EU celebrates ‘largest-ever enlargement’ anniversary

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 2nd May 2024.

The EU put on a colourful display to celebrate Wednesday’s 20th anniversary of the biggest enlargement in its history. The EU Commission in Brussels, the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and the EU buildings in Luxembourg all lit up in blue and yellow – projecting the slogan “20 Years Together”. Ten new countries joined the bloc on 1st May 2004. With the exception of Cyprus and Malta,  all were from eastern Europe – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. And that brought the number of member states from 15 to 25. The move increased the bloc’s population by almost 75 million people overnight, making it one of the world’s largest single markets. Countries that joined the EU in 2004 have since enjoyed substantial economic growth. The economies of Malta, in particular, more than doubled, while Slovakia grew by 80 per cent, according to EU data. Since the 2004 enlargement, around 26 million jobs have emerged in the EU – six million of them were created in the 10 new EU countries. The bloc’s expansion also allowed an additional 2.7 million young people to take part in the Erasmus + programme.

EU probes Facebook, Instagram over election disinformation

The European Commission has launched an investigation into Facebook and Instagram amid concerns they are failing to curb online disinformation. The probe relates to the handling of political advertising in the run-up to June’s European elections. The EU is particularly wary about Russian attempts to manipulate public opinion and undermine democracy. The Commission said it suspected the moderation of adverts by Meta was “insufficient” and a proliferation of paid spots in such conditions could damage “electoral processes and fundamental rights, including consumer protection rights”.

French policemen injured in May Day explosion

Seven policemen were hospitalised following the explosion of a homemade bomb that was thrown at them during the May Day demonstration in Paris, sources from the Paris prefecture told BFM TV. The incident occurred around 4pm when the rally from République to Nation was in full swing. According to the CGT union, some 50,000 people took part. The union speaks of over 200,000 demonstrators across the country, but the mobilisation was much lower than last year’s two million, when there was a full battle against the pension reform. In Marseille there were 3,000 demonstrators for the police, in Rennes just over a thousand, in Nantes 3,500, and in Lyon, where there were accidents and over 20 arrests, 6,500.

Following some tension, scuffles and police charges were recorded immediately after the start of the demonstration in Paris, which saw around 30 people being arrested. Many carried Palestinian flags and slogans against Israel, and there is a large group of protesters against the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, which will begin on July 26. The latter also set fire to a reproduction of the five rings, symbol of the Olympics.

Moscow basks in Western war ‘trophies’ taken from Ukraine

A crowd flocked to Moscow’s Victory Park on Wednesday to see NATO countries’ military ‘trophies’ brought back from the Ukrainian battlefields, including armoured vehicles, drones and rocket launchers. On a sunny Moscow May Day, families and couples went to see weapons such as a damaged American-made tank on the opening day of a show organised by the army. Around 40 military vehicles of all sizes were on display. Among the most photographed were a severely-damaged American Abrams tank, a German Leopard 1 and a French AMX-10. The army did not say where exactly they were taken – or at what cost – only that they came from Russian-occupied eastern and southern Ukraine.

The location of the show was chosen symbolically: in the capital’s Victory Park, dedicated to the defeat of the Nazis. Throughout its campaign in Ukraine, Moscow has compared its offensive to the Soviet war effort in World War II, telling Russians it is fighting a similar enemy to the one it did 80 years ago. The show was held before the celebrations of May 9, when Russia celebrates its victory over the Nazis. More than two years after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the climate was one of admiration and patriotism, but also of fear in the face of a conflict that drags on with no end in sight.

‘Moscow used a chemical weapon against Ukrainian forces’ – USA

Russia used a “chemical weapon” against Ukrainian forces, the US State Department has announced. It said Russia used chloropicrin against Ukrainian forces, in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Russia, the Department added in a statement, is using riot control chemicals as a “method of warfare in Ukraine, again in violation of the Convention,” the text adds.

