Europe hit by floods in the north, heatwaves in the south

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 19th May 2024.

Heavy rainfall and storms wreak havoc across northern Italy, France and Germany, whilst southern Italy endures an unseasonal heatwave. The storms come as new findings show one in eight Europeans lives in an area at risk of flooding and critical infrastructure also lies in at-risk areas. The report is by the European Environment Agency on the impact of climate change on the entire water cycle, which also includes drought and forest fires. In the last 40 years, violent storms have claimed more than 5,582 victims, and the danger remains high.

Northern Italy has been hit by severe storms and heavy rainfall, leaving several regions, including Padova and Vicenza, submerged. Emergency services have been mobilised, using dinghies to rescue residents from flooded homes, while cars float in the inundated streets. A 17-year-old boy died on Saturday afternoon in the Bari area after being struck by lightning. The victim was engaged in grazing activities together with his father when he was surprised by a violent storm during which he was hit by a powerful electric discharge that made him fall to the ground. It seems that the boy managed to get up but he died shortly after due to cardiac arrest. In contrast, southern Italy is experiencing an unseasonal heatwave, with temperatures soaring to 35°C in Sicily. Sardinia is grappling with very dry conditions, leading to water scarcity and a poor harvest for local wheat farmers, who expect only half their usual yield. Water restrictions are anticipated later in the summer.

France is also experiencing severe weather, with Météo France placing 39 departments under yellow alert for thunderstorms. Residents have been advised to take precautions, including limiting movements and avoiding certain outdoor activities. France also experienced an exceptional rainy episode on Friday due to a vast cold drop that formed over southern Germany. The rain began on Thursday evening and continued unabated until Friday evening – lasting a full 24 hours with sustained intensity.

In western Germany, heavy rainfall has led to flooding and landslides in the state of Saarland. The state capital, Saarbrücken, and other municipalities have seen significant evacuations due to rising water levels. No casualties have been reported so far, but the flooding has necessitated evacuations from residential and retirement homes. Local officials are considering requesting assistance from neighbouring federal states. Chancellor Olaf Scholz cancelled a planned campaign appearance in Saarland to visit the affected areas with state Premier Anke Rehlinger, underscoring the severity of the situation. He assured the state of the federal government’s solidarity.

Pope urges the world to embrace ‘inevitable tension and debate’

Arguments and tensions are inevitable in modern society and should not be brushed under the carpet, Pope Francis told a peace gathering in a Roman amphitheatre in the northern Italian city of Verona, warning that trying to impose a uniform vision fostered frustration and violence. Reuters quotes the Pope saying people needed to learn how to deal with conflict before it got out hand, but also acknolwedge that holding different opinions was healthy. “A society without conflicts is a dead society. A society that hides conflicts is a suicidal society. A society that takes conflicts by the hand is a society of the future,” the pope told some 12,500 people gathered in the ancient arena. “The flaw of dictatorships is not admitting plurality,” he added.

Pope Francis said the world was assailed by wars, but added that ordinary people had to try to build bridges and avoid being dragged into armed conflict at the behest of their leaders. “Ideologies have no feet to walk, no hands to heal wounds, no eyes to see the sufferings of others. Peace is made with the feet, hands, and eyes of the people involved,” he said.

The apex of the event came when the pope embraced Maoz Inon, an Israeli whose parents were killed in Hamas’ October 7 attack, and Aziz Sarah, a Palestinian, whose brother was killed in the war. Calling them “brothers”, Francis proceeded to hug each, calling the embrace ‘a project for the future’. “I don’t think there are any words to add to this,” the pope said, leading the applause for their gesture, which was met by a thunderous standing ovation, but followed by a moment of silence for the victims of the war. The pope makes almost weekly pleas for an end to fighting in multiple conflicts, especially in Ukraine and Gaza, putting the drive for peace at the centre of his 11-year-old papacy. “Don’t stop. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t become spectators of so-called ‘inevitable’ wars,” he told his audience.

Dozens killed, wounded as fighting rages in Rafah, Jabaliya

Israeli troops and tanks on Saturday pushed into parts of a congested northern Gaza Strip district that they had previously skirted in the more than seven-month-old war, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, medics and residents told Reuters. Israel’s forces also took over some ground in Rafah, a southern city next to the Egyptian border that is packed with displaced people and where the launch this month of a long-threatened incursion to crush Hamas hold-outs has alarmed Cairo and Washington.

