Biden, Trump clinch 2024 presidential nominations

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 13th March 2024

US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are barrelling toward a November election rematch after their primary wins Tuesday night. CBS News estimates that former President Donald Trump will be the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee after his win in Washington, amassing the 1,125 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination. He also won the day’s Georgia and Mississippi primaries, CBS News projected. President Biden clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination earlier Tuesday. He picked up wins in Washington, Georgia and Mississippi, CBS News projected. With these wins, and the nominations settled, this will now be one of the longest general election campaigns in modern history. There are 238 days until November 5, the day of the presidential election.

The former president steamrolled through the early nominating contests, winning all but two of the primaries in his path. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the last Republican to square off against Trump before dropping out the day after Super Tuesday, only won two GOP primaries, in Vermont and Washington, DC. Now, Trump officially turns his focus to Biden, who defeated Trump in 2020 by flipping key battleground states Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona. Polling currently shows Trump leading Biden in a head-to-head matchup. A CBS News poll released earlier in March shows Trump with his largest lead yet, besting Biden 52 to 48 per cent.

Biden’s re-election campaign gets underway

Clinching the Democratic nomination was more of a formality for Biden. The incumbent president faced two longshot challengers in Republican Dean Phillips of Minnesota and author Marianne Williamson, but has overwhelmingly won every Democratic primary and caucus thus far, except for in American Samoa. Biden’s path to 1,968 delegates also began with an adjusted calendar he pushed for in 2022 – with South Carolina taking the first slot followed by Nevada and Michigan. Following his State of the Union address last Thursday, the president and his campaign have shifted into full general election mode. He has ramped up his battleground state travel, with trips to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan slated so far this month. Vice President Kamala Harris was in Arizona and Nevada over the weekend. The campaign announced a $30 million advertising campaign ad over the next six weeks, with the first ad looking to tackle concerns about the president’s age, 81. The campaign has a goal of opening 100 new offices across the battleground states and adding 350 new staffers this month. Underscoring the campaign’s pivot to the general election mode is a severe cash advantage for Biden, with over $130 million cash on hand according to campaign finance records in combination with the DNC, nearly doubling Trump’s war chest. Biden has already started putting his contrasts with Trump front and centre in his campaign. He referred frequently to “my predecessor” in his State of the Union address and has continued his criticism of Trump on the campaign trail.

Trump says he will free US Capitol rioters if re-elected

Donald Trump has pledged to free people jailed for taking part in the 2021 attack on the United States Capitol as one of his first actions if re-elected, calling them “hostages”. The rioters – egged on by the then-president and fueled by his false claims of voter fraud – stormed the seat of US democracy on January 6, 2021, in a bid to halt the transfer of power to Joe Biden. Around 1,358 defendants have been charged in the 38 months since then, according to the latest figures from the Justice Department released last week. About 500 have been sentenced to prison terms. Trump posted the comments on his Truth Social website, additionally promising to shut down the border with Mexico as part of his first acts if re-elected, without providing details. “My first acts as your next President will be to Close the Border… and Free the January 6 hostages being wrongfully imprisoned!” he wrote.

MEPs gear up to sue Commission over release of funds to Hungary

A final announcement is expected in the coming days following a positive vote in the EU Legal Affairs Committee on Monday evening to sue the European Commission over release of funds to Hungary. The legal action requires the approval of the Parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, and must be submitted before the European Court of Justice by March 25 at the latest. The ire of MEPs stems from the decision taken by the European Commission in December that unblocked €10.2 billion in cohesion funds for Hungary, which the country had been unable to access due to persistent deficiencies in the rule of law. The Commission argued the release was justified because Budapest had passed in May last year a reform to strengthen judicial independence and mitigate political interference in the courts, in line with four “super milestones” that the executive had imposed. Lawmakers, echoing the concerns expressed by civil society, challenged the reasoning and said the overhaul was not up to the task. They also complained the money had been unfrozen just one day before a crucial summit of EU leaders in which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had threatened to veto key agreements on Ukraine. In a scorching resolution approved in January, MEPs raised the prospect of legal action and stressed that “in no way can the EU give in to blackmail and trade the strategic interests of the EU and its allies by renouncing its values.” Days later, MEPs grilled Commissioners Didier Reynders (Justice), Nicolas Schmit (Jobs) and Johannes Hahn (Budget) for striking what they called a “political deal” with Orbán to ensure the lifting of his veto in exchange for the €10.2 billion. The three Commissioners insisted Hungary had provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate compliance with the four “super milestones” which included measures to strengthen the National Judicial Council, a self-governing supervisory board, and crack down on political meddling inside the Supreme Court. “The Commission was under legal obligation to take a decision,” Reynders said. As of today, Brussels is still withholding nearly €12 billion from Hungary’s allocated share of cohesion funds and most of its €10.4-billion recovery and resilience plan, a situation that Orbán has repeatedly denounced as “financial blackmail”. Speaking on Tuesday morning, Valérie Hayer, chair of the Renew Europe group, called on the Commission to uphold “complete transparency” and provide the Parliament with all the information regarding the release of further funds.