Hundreds detained at May Day rallies in Istanbul

Turkish police on Wednesday arrested more than 200 people who tried to reach Istanbul’s historic Taksim Square for May 1 rallies, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said. Police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse thousands of protesters who defied a ban on celebrating International Workers’ Day there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had outlawed the annual protest on Taksim Square, but the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, called for the rally to go ahead. More than 42,000 police officers were deployed to keep order in the city, Yerlikaya said. Ozel and Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who was re-elected this year on a CHP ticket, joined a march towards Taksim Square, but organisers stopped several miles away as routes were blocked. Some protesters clashed with security forces as they tried to breach the barricades. “If May 1 is not celebrated in the country’s main square, democracy is in trouble. This struggle will continue until Taksim is free,” Ozel said earlier. The Constitutional Court ruled at the end of last year that a ban of demonstrations in Taksim Square violated the right to peaceful assembly.

‘Sinwar views latest hostage deal as trap’ report

Israel’s Channel 12 quotes a source close to Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, as saying that he views the latest hostage exchange and ceasefire proposal as a trap. “The proposal on the table to free the hostages is not an Egyptian proposal, but an Israeli one in an American disguise that contains several booby-trapped clauses,” the report quotes the unnamed source as saying. The source tells Channel 12 that the Lebanese Hezbollah is pressuring Hamas to accept the deal, but Sinwar is reluctant as it does not guarantee an end to the war. The Sinwar confidant also says that recent comments in favour of the deal from Hamas leaders in exile are meaningless as they do not speak for Hamas.

No response has yet arrived from Hamas on the proposed agreement for the truce in Gaza, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We believe that all efforts must be made to convince Hamas to accept the agreement immediately.”

Blinken meets hostage families, urges Hamas to accept deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Hamas to accept the “very strong” cease-fire offer and said returning hostages to their families was a top priority. The diplomat, who is on his seventh trip to the region since the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, was greeted outside his Tel Aviv hotel by Israelis waving US flags and chanting, “Thank you, Biden! Thank you, Blinken!”

“There is a very strong proposal on the table right now. Hamas needs to say yes, and needs to get this done,” Blinken told the crowd. “We will not rest until everyone – men, women, soldiers, civilians, young and old – are back home.” Blinken also met privately with the families of the hostages taken by Hamas militants on October 7, telling them that freeing their loved ones was “at the heart of everything we’re trying to do”. According to Israeli sources, the Jewish state was expecting a response from the Palestinian faction on the draft agreement by yesterday evening.

Meanwhile, after meeting with Blinken, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “doesn’t have any political excuse not to move to a deal for the release of the hostages”. “He has a majority in the nation, he has a majority in the Knesset, and if needed, I’ll make sure he has a majority in the government,” Lapid said on X.

Hamas rejoices over Colombia’s break with Israel

Hamas rejoiced over Colombia’s announcement on the severing of diplomatic relations with Israel. In a statement, the Palestinian faction in power in Gaza called Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s move “a victory”. Announcing the break in diplomatic relations, Petro defined Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu “a genocide” for what is happening in Gaza. Petro is the first left-wing president in the history of Colombia.

Turkey to join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at ICJ

Turkey says it will join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). “Upon completion of the legal text of our work, we will submit the declaration of official intervention before the ICJ with the objective of implementing this political decision,” Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said at a news conference. In January, the ICJ ordered Israel to refrain from acts that could fall under the Genocide Convention and to ensure that its troops do not commit acts of genocide against Palestinians. The order came after South Africa accused Israel of state-sponsored genocide in Gaza. Turkish President Erdogan said at the time that his country would provide documents for the case at the ICJ, also known as the World Court. Israel and its Western allies have dismissed the allegation as baseless.

