EPP refuses to sign anti far-right violence pledge

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 9th May 2024.

The European People’s Party (EPP) has refused to sign a joint statement endorsed by the main EU political parties that denounces violence against lawmakers in the run-up to the June elections, according to Euronews. The declaration, titled ‘In Defence of Democracy’, was released on Wednesday with the signatures of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), Renew Europe, the Greens/EFA, and The Left but, remarkably, without the stamp of the centre-right formation.

The two-page statement is a reaction to the attack against Matthias Ecke, a Socialist MEP who was beaten up over the weekend while he was putting up campaign posters in Dresden, Germany. Four suspects, aged between 17 and 18, have been identified in connection to the incident, which sent shockwaves through Brussels.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the EPP’s lead candidate, condemned the attack and said the “perpetrators must be held accountable”, while Manfred Weber, the party’s chief, expressed “full solidarity” with Ecke. “We Democrats stand together against the enemies of democracy,” Weber said. But when it came to signing up to the joint statement, spearheaded by S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez and circulated among party leaders, the EPP opted out, accusing the Socialists of trying to exploit the issue for electoral gains.

“The EPP Group is not signing a statement which only aims to support the political campaign of one particular group,” an EPP spokesperson told Euronews. “We have proposed concrete and reasonable changes to achieve a text supported by all democratic forces that have been specifically rejected by that political group.” An S&D spokesperson hit back, saying the changes proposed by the EPP were solely meant to “decaffeinate” the extreme right. “There have been attacks against members of The Left and the Greens, so speaking about ‘one particular group’ is a mistake.”

The two-page communiqué establishes a direct link between acts of violence, harassment, vandalism, disinformation, defamation, and hate speech against politicians, activists, and journalists with the growing popularity of far-right parties across Europe, which is expected to materialise in the June elections. “The rise of the far-right and radical parties in Europe is a threat to our common project, its values and to the civil liberties and fundamental rights of its citizens,” the statement says. “This has no place in Europe and we will never be silenced. We will never allow for any citizen to be threatened in the exercise of democratic rights.”

‘US-supplied bombs have killed Palestinian civilians’ – Biden

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said Palestinian civilians had been killed by bombs that the United States had supplied to Israel. “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centres,” he said in an interview with CNN. Biden said the United States was still committed to Israel’s defence and would supply Iron Dome rocket interceptors. However, the US would draw a line if Israel goes into Rafah. “We’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used, that have been used.”

The US has repeatedly urged Israel not to go ahead with the offensive in the southern Gazan city. Earlier this week, Israel’s leadership approved a military operation in Rafah, where more than 1.2 million Palestinians have been sheltering. The Israeli military has been striking Hamas targets in eastern parts of the city after issuing evacuation orders to thousands of the city’s residents.

Netanyahu, CIA chief discuss ‘pausing’ Rafah assault

CIA Director Bill Burns and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday discussed “the possibility” of suspending military operations in Rafah in exchange for Hamas freeing hostages, according to an Israeli official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity. Netanyahu and the US spy chief, who has been involved in mediation efforts in the Israel-Hamas war, met in Jerusalem as part of Washington’s latest efforts to secure a truce in the Gaza Strip. The meeting came as truce negotiations resumed in Cairo, after Hamas on Monday announced it had accepted a ceasefire proposal from mediators Egypt and Qatar. Israel has defied international objections and sent tanks into Rafah, the Hamas-ruled territory’s southernmost city on the Egyptian border which is packed with Palestinian civilians sheltering. Overnight between Monday and Tuesday, Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of the key Rafah border crossing, which is the main conduit for aid into the besieged territory.

Air strikes, gunfire, explosions in Rafah

A humanitarian worker in Rafah has reported hearing massive explosions, air strikes and gunfire after the Israeli army launched an assault on the city. “After the Israeli military started ground operations in the eastern part of the city, we have been witnessing massive explosions, exchange of fire that are sounding from the eastern side of the city, but also airstrikes in different areas across the entire Rafah governorate, where over one million people are crammed,” Hisham Mhanna, a worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Rafah, told Deutsche-Welle. “We have also been witnessing large waves of displacement people fleeing from the eastern side of the city, the areas that received the evacuation notes, carrying whatever they could carry quickly, moving in cars and other vehicles and even carts dragged by donkeys, and many others were walking on foot carrying heavy backpacks,” Mhanna said. “Children, women, elderly of all ages are now forced to evacuate towards no clear destination.” Mhanna said the the ICRC continued to support what remains of the health care system and provide hot meals to thousands of people. But this is not enough to help Palestinian civilians who are trapped in the besieged territory, he added.