EU recommends membership talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina

The European Commission has recommended opening EU accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina, eight years after the Western Balkan country applied to be a member of the bloc. Announcing her executive’s decision on Tuesday morning in a speech to the European Parliament, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Since we granted candidate status, Bosnia and Herzegovina has taken impressive steps forward. More progress has been achieved in just over a year than in over a decade. Of course, more progress is necessary to join our Union. But the country is showing that it can deliver on the membership criteria, and on its citizens’ aspiration to be part of our family,” von der Leyen added. The Commission’s recommendation will need to be approved by all 27 EU leaders, who are set to decide in a summit next week in Brussels.

Progress reported in hostage talks

Qatari and Egyptian mediators believe significant progress has been made this week toward securing a truce between Israel and Hamas after an extended period of deadlock in the talks, a senior Arab diplomat tells ‘The Times of Israel’. The progress was made following significant pressure placed by Doha on Hamas, warning the group that its leaders residing in Qatar would be kicked out of the country if they didn’t adapt their approach in the negotiations. A senior Hamas official had earlier told ‘Al Arabiya’ that the group had accepted a modified version of the latest US proposal, which was based off of a framework accepted by Israel during a meeting in Paris last month. Hamas latter issued a statement denying the report.

Israel using hunger as weapon of war, Borrell tells UN

Israel was using starvation to wage war in Gaza, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has told the UN’s highest body, in one of his strongest allegations since  October 7. “Starvation is being used [by Israel] as a war arm [sic] and when we condemn this happening in Ukraine, we have to use the same words for what is happening in Gaza,” Borrell said in a speech in the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Tuesday. Some 500,000 people were “on the brink of starvation” in Gaza because Israel was blocking aid trucks, Borrell said. “This isn’t a natural disaster. It’s not an earthquake or a flood – it’s man-made,” he said. “I’m asking Israel not to impede humanitarian support to go in the natural way, which is the road. Hundreds of trucks should come into Gaza to avoid the starvation of hundreds of thousands of people,” he added.

The EU top-diplomat’s words on Tuesday were the most specific war-crime allegation he has made. Borell also broke a taboo of EU diplomacy – against comparing Israeli aggression against Palestinians to Russian aggression against Ukrainians. The EU has said Israeli aggression was justified because Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel on  October 7, killing around 1,200 Israelis and taking some 250 hostages.

For her part, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was characteristically softer on Israel in a speech at the European Parliament the same day. “We have all seen the reports of children dying of starvation. This cannot be,” she said in Strasbourg on Tuesday, without blaming Israel. “Protection of civilians must be ensured at all times, in line with international law,” she added, also without referencing Israel. von der Leyen called for “an immediate humanitarian pause” and spoke of EU efforts to deliver food by sea and air. But humanitarian groups say the maritime corridor will take too long to set up, while air-drops are too small to prevent famine. Far-right ministers in the Israeli government have called for ethnic cleansing followed by Israeli re-settlement in Gaza. Israel has also accused the UN’s leading aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, of harbouring terrorists. The still-unproven accusations saw several UNRWA donors pull funds, putting the agency’s future at risk.