Gaza Ministry of Health puts death toll at 34,568

Israel’s offensive has killed 34,568 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s Health Ministry. There were at least 33 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said. The ministry added that a total of 77,765 people have been wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants but the UN and multiple humanitarian organisations consider the casualty numbers broadly reliable. The war has displaced about 80 per cent of the population, with hundreds of thousands said to be on the brink of famine. The Gaza war started when Hamas and other Islamist militants staged attacks on southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, on October 7. They also took about 240 hostages. Hamas is believed to still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Police on campus at Columbia and UCLA as protests continue

Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested at university campuses across the US over the past 24 hours. In New York, about 300 protesters were arrested overnight at Columbia University and City College of New York, officials said Wednesday. Discussions are ongoing about what will happen with graduation, the ongoing NYPD presence on campus and the university’s next steps in light of Tuesday night’s events. aNew York City Mayor Eric Adams claimed earlier there were people on campus who should not have been there.

Of the arrests made on New York University’s campus last week, fewer than half were current students, faculty and staff, according to the university. On April 22, 133 individuals were arrested on Gould Plaza on campus and 65 were current students, faculty and staff, the university said.

At least a dozen people were arrested at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as law enforcement moved in to disassemble an encampment. Hundreds of people remained around the Library Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Wednesday afternoon, just hours after law enforcement tore down tents in the area. The protesters locked arms during a demonstration and tents appeared to be back up after police left the premises. At least 30 protesters were cited and several others were arrested after resisting “police action to remove tents or otherwise interfered with the operation”, Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin said.

In Los Angeles, 15 people were injured and one hospitalised at UCLA after a night marred by violence between pro-Palestinian protesters and Israel supporters. The University of California system’s president said. UCLA cancelled classes on Wednesday and the school said police are stationed on campus to “help promote safety”. The UC Office of the President is ordering “an independent external review” of the school’s actions. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block also said the school is conducting a “thorough investigation” that could lead to “arrests, expulsions and dismissals”.

Negotiations with student protesters at Portland State University who occupied a campus library fell through early Wednesday, but about 50 people left the building, the university’s president said. Between 50 and 75 protesters broke into the Branford Price Millar Library on Monday, Portland Police Chief Bob Day previously told CNN.

Campus police removed banners and took a man into custody for spraying an unknown liquid at the University of Pennsylvania’s pro-Palestinian encampment, according to CNN affiliate WPVI. University public safety officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment, however, campus police officers told The Philadelphia Inquirer the person was not affiliated with UPenn.

The White House sought to answer questions about President Joe Biden’s relative silence about the protests by pointing to his condemnation of antisemitism. Biden will deliver the keynote address at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Tuesday, it announced earlier. Former President Donald Trump described watching New York police officers clear the Columbia University building that pro-Palestinian protesters were occupying as “a beautiful thing to watch”.

On Capitol Hill, the House has passed a Bill that would more broadly expand the definition of antisemitism. Supporters of the legislation say it will help combat antisemitism on college campuses, but opponents say it overreaches and threatens to chill free speech.

While the demands among protesters vary at each university, the majority of demonstrations have called for the divestment from companies that support Israel and the war in Gaza.

Von der Leyen condemns police violence in Georgia

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that Georgia is at a crossroads, as the country grapples with protests against government plans to introduce a foreign influence law which critics fear could be used to stifle the press. The Georgian Parliament, during the night, approved the second reading the controversial law, which many consider very similar to the one in force in Russia and therefore have renamed it ‘Russian law’, despite the street protests of recent days and the warnings of the Union European. Von der Leyen said on X, “Georgia is at a crossroads. It should stay the course on the road to Europe.”

Harvey Weinstein prosecutors seek a retrial

American former film producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein was back in court on Wednesday for the first time since his 2020 rape conviction was overturned and a new trial ordered. Prosecutors have asked for a September retrial. The 72-year-old attended the hearing despite being hospitalised shortly after his return to his cell last week. Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala said, “He’s got a lot of problems. He’s getting all kinds of tests. He’s somewhat of a train wreck health-wise.”

Photo: Ken Mürk/ERR

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