EU leaders pay final tribute to Jacques Delors

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 6th January 2024

French President Emmanuel Macron led a solemn formal tribute to Jacques Delors at the Hôtel des Invalides – a Paris military headquarters and army museum – during a state funeral on Friday, stating the legendary former president of the European Commission “reconciled Europe with its future”. A longtime player on the French left, Delors was a key figure in the creation of the single market, the euro, and the development of the EU towards the form it takes today. He died at 98 on 27th December at his home in Paris.

Photo: Ludovic Marain/AFP

“Jacques Delors never tired of exploring, scouting out alternatives and building bridges, always working towards that unchanging horizon that mattered to him above all else: human dignity,” President Macron said. “His path has not been interrupted; he has passed the baton to us.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola were among the officials who attended the funeral. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were also present. After President Macron’s speech, a minute’s silence was observed. The Republican Guard orchestra then played the French and European anthems.

A giant in European politics

Delors was born in Paris on 20th July 1925 into a Catholic family. A French socialist and an admirer of left-wing politician Pierre Mendès France, he joined France’s Socialist Party in 1974 at the age of 49 in the hopes of “being useful”. Delors held the Presidency of the European Commission for three terms between 1985 and 1995 – the longest term to date. A believer in post-war integration, Delors was the driving force behind setting up the Economic and Monetary Union, expanding the borders of the EU, and signing the Schengen agreements. He was also responsible for launching the Erasmus student exchange programme and reforming the Common Agricultural Policy.

Eurozone inflation rises to 2.9% in December

Eurozone inflation rose to 2.9% in December, reversing six months of consecutive falls and raising questions over how soon the European Central Bank would start cutting interest rates, says The Financial Times. The annual rise of consumer prices in the 20 countries that share the euro in December was up from a more than two-year low of 2.4% the previous month, but was slightly lower than the 3% rate forecast by economists.

The reduction of government subsidies on gas, electricity, and food that began last year across Member States has triggered a re-acceleration of annual inflation in much of Europe. Energy prices fell 6.7% in the year to December, compared with an annual decline of 11.5% in the previous month, according to the harmonised index of consumer prices published by Eurostat on Friday. Fresh food prices accelerated in December, rising 6.7%, compared with 6.3% in the previous month. Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices to give a better picture of underlying price pressures, slowed from 3.6% in November to 3.4% in December. Services inflation, which is closely tracked by the ECB to see the impact of rising wages, was flat at 4%.

Photo: AFP

Food raw material prices down by 13.7%, says FAO

The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices of a range of globally traded food commodities, averaged 118.5 points in December, down 1.5% from in November and by 10.1% compared to December 2022. For the whole of 2023, the index was 13.7% lower than the average value of the previous year. The price of grains increased by 1.5%, meat decreased by 1%  and dairy products increased by 1.6%.

Photo: Xinhua/Lian Zhen

Trump imitates Biden’s stuttering and avoids 6th January anniversary

Former US President Donald Trump avoided mentioning the third anniversary of the 6th January Capitol riot and mocked President Joe Biden, who called him a ‘loser’ in a speech hours earlier. Trump held a campaign rally in Sioux Centre, Iowa, on Friday a couple hours after Biden delivered a campaign speech in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, deriding his predecessor for his role in the deadly insurrection.

In a two-hour speech, Trump uttered the words ‘insurrection’ and ‘J6’, but did not directly address the anniversary. Trump took aim at Biden, saying his successor in Pennsylvania stuttered through labelling him a threat to democracy. ‘Did you see him? He was stuttering through the whole thing. He’s a threat to democracy,” said Trump, adding that Biden “couldn’t read the words” or pronounce “democracy”. He did his own impersonation of the president, drawing a reaction from his fans. Trump also imitated Biden not being able to find the exit route after a speech, claiming, “he can’t walk off the stage”. Earlier, Republican presidential candidate Ron Desantis told reporters in Iowa: “Corrupt Joe organised a pathetic election event today in Pennsylvania, which sows fear”. He announced he was considering the possibility of excluding him from the primaries of Florida, the state of which he is governor, due to “the invasion of 8,000 migrants” on the border with Mexico.

Foreign governments paid Donald Trump firms millions while President

Former President Trump’s businesses received at least US$7.8 million from foreign governments, including China, during his time in the White House, a congressional report claims. Officials from Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey, and the Democratic Republic of Congo were among some 20 countries’ representatives who paid money to Trump’s hotel and real estate businesses during his presidency, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee wrote in their report. Such revenues from overseas governments violated a constitutional ban on “foreign emoluments”, the authors said in their report titled ‘White House for Sale’.

Flurry of diplomatic efforts to stop Gaza war escalating

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Europe’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, arrived in the Middle East on Friday to try to halt the spillover of the conflict in Gaza to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Lebanon, and Red Sea shipping lanes. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories from Sunday.

