EU announces €7.4 billion package of aid for Egypt

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 18th March 2024

The European Union announced a 7.4-billion-euro aid package for Egypt, amid concerns of migrants flooding the country from Israel and making the voyage across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Egyptian Abdel Fattah el-sissi signed the deal on Sunday in Cairo, though the agreement was criticised because of Egypt’s human rights record, the Associated Press reported. “Your visit today represented a very important milestone in the relations between Egypt and the European Union,” El-sissi told visiting European leaders, including those from Belgium, Italy, Austria, Cyprus and Greece, who attended the signing. El-sissi added that the deal helps achieve a “paradigm shift in our partnership”.

The 7.4-billion-euro deal consists of grants and loans for the next three years, and about 5 billion euros of the funds are considered macro-financial assistance. Both sides agreed to a “strategic and comprehensive partnership”, which could lead to an expansion of the Egypt-EU cooperation that benefits both non-economic and economic areas. “The European Union recognises Egypt as a reliable partner and its unique and vital geostrategic role as a pillar of security, moderation and peace in the Mediterranean, Near East and African region,” the two parties said in a joint statement after the summit.

The package drew criticism from international rights groups over Egypt’s human rights record. Amnesty International decried the deal and urged European leaders not to be complicit with human rights violations taking place in Egypt. “EU leaders must ensure that the Egyptian authorities adopt clear benchmarks for human rights, said Amnesty International’s Head of the European Institutions Office, Eve Geddie in a statement. Geddie pointed to Egypt’s restrictions on media and freedom of expression and a crackdown on civil society.

Putin wins election in a landslide with record turnout

President Vladimir Putin won a record post-Soviet landslide in Russia’s election on Sunday, cementing his grip on power though thousands of opponents staged a noon protest at polling stations and the United States said the vote was neither free nor fair. For Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel who first rose to power in 1999, the result is intended to underscore to the West that its leaders will have to reckon with an emboldened Russia, whether in war or in peace, for many more years to come. The result means Putin, 71, will easily secure a new six-year term that would enable him to overtake Josef Stalin and become Russia’s longest-serving leader for more than 200 years. Putin won 87.8 per cent of the vote, the highest ever result in Russia’s post-Soviet history, according to an exit poll by pollster the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). The Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VCIOM) put Putin on 87 per cent. First official results indicated the polls were accurate. Communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov came second with just under four per cent, newcomer Vladislav Davankov third, and ultra-nationalist Leonid Slutsky fourth, results suggested.

While Putin’s re-election was not in doubt given his control over Russia and the absence of any real challengers, the former KGB spy wanted to show that he has the overwhelming support of Russians. Nationwide turnout was 74.22 per cent when polls closed, election officials said, surpassing 2018 levels of 67.5 per cent. According to Russia’s Central Election Commission, Putin had some 87 per cent of the vote with about 80 percent of the ballots counted. Putin hailed the result as an indication of “trust” and “hope” in him.

At a news conference after the polls closed in Russia’s presidential vote, Putin commented on the recent death of Alexey Navalny. Referring to the late opposition leader by name, which Putin has famously never done, the Russian president said: “As for Mr Navalny. Yes, he passed away. This is always a sad event. But we’ve had other cases when people passed away in places of detention. Doesn’t this happen in the US? It’s happened more than once.” Putin also stated that he had agreed to release Navalny in a prisoner swap: “A few days before Navalny passed away, some colleagues (not administration employees) told me that there was an idea to exchange Mr. Navalny for some people in prison in Western countries. You can believe me or not, [but] the person who was a speaking to me hadn’t finished their sentence [before] I said, ‘I agree.’ But, unfortunately, what happened happened.” Putin added that he agreed to exchange Navalny on the condition that he would not return to Russia. “I agreed on one condition: We’ll [exchange] him but he cannot return, let him sit there. But this happens and nothing can be done about it,” he said. Putin’s speech was broadcast on Russian state television channel Rossiya-24.

WHO appeals to Israel to halt planned assault on Rafah

The head of the World Health Organisation has appealed to Israel “in the name of humanity” not to launch an assault on Rafah, where most of Gaza’s population is sheltering. “I’m gravely concerned about reports of an Israeli plan to proceed with a ground assault on Rafah,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X. “Further escalation of violence in this densely populated area would lead to many more deaths and suffering,” he added. “In the name of humanity, we appeal to Israel not to proceed and instead to work towards peace.” An evacuation planned by the Israeli army ahead of launching its assault was not a practical solution, he argued. “The 1.2 million people in Rafah do not have anywhere safe to move to. “There are no fully functional, safe health facilities that they can reach elsewhere in Gaza,” he said. “Many people are too fragile, hungry and sick to be moved again. “This humanitarian catastrophe must not be allowed to worsen.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the military’s “plans for action in Rafah”, according to a statement Friday, which gave no details or a timeline. The United Nations and the United States have also repeatedly warned against such a military operation. Netanyahu has for weeks vowed to continue the war, having promised to destroy Hamas in the wake of the October 7 attack.The Hamas attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures. Israel has carried out relentless bombardment and a ground  invasion in response that has killed at least 31,553 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry.

