UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Wednesday that the world has entered an “age of chaos” that was causing a multitude of suffering and thwarting progress – and must be reversed. “There is so much anger and hate and noise in our world today,” the secretary-general told member states’ representatives gathered at the UN General Assembly as he laid out his priorities for 2024. “Every day and at every turn, it seems – it’s war.” He said people just want peace and security and to live their lives with dignity. “For millions of people caught up in conflict around the world, life is a deadly, daily, hungry hell,” he said. He pointed to conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, and Sudan, but also protracted situations in Myanmar, Yemen, Haiti, and across Africa’s Sahel.
He said the UN charter was regularly being trampled with impunity and chastised the 15-nation Security Council for contributing to the chaos. “The United Nations Security Council – the primary platform for questions of global peace – is deadlocked by geopolitical fissures,” he said. “This is not the first time the Council has been divided, but it is the worst.” Divisions among the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States – have blocked meaningful action on a number of situations, including the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as enforcing sanctions against bad actors like North Korea and the military junta in Myanmar. He said the Council must undergo serious reform to reflect today’s realities, including adding a permanent seat for Africa.
Guterres also called for reform of the international financial system, noting that the world’s poorest countries are drowning in debt. He urged people to “make peace with the planet” and stop waging a war with nature. “It is a crazy fight to pick,” he said of the climate crisis. “We are detonating systems that sustain us.”
Pope sees ‘hypocrisy’ in those who criticise LGBT blessings
Pope Francis said he sees “hypocrisy” in criticism of his decision to allow priests to bless same-sex couples, possibly his most strongly worded defence of the move yet. LGBT blessings were authorised last month by a Vatican document called Fiducia Supplicans (Supplicating Trust), but that has met with significant resistance in the Catholic Church, particularly from African bishops. The Pope again defended the Vatican’s controversial document, arguing that humans “must all respect each other” and stating that blessings should be extended to “everyone”. The Pope’s comments come from an exclusive Italian-language interview he gave to the Italian weekly print periodical Credere, which will be available across Italy today. The Pope said that “the gravest sins … are those that disguise themselves with a more ‘angelic’ appearance. No one is scandalised if I give a blessing to an entrepreneur who perhaps exploits people: and this is a very serious sin,” the Holy Father said. “Whereas they are scandalised if I give it to a homosexual … This is hypocrisy! We must all respect each other. Everyone. I don’t bless a ‘homosexual marriage’. I bless two people who love each other and I also ask them to pray for me. The blessing is not to be denied to anyone.”
President Ilham Aliyev wins fifth term in Azerbaijan
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan secured a fifth consecutive term in elections on Wednesday, winning 92 per cent of the vote. “The Azerbaijani people have elected Ilham Aliyev as the country’s president,” Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov told a news conference. Turnout in the snap election, which was called a year early following Azerbaijan’s recapture of the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenian separatists last September, was 67.7 per cent. Several thousands of Aliyev supporters gathered on Wednesday evening in the streets of central Baku to celebrate his re-election, singing patriotic songs and holding signs with messages such as “Karabakh’s liberator” and “We are proud of you!
Pakistanis go to the polls – mobile phone services suspended
Millions of Pakistanis began voting this morning in a parliamentary election marred by allegations of fraud. The contest is between Imran-backed PTI and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim league. Authorities have suspended mobile phone services across the country during the vote “to maintain law and order”. “It has been decided to temporarily suspend the mobile service,” a spokesperson for the Pakistani Interior Ministry said in a statement, noting that “precious lives have been lost” in recent militant attacks and that “security measures are essential to address potential threats”. On Wednesday, two bomb blasts rocked polling offices, killing 26 people in the southwestern province of Balochistan. The Islamic State claimed responsibility in a message on its Telegram channel.
Ecuador decriminalises euthanasia
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador has approved the decriminalisation of euthanasia in the South American country. The decision was adopted with seven judges in favour and two against. The judges decided that the practice will enjoy “constitutionality” and the doctor in charge of the procedure “will not be convicted”. The court indicated as a necessary condition that the patient experiences “a condition of intense suffering resulting from a serious and irreversible bodily injury, or from a serious and incurable disease”. The court ruled in favour of the case presented by Paola Roldán, a 42-year-old suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who had been fighting for three years to have the possibility of a dignified death.
Antisemitic, anti-Muslim hate in EU has ‘exploded’
Antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crime has “exploded” in the EU since the 7th October Hamas attack and Israeli retaliation, European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas said on Wednesday. “Many Jews and Muslims living in Europe are fearing for their own safety,” with firebombs being thrown at synagogues, Jewish shops destroyed, and swastikas and anti-Muslim “slurs” painted on mosques and homes, Schinas told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Online, anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim messages have “exploded”, he said, including slogans calling for Israel’s destruction and Jews to be killed, and for Muslim migrants “to be killed or expelled, and Muslim women raped”. “This is simply unacceptable,” Schinas said, calling for EU member states to get behind national and European efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism and racism. He also underscored the role of a new EU law cracking down on illegal online content, the Digital Services Act, and increased funding for fact-checkers to help battle anti-Semitism in social media posts. Schinas did not provide any figures for anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes across the European Union. Last month, Belgium’s anti-discrimination agency Unia said that, between 7th October and 7th December, it registered 91 reported incidents related to the conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Saudis says relations with Israel ‘only if it recognises Palestine’
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday told the United States that it would not have diplomatic relations with Israel until the “aggression” in the Gaza Strip is ended and an independent Palestinian state is recognised within the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. In a separate statement, the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar, told the BBC that Riyadh was interested in normalising relations with Israel after the war, but that “any deal must lead to the creation of a Palestinian state”.
