Anti-war candidate applies to run against Putin

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 21st December 2023

Pro-peace candidate Yekaterina Duntsova has applied to run in the election against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Russian regional legislator, calling for peace in Ukraine, presented documents on Wednesday to Russia’s Central Election Commission to register as a candidate for the country’s 2024 Presidential election. Duntsova hopes to challenge President Putin, promoting her vision of a “humane Russia” that’s “peaceful, friendly, and ready to cooperate with everyone on the principle of respect”. Speaking to journalists in Moscow on Wednesday, Duntsova said she hoped the event would inspire her supporters. If accepted as an independent candidate, the former journalist would next need to gather 300,000 signatures of support from at least 40 Russian regions.

EU Finance ministers seal reform of EU fiscal rules

At a meeting held via videoconference, EU Economic and Finance ministers on Wednesday sealed a deal to reform the bloc’s fiscal rules – a breakthrough made only possible after Germany and France found a middle ground. Berlin and Paris had for months sat at opposing sides of the table, with the former pushing for automatic safeguards to slash debt levels and the latter advocating for greater flexibility to create enough space for spending in strategic sectors. The compromise between finance ministers Christian Lindner and Bruno Le Maire materialised on Tuesday evening, paving the way for the 27 Member states to seal a preliminary deal during a video conference on Wednesday evening, bringing the overhaul one step closer to a successful conclusion of the so called “Stability Pact”. Nadia Calviño, Spain’s economy minister, said in a news conference after the meeting, “The rules are more realistic. They respond to the post-pandemic reality. And they incorporate also the lessons learned from the Great Financial crisis.” The reform still needs to be negotiated with the European Parliament, a process that is expected to be relatively fast to ensure the new framework is in place by the time governments design their next budgets. EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Paolo Gentiloni said the agreement is good news for the European economy, but the journey is not yet over.

Nadia María Calviño Santamaría, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Economy, Trade and Business, of Spain. Spain chaired the meeting as Presidency of the Council of the EU.

EU deal to reform migration policy

EU Member States and the European Parliament struck what EP president Roberta Metsola called “a historic” deal on Wednesday to reform the bloc’s migration policy, capping off a three-year-long effort that at times seemed doomed to fail. The sought-after agreement, which is preliminary and still needs to undergo formal ratification, was sealed after marathon talks that began on Monday afternoon, continued throughout Tuesday and concluded on Wednesday morning, an intensity that reflects the high stakes on the table. Negotiations focused on a vast and complex array of open questions that required compromises on both sides, such as detention periods, racial profiling, unaccompanied minors, search-and-rescue operations, and border surveillance.

Maltese Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri described the agreement reached between the Presidency of the EU and the European Parliament on the Asylum Pact as an attempt to compromise between those who have been suffering as a result of this problem and those who have no interest in assisting in a tangible way, primarily through a relocation mechanism. “Certainly, this agreement is not a magic wand that will make this problem smaller or cease to exist,” he wrote on social media. “Whoever is portraying this agreement as the solution to the immigration challenge will have to answer to the European and Maltese citizens in a few more months, when reality will be different.”

Photo: Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency

EU to join US-led patrol of Red Sea

The European Union said on Wednesday that its Member states would contribute to a United States-led initiative aimed at protecting commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign policy official, said the EU will join Operation Prosperity Guardian, which was started to combat a rise in attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. “Irresponsible Houthi actions are a threat to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” Borrell announced in a thread on X. “We will intensify our information sharing and increase our presence with additional naval assets,” he continued. “This demonstrates the EU’s role as a maritime security provider. We match words with action.”

The international mission will include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain. Notably, Bahrain is the only Arab country to publicly sign on to the initiative, although a US defence official told The Associated Press that several other countries have joined the effort but preferred to remain anonymous. The United States is also calling on the United Nations Security Council to take action against the Houthi attacks, which are said to have had a significant impact on oil prices and the shipping industry, which could lead to a new wave of inflation. This morning’s The Guardian reports more than 100 container ships have been rerouted around southern Africa to avoid the Suez canal, in a sign of the disruption to global trade. The diversion adds about 6,000 nautical miles to a typical journey from Asia to Europe, potentially adding three or four weeks to product delivery times.

Photo: Reuters

Gaza death toll surpasses 20,000 as UNSC again delays vote

At least 20,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel began bombarding the enclave more than 10 weeks ago, according to Palestinian officials. At least 8,000 children and 6,200 women are among those killed, Gaza’s Government Media Office said on Wednesday. Al Jazeera reported that the milestone was passed as the United Nations Security Council postponed a key vote on a bid to boost humanitarian aid for Gaza for the third time to avoid a veto from the United States, which traditionally shields its ally Israel from UN action. According to the United Arab Emirates envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, the vote will take place on Thursday.