Israel has conducted renewed military sweeps this month of parts of northern Gaza where it had declared the end of major operations in January. At the time, it also predicted its forces would return to prevent a regrouping by the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza. One site has been Jabalia, the largest of Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps. On Saturday, troops and tanks edged into streets so far spared the ground offensive, residents said. At least 64 Palestinians have died following Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours, according to Al Jazeera’s reports from its correspondents in the field. Israel said an Islamic Jihad commander had been killed as Israeli forces continued their Rafah offensive. The man was said to have been the head of logistics for the group in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The commander was killed in an airstrike east of Rafah, the army said. It said militants’ weapons depots and rocket positions were also destroyed in airstrikes.

Gantz sets 8th June deadline for adoption of new Gaza war plan

Centrist member of Israel’s three-member war cabinet, Benny Ganz, has threatened to resign if the Israeli government does not adopt his six-point plan for the Gaza operation by  June 8. Gantz spoke days after Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the war cabinet, said he would not remain in his post if Israel elected to re-occupy Gaza. Gallant also called on the government to make plans for Palestinian administration of the territory. Gantz spelled out a six-point plan that includes the return of the hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarising the Gaza Strip and establishing an international administration of civilian affairs. It also supports efforts to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia and widen military service to all Israelis. ‘‘If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss, we will be forced to quit the government,’’ Gantz said.

An angry Netanyahu replied to Gantz’s ultimatum, saying that “as our heroic fighters struggle to destroy the Hamas battalions in Rafah, Gantz chooses to issue an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of issuing one to Hamas. The conditions posed by Gantz are empty words, the meaning of which is clear: the end of the war and the defeat of Israel, leaving most of the hostages to their fate, keeping Hamas intact and the creation of a Palestinian state,” Netanyahu added.

Thousands of Israelis again rallied on Saturday evening to demand a deal along with new elections. The latest talks in pursuit of a cease-fire in Gaza, mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, have brought little change and a vision beyond the war is also uncertain.

Aid arrives in Gaza over US-built pier

Some humanitarian supplies have entered Gaza through a temporary floating pier constructed by the US, the Israeli army said in a statement. So far, 310 pallets began moving ashore in “the first entry of humanitarian aid through the floating pier”, the statement said. The pier, over which some 500 tons of aid are expected to be transported in the coming days, was built to deliver supplies to the Palestinian enclave despite key land crossings being closed or operating at limited capacity. However, aid agencies have warned that truck convoys would be by far the most efficient was to transport aid to the Gaza Strip to curb the threat of famine.

Climate protesters disrupt Munich airport

Several climate activists were arrested after breaching the grounds of Munich airport and gluing themselves to the tarmac. Police were deployed to the airport on Saturday morning after climate activists, believed to be from the Last Generation movement, disrupted the hub in protest of climate policy. “The airport is closed for security reasons because climate activists have stuck themselves to the have stuck to the taxiways,” said an airport spokesperson. Initially, all the flights either had to be cancelled or diverted to other airports. Later, an airport representative said one of the two runways was open but there would be delays.

German politicians reacted with outrage to the disruption. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called for the culprits to be “rigorously prosecuted” as they committed “criminal actions endangering air traffic”. Transport Minister Volker Wissing called for heavier penalties for those endangering aviation safety. He also decried the protest as illegitimate.

Kharkiv assault a ‘first wave’ of a longer Russia campaign – Zelensky

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has warned that Russia’s renewed offensive on the northeastern Kharkiv region could be the “first wave” of a longer Russian campaign aimed at capturing the region’s capital city of Kharkiv. Zelenksy told the AFP news agency that the situation in the region was under control but “not stabilised”. Russian troops have been encircling villages close to the city and have captured several since launching an offensive on May 10. Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had partially managed to stop Russian forces from advancing into the region. Russia’s offensive “could consist in several waves. There was the first wave” in the Kharkiv region, Zelenskyy told AFP.  “I won’t say it’s a great success” for Russia, he added.

