G20 concern over escalating international conflicts

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 22nd February 2024

The G20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro ended their first day on Wednesday amid a latent concern over the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine and a call for peace and solidarity by some member countries. The event, which brings together the foreign ministers of the world’s largest economies, was held behind closed doors except for the opening speech by Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, broadcast live on social media. The first G20 ministerial meeting since Brazil assumed the presidency of the forum began with a call by the host country for peace and cooperation, which are needed in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change, the foreign minister said. Mexico also called for a return to solidarity and humanism in international relations. “Peace is not found in force, but in equality, justice, and law,” said Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena during the meeting, according to a message later published by the diplomat on social media. The head of Brazilian diplomacy took advantage of his speech to reiterate Brazil’s call for the reform of multilateral organisations, an issue that will be discussed today, and is promoted by the South American country during its presidency. The foreign minister criticised the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in dealing with conflicts such as those in Ukraine and Gaza, saying that its paralysis leads to the deaths of innocent civilians. The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said the G20 remains a “paramount forum” for addressing today’s complex global challenges.

Baerbock tells Lavrov to end Ukraine war ‘now’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called out her Russian counterpart Wednesday, saying Russia ought to end the war in Ukraine. “If you care about human lives, if you care about your own people, Russian children and young people, you must end this war now,” the German top diplomat told Sergey Lavrov. The two were seated at the same table as they participated in a foreign ministers’ meeting of the world’s 20 richest economies.

EU targets Chinese companies in new sanctions on Russia

The European Union agreed on Wednesday to slap Russia with a new round of sanctions, which for the first time target companies in mainland China suspected of helping the Kremlin get hold of forbidden items. The sanctions have a heavy focus on fighting circumvention and go after firms around the world accused of providing Russia with advanced technology and military goods manufactured in the EU, particularly drone components. Companies from Turkey and North Korea, among other countries, have also been targeted. Nearly 200 people and entities, mostly from Russia, have been added to the blacklist, which now contains more than 2,000 names. The package, however, does not cover any person allegedly involved in the death of Alexei Navalny, the most prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin.  

UK sanctions officials at Russian penal colony

The UK government imposed sanctions on Wednesday on six top officials at the Arctic penal colony where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died last week, saying they were responsible for the brutal treatment he suffered in the final months of his life. The six officials, targeted under UK human rights laws, include Colonel Kalinin, who oversees the prison camp where Navalny was held in solitary confinement for up to two weeks at a time. Navalny, a 47-year-old anti-corruption campaigner and former presidential candidate, was also denied medical treatment and forced to walk outdoors in temperatures dropping to minus 32 degrees Celsius, said the UK Foreign Office.

Knesset adopts motion against Palestinian state recognition

By an expected overwhelming majority, the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, voted to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration opposing the “unilateral” creation of Palestinian state, following growing international calls for the revival of efforts to reach a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement that 99 of 120 lawmakers voted to support the declaration passed earlier this week by the cabinet. The Israeli position also says that any permanent accord with the Palestinians would have to be reached through direct negotiations between the sides, and not by international dictates. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also voted for the resolution.

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza

Heavy fighting rocked besieged Gaza on Wednesday as aid agencies warned of looming famine and new talks were held in Cairo towards an Israel-Hamas ceasefire and hostage release deal. Global concern has spiralled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack against Israel. Combat and chaos again stalled sporadic aid deliveries for desperate civilians in Gaza, where the UN has warned the population of 2.4 million is on the brink of famine and could face an “explosion” of child deaths. The UN World Food Programme said it was forced to halt aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence” after a truck convoy encountered gunfire and was ransacked by looters. Hamas called the move a “death sentence”.

Israeli minister rejoices at Gazans’ distress

In a shocking display of schadenfreude, Israel’s Minister for the Advancement of Women, May Golan, has expressed pride in the “ruins” of besieged Gaza and claimed every Palestinian baby will tell their grandchildren “what the Jews did”. “I am proud of the ruins of Gaza,” she callously declared in a speech rife with hostility on Wednesday. With a chilling disregard for the people of Gaza, she went on to state, “I don’t care about Gaza, I literally don’t care. For all I care, they can go out and just swim in the sea.” Throughout her speech, which the minister later shared on her social media platform X, her sole focus remained squarely on the obliteration of Gaza. This isn’t the first time Golan has courted controversy. She has a history of making racially-charged and Islamophobic remarks, particularly targeting African refugees in Israel. Dubbing them “Muslim infiltrators”, Golan has promoted dangerous stereotypes, including baseless claims about the spread of diseases. More Israeli strikes continued to pound Gaza, with 118 people killed in the last 24 hours. Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 29,313 Palestinians and wounded 69,333 others.

Seat of EU anti-money laundering authority to be chosen today

There are big expecations in the corridors of the EU headquarters in Brussels for today’s vote on the seat of the new European anti-money laundering authority, the AMLA. Nine cities are in the race. The high number of candidates and the voting method make every prediction complicated. For the first time, the host city of a European agency will be decided jointly by the EU Parliament and the Council, and not just by the states as in the past, on the recommendation of the EU Court. The vote will be secret and divided between the representatives of the States and the European Chamber, with 27 votes each. The winner among the nine will be decided by a simple majority of the votes cast. For the states, each delegation should field its own representative, while for the EP the rapporteurs will vote, plus the shadow rapporteurs, even if the exact composition will actually be decided by the two commissions involved: the one for the Economy (Econ) and the one for Justice (Libe). The decision is expected during the night. The candidate cities are Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Riga, Vienna, and Vilnius.