The Russian ambassador spoke at length about EU “neo-colonialism, Russophobia, impotent anti-Russian rage” and called it an “aggressive, expansionist bloc”. “It seems he [the Russian ambassador] was sarcastic. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry … do any of you feel under attack by the EU? How many countries are we bombing?”, Borrell replied, in a rhetorical question. None of the other UNSC speakers took Russia’s bait. The Algerian ambassador thanked Borrell for his “courageous” words on Gaza. The ambassador of Mozambique called for EU help in organising elections in the Central African Republic, where Russia has built strong influence. China urged global power blocs to step back from confrontation. Borrell said “the EU has nothing against China as a major political and economic power”, in reply.

Borrell and von der Leyen’s duelling UN and European Parliament speeches also came amid Israeli threats to invade Rafah, in southern Gaza – a move which could send civilian casualties even higher and risk regional escalation. For their part, EU leaders aim to call for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza at a summit in Brussels on  March 21, according to a draft summit statement. But EU efforts to chill Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aggression, by suspending trade perks or blacklisting violent Israeli settlers, have stalled, amid EU Commission procedural delays and Hungarian opposition. France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Romania, who are leading EU arms suppliers to Israel, have also declined to speak of an embargo for now.

Human rights groups sue Denmark over arms exports to Israel

A group of the world’s most prominent human rights organisations is suing Danish authorities over the continued exports of arms to Israel. The local branches of Oxfam, Amnesty, Action Aid and the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq have announced a lawsuit against the Danish National Police and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their action asks Danish authorities to stop Denmark’s arms exports to Israel on the grounds that there is “a clear risk that weapons and military equipment that Denmark, directly and indirectly, exports to Israel will be used to commit serious crimes against civilians in Gaza”.

Aid ship sets sail to Gaza

An aid ship loaded with some 200 tons of food set sail for Gaza on Tuesday in a pilot programme for the opening of a sea corridor to the territory, where the five-month Israel-Hamas war has driven hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the brink of starvation. The push to get food in by sea – along with a recent campaign of air drops into isolated northern Gaza – highlighted the international community’s frustration with the growing humanitarian crisis and its inability to get aid in by road. The food on the aid ship was collected by World Central Kitchen and is being transported by the Spanish aid group Open Arms. The ship departed from Cyprus and is expected to arrive in Gaza in two to three days.

Netanyahu to the US: ‘We will finish the job in Rafah’

Benyamin Netanyahu, addressing AIPAC delegates gathered in Washington, said that he “deeply appreciates the support received from President Biden and the administration and I hope it continues.” At the same time, he warned, “Israel will win this war, whatever happens” and for this reason the IDF “will finish the job in Rafah”, otherwise Hamas “will regroup and reconquer Gaza”. Netanyahu, according to the ‘Times of Israel’, was even more clear: “You cannot say that you support Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas and then oppose Israel when it takes the actions necessary for that goal.”

Houthis launch missile at US military ship

The Houthis launched a short-range missile from Yemen towards the American destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea. This was announced by the United States Central Command (Centcom), explaining that the missile “did not hit the vessel and no casualties or damage were reported”. Meanwhile, 11 Filipino seafarers arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday nearly a week after they survived a Houthi missile attack off Yemen. They were crew members of the Barbados-flagged, Greek-operated merchant ship ‘True Confidence’ which the Houthis attacked last week, killing three sailors, including two Filipinos. Officials said two other Filipinos who sustained major injuries were recovering in a Djibouti hospital.

Jordan on Al Aqsa: ‘Israel plays with fire’

Particular security measures were adopted by Israel regarding the participation of Palestinians from the West Bank in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on the Fridays of Ramadan. The Coordinator of Israeli activities in the territories (Cogat) has established that men over the age of 55, women over 50 and children under the age of 10 will be able to participate in Friday prayers. To pass the checkpoints at the entrances to Jerusalem, Palestinians from the West Bank will still have to show special permits issued by Cogat. Israel’s fear, a Jerusalem police official explained today, is that in conjunction with the war in Gaza, Hamas will try to destabilise the situation in the Temple Mount and, consequently, also in the West Bank. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said restrictions on Muslim worshipers’ were pushing the situation towards “an explosion”. Israel, he added “plays with fire”.

Navalny’s right-hand man attacked with a hammer

Leonid Volkov, close political collaborator and right-hand man of the late Russian dissident Alexei Navalny who died in prison, was attacked with a hammer in front of his home in Lithuania, according to Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh. “Someone broke the car window, sprayed stinging liquid in his eyes and then started hitting him with a hammer,” writes Yarmysh, quoted by various media.

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