European elections: Right-wing to gain at expense of EPP, S&D

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 20th January 2024

Both the European People’s Party (EPP) Group, the European Parliament’s oldest and largest political family, and the second largest group, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), are expected to shed some seats from their present strength in next June’s European elections to right-wing groups.

The EPP is still expected to emerge as the leading European Parliament’s political group, with 178 MEPs (182 at present), followed by the S&D with 143 MEPs (as against the present 154), according to the results of a survey produced by Euractiv with the help of projections from poll aggregator Europe Elects. The far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) Group – of Salvini, AfD, and Le Pen – is expected to become the third largest group with 93 seats, an increase of 20 seats. This means they will overtake the liberals of Renew Europe, which would have 84 MEPs (108 at present), followed closely by the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), the group of Meloni and the Polish PiS, with 80 MEPs (now at 62). The Greens fared badly in the survey, with an expected group of 50 MEPs (74 at present), as did the left, which could fall below 40. Some 50 MEPs from parties without affiliation are expected to be elected, the largest component of which should be the Italian M5S delegation. According to the survey, they should get 14 MEPs.

The Members of the European Parliament sit in political groups – they are not organised by nationality, but by political affiliation. There are currently seven political groups in the chamber.

2023: highest number of humanitarian emergencies in a decade

The 2020s have not been kind. The decade began with the Covid-19 pandemic and has since seen climate disasters and conflicts impact millions around the world; but last year was particularly difficult. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Friday in a new report that it responded to the highest number of emergencies in a decade last year. The Emergency Preparedness and Response in 2023 report recorded 43 emergency declarations in 29 countries.

Driven by the deadly February earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and Cyclone Mocha that tore through Myanmar and Bangladesh in May, as well as the eruption of internal armed conflict in Sudan in mid-April, UNHCR said new crises plus the deterioration in old unresolved situations have stretched its capacity to respond. “Whether sparked by conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters, or extreme weather events, these emergencies have resulted in a surge of displacement, leaving countless individuals and families in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and protection,” said Dominique Hyde, UNHCR Director of External Relations. “The scale of human suffering is unmeasurable and a stark reminder of the imperative for collective action and solidarity.”

Globally, there were a record 114 million refugees and displaced people in 2023. The number is expected to grow to 130 million this year. The UNHCR says that, despite raising more than $5 billion last year – including $4.6 billion for emergencies and protracted crises – a $400 million shortfall by year-end prevented it reaching everyone targeted for assistance.

Refugees and returnees fleeing conflict in Sudan board trucks at the Joda border point near Renk, South Sudan.
Photo: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

UN accuses Israel of detaining, mistreating thousands of Palestinians

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday accused Israel of detaining thousands of Palestinians in secret locations in Gaza and the West Bank and subjecting them to mistreatment that could amount to torture. Addressing journalists in Geneva by video link from Gaza, Ajith Sunghay, OHCHR representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, said he met “a number” of released detainees who said they’d been held by Israel Defence Forces for between 30 and 55 days. “They described being beaten, humiliated, subjected to ill treatment and to what may amount to torture,” he added. “There are reports of men who were subsequently released – but only in diapers, without any adequate clothing in this cold weather.”

Sunghay also said the released detainees “reported being blindfolded for long periods, some of them for several consecutive days,” and that most said “they were taken at some time into Israel,” though they could not determine specifically where. OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said they had raised concerns with the Israeli authorities about the ill treatment.

“Unfortunately, we have not received any response,” she said. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, has estimated that 1.7 million people are internally displaced, most crammed into overcrowded makeshift shelters in southern Gaza.

20,000 babies born into Gaza war ‘hell’ – UN

Nearly 20,000 babies have been born in conditions “beyond belief” in Gaza since the war there erupted more than three months ago, the United Nations said on Friday. “That’s a baby born into this horrendous war every 10 minutes,” spokeswoman Tess Ingram, back from a recent visit to the Gaza Strip, told reporters in Geneva through a video link from Oman. She described mothers bleeding to death and one nurse who had performed emergency caesareans on six dead women. “Becoming a mother should be a time for celebration. In Gaza, it’s another child delivered into hell,” she said, stressing the need for urgent international action. “Seeing newborn babies suffer, while some mothers bleed to death, should keep us all awake at night.” Ingram described “heartbreaking” meetings with women caught up in the chaos.

Photo: via Social Media

White House, Israel continue to disagree on postwar Gaza

The White House and Israel remain in disagreement about the establishment of a Palestinian state as a political goal for postwar Gaza, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Friday at a White House briefing. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the issue by telephone on Friday, along with efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas and Israel’s shift to more targeted military operations.

Netanyahu said on Thursday that he told the US he opposed Washington’s long-standing support for creation of a Palestinian state following Israel’s war with Hamas. The White House denies that Netanyahu’s statement was a factor in setting up the call, the first in nearly a month. Biden and Netanyahu also discussed “recent progress in ensuring the Palestinian Authority revenues are available to pay salaries, including for the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank,” according to Kirby. Additionally, he said, the leaders discussed “Israel’s responsibility” to protect innocent civilians, even as it maintains military pressure on Hamas. While pushing for a Palestinian state, the US hopes at the same time to broker a normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a long-sought prize with broad economic and security implications for the region.

