharged.
"Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those who sadly lost their lives and all those who have been impacted,'' he said.
Usman Khan stabbed two people to death and injured three others on Nov. 29 before being shot and killed by police on the bridge. Khan had been attending a conference on prisoner rehabilitation when he attacked Cambridge University graduates Saskia Jones, 23 and Jack Merritt, 25.
As the injured recovered, some of those who subdued him began to speak out. John Crilly, a former prisoner who used a fire extinguisher to corner Khan together with other bystanders, lamented Merritt's death in a Facebook post, describing him as the "the best guy I ever met."
"(Jack) was killed by a ... a pathetic rubber dingy rapids type terrorist,'' Crilly wrote. "Jack actually tried helping this guy! To educate him. As he educated me.''
Crilly's conviction in the slaying of 71-year-old Augustine Maduemezia, was quashed by the Supreme Court last year. The court ruled that the joint enterprise law — in which defendants were prosecuted for murder even if they did not strike the fatal blow — had been misinterpreted.
The 48-year-old studied for an Open University law degree while in prison and graduated this year.
"I had a bad life, I've changed it, I wasn't guilty of murder,'' Crilly said after his release. "I totally accept what I did and it was wrong.''
Dozens of protesters briefly besieged the office of a well-known independent newspaper in Islamabad, chanting slogans against the editor and staff and setting fire to copies of the paper before fleeing.
Friday's protest was the second incident this week at the offices of the English-language Dawn newspaper. It comes a day after journalists and rights activists rallied in support of the paper and criticized an earlier anti-newspaper protest.
The protesters Tuesday had also besieged the newspaper's building, demanding that editor Zaffar Abbas and publisher Hameed Haroon be hanged for reporting that the London Bridge attacker was of "Pakistani origin."
Abbas went on Twitter to condemn what he says was yet another orchestrated demonstration against the paper. He said police were alerted and he was seeking protection for the staff and building.
It was unclear exactly who was behind the protests and authorities have made no arrests in connection with the increasing threats to the newspaper. Dawn has a history of bitter relations with the country's powerful military.
The OPEC oil-producing countries and ally Russia said Friday they have agreed to cut their crude production by an extra 500,000 barrels a day as they try to support global energy prices.
The decision came after long discussions at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. The group's goal is to to support the price of energy. But they also do not want to lose global market share to the United States, which keeps pumping more oil.
"We have decided to reduce production by 500,000 barrels a day through the first quarter of next year," said Russian energy minister Alexander Novak.
The cuts come on top of a reduction of 1.2 million barrels a day that they have been observing for the past three years.
The sticking point in the talks appears to be how to share the cuts among the 14 OPEC countries and nations like Russia that have been coordinating their production with the cartel in recent years.
Saudi Arabia has been bearing the burden of the largest share of production cuts recently. But some countries including Iraq and Russia have been producing more than their expected.
Analysts note that if countries are already not complying with the current agreement, voting for more cuts could be pointless.
The price of oil had risen in recent days on expectations for a production cut and gained further on Friday. Brent, the international benchmark, jumped 82 cents to $64.21 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark gained 75 cents to $59.18 a barrel.
Even if members of the cartel cut production, there is more oil coming to market from non-OPEC nations, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Norway and Guyana. That could make up for any cuts from OPEC and Russia, who will also be wary of not losing global market share by cutting output too much.