Blinken arrived in Turkey on Friday as part of his fourth Middle East tour since the Israel-Hamas war began and amid mounting fears the Israel-Hamas conflict will become a regional war. Over the next week Blinken will travel to Istanbul, Crete, Amman, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Tel Aviv, the West Bank, Cairo, and Al-’Ula in Saudi Arabia. Turkey is among countries that have offered to mediate. Blinken is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul today before flying to Greece later in the day.

“It is in no one’s interest – not Israel’s, not the region’s, not the world’s – for this conflict to spread beyond Gaza,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Thursday. “We don’t expect every conversation on this trip to be easy.” Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is in Lebanon to discuss the situation at the Israeli-Lebanese border, the EU said.

Baerbock will travel to Israel on Sunday for her fourth visit since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. She will hold talks with Israel’s new Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, as well as President Isaac Herzog, foreign ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer told a regular press conference on Friday. She will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki. Baerbock will subsequently travel to Egypt to meet with her counterpart Sameh Shoukry and also planned to visit Lebanon. Talks would focus on the “dramatic humanitarian situation in Gaza, the situation in the West Bank, and the extremely volatile situation on the Israel-Lebanon border”, as well as efforts to secure the release of more hostages held by Hamas, Fischer said.

Meanwhile, Kibbutz Nir Oz has announced that it had learned that one of its members – 38-year-old father of two and farmer, Tamir Adar – had died and that his body was being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. The kibbutz said Adar was killed by Hamas as early as 7th October and that his remains were taken to the Gaza Strip.

At least 15 Palestinians died and several others were injured following a bombing by Israeli warplanes during the night in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip and Khan Yunis in the south, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Iran arrests suspects over bomb blasts as mourners demand revenge

Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state TV on Friday a number of suspects had been arrested over the attacks claimed by the Islamic State. The explosions killed some100 people on Wednesday at a memorial for top commander Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in Iraq in 2020 by a US drone. He did not elaborate but praied his country’s “capable intelligence agencies” for having “found very good clues regarding elements involved in the terrorist explosions in Kerman”.

According to Reuters, crowds chanted “revenge, revenge” in state TV footage of the funerals in the city of Kerman, the scene of the explosions, described as “the bloodiest such attacks in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution”. Mourners wept over the coffins of victims of two deadly blasts. The explosions came as regional tensions soared and Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza neared the three-month mark.

Hezbollah, Israel clash on border as Lebanon tensions mount

Israel has continued to exchange fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group as fears mount over greater violence following the assassination of a senior Palestinian official near Beirut earlier this week. An Israeli airstrike on an apartment building in a southern Beirut suburb that killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri and others from the Palestinian movement marked a significant escalation in the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel that has persisted since October. It was seen as a violation of the so-called “rules of engagement” between Hezbollah and Israel, with clashes largely limited to the border region bar some Israeli airstrikes north of the Litani River. Lebanon has filed a complaint to the UN over the Tuesday night attack that killed Arouri. Hezbollah has defended its confrontation with Israel as a show of support with Gaza, which has been battered by an Israeli air and ground assault killing around 23,000 people.

Photo: Jalaa Marey / AFP

David Soul dies at 80

Actor-singer David Soul, a 1970s heartthrob who co-starred as the blonde half of the crime-fighting duo Starsky & Hutch and topped the music charts with the ballad ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’, has died at the age of 80. Born David Solberg, Soul was best known for his work in the 1970s. He portrayed detective Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson alongside dark-haired Paul Michael Glaser as detective David Starsky in ‘Starsky & Hutch’, which ran on ABC from 1975 to 1979 and grew so popular it spawned a line of children’s toys. He also had success as a singer, starting in 1976 with ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’ and following with such hits as ‘Going in With My Eyes Open’ and ‘Silver Lady’.

Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

300 dead in Congo floods

At least 300 people have died in the floods caused by heavy rains that have hit the Democratic Republic of Congo since last week, the government reported early this morning. State radio and TV broadcaster, RTNC, quoted Social Affairs Minister Modeste Mutinga saying that at least 43,750 houses had collapsed. During a crisis assessment meeting, he also warned of epidemic risks linked to the lack of sanitation and clean water.

8 tonnes of cocaine seized in Bolivia

Bolivia’s Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking announced it had seized a load of 8.7 tonnes of cocaine yesterday in the Oruro area, in what is the largest anti-drug operation in the history of the South American country. The drugs were camouflaged in crates containing components for wooden floors destined for the Netherlands and have a street value there of $526 million. Police arrested four people, including a Colombian considered the coordinator of the shipment being carried in a heavy vehicle belonging to a company whose owner had in the past exported construction materials to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, China, France, and Belgium. He was also in police custody.

Photo: Bolivia Ministry of Communications/Handout via REUTERS
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