EPP clears path for von der Leyen’s re-election

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 8th March 2024

The European People’s Party (EPP) on Thursday confirmed Ursula von der Leyen as its lead candidate for June’s European elections, clearing the path for her second term at the European Commission’s helm.

“We are the party of the people and we deliver on what people care about,” Von der Leyen said as she sought the EPP party’s support at its congress in Bucharest. “Prosperity. Security. Democracy. This is what people care about in these difficult times.” In a speech earlier on Thursday, she promised peace, prosperity, and security for Europeans, vowing to continue to firmly back Ukraine, bolster Europe’s economic competitiveness, safeguard the rule of law, and crack down on irregular migration.

Her re-election bid was approved in a secret ballot of EPP delegates, lawmakers, and leaders as the party gathered in the Romanian capital to gear up towards June’s crunch election. But 89 of the 489 valid votes cast in the ballot rejected her candidacy, giving von der Leyen a support rate of 82%. With 801 delegates in Bucharest with a right to vote, EPP sources were not able to confirm why some 300 delegates failed to cast their vote.

The EPP group is comfortably ahead in the polls and is tipped to remain the European Parliament’s biggest faction, making von der Leyen a firm favourite to clinch the role of European Commission President.

The President of the EPP, Manfred Weber, told Euronews that the EPP parties will be “the first row to defend Europe against nationalists”. In an interview with Euronews and Euronews Romania at the European People’s Party Congress in Bucharest, Weber said that by nominating Ursula von der Leyen as the lead candidate for the European elections, the EPP sends “a message of stability in times of uncertainty with war in Europe and also [concerning] the economic challenge on a global level with China. We are keeping Europe together. That is our main message. We need strong and firm leadership.”

Sweden finally joins NATO

Sweden yesterday became the 32nd member of Nato in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, turning the page on two centuries of non-alignment and capping two years of tortuous diplomacy. Days after Hungary followed key holdout Turkey and became the last Nato member to sign off, Sweden ceremonially handed over accession documents to the United States, the leading   force of the transatlantic alliance that promises joint security for all. “It is a major step but, at the same time, a very natural step,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said at the State Department. “It’s a victory for freedom today. Sweden has made a free, democratic, sovereign and united choice to join Nato,” he said. He later delivered a televised address to the nation from Washington, telling Swedes: “We are a small country, but we understand more than most the importance of the greater world beyond our borders.” President Joe Biden, whose rival Donald Trump has disparaged Nato as unfairly burdening the United States, said in a statement that the alliance was stronger and “more united, determined and dynamic than ever” with Sweden.

Biden attacks Trump, defends democracy in State of the Union address

President Joe Biden turned his State of the Union speech Thursday night into an animated argument for a second term as he laced into GOP front-runner Donald Trump for espousing “resentment, revenge and retribution” and jeopardising freedom at home and abroad. Over and over, Biden delivered broadsides at “my predecessor” without mentioning Trump by name, raising his voice as he tried to quell voter concerns about his age and job performance while sharpening the contrast with his all-but-certain November rival. Biden goaded Republicans over their policies, invited call-and-response banter with fellow Democrats and seemed to revel in the fight. “Freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time,” Biden said as he appealed for Congress to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. “History is watching.” Biden quickly pivoted to the threats at home, referencing the Januay 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the 2020 election, and calling for the threat to democracy to be countered.