Georgia’s President vetoes ‘foreign agents’ Bill

In a move aimed at defusing tensions sparked by a controversial “foreign agents” Bill, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili on Saturday vetoed the legislation. The Bill, which has drawn widespread criticism and triggered unprecedented protests, has raised concerns both domestically and internationally about its potential impact on Georgia’s democratic credentials and its European Union aspirations. President Zourabichvili’s veto, however, may only serve to delay the proposed law, as parliament retains the power to override it with an additional vote. The Bill, proposed by the ruling Georgian Dream party and passed by Parliament earlier this week, requires NGOs and media outlets receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as entities “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”. Following the exercise of her veto, President Zourabichvili posted on X: “This law, in its essence and spirit, is fundamentally Russian, contradicting our constitution and all European standards. It thus represents an obstacle to our European path. This law must be repealed!”

Trump receives powereful gun lobby’s endorsement

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful US gun lobby, has once again given its endorsement to Donald Trump shortly before he spoke at his annual convention in Dallas. The tycoon urged gun owners to vote for him and warned that the Second Amendment “is really at stake” in the November elections. “We need to get gun owners to vote,” said Trump, adding, “If Joe Biden gets to stay another four years, they will come to take your guns, it’s 100 per cent certain.”

Guests scream and cry as Guliani is served papers for ‘fake electors case’

The former New York City mayor was tripping the light with pals in Palm Springs Friday night when he was intercepted outside his birthday party at the home of top GOP consultant Caroline Wren by two officials from Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes’ office, sources told The Post.  The pair served Giuliani with a legal notice of his Arizona indictment for allegedly being involved in a plot to overturn the 2020 election in favour of ex-President Donald Trump. Most of the 200 guests were gone by the time the duo showed up around 11 p.m., but some of the stragglers began screaming – including one woman who cried as Giuliani was handed the papers, according to sources.

Giuliani seemed to be enjoying himself throughout the party – celebrated 11 days before his actual birthday on May 28 – even posing for a photo with a bevy of blonde bombshells that he posted on X while taunting Mayes. “If Arizona authorities can’t find me by tomorrow morning: 1. They must dismiss the indictment; 2. They must concede they can’t count votes,” wrote Giuliani in the post, which has since been deleted. “The final defendant was served moments ago. @RudyGiuliani nobody is above the law,” Mayes posted on X late Friday.

EPL: A final day title race

The main event of this afternoon’s UK Premier League finale is, of course, who wins the title between Manchester City and Arsenal. City will start off the day two points clear, but Arsenal have a fractionally better goal difference. If City win at home to West Ham, they are guaranteed an unprecendeted fourth straight Premier League title. Meanwhile, if Arsenal win at home to Everton, and City fail to beat the Hammers, the title will be heading to north London for the first time in 20 years. Should neither team pick up a final day victory, City will keep hold of their crown. Both matches start at 5pm Malta time.

Brazil to host 2027 Women’s Football World Cup

Brazil have been named hosts of the 2027 Women’s World Cup after beating a joint bid by Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany (BNG). They became the first nation to be handed the rights by an open vote, with member associations voting 119 to 78 in favour of Brazil at Fifa’s congress in Bangkok. It will be the first time a Women’s World Cup has been hosted by a South American country. Both bids met hosting criteria, but Brazil scored higher on technical aspects covering areas such as stadia, accommodation, fan zones and transport in a Fifa bid evaluation report. The United States and Mexico withdrew their joint bid in April, saying they would focus on bidding for the tournament in 2031, while South Africa did the same in November.

Boxing: Ukrainian Usyk beats Fury

Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk beat Britain’s Tyson Fury on points to win all four heavyweight boxing belts – the first in 25 years. The match saw Fury very aggressive at the beginning but Usyk gradually took control of the fight until the final success. The Ukrainian thus joins the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Paris Olympics organisers deny beds for athletes are ‘anti-sex’

They may be made of cardboard, but the beds at the athletes’ village for this year’s Paris Olympics have been chosen for their environmental credentials, not to prevent competitors having sex, organisers said. The clarification came after fresh reports that the beds, manufactured by Japanese company Airweave, were to deter athletes from having sex. “The choice of these beds is primarily linked to a wider ambition to ensure minimal environmental impact and a second life for all equipment,” a spokesman for the Paris Games told AFP. The bed bases are made from recycled cardboard, but during a demonstration in July last year Airweave founder Motokuni Takaoka jumped on one of them and stressed that they “can support several people on top”.

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