Concerns about the cost of living, climate change, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are posing a major challenge to democracies, according to a Stockholm-based think tank. Moreover, nearly half the countries across the world are seeing a decline in the robustness of their democracy, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) said. In its annual report, the international think tank said that 85 out of 173 countries surveyed had “suffered a decline in at least one key indicator of democratic performance in the past five years”. The setbacks ranged from flawed elections to curtailed rights, including the freedom of expression and right to assembly, the Stockholm-based watchdog said. Other variables included representation, participation and rule of law. The report named “declines in social group equality in the United States, freedom of the Press in Austria, and access to justice in the United Kingdom,” as examples of concerning developments. “In short, democracy is still in trouble, stagnant at best, and declining in many places,” IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said. While Europe remains the highest-performing region, several established democracies including Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and the UK are deteriorating, the report said. Meanwhile, countries such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Turkey performed well below the European average.
Limited evacuations begin from Gaza through Rafah crossing
After more than three weeks of siege, the first Palestinians – dozens of dual passport holders and seriously injured – were allowed to leave Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes pounded the Jabalya refugee camp for the second day Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. Even as bombings have driven tens of thousands from their homes, and food, water, and fuel run low, no one has been allowed to leave the embattled enclave, but a limited agreement appeared to have been reached Wednesday.
Israel’s strike on Jabalia refugee camp leaves 195 dead
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television, one of the few media outlets still reporting from northern Gaza, aired footage of devastation in the Jabalia refugee camp near Gaza City and of several wounded people, including children, being brought to a nearby hospital. The Hamas-run government said the strikes killed more than 195 people and wounded many others. The footage showed nearly identical scenes as the day before, with dozens of men digging through the gray rubble of demolished multi-storey buildings in search of survivors.
Israel ‘breaks through’ Hamas front line in northern Gaza
The Telegraph reports Israeli forces have stormed the Hamas front line in northern Gaza in a breakthrough for the ground operation to eradicate the group. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), said it was the latest sign that “the ground operation is progressing as planned”. He said: “With planning in advance, precise intelligence, and joint attacks from land, air, and sea, our forces broke through Hamas’s front lines of defence in the north of the Gaza Strip.”
New clashes between Israel and Hezbollah
New clashes were recorded yesterday evening on the border between Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah claimed overnight to have destroyed an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon with a surface-to-air missile, the Guardian reports. The Israeli army instead stated on its Telegram channel that “a surface-to-air missile was launched from Lebanon towards an IDF unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). In response, the IDF struck the terrorist cell that launched the missile, the launch site, and the source of the launches.
Japan announces €106 billion fuel subsidy plan
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a plan to support the economy worth 17,000 billion yen (just over €106 billion) as part of policies to support purchasing power for the lower-middle classes, which continue to be worn out by rising inflation. Asahi Shimbun says that, under the current plan, the government will use around 3,500 billion yen to implement tax cuts and the paying back of paid tax money to low-income families. Other measures include subsidies to lower petrol prices and energy bills, as well as a plan to retrain some categories of workers as part of the government’s commitment to investing in companies’ human resources. Rising commodity prices are hitting Japanese families at a time when real wage growth is failing to keep pace with inflation. Premier Kishida highlighted the need for adequate and continuous salary increases, while providing support to contain the increase in the cost of living.
Meloni says world tired of Ukraine war in Russian prank call
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was caught admitting that world leaders are tired of the Ukraine war and looking to strike a deal with Moscow during a call with Russian pranksters. Italian media outlets report her telling Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, who were posing as African diplomats: “I see that there is a lot of fatigue – I have to say the truth – from all the sides. We are near the moment in which everybody understands that we need a way out. The problem is to find a way out which can be acceptable for both without destroying international law.” Meloni said in the recording: “Everybody understands it could last many years if we don’t find solutions.” Meloni was the latest victim of the Russians, who have previously made prank calls to Henry Kissinger, Boris Johnson, and George W Bush.
Romania, Poland top vehicles per inhabitant league
Romania and Poland lead the EU in terms of the number of cars per inhabitant, according to Eurostat. Over the 20 years, the EU statistics office notes, the greatest growth in the number of cars per inhabitant was in Romania (+5.4%), followed by Poland (+4.5%). Lower levels, and below one per cent, were Malta and the Netherlands (both +0.9%), Spain (+0.8%), France and Italy (both +0.7%), Belgium and Austria (both + 0.5%), Germany and Luxembourg (both +0.4%), and Sweden (+0.3%). In general, between 2001 and 2021 the Baltic, Central and Eastern European countries of the EU experienced higher growth than the Western EU countries. Vehicle registration rates in the EU are higher in Western countries than in central and eastern ones, with a varied situation at a local level and influenced also by favourable tax rules.
Main photo credit: EPA-EFE/Maxim Shipenkov