A “referendum between opposing visions of Europe” – Meloni

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 2nd June 2024.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Saturday characterised next week’s European elections, where far-right parties like hers are expected to gain ground, as a “referendum between two opposing visions of Europe”. Meloni’s post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party triumphed in September 2022 national elections and is hoping for a repeat performance in the European Parliament elections, held in Italy on June 8 and 9.

“We are at a turning point and it is as if it were a sort of referendum between two opposing visions of Europe,” she told thousands of supporters at a rally in central Rome. “The EU must be a partner of nation states, not a superstructure that suffocates nation states.”

In an hour-long speech to a rally in Rome’s historic Piazza del Popolo, in front of a banner saying: “With Giorgia, Italy Changes Europe”, she said now was the time for a similar change across the EU. “We have a clear objective… build a right-wing government in Europe too and send definitively into opposition the left… who have done so much damage to our continent in all these years,” she said. She accused the EU of focusing too much on regulation – particularly on green issues – accusing it of becoming a “paradise for bureaucrats” and a “hell for those who do business”.

Surveys predict Europe’s far-right parties will surge in the EU vote, although mainstream players are still expected to end up ahead. Meloni is leader of one of two far-right groups in the parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR). The other is the Identity and Democracy group that includes the National Rally of France’s Marine Le Pen and Germany’s AfD. They are notably divided over attitudes to Russia, with Meloni’s ECR strongly supportive of Ukraine as it defends itself against Moscow’s invading forces.

Israel far-right ministers threaten to quit if Biden plan goes ahead

Two far-right Israeli ministers threatened yesterday to quit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government if he goes ahead with a hostage release deal outlined by US President Joe Biden, who, on Friday said that Israel had offered a new roadmap towards a full ceasefire including the release of hostages held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

But Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said they would quit his government if the deal went ahead.

Ben Gvir said his party would “dissolve the government” if the deal went through and slammed the proposal as “a victory for terrorism and a security risk to the State of Israel”. “Agreeing to such a deal is not total victory – but total defeat,” he said. Smotrich said he would “not be part of a government that will agree to the proposed outline”. “We demand the continuation of the war until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages returned,” Smotrich said on X, adding that he opposes the return of displaced Gazans to the territory’s north and the “wholesale release of terrorists”.

Earlier on Saturday, Netanyahu insisted that the destruction of Hamas was part of the Israeli plan laid out by Biden. Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid vowed to offer Netanyahu “our safety net for a hostage deal if Ben Gvir and Smotrich leave the government”. Without Ben Gvir’s and Smotrich’s parties, Netanyahu’s coalition could lose its majority in parliament.

Thousands of Israelis meanwhile rallied in Tel Aviv to demand acceptance of the ceasefire and hostage release deal outlined by Biden, with many fearing the premier would disown the proposal. They also called for fresh elections and for Netanyahu to step down. Some anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv have been arrested after scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators demanding the resignation of the Israeli government.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures. Hamas also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead. At least 36,379 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli bombardments and ground offensive since October 7, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run territory.

Police arrest 22 at pro-Palestinian protest at Brooklyn Museum

New York police arrested at least 22 people after pro-Palestinian protesters picketed New York’s Brooklyn Museum, charging some with offenses including assault, officers said yesterday, with the gallery reporting damage to artwork. Hundreds of demonstrators had descended on the art museum Friday, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans, and carrying banners and placards. While many remained outside, some entered the museum, with a giant black and white banner reading “Free Palestine, divest from genocide” unfurled above the museum facade’s six distinctive columns.

There have been waves of protests in New York and across the United States, both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. US universities were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people. The demonstrations began at Columbia University in New York and later spread across the country as well as to Europe and elsewhere.

Labour’s Starmer vows to cut immigration and tackle ‘bad bosses’

Opposition Labour party leader Keir Starmer pledged yesterday to cut the number of migrants entering Britain, in response to one of the key issues going into the country’s general election. “Read my lips: I will bring immigration numbers down”, Starmer, who is favourite to defeat the ruling Conservatives in the July 4 election, said in an interview with The Sun. The former top prosecutor detailed Labour’s plans for the first time since campaigning began two weeks ago.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has seen net regular migration levels soar to 685,000 last year – more than three times the level in 2019, when the Conservatives won an election pledging to cut the figure. Migration has become a contentious topic, with 18 per cent of people saying it is the single most important election issue, according to a YouGov poll released Saturday.

While Starmer did not provide a timeline or exact figures for bring down migration numbers, he said passing laws to curb it would be a top priority, The Sun reported. The plan would punish bosses who break labour laws by banning them from bringing workers from abroad. Labour would also require employers to train UK nationals first, adding that bosses had become “too reliant” on foreign workers.

Trump suffers triple polling blow after guilty verdict

Former President Donald Trump has suffered losses in three separate polls in the 48 hours since his guilty verdict in his Manhattan criminal trial, Newsweek reports.

A New York jury on Thursday found Trump, the presumptive Republian presidential nominee, guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records relating to a hush money payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels by Trump’s then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Daniels alleges she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, which he denies. Trump has maintained his innocence, claiming the case is politically-motivated, and his lawyers plan to fight the verdict and appeal the case if necessary.

In a YouGov snap poll conducted just hours after the verdict was announced, 50 per cent of the 3,040 US adults who were polled said they believed Trump was guilty, while 30 per cent said they believed he was not guilty. Another 19 per cent said they were not sure. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 per cent.

When broken down into party lines, 15 per cent of Republicans think he is guilty while 64 per cent do not, 48 per cent of independents think Trump is guilty while 25 per cent do not, and 86 per cent of Democrats believe he is guilty while 5 per cent do not. A total of 831 Republicans, 1,114 independents, and 1,113 Democrats were surveyed. The margin of error of the subgroups are unclear.