Biden focuses on his work so far

CNN reports President Joe Biden gave a forceful speech highlighting his work on economic issues for the middle class in his State of the Union address, a high-stakes moment as he looked to convince voters to give him a second term in the White House. Read his prepared remarks. The president highlighted his stances on taxes, foreign policy and reproductive rights. He called out Republicans for not supporting a bipartisan border security bill and he blasted former President Donald Trump, without naming him, for “bowing down” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some lawmakers heckled the president. Earlier, House Speaker Mike Johnson said he sent a “very clear” message to House members to “turn the temperature down” during the address. In the Republican response, Alabama Senator Katie Britt slammed Biden, saying he is “out of touch” and does not understand the issues facing American families. Ahead of Biden’s speech, demonstrators gathered outside the White House to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

US to set up emergency floating port off Gaza to help get aid in

President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union address that he’s directing the military to build a port on the Gaza coast to bring relief to the population there. His move comes as Democrats, unhappy with his handling of humanitarian crisis caused by the Israeli-Hamas war, have been voting ‘uncommitted’ in Democratic primaries. “The President announced he’s directing the US military to lead an emergency mission to establish a port in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water medicine, and temporary shelters,” a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters on Thursday. That does not mean US military personnel will be on the ground in the war-torn region.

“The planning involves the presence of US military personnel on military vessels offshore but does not require US military personnel to go ashore to install the pier or causeway facility that will allow to the transportation of humanitarian assistance,” a senior defence official said. “We’re not planning for this to be an operation that would require US boots on the ground,” an official noted. The officials offered no time line for when the pier will be built or where exactly it will be located but said its construction will allow more shipments of food, medicine and other essential items to be delivered to the 2.2 million Palestinians. They said the White House will coordinate with the Israelis regarding security on the ground and with the United Nations and humanitarian groups on getting aid delivered.

The temporary pier will allow for hundreds of additional truckloads of assistance each day, the officials said. It will be an additional route for humanitarian aid, which is currently limited to two land crossings into the southern part of Gaza. Other countries will be involved in its construction but it’s unclear if Israel will be. The project could take between 30 to 60 days to construct and would involve hundreds or thousands of US troops on ships just off shore. It will also require armed escorts and other protective measures.

Biden has already ordered US airlifts of aid. A famine has not yet been declared for Gaza but 20 per cent of households suffer from an extreme lack of food, 30 per cent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and two in 10,000 people dying per day ‘due to outright starvation or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease,’ the World Food Programme said. The administration said it was imperative to get aid on the ground as soon as possible – and that it would go around Israel, its longtime ally, to do it. “The president has directed that we look at all options, that we not wait for the Israelis and that we are pursuing every channel possible to get assistance into Gaza. So we will do it by air by sea by land,” a senior administration official said.

Biden spoke about the Israeli-Hamas war and the plight of the hostages when he delivered his State of the Union address on Thursday night. The president has seen a concerning number of Democrats vote ‘uncommitted’ in primaries in key battleground states like Michigan and Minnesota. In Minnesota on Tuesday, nearly 20 per cent of Democratic voters in the state voted uncommitted. The week before, more than 100,000 voters in Michigan voted the same.

Hamas leaves Cairo as Gaza ceasefire talks show no sign of progress

Hamas yesterday left Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo where there was no sign of progress just days before the start of Ramadan, while the US said the onus was on the Palestinian group to strike a deal on Israeli hostages. Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the lack of agreement after four days of talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt about a 40-day ceasefire amid fears violence could escalate during the Muslim fasting month. Egyptian security sources said talks, taking place without an Israeli delegation in Cairo, would resume on Sunday. Senior US administration officials said the onus was on Hamas to complete a hostage deal and attributed the delay to what they described as Hamas so far not agreeing to release sick and elderly hostages.

Gaza ceasefire talks are at an impasse Egyptian officials

Egyptian officials said Thursday that negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza are at an impasse as Hamas insists on a process to end to the war. After nearly five months of war, much of Gaza is in ruins, and international pressure is growing for Israel and Hamas to reach a deal that would halt the fighting and release the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas. The US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying to broker an agreement that would stop the fighting for six weeks, and include the release of 40 hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. Israel’s near-total blockade of Gaza and the ongoing fighting have made it nearly impossible to deliver supplies in most of Gaza, aid groups say. Many of the estimated 300,000 people still living in northern Gaza have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. Mediators are still pressing the two parties to soften their positions. They had hoped to reach a deal before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin Sunday. The month of dawn-to-dusk fasting often sees Israeli-Palestinian tensions rise over access to a major holy site in Jerusalem.