Kirby added that the US welcomed Israel’s decision to permit the shipment of flour for the Palestinian people directly through Ashdod Port while the US is separately working on options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance into Gaza. Israel has not publicly confirmed the decision to permit the shipment of flour into Gaza, where the United Nations has said there is a growing risk of famine.


Israel strikes southern Gaza hospital

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Red Crescent alleged that Israel targeted a hospital in Khan Younis on Friday, heightening concerns as a significant advancement in the main city of the southern Gaza Strip has damaged the limited healthcare facilities still operational. The Red Crescent said displaced people were injured “due to intense gunfire from the Israeli drones targeting citizens at Al-Amal Hospital” as well as the rescue agency’s base. This week, Israel initiated a military operation in Khan Younis with the objective of securing the city. Israel contends that Khan Younis is now the primary base for Hamas fighters responsible for the 7th October attacks on Israeli towns.

US takes out additional Houthi missiles to avert attacks

The US military pounded Houthi missile launchers in Yemen for the sixth time in the past seven days on Friday, with the White House defending the action as necessary to protect merchant ships and US Navy vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the United States launched three strikes to destroy “Houthi missile launchers that were ready to launch attacks”.

The latest US strikes, like the previous round on Thursday, were carried out by US F-18 fighter jets. The latest US action came just a day after the Iranian-backed group launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles at a US-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden. There were no reported injuries or damage to the ship – the M/V Chem Ranger, a Marshall Island-flagged, US-owned, Greek-operated tanker. The crew saw the missiles land in the water near the ship. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, however, said they had carried out the attack, claiming “direct hits”.

Photo: EPA

China urges end of “harassment” of vessels in the Red Sea

China has meanwhile called for an end to the “harassment” of civilian vessels in the Red Sea. Beijing emphasised Friday the area was an “important international trade route” for goods and energy. “We call for an end to the harassment of civilian vessels, in order to maintain the smooth flow of global production and supply chains and the international trade order,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said. Beijing reiterated on Friday that the Red Sea tensions were linked to the war between Israel and Hamas.

In an interview published on Friday, a senior Houthi official promised safe passage for Russian and Chinese vessels through the Red Sea. Mohammed al-Bukhaiti said the waters around Yemen were safe so long as vessels were not linked to certain countries, particularly Israel.

Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest participation draws protests

Some 1,400 Finnish musicians have joined pro-Palestinian artists and activists in Finland, signing a petition demanding that Israel be excluded from the Eurovision Song Contest. They state that “it is not in accordance with our values that a country that commits war crimes and continues a military occupation is given a public stage to polish its image in the name of music”. A similar campaign was previously staged in Iceland. In Norway, according to local media reports, demonstrators from the Action Group for Palestine gathered in front of the headquarters of the NRK television station in Oslo and demanded that Norway also support the exclusion of Israel. In Ireland, a Labour MP publicly called for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest were Israel to remain in the competition. Meanwhile, the European Broadcasting Union has been repeating its mantra that Eurovision is apolitical. The broadcasting union – an association of 68 broadcasters in 56 countries in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East – has also dismissed accusations that it has double standards, stating that the Russian attack on Ukraine cannot be compared with Israel’s actions in Gaza. Israel made its Eurovision debut in 1973. Since then, it became one of the most successful participants in the competition, having won the contest four times to date, and coming in second or third four times.

Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Nikki Haley says ‘no’ to vice presidency if Trump wins

Nikki Haley made it clear to New Hampshire voters on Friday she won’t serve as former President Donald Trump’s vice president if he wins the Republican nomination. Haley, who’s challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nod, has long said she won’t “play for second”. But, when touring the independent-leaning state this week, she explicitly ruled out being a running mate in November, media reports said. Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is touring New Hampshire ahead of its Tuesday contest and further distancing herself from Trump in a state known for a more moderate brand of Republicanism.


Alec Baldwin indicted for involuntary manslaughter

A grand jury in the United States has indicted Alec Baldwin, 65, for involuntary manslaughter over the 2021 on-set death of Halyna Hutchins, the director of cinematography on the film Rust. The grand jury made its decision after “new elements” emerged in its review of the case. The actor was rehearsing a scene on the set of Rust when the shot that killed Hutchins was fired from the gun he was holding and which should not have contained real bullets. The charge carries a sentence of up to 18 months in prison if convicted.


Haaland is footballer of the year in Dubai’s Globe Soccer Awards

Erling Haaland, the Norwegian footballer from Manchester City, won the best player of the year award at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai. He beat the likes of Jude Bellingham, Karim Benzema, Kevin De Bruyne, Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, Victor Osimhen, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Bernardo Silva, and Vinicius Junior. Cristiano Giuntoli – the sporting director of Juventus – won best sports director while the award for best manager went to Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola. Manchester City was the best club. Cristiano Ronaldo won the award as best player of the year chosen by the fans, beating Jude Bellingham and Lionel Messi. The Portuguese also won the ‘Maradona Award’ as best scorer of the year thanks to the 54 goals scored in 59 matches during the year ahead of Kylian Mbappé (52 goals in 53 games), Harry Kane (52 goals in 57 games), and Erling Haaland (50 goals in 60 games). The Portuguese also took home the ‘Best Player of the Year in the Middle East’ award.

Main photo: Shutterstock/vchal

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