A Morning Consult poll conducted on Friday found 54 per cent of registered voters approve of the jury’s verdict while 39 per cent disapprove. Across party lines, 18 per cent of Republicans approve of the verdict while 74 per cent disapprove, 52 per cent of independents approve while 33 disapprove and 88 per cent of Democrats approve while 8 per cent disapprove. The poll surveyed 2,220 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 per centage points. The sizes and margins of error of the subsamples are also unclear.

‘Jail Trump!’ says Stormy Daniels

Porn star Stormy Daniels has broken her silence on Donald Trump conviction: ‘imprison him now’, she says. In an interview with Daily Mirror, Stormy explains how in her opinion the former president should be “sentenced to prison and some community service for the less fortunate, or to voluntarily act as a punching bag in a women’s shelter”. Saying she was vindicated by the verdict, the porn star was surprised by how quickly the jury decided.

Beijing ready to ‘forcefully’ stop Taiwan independence

Chinese Defence Minister Dong Jun warned today his military is ready to “forcefully” stop Taiwan independence but called for greater exchanges with the United States. The remarks, at an annual security forum in Singapore, followed the first substantive face-to-face talks in 18 months between the two countries’ defence chiefs.

“We have always been open to exchanges and cooperation, but this requires both sides to meet each other halfway,” Dong told the Shangri-La Dialogue where he met with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday. “We believe that we need more exchanges precisely because there are differences between our two militaries.”

Dong and Austin met for over an hour at the luxury hotel hosting the forum, which is attended by defence officials from around the world and in recent years has been seen as a barometer of US-China relations. After the meeting, Austin said that telephone conversations between US and Chinese military commanders would resume “in the coming months”, while Beijing hailed the “stabilising” security relations between the countries.

This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue comes a week after China held military drills around self-ruled Taiwan and warned of war over the US-backed island following the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, who Beijing has described as a “dangerous separatist”. President Joe Biden’s administration and China have been stepping up communication to ease friction between the nuclear-armed rivals, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Beijing and Shanghai last month. A key focus has been the resumption of military-to-military dialogue, which is seen as critical to preventing flashpoint disputes from spinning out of control. China scrapped military communications with the United States in 2022 in response to then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Zelensky to speak at Shangri-La Dialogue today

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore today, where he will likely discuss support for his embattled country in an address to delegates. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will also meet Mr Zelensky and Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov on the sidelines of the conference, according to a US official. They will meet to “discuss the current battlefield situation in Ukraine and to underscore US commitment to ensuring Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself against ongoing Russian aggression”, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Zelenskyy is also set to ask attendees at the conference to attend and support a peace summit, scheduled for Jun 15 and 16, in Switzerland.

South Africa’s ANC party loses its 30-year majority

The African National Congress (ANC) party lost its parliamentary majority in a historic election result on Saturday that puts South Africa on a new political path for the first time since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule 30 years ago. With more than 99 per cent of votes counted, the once-dominant ANC had received just over 40 per cent in Wednesday’s election – well short of the majority it had held since the famed all-race vote of 1994 that ended apartheid and brought it to power under Nelson Mandela.

The final results are still to be formally declared by the Independent Electoral Commission, but the ANC cannot pass 50 per cent and an era of coalition government, also a first for South Africa, is looming. The electoral commission said it would formally declare the results later today.

While opposition parties hailed the outcome as a momentous breakthrough for a country struggling with deep poverty and inequality, the ANC remained the biggest party by some way. However, the unprecedented slump in its support means it will now likely need to look for a coalition partner or partners to remain in the government and re-elect President Cyril Ramaphosa for a second and final term. Parliament must meet to elect the South African president within 14 days after election results are declared.

Football: Real Madrid secure Champions League glory again

Real Madrid has defeated Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final, extending their record to 15 European Cups as coach Ancelotti makes history with his fifth title – his third with Madrid. Brazil forward Vinicius Junior doubled Madrid’s lead in the 83rd minute at Wembley Stadium, nine minutes after after Dani Carvajal headed the Spanish giant in front. Meanwhile, Carvajal, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Nacho have won European club football’s biggest prize on six occasions to equal the benchmark set by Madrid icon Paco Gento.

Dortmund paid the price for not making the most of its first-half dominance when Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois pulled off a series of saves and Niclas Fullkrug hit the post. Madrid took full advantage after the break. Carvajal met Kroos’ corner at the near post in the 74th to power a header past Dortmund keeper Gregor Kobel. Jude Bellingham nearly doubled the lead moments later but then turned provider when slipping in Vinicius. With just Kobel to beat, the forward fired his shot into the far corner and raced off in celebration.

FIFA moves to further protect the well-being of women in football

FIFA has been listening to the concerns of women in the game and, following thorough discussions with key stakeholders and a previous set of landmark reforms, has moved to further protect their well-being by implementing changes to the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) that entered into force yesterday. “One of our key objectives in women’s football is to see more women around the world being able to make a living playing the sport that they love and, in order to do that, we need to make sure that they are protected in doing that. And for women, especially those who are wanting to be mothers or to start a family, to adopt children, it’s important that they are able to do that without having to give up – or have a negative impact on – their footballing career,” said Sarai Bareman, the FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer.

Approved by the FIFA Council last month, these changes will extend the rights and protections to adoptive parents as well as non-biological mothers. They will also recognise the physical, psychological and social dimensions in the event of an inability to provide employment services due to severe menstruation, or medical complications relating to pregnancy. And member associations will be encouraged to allow female players contact with their families while on international duty. The measures also recognise that women have different biological make-ups.

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