DeSantis drops out, leaves Haley as Trump’s last hurdle

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 22nd January 2024

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida announced the suspension of his campaign for President on Sunday, just two days before the New Hampshire primary election, and endorsed former President Donald Trump. Analysts said this marked a spectacular implosion for a candidate once seen as having the best chance to dethrone Trump as the Republican Party’s nominee in 2024. His departure from the race leaves Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, as Trump’s last rival standing.

DeSantis’s devastating 30-percentage-point loss to Trump in the Iowa caucuses last Monday had left him facing a daunting question: Why keep going?. On Sunday, he provided his answer, acknowledging there was no point in soldiering on. “I am today suspending my campaign,” DeSantis said in a video posted after The New York Times reported he was expected to leave the race. He added: “Trump is superior to the current incumbent, Joe Biden. That is clear. I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee, and I will honour that pledge. He has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear.”

In her first reaction, Nikki Haley said, “He had a good campaign. Now it’s a two-man race.” Trump is the first choice for 50% of likely Republican primary voters, widening his lead over Haley, who has 39% support, according to the final CNN/University of New Hampshire poll.

Biden mocks Trump over Haley, Pelosi mix-up

President Biden mocked former President Trump on Sunday for appearing to mix up Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a campaign rally this weekend. “I don’t agree with Nikki Haley on everything, but we agree on this much: She is not Nancy Pelosi,” Biden wrote in a post on X, attaching a campaign ad that knocked Trump for the mix-up and highlighted concerns about his mental fitness. The ad included remarks from Haley reacting to Trump’s Friday comments, in which he appeared to mix up the two high-profile female politicians.

‘90-day plan for Gaza’ – WSJ

Diplomatic efforts are underway by the USA, Qatar, and Egypt to push Israel and Hamas to agree on a new proposal and it is possible that there will be a new round of negotiations in Cairo in the next few days. This was reported – and taken up by the Israeli media – by the Wall Street Journal, according to which the mediators have proposed a 90-day plan with the start of a ceasefire, the release of all civilian hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and a slow withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Strip. This first phase also includes an end to drone surveillance over Gaza and a significant increase in humanitarian aid.

In the second phase, there would be the release by Hamas of the kidnapped soldiers and the bodies of the dead at the same time as the release of other Palestinian detainees. In the third phase, the WSJ concludes, there would be the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers in exchange for the redeployment of the army outside the Strip.

Photo: MOHAMMED SABER/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Israeli, Palestinian Foreign Affairs ministers to attend EU meeting

Meanwhile, Reuters reports the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers are to meet their European Union counterparts today as the EU considers potential steps toward a comprehensive peace between the two sides even as the war in Gaza rages on. Israel’s Minister Katz and Palestinian Riyad al-Maliki will take part separately in a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels largely devoted to the Middle East but also taking stock of the war in Ukraine. Foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan and the secretary-general of the League of Arab States will also attend.

Photos: AP

Netanyahu again rejects Palestinian sovereignty…

“Only total victory will guarantee the elimination of Hamas and the return of our hostages,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address posted to social media on Sunday, vowing that “as long as I am prime minister, this will be my position”.

“As Prime Minister of Israel, I support this position with determination even in the face of enormous international and internal pressure. It was this obstinacy of mine that prevented a Palestinian state for years which would have constituted an existential danger for Israel.” Netanyahu left no room for interpretation: “I made clear to President Biden Israel’s determination to achieve all war objectives and to ensure that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel”, adding that “after eliminating Hamas” there will be “no one in Gaza who finances or educates terrorism or sends terrorists. The Strip must be demilitarised and remain under full Israeli security control”.

Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

… and shoots down Hamas conditions for hostage deal

Netanyahu then rejected Hamas’ demands for the release of the hostages: “the end of the war, the exit of the IDF, the release of murderers and rapists, and his remaining in power”.

“Were we to agree to this, our soldiers would have fallen in vain. Were we to agree to this, we would not be able to ensure the safety of our citizens,” he said. He added that he would not compromise on “full Israeli security control on all territory west of the Jordan River”.

Netanyahu has faced mounting pressure to secure the release of the remaining 136 hostages.

Photo: EFE/EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Israel says 15 Palestinian killed

Israel’s military said on Sunday that its soldiers had killed 15 Palestinian gunmen in fighting in the northern Gaza Strip. It also reported that snipers from the Israeli army, supported from the air, had “eliminated a number of terrorists” in Khan Yunis. However, Hamas has said there has still been heavy combat in the north of the Palestinian territory in recent days, and witnesses also told AFP that Israeli boats were bombarding Gaza City and other areas in the north early on Sunday.

At least 25,105 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas on 7th October, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Palestianian enclave said on Sunday. In a statement, the ministry said some 62,681 people have also been wounded in the fighting.

Photo: Reuters

‘Unprecedented killings of civilians by Israel’ – Guterres

Israel’s military operations have spread mass destruction and killed civilians on an unprecedented scale, António Guterres told the ‘G77+China’ summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala, adding that “this is heartbreaking and completely unacceptable”. The Guardian quotes him as saying, “The Middle East is a powder keg, we must do everything possible to prevent the conflict from escalating throughout the region.”

