Germany’s Catholic Church speaks out against far right

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 24th February 2024

German Catholic bishops meeting in the city of Augsburg have strongly condemned the rise of ethnic nationalism and right-wing extremism in society. “Right-wing extremist parties and those that run rampant on the fringes of this ideology can therefore not be a place of political activity for Christians and are also not electable,” they said in a statement. On this point, the bishops made an explicit reference to the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). They said the party’s beliefs are “incompatible with the Christian image of God and humankind”. The head of the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, explained that the more than 60 bishops deliberated at length over making a statement, but agreed it was necessary. He also pointed out that the declaration had been adopted unanimously. They specifically denounced hostility toward refugees, migrants and Muslims, and “to an increasing extent” Jews. Analysts say the statement is highly unusual because for the past 25 years, the German Catholic bishops have been reluctant to offer any assessments of political parties.

House of Commons poised to decriminalise abortion

The UK Parliament is poised to decriminalise abortion in a historic vote next month amid a surge in the number of women facing police investigations. The majority of MPs say women should no longer be prosecuted if they end pregnancies beyond the 24-week legal time limit, The Times can reveal, with less than one in four in favour of criminal action. Women can be jailed under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act if they have an abortion outside set circumstances. Last year a mother of three was sent to prison for an illegal abortion, and about 100 women have faced police investigations since 2019.

German parliament votes to legalise recreational cannabis

The German parliament voted yesterday to legalise the possession and controlled cultivation of cannabis starting in April, despite fierce objections from the opposition and medical associations. Under the new law, it will be possible to obtain up to 25 grams of the drug per day for personal use through regulated cannabis cultivation associations, as well as to have up to three plants at home. But possession and use of the drug will remain prohibited for anyone under 18. The changes will leave Germany with some of the most liberal cannabis laws in Europe, bringing it into line with Malta and Luxembourg, which legalised recreational use of the drug in 2021 and 2023 respectively. Ahead of the vote, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach called on members of parliament to back the controversial law, arguing that “the situation we are in now is in no way acceptable”. Germany has seen a sharp rise in the number of young people using cannabis obtained on the black market.

EU strives to be a force for peace – von der Leyen

“From immigration to organised crime, to strengthening our defence, Europe must step up its efforts, also to be a force for stability and peace,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a video message to the Forza Italia congress. “We can achieve these goals if we work together and are united. It is the commitment of FI and the EPP.”

Meanwhile, speaking at the FI congress, EPP president Manfred Weber said nationalism was growing and June 9 was about our future. We need a strong Europe. The Europe of De Gasperi, Schuman and Adenauer is a promise of great democracy for the world, he said. “Do we really want to destroy all this as the AfP (the German far right) wants to do? Do we want to leave it in the hands of the Le Pens (the French far right) who supported Putin after the occupation of Crimea by Russia? I’m tired of being taught lessons by them: the populists say they love their nations but they are Putin’s puppets. We don’t play with citizens’ fears like the right does; we focus on the economy and security”.

EU to decide on unblocking frozen Poland funding

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says there will be two decisions next week on European Union funds for Poland that will unfreeze a total amount of up to 137 billion euros. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk had earlier said the European Commission was about to release funding that was withheld because of concerns about the erosion of the rule of law in the country. Tusk’s pro-EU government has been tasked with unpicking policies of the previous nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), which had become embroiled in a dispute with the EU over judicial reforms and interventions in state media. He has pledged to reverse the previous government’s policies, but he still faces strong resistance PiS allies, including Polish President Andrzej Duda who is required to sign off on new laws. Von der Leyen visited Warsaw on Friday alongside Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Polish Justice Minister Adam Bodnar was earlier in Brussels on Tuesday to present the new government’s plan, consisting of laws aimed at rolling back the controversial reforms. EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Poland’s new government had shown “clear commitment” to repair the damage, but warned that the process would be long. Tusk’s pro-European Civic Coalition emerged as the major force in parliament in last October elections, despite PiS being accused of creating extremely unequal electoral conditions by exploiting its public media power.

‘US sanctions are an attack on Russia’s core interests’ – Ambassador

A new round of US sanctions is an attack on Russia’s core interests but Moscow will keep protecting them, the RIA news agency quoted Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as saying on Friday. The United States had earlier imposed extensive sanctions against Russia, targeting more than 500 people and entities to mark the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and retaliate for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. “Russian president Vladimir Putin will pay ‘an even steeper price’ for his war in Ukraine and the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic penal colony last week,” US President Joe Biden declared as he slapped Russia with the new sanctions. The US will also impose new export restrictions on nearly 100 entities for providing support to Russia and take action to further reduce Russia’s energy revenues. The announcement follows Biden’s emotional meeting with Alexei Navalny’s widow and daughter on Thursday in California, following the shock death of the anti-corruption campaigner on February 16. Moscow still denies involvement in the shock death last Friday. “The new illegitimate restrictions are yet another brazen and cynical attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation,” RIA quoted Antonov as saying.

‘Ukraine is an open wound in the heart of Europe’ – Guterres

“Ukraine remains an open wound in the heart of Europe,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said as he opened a Security Council convened at ministerial level on the eve of the second anniversary of the Russian invasion. “The time has come for peace, for a just peace based on the United Nations Charter, international law and the resolutions of the General Assembly”, added the UN chief. “Reaffirm support for Kiev for as long as necessary. And sweep away a certain idea of “tiredness” of the West.