UK Speaker condemned for handling of the Gaza ceasefire debate

An opposition day debate on a Gaza ceasefire descended into chaos at the UK House of Commons, with SNP MPs and some Conservatives storming out in an apparent protest at the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. ITV News reports Conservative and SNP politicians were furious at the way Sir Lindsay defied parliamentary convention by selecting a Labour amendment on the SNP’s Gaza ceasefire motion. The expectation had been that despite Labour shifting their stance by tabling an amendment calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, MPs would not even be able to vote on it and would be forced to choose between the SNP’s and the government’s wording instead. Instead, Sir Lindsay decided the Commons would first vote on Labour’s calls for an “immediate ceasefire” before the SNP motion. Labour’s amendment calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza passed, heading off any Labour revolt on the ceasefire. SNP Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn has called for an investigation into the “circus” following the debate led by his party. The SNP leader suggested that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Lindsay “colluded to block Parliament voting on the SNP motion for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.”

UK court concludes hearing over new Assange extradition

Britain’s High Court on Wednesday finished hearing two days of arguments over whether to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a fresh appeal against his extradition to the United States to face espionage charges. Two senior judges heard evidence from his lawyers and those representing Washington, and opted against making an immediate decision on what is likely Assange’s final UK bid to block extradition. “We will reserve our decision,” Madam Justice Victoria Sharp said as the latest legal proceedings in the long-running case concluded. It is unclear when she and Mr Justice Jeremy Johnson will issue their ruling. Washington indicted Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, multiple times between 2018 and 2020 over its publication of hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files on the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winter drought grips southern Europe, northern Africa

Drought plaguing the Mediterranean has failed to recede over winter months that brought below-average rainfall, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service has reported, prompting water restrictions and state of emergency declarations. Just over 45 per cent of southern Europe suffered from soil drought, with 2.8 per cent reaching the highest “alert” level, over the first 10 days of February, according to the latest data from the European Drought Observatory (EDO) analysed by AFP. Meanwhile a quarter of all Europe and northern Africa is under drought conditions, according to Copernicus, with 19.3 per cent of the region’s soil at a “warning” level, meaning a moisture deficit is underway. An alert level is impacting 2.5 per cent of the region, meaning vegetation is growing abnormally due to the advanced stage of the drought, according to calculations by AFP.

Cancer experts demand urgent world investment

Donors and philanthropists were urgently called upon to fund millions of pounds of vital cancer research amid a grim warning that cases will soar by 50 per cent by 2040. More than 50 UK charities and experts argued the scientific community now stood at a ‘tipping point’ requiring a united global response to tackle the disease. In an open ‘letter to the world’, the coalition said the next decade presented a ‘unique opportunity’ to transform cancer treatment for millions, fuelled by advances in AI and technology. Philanthropic support would enable developments including new blood tests to detect the disease earlier and algorithms predicting someone’s cancer risk.

At least 23 dead after gold mine collapses in Venezuela

At least 23 people have died in central Venezuela after a wall of earth collapsed at an illegally-operated gold mine, known as Bulla Loca in the jungles of the state of Bolivar, while some 200 people were at work. Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Carlos Perez Ampueda published a video of the incident on X, and referred to “a massive” toll, though he provided no numbers. The video showed a wall of earth slowly collapsing upon people at work in the shallow waters of an open-pit mine. Some managed to flee while others were engulfed.

Poland probes pro-Putin banner at farmers’ protest

Poland’s Interior Minister Marcin Kierwinsk on Wednesday said prosecutors were investigating the appearance at a farmers’ protest of a banner glorifying Russian President Vladimir Putin. With farmers have been demonstrating across Europe for numerous reasons in recent months, Polish farmers are particularly aggrieved by what they consider is unfair competition from Ukrainian imports. The sheet of material, stapled to the front of a tractor and appearing alongside a Soviet flag, read: “Putin – Put Ukraine, Brussels and our rulers in order.” It appeared at a demonstration on a motorway near the village of Gorzyczki, close to the Czech border. Polish farmers have been staging a border blockade in protest against European Union agricultural policy, as well as imports of cheaper Ukrainian grains and other products, which they say are pushing down prices. Poland’s interior minister called the banner “scandalous,” and said it had been immediately secured by police. “There will be no consent to such criminal activities,” he said. Under Polish law, the public promotion of a totalitarian system is punishable with up to three years in prison. A spokesperson for the Solidarity farmers’ union said the banner was unacceptable, but rejected the suggestion that Moscow’s agents were seeking to influence the protest movement.

South Korea orders striking doctors back to work

The South Korean government on Wednesday ordered thousands of striking trainee doctors to return to work, claiming their walkout was ‘not justified’. More than 8,800 junior doctors, or 71 per cent of the trainee workforce, had stepped down amid anger over the reforms. These resignations have not been approved, but about 7,810 of the trainees have instead just walked off their jobs entirely.The trainee doctors are angered by South Korea’s plans to sharply increase the number of medical students in the country. The government says the reforms are necessary because of a shortage of qualified physicians. But the protesters say better work conditions and compensation are needed before increasing the number of students. “A collective action holding the lives and safety of the people cannot be justifed for whatever reason,” Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min said during a media briefing.

Photo: Bruna Prado/Associated Press

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