Norway warns against business with Israeli settlements

Norway’s government on Thursday urged Norwegian companies to avoid trade and business activities that contribute to maintaining illegal Israeli settlements. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said that “for years, Norway has been clear that the settlement policy in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is in violation of international law, including humanitarian law and human rights. Norwegian businesses should be aware that, through economic or financial activity in the Israeli settlements in violation of international law, they risk contributing to violations of international humanitarian law or human rights,” Barth Eide said. He added that last year “was also the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN began recording. I repeat that the injustice to which the Palestinians are subjected must stop,” he said.

China calls for Palestinian state to join UN

China’s foreign minister is demanding that other members of the UN Security Council stop blocking Palestine from becoming a member of the United Nations. Wang Yi reiterated China’s call for a major international conference to draw up a roadmap and timetable for a two-state solution. “We support Palestine becoming a full member of the United Nations and call on individual members of the Security Council not to set obstacles for this any more,” he said Thursday at a news conference during the annual meeting of China’s legislature. Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, said in January that his country supports U.N. membership for Palestine as a first step toward the creation of a Palestinian state. The Security Council needs to send a clear and unequivocal signal, reaffirming the urgency of the two-state solution as the sole feasible way out, he was quoted as saying by China’s official state media. China, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, backed Palestine becoming a UN member in a joint statement issued last June during a state visit to China by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Spain to give UN agency for Palestinians €20m

Spain said yesterday it would give an additional €20 million to the UN Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa, which is facing a cash crunch after several nations suspended their funding. The agency has been at the centre of controversy since Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. Several countries – including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan – suspended funding to Unrwa following the Israeli allegations. But the European Commission, recognising steps taken by the UN, said today it would also release €50 million in Unrwa funding.

15 killed by three Israeli airstrikes in central Gaza

At least 15 people were killed by three Israeli airstrikes that hit buildings in central Gaza. The bodies were taken to Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, where an Associated Press journalist counted the bodies as they arrived. People were reported to be still trapped under the rubble. Two strikes hit buildings in Deir al-Balah and a third in the Nuseirat refugee camp.

Family of 6 Sri Lankans knifed to death in Ottawa

Six people from Sri Lanka, including a mother and four young children, were knifed to death in the Canadian capital Ottawa late on Wednesday night, police said on Thursday, rocking a country where mass murders are rare. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was horrified by what he called a “terrible tragedy”. The father of the family was also wounded in the attack and is in hospital. Police said Febrio De-Zoysa, a 19-year-old male student from Sri Lanka, had been arrested and charged with six counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. De-Zoysa knew the family and had been living in the house, they said. The victims killed were a 35-year-old woman and her children aged seven, four, two and two months, as well as a 40-year-old man who was an acquaintance of the family.

Women’s Day 2024: Important health tests women should do regularly

On Women’s Day, WHO is asking women around the world ro take a vow to take good care of themselves and get tests done on time, Regular health tests are crucial for women to monitor and maintain overall well-being,  it said. These tests can detect potential health issues early, allowing for timely intervention and treatment. Screening tests for conditions such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease are essential for women’s health. Additionally, routine check-ups can assess blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other vital indicators, empowering women to take proactive steps towards optimal health and longevity.

Free reusable menstruation products for Catalan women

Spain’s Catalonia region rolled out a pioneering women’s health initiative that offers millions of women and girls reusable menstruation products for free. About 2.5 million women and girls in northeast Spain can receive the products at local pharmacies free of charge. The Catalan government said that the initiative was meant to “guarantee the right to menstrual equity”. The distribution of reusable products is also aimed at reducing waste. The regional government said that Catalonia produces about 9,000 tons of waste from single-use feminine hygiene products. The programme cost the regional government €8.5 million.

Photo: INQUAM PHOTOS/OCTAV GANEA VIA REUTERS

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