Israeli forces push into Rafah
Netanyahu also confirmed on Wednesday that Israeli forces have been ordered to prepare to operate in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled in order to escape the fighting. The Palestinian news agency Wafa says at least 14 people died and dozens more were injured last night in shelling by Israeli planes on Rafah and Deir al-Balah, in the south and centre of the Gaza Strip. Expanding the conflict into Rafah would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare” in the city, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned. “We are afraid of the invasion of Rafah,” one displaced person at the Rafah Crossing, near the border with Egypt, told the BBC. “We sleep in fear and sit with fear. There is no food, and the weather is cold.”
Netanyahu again rejects Hamas’ counter-offer
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Hamas’s proposed ceasefire terms, saying “total victory” in Gaza was possible within months. He was speaking after Hamas laid out a series of demands in response to an Israel-backed ceasefire proposal. Netanyahu said negotiations with the group were “not going anywhere” and described their terms as “bizarre”. As talks continue to try to reach some sort of deal, Netanyahu told a news conference on Wednesday, “There is no other solution but a complete and final victory. If Hamas will survive in Gaza, it’s only a question of time until the next massacre.”
Israel was expected to take issue with Hamas’s counter-offer, but this response is a categorical rebuke, and Israeli officials clearly see an effort by Hamas to end the war on its terms as “utterly unacceptable”. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Reuters Netanyahu’s remarks were “a form of political bravado”, and show he intends to pursue the conflict in the region. An Egyptian official source told the BBC that a new round of negotiations, mediated by Egypt and Qatar, was still expected to go ahead today, Thursday, in Cairo.
Israel has no license to dehumanise others, says Blinken
The Israeli leader’s comments are a blow to a sustained push by the US to reach a deal. Its top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Israel to try to seal a Gaza truce deal, described the Hamas response as “the best path forward” – even though he cautioned there was “still a lot of work to be done”. In a stark rebuke to Israel, Blinken said in a news conference the Hamas attacks on 7th October do not give Israel “the license to dehumanise others”. “Israelis were dehumanised in the most horrific way on 7th October,” Blinken said in Tel Aviv. “Since then the hostages have been dehumanised every day, but this cannot be a license to dehumanise others”, underlined the US Secretary of State in a harsh warning to Israel. Referring to the Hamas response, he said there were “some clear non-starters” in Hamas’ counter-proposal. However, he added: “We do think it creates space for an agreement to be reached, and we will work at that relentlessly till we get there.”
US airstrike in Baghdad kills militia leader
The US carried out an airstrike in Baghdad on Wednesday targeting a senior leader of an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq responsible for attacks on US forces in the Middle East, according to a statement from US Central Command. A US official told ABC News that the airstrike was part of the retaliatory actions President Joe Biden authorised last week following the death in Jordan of three American soldiers. The “unilateral strike in Iraq” by the US Central Command forces, killed “a Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region,” said a statement.
Harry’s visit to Charles didn’t bring reconciliation with William
Britain’s Prince Harry flew more than 8,000 kilometers to see his father after King Charles III was diagnosed with cancer. But Harry did not see his estranged brother, William, during a visit that lasted scarcely 24 hours, The Associated Press reports. The royal brothers remain emotionally and physically an ocean apart. British media published photos of Harry at Heathrow Airport on Wednesday afternoon, just a day after he arrived at the same airport on a flight from Los Angeles. He appeared headed back to life in California after a UK visit in which he spent less than an hour with his father at Clarence House, the king’s London home.
Dani Alves denies nightclub rape
Former Barcelona and Brazil footballer Dani Alves has denied raping a woman in a nightclub as he took the stand on the final day of his trial in Spain. The 40-year-old has been in prison without bail since he was arrested in January of last year. He told a Barcelona court the woman could have left “if she wanted to”, adding that he was “not a violent man”. Alves’ accuser previously told the court he had lured her into a toilet in the VIP section of a Barcelona nightclub before forcing her to have sex with him. According to AFP, during his 20-minute testimony, Alves said that “at no time” did the woman asked to leave. The footballer also denied hitting the young woman. Alves had initially denied knowing the alleged victim in a TV interview before later acknowledging he had had sex with her but saying it had been consensual. The public prosecutor is seeking a nine-year jail term for Alves, and for him to pay damages of €150,000 to the woman. A verdict is expected in several weeks.
Alves is one of the most decorated footballers in history and has played for a host of top clubs including Barcelona and Paris St Germain. He made more than 400 appearances for Barcelona, winning six league titles and three Champions Leagues across two spells, and was also part of Brazil’s 2022 World Cup squad. His most recent club, Mexican side Pumas UNAM, terminated the Brazilian’s contract with immediate effect in January 2023.
Gary Glitter refused parole
Convicted sex offender Gary Glitter will remain behind bars after losing a Parole Board bid. Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, was jailed for 16 years in 2015 for sexually abusing three schoolgirls between 1975 and 1980. The 79-year-old was automatically released in February last year but was put back behind bars six weeks later after breaching his licence conditions. A panel said Gadd continued to show a “lack of victim empathy”. The hearing last month took place in secret after a request for proceedings to be heard in public was rejected.
Main photo: AFP