Israeli Cabinet approves plan for Palestinian tax funds

Israel’s Cabinet on Sunday approved a plan under which tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinians will be held by a third-party country until it is transferred to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank at a time determined by Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Cabinet’s decision was backed by Norway and the United States, which will be a guarantor for the scheme.

Mass protests against German far-right continue 

The weekend of protests against right-wing extremism continued in Germany, as tens of thousands took to the streets on Sunday, with the largest protests held in Berlin. Protesters gathered outside the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, responding to a call by an alliance of organisations.

From Friday through the weekend, demonstrations were called in about 100 locations across Germany. On Sunday, rallies were held in major cities such as Cologne, Munich, and Berlin. Several other German cities also held demonstrations. Police in Munich said that some 80,000 people participated in the march, while organisers put the figure at 200,000. The march had to be called off due to overcrowding.

Meanwhile, in Cologne, police sources put the number of demonstrators at around 10,000. According to estimates by public broadcaster ARD, some 250,000 demonstrators gathered in cities across the country on Saturday, carrying signs such as “Nazis out!”.

The wave of mobilisation against the far-right party was sparked by report that AfD members had met with extremists in Potsdam in November to discuss expelling immigrants and “non-assimilated citizens”. Members of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the main Opposition party, were also present.

Strike on busy market kills 25 in Russian-held Donetsk

A strike on a crowded market in the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine left at least 25 people dead and 20 wounded on Sunday, Moscow-backed officials said. Shattered storefronts and broken glass could be seen in videos shared by Russian state media, along with what appeared to be bodies lying on the ground nearby. Both Moscow and Kiev have accused each other of a sharp escalation in attacks on civilian areas in the past two months.

Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Pope urges release of nuns kidnapped in Haiti

Pope Francis called for the release of a group of people, including six nuns, kidnapped in Haiti, the Caribbean nation plagued by gang violence. At the end of his weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican, the Pontiff said: “In earnestly asking for their release, I pray for social harmony in the country. I invite everyone to stop the violence that causes so much suffering to that dear population.” The eight people were kidnapped on Friday while travelling on a bus in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Sarah Ferguson diagnosed with skin cancer

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has been diagnosed with skin cancer, British media reported on Sunday in another health problem for a member of Britain’s royal family. Ferguson, 64, who was married to Prince Andrew, was treated for breast cancer last year and has now been diagnosed with malignant melanoma after several moles were removed. “She is undergoing further investigations to ensure that this has been caught in the early stages,” Sky News quoted her spokesman as saying.

Her new diagnosis was reported as King Charles, 75, prepares for a “corrective procedure” for an enlarged prostate this week. On Wednesday royal officials also announced that Catherine, wife of Charles’ heir Prince William, had undergone successful planned abdominal surgery and will be in hospital for up to two weeks.

Landslide buries 47 people in China

Rescue efforts are underway in southwestern China’s mountainous Yunnan province after at least 47 people were buried in a landslide. State news agency Xinhua reported that the disaster struck just before 6am (11pm Malta time on Sunday) in the village of Liangshui, beneath the town of Tangfang in Zhenxiong County. Authorities said about 500 people had been evacuated as rescuers were trying to find victims buried in 18 separate houses, picking their way through piles of concrete blocks and twisted steel. The cause of the landslide was not immediately known.

More than one car for every two EU inhabitants

Europeans are increasingly into cars – especially Italians, who are in first place in the ranking among EU member states – Eurostat’s latest survey reveals. In 2022, explains the European Institute of Statistics, the average number of cars per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU was 560 – more than one car for every two inhabitants. In the decade 2012-2022, the average number increased by 14.3% (from 490 to 560 cars per 1,000 inhabitants). Italy is at the top of the ranking: it has the highest number with 684 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by Luxembourg (678), Finland (661), and Cyprus (658).

Meanwhile, Latvia has the lowest rate, with 414 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by Romania (417), and Hungary (424). The data shows that central and eastern EU countries recorded high growth rates between 2012 and 2022. Among EU countries, Romania recorded the highest growth of cars per 1,000 inhabitants (+86.2%; +193), followed by Croatia (+44.8%; +152), Hungary (+40.9%; +123), Slovakia (+40.1%; +135) and Estonia (+39.7%; +181).

And if cars weren’t enough, trucks with trailers are also increasing: in 2022 per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU it was 4.8, with an increase of 45.2% from 2012 to 2022 (from 3.3 to 4.8), reflecting high growth in road freight transport. High rates were recorded in Lithuania (an average of 17.3 road tractors per 1,000 inhabitants), followed by Poland (12.9), Estonia (9.5) , Hungary (9.3), and Romania (8.8). At the other end of the table were the Czech Republic (0.3), Sweden (0.9), Austria and Malta (both 2.2), Cyprus and Greece (both 2.3). Eurostate says the low motorisation rates in Cyprus and Malta “can be explained by the geography of their islands and the resulting limitations for long-distance road transport”.

From 2012 to 2022, three countries have more than doubled the rate of truck motorisation: Romania (+127.4%), Croatia (+121.5%) and, with a relatively high rate already in 2012, Lithuania (+101.8%). Further high growth rates were recorded for Poland (91.2%) and Slovenia (82.9%). A notable decline in the rate of truck motorisation in 2022 over 2012 was recorded in the Czech Republic (-61.9%). The decline was less marked in Luxembourg (-15.4%) and Malta (-13.0%).

Main photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

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