Israelis launch ‘precise operation’ on Al-Shifa hospital

The Israel Defence Forces announced an operation is underway at Gaza’s largest hospital on Monday morning local time. Troops are carrying out a ‘precise operation’ following intelligence that senior Hamas officials were using the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City as a command centre to plan and carry out terror attacks, the IDF said in a statement. Loud bangs caused the sky to light up in unverified video footage posted on social media with one person claiming the area was under siege’ and a ‘complete mess’ in what was described as an ‘Israeli bombardment’.  IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari stated that the operation was targeting limited areas within the hospital complex based on ‘concrete intelligence that demanded immediate action’.  ‘Our targeted mission isn’t just an operational necessity; it’s a global imperative,’ he said in video footage posted on the IDF’s X page. ‘Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza. We seek no harm to the civilians that Hamas is hiding behind’ Hagari said.

Netanyahu hits back at criticism

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has railed against growing criticism from the United States against his leadership amid the devastating war with Hamas, describing calls for a new election as “wholly inappropriate”. US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the country’s highest-ranking Jewish official and a strong Israel supporter, called on Israel to hold a new election, saying Netanyahu had “lost his way”. US President Joe Biden expressed support for Schumer’s “good speech” and earlier accused Netanyahu of hurting Israel because of the huge civilian death toll in Gaza. Netanyahu told Fox News that Israel never would have called for a new US election after the September 11 attacks in 2001, and denounced Schumer’s comments as inappropriate. “We’re not a banana republic,” he said. “The people of Israel will choose when they will have elections, and who they’ll elect, and it’s not something that will be foisted on us.” When asked by CNN whether he would commit to a new election after the war ends, Netanyahu said that “I think that’s something for the Israeli public to decide”.

45 migrants rescued at sea as boat capsizes

An overcrowded boat with around 75 migrants on board capsized during Sunday night off the coast of Zuwara, Libya: 45 ended up in the sea and were rescued. The Geo Barents – fresh from Saturday’s near-collision with a Libyan coast guard patrol boat which had tried to seize one of the dinghies from the Doctors Without Borders ship during a rescue operation –  during the night came across a fiberglass boat full of passengers. In the frenetic stages of the rescue, 45 of the approximately 75 people on board fell into the water. “Fortunately, informs MSF, everyone was saved by our teams on the Geo Barents and are now recovering on board. Some are weak and in shock”. The ship, which carries around 250 migrants in tota was assigned the port of Marina di Carrara by the Italian authorities. They are expected to reach it on Wednesday.

Spanish farmers stage fresh protests in Madrid

Hundreds of farmers paraded through  the Spanish capital on foot and by tractor on Sunday in the latest protest over the crisis facing the agricultural sector. The farmers marched from the Ministry of Ecological Transition to the Ministry of Agriculture after the European Union proposed legislative changes to drastically ease the environmental rules of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Friday. Rallied by their trade union, farmers carried banners proclaiming “We are not delinquents” to the sound of horns and whistles. One decorated his tractor with a mock guillotine. Friday’s concessions in Brussels aimed to loosen compliance with some environment rules, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said. While the move was welcomed by Spain’s left-wing government, some environmental NGOs criticised the measures. “We are faced with a pile of bureaucratic rules that make us feel more like we are at an office than on a farm,” the trade union behind Sunday’s march, Union de Uniones, said with reference to requirements “that many small and medium-sized farms” cannot “cope with”. Sunday marked the fourth demonstration in Madrid since the start of the wider European farm protest movement in mid-January.

Uber’s massive $272million payout to 8,000 Australian taxi drivers

Uber will cough up almost $272million to compensate taxi and hire car drivers who lost out when the rideshare company ‘aggressively’ moved into the Australian market. A class action against Uber was expected to go to trial at the Supreme Court of Victoria today but lawyers said it would be abandoned after the rideshare giant agreed to the mammoth settlement. It was the fifth-largest class action settlement in Australia’s history and holds Uber to account, five ‘gruelling’ years after lawyers launched the action on behalf of more than 8,000 taxi and hire car owners and drivers, the lawyers said. The drivers and car owners lost income and licence values because of Uber’s aggressive arrival into the market and the company tried to deny them compensation at every turn.

Fiorentina director ‘critical but stable’

Fiorentina’s football match against Atalanta on Sunday had to be postponed after the club’s general manager Joe Barone was rushed to hospital. The 57-year-old reportedly became ill at the team hotel in nearby Bergamo. Italian media reports that the situation is serious and it is said that some of the players were present when Barone fell ill. He is currently hospitalised in the cardiac surgical intensive care unit of the San Raffaele hospital in Milan directed by Prof. Zangrillo. “The clinical conditions are critical but stable,” says the club in a note, adding, “Barone is currently treated with the most advanced therapies in terms of support of cardiac functions.” A new update will be released later today.

Photo: Stavros Ioannides / AFP

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