‘36 new Palestinian deaths in Rafah’ reports

At least 36 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks and ongoing fighting in and around Rafah in the past 24 hours, according to the local Kuwait Hospital. DW quotes the hospital authorities saying children were among the dead after their house was hit by an Israeli airstrike. A further 19 people have been killed across the rest of the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, bringing the total Palestinian death toll since the start of the current conflict to 34,844 and those injured to 78,404. At least 15,002 children have died in the Gaza Strip since the Israeli offensive was launched, according to the Press service of the authorities of the enclave, controlled by Hamas, writing on its Telegram channel, reported by Tass. At least 30 children have died of malnutrition. Furthermore, approximately 17,000 minors have been orphaned or lost one of their parents due to the fighting.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) reported that several Hamas militants had been killed in various skirmishes in Rafah, where eyewitnesses reported ongoing Israeli attacks to the dpa news agency. Meanwhile, Rafah’s main maternity hospital has stopped admitting patients, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Wednesday. UNFPA told Reuters the Emirati Maternity Hospital had been handling about 85 births per day – almost half of total daily births across Gaza – prior to the escalation in fighting between Hamas and the IDF outside Rafah.

EU eyes first-ever sanctions on Russia’s LNG sector

The EU is considering expanding its sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine to target Russia’s liquefied natural gas sector, EU diplomats said Wednesday. The aim is to further hit Russia’s revenues from fossil fuels as there have been growing concerns that previous sanctions have not hurt as much as the EU wishes. EU ambassadors discussed the LNG proposal during a meeting Wednesday but an EU diplomat said the talks were still in the early stages. The EU has already unleashed 13 rounds of unprecedented sanctions against Russia since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, many of which target its key oil and gas exports. The latest proposal by the European Commission contains “elements on ship-to-ship transfers of LNG”, another EU diplomat told AFP. This would entail a ban on ports in the European Union re-exporting Russian LNG to third countries outside the bloc, but the diplomat said EU states could still import the fuel. “This provision does not affect imports into the EU,” a document seen by AFP also said. European ports matter for Russia since the continent offers shorter transport routes for certain Russian LNG tankers, according to experts. Ports in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain are the main points for LNG deliveries from Russia’s Siberian Yamal Peninsula, said the German environmental organisation, Urgewald.

Russia launches missile, drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had launched a massive early morning missile and drone attack on energy facilities across Ukraine. Writing on his X handle, Zelensky said more than 50 missiles and 20 drones were used in the attack, which marks the latest in a string of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid, which Moscow insists is a legitimate military target. The strikes targeted seven regions across the country and took place on a major national holiday commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two. Writing on social media, Zelensky drew parallels between the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime as “Moscow Nazis”. Russia’s defence ministry said its attacks were in response to Ukrainian strikes on their energy facilities. While Ukraine has targeted several Russian oil facilities in recent weeks, Russia has bombarded Ukrainian power plants ever since the start of winter in 2022. The latest Russian campaign targeting Ukraine’s energy grid began in March. Waves of attacks have forced authorities in Ukraine to impose rolling blackouts in several regions. According to Ukraine’s largest energy provider, DTEK, at least three thermal power plants were seriously damaged in Wednesday’s attack, the fifth on the company’s facilities in seven weeks.

Brussels to send €3bn from frozen Russian assets to Ukraine

EU diplomats agreed Wednesday to use income from frozen Russian state assets to aid Ukraine – paving the way for the war-torn country to get around €3 billion for arms purchases and reconstruction before the summer. Since the 2022 invasion, €210 billion in assets of the Moscow central bank have sat frozen within the bloc – chiefly at the Euroclear depositary in Belgium. The deal was agreed “in principle” at a regular meeting of national representatives, according to a tweet by Belgium, currently chairing talks in the European Council. But Ukrainian ministers have said Brussels needs to go further than merely scooping up interest payments – and fully confiscate Moscow’s assets to ensure the aggressor pays for the cost of war. Officials from EU countries and the European Central Bank have expressed concerns that seizing assets outright might set an unhelpful precedent or harm the euro’s reputation as a safe currency.