Meloni to chair G7 meeting on Ukraine

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will today chair the first Italian-led G7 meeting on the day of the second anniversary of Russian aggression against Ukraine. She is focused on showing that her closeness to Volodymyr Zelensky, who will speak at the summit, has not disappeared and that Italy remains firm on the Atlantic line despite the fact that Northern League distinctions have re-emerged in its majority after the death of Alexei Navalny.

Meloni arrived in Kiev on the same train on which the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium who is the rotating President of the EU Council, and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled. The meeting with the big 7 is scheduled for 4pm (Malta time), with an introduction by Meloni, after which they will discuss the situation. And they will push, in the final declaration, for a further tightening of sanctions against Moscow, above all to try to close the incoming financing channels to Russia and outgoing energy supply flows to third countries. The aim is to sanction the financial and banking entities of the countries that contribute to this trade. The summit will also talk about the other crisis, the one in the Middle East, a topic that Meloni will address again next week in a meeting with Joe Biden at the White House. A bilateral meeting, on March 1, which is part of the tour of the G7 capitals on the occasion of the Italian presidency, which has already seen her in Tokyo for the passing of the baton from Fumio Kishida and which will see her on March 2 for talks in Toronto with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Russia’s war ‘ignores will of global majority’, Ukraine tells UN

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia at the UN General Assembly yesterday of ignoring the will of the world as more than 50 countries stood with Kiev to oppose the invasion. The meeting was held as Ukraine prepared to mark the second anniversary today of Russia’s full-scale invasion while vital military aid remains blocked by the US Congress and Russia is emboldened by fresh gains in recent weeks. “Russia ignores the will of the global majority. It continues its aggression, and throws more and more men into the flames of war,” Kuleba said. “We can also see that in these two years, global security has only deteriorated. More and more wars and conflicts are flaring up across the globe. One of the reasons for this is the bleeding wound in the heart of Europe.” Kuleba said Ukraine was “actively working” to prepare for a global peace summit to be hosted in Switzerland. But Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya dismissed the initiative as useless. “One should not waste time on Kiev’s futile plans to negotiate on the basis of (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky’s so-called ‘peace formula’,” he said. Despite speeches by prominent Western foreign ministers, there will be no vote on the conflict as there was last year as the UN is preoccupied by the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. This time a year ago the General Assembly called for an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops with an overwhelming majority of member states, 141 countries, voting in favour with just seven against.

Pro-Palestinians plotted to force UK parliament into lockdown

A leading pro-Palestinian activist told demonstrators he wanted “parliament to have to lock its doors”, it emerged on Friday night as concern grew about the safety of MPs. Ben Jamal, the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), organised the rally outside parliament on Wednesday in which the anti-Israel slogan “From the river to the sea” was projected on to the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben. The Times can reveal that earlier in the day the PSC orchestrated an attempt to get thousands of its supporters into parliament to lobby MPs to vote in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza. Security stopped them from entering Westminster Hall, with campaigners waiting to get in for four hours.

Gaza ceasefire talks underway in Paris

Gaza truce talks were underway in Paris on Friday, in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released. A source briefed on the ceasefire talks, who could not be identified by name or nationality, told ‘Gulf Today’ talks had begun with Israel’s head of Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party – Qatar, Egypt and United States. “There are budding signs of optimism about being able to move forward toward the start of a serious negotiation,” the source said. Egypt’s Al Qahera TV News also reported that the talks had begun. An official from Hamas said the fighter group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and was now waiting to see what mediators bring back from the weekend talks with Israel. Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

24 dead as Israeli raid hits house in Deir al-Balah

At least 24 people died and an unidentified number of others were injured, mostly children and women, following Israeli shelling that hit a house in Deir al-Balah, in the centre of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian agency Wafa reports. “Local sources reported that 24 citizens were martyred and others were injured, most of them children and women, following the bombing by Israeli planes of the Abu Zuaiter family home in the Bishara neighbourhood of Deir al-Balah”, the agency writes, adding that rescue teams “continue to extract victims from under the rubble”.

Horrific Spanish fire leaves nine known victims

Nine people, including a  firefighter, are dead after a huge fire ripped through an apartment block in an affluent district of Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. Investigators have said the inferno was fuelled in part by flammable fittings and furnishings made worse by a highly combustible  facade that drew the flames upwards like a chimney. Reuters reports more than 100 survivors were being temporarily housed in a nearby hotel. Firefighters with masks and oxygen tanks worked their way through the charred building on Friday looking for bodies or survivors. Valencia Mayor Maria Josè Catala said later in the day that there were no more missing people. On Friday evening, authorities confirmed on X police had revised the number of dead to nine from 10 in the process of identifying the bodies in the building

Having children in the UK has turned into ‘financial suicide’

There has been a sharp increase in childcare debts that parents are facing in the UK, according to research on behalf of campaign group ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’. In a survey of 35,800 parents in England with a child under the age of five, some 45.9 per cent – almost half – revealed they had to get into debt or withdraw money from their savings to pay for childcare. That represented a 30% per cent increase on 2023, the 2024 State of the Nation childcare report found. The number of single parents in the same category was higher still, with almost two-thirds (66.5 per cent) saying they had to use credit cards, borrow money or tap into their savings or pension to cover the childcare costs. Half of parents (53 per cent) with a child under five said they spent more than a quarter of their household income on childcare, a figure up 16 er cent on last year. One in five parents (19.2 per cent) said they spent more than half their household income on childcare.

Photo: Annette Zöpf/EPD-Bild/picture alliance

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