In Gaza, fighting intensified in northern Jabalya city amid an almost total communication blackout on Wednesday, according to the Gaza Strip’s two main telecommunications companies. Most parts of the enclave have no remaining phone or internet services, severely limiting access to information and affecting emergency operations. The Israel Defense Forces said they were engaged in “intensive combat” in Jabalya, and that they had “eliminated hundreds of terrorists”. The IDF said it had taken “operational control” of the city and “dismantled the military capacity of the northern division of Gaza City”. Munir al-Bursh, a director general of the Gaza Health Ministry, said that an intense Israeli bombardment had been ongoing for three days, and Israeli forces were “committing mass executions and extermination in northern Gaza”. Israel has said destroying the tunnels is a major objective of the offensive. The announcement came as Hamas’ top leader arrived in Egypt for talks aimed at brokering a temporary ceasefire and a new deal for Hamas to swap Israeli hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israel strikes Hezbollah in Lebanon

Meanwhile, the Israel Defence Forces yesterday struck several Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. “Among the targets attacked were several terrorist infrastructures and military sites where the organisation’s militants operated,” the IDF said in a statement, accompanied by footage of the airstrikes, showing numerous targets attacked on a Lebanese hillside. The strikes come in the wake of numerous attacks on Israel by Hezbollah on Tuesday. Hezbollah also claimed on Monday that it had targeted Israel’s Iron Dome air defence batteries.

Israel to compete at Eurovision Song Contest – despite boycott threats

Israel will take part in the Eurovision Song Contest 2024, the organisers have said, despite calls for the country to be banned from the event because of ongoing events in Gaza. “The Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for public service broadcasters from across Europe and the Middle East,” a spokesperson told ITV News. “It is a competition for broadcasters – not governments – and the Israeli public broadcaster has participated in the Contest for 50 years. “These bodies have reviewed the participants list and agreed that the Israeli public broadcaster KAN meets all the competition rules and can participate in the contest next year in Malmö, Sweden, alongside 36 other broadcasters.” The European Broadcasting Union, which runs the Eurovision Song Contest in partnership with each nation’s broadcaster, said that its stance was “aligned with other international organisations, including sports unions” which have also “maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants”.

Photo: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Polish government takes public TV news channel off air

Poland’s new government took a public news channel off the air on Wednesday and dismissed executives from state media to restore “impartiality”, the Culture ministry said, as Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s reform drive faced its first big test. Tusk’s pro-European Union coalition took power last week from the nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS), which critics say damaged judicial independence, soured EU relations, and turned state-owned media into an outlet for propaganda during its eight years in office. Police stood outside the Polish public television TVP building as protesters and PiS politicians gathered after the public news channel was taken off the air.

Photo: AFP

Thousands protest new Argentine austerity measures

Protests against austerity and deregulation measures announced by newly-elected President Javier Milei went off relatively peacefully in Argentina’s capital on Wednesday, after a government warning against blocking streets. Around the start of the protest, which drew thousands of marchers, police briefly scuffled with some demonstrators and two men were arrested. But the event ended without widespread street blockages that had been frequent in past years. Milei’s administration had said it would allow protests, but threatened to cut off public aid payments to anyone who blocked thoroughfares. Marchers were also forbidden to carry sticks, cover their faces or bring children to the protest. Marchers set out toward Buenos Aires’ iconic Plaza de Mayo, and the police struggled to keep demonstrators from taking over the entire boulevard. In the end many kept to the sidewalks and filled about half the plaza. Undeterred by the protest, Milei later announced a sweeping series of initiatives aimed at transforming Argentina’s failing, heavily-regulated economy, including widespread privatisation of state-run industries. The approximately 300 changes would earmark many government companies for privatisation, and loosen protection for renters, employees, and shoppers.

Photo: EFE/ Isaac Fontana

US man cleared of murder after almost 50 years

A judge in the US state of Oklahoma has exonerated a man who spent nearly 50 years in prison for murder – the longest-serving inmate in that country to be declared innocent of a crime. Glynn Simmons, 71, maintained his innocence since being convicted of murder in 1975. He served more than 48 years, before being released because key evidence in the case wasn’t given to his lawyers. He said afterward that he felt vindicated after his time in prison, that included initially being sentenced to death row. Simmons has been ruled innocent and is eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.

Photo: AP/Doug Hoke
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