China’s Xi in Hungary to celebrate ‘new era’ with Orbán

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will host Chinese President Xi Jinping in Budapest today in a bid to strengthen already flourishing ties between Beijing and its closest EU ally. The state visit to Hungary is the last leg of Xi’s European tour, his first since 2019. Earlier this week, the Chinese leader kicked off his trip in France – a visit that was cordial but also highlighted tensions between Beijing and the EU over the war in Ukraine and global trade. After visiting non-EU partner Serbia, Xi arrived in Budapest on last night. In an op-ed published in Hungary’s pro-government Magyar Nemzet daily ahead of his arrival in Budapest, Xi praised a “long-standing friendship” he described “as mellow and rich as Tokaji wine”, referring to the renowned Hungarian vineyards region. Frequently at loggerheads with Brussels, Orbán has been advocating an “Eastern opening” foreign policy since his return to power in 2010, seeking closer economic ties to China, Russia and other Asian countries.

Biden feels Trump will not accept US presidential election result

Joe Biden, assuming he will win the US presidential election in November, has prophesied that his Republican rival Donald Trump “will not accept” the result of the vote, as he did in 2020. “He may not accept the outcome of the elections, I assure you that he will not accept it,” the US president said in an interview with CNN. “Look, I travel around the world, I see other world leaders, and you know what everyone says? It’s not a joke: 80 per cent, after we have an important meeting, say ‘You have to win: my democracy is at play’”. Biden went on to say that comments made by Trump on the campaign trail demonstrate how he will bend the presidency to his own ends if he regains the White House. “He is saying that he will make sure that his attorney general prosecutes those he tells him to prosecute and if he doesn’t he will fire him,” Biden noted, recalling the tycoon’s promise to be ‘your revenge’. “What president has ever said something like that?” he asked.

The cause of deafness is in Beethoven’s hair

Two locks of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair could be the cause of the deafness that afflicted the German composer since he was less than 30 years old. According to two American scholars and an Australian enthusiast, who published the results of their analyses in the journal Clinical Chemistry, it was the lead, present in very high doses in the composer’s hair, that made him prematurely deaf and caused other serious health problems, including constant abdominal cramps, flatulence and diarrhea, of which Beethoven often complained. The research brought together William Meredith, director of the Beethoven Centre at San Josè State University, Australian businessman Kevin Brown and Paul Jannetto of the Mayo Clinic. Determined to honour the composer’s request that, after his death, doctors finally try to explain why he had been so ill in life, Brown sent two of Beethoven’s three locks to a specialized Mayo laboratory capable of isolating heavy metals, in his possession for analysis. The results were surprising: one of the strands had 258 micrograms of lead per gram of hair, the other 380 – well above the normal levels of 4 micrograms per gram: “This is definitive evidence that Beethoven was exposed to other concentrations of lead,” Jannetto told The New York Times.

Champions League: It’s Real Madrid, Dortmund final

Real Madrid will face Borussia Dortmund in this year’s Champions League final. This follows their dramatic 2-1 win over Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. The game was delicately poised at 2-2 after the first leg at the Allianz Arena. And it was Thomas Tuchel’s men who took the lead in Spain through substitute Alphonso Davies. However, Real struck twice in the dying minutes of the clash at the Bernabeu to seal their place in the final. Carlo Ancelotti’s men will be looking to win the competition for an incredible 15th time at Wembley on June 1.

Olympic flame arrives in France

After 12 days at sea, the Olympic flame has arrived in France from Greece. Tens of thousands of onlookers were on hand at the southern French port of Marseille to greet the crew of the 19th-century three-mast sailing ship, ‘Belem’, which transported the symbolic cargo from the ancient home of the  Olympic Games to the shores of the host of this summer’s event. The flame was carried from board by Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Florent Manaudou. “With the arrival of the flame, the country enters the games,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at the city’s old port. The flame will now make its way passing from hand to hand through the country. Athletes, public figures and ordinary citizens will carry it past French heritage sites. Eventually, it will be used to light the Olympic cauldron in Paris during the games’ opening ceremony on July 26.

Photo: Manfred Weber, President of the EPP (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP).

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