Global Review – 16th June

89 million people forced to flee their homes

The number of people forced to flee their homes has increased every year in the last decade and is now the highest since the data began to be recorded. The UNHCR ‘Global Trends 2021’ annual statistical report published today, says that at the end of last year there were 89.3 million people on the run, an increase of 8% compared to 2020 and well over double compared to the figure recorded 10 years ago. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and other emergencies such as in Africa or Afghanistan have led the figure to cross the dramatic 100 million mark in May 2022. The number of refugees and internally-displaced people returning home in 2021 has increased, returning to pre-Covid levels, with a 71% increase in voluntary repatriation cases. 5.7 million returned home in 2021.

Fed raises interest rates by 0.75%, first time since 1994

The US Federal Reserve has raised interest rates by 0.75% for the first time since 1994 in an attempt to stop the rush of inflation, which has soared to its highest levels in 40 years. The cost of money thus rises in a fork between 1.50 and 1.75%. In the final statement released at the end of the two-day meeting, the US central bank says it is “strongly committed” to bringing inflation down to 2%. According to the latest estimates by the Fed itself, inflation is expected to reach 5.2% in 2022 and 2.6% in 2023. The Dow Jones gained 1% to 30,668 points, the S&P 500 up 1.42% to 3,788 and the Nasdaq up 2.50% to 11,099. The price of oil fell, at the Nymex the WTI lost 3.04% to 115.31 dollars a barrel

China vows support for Russia, drawing US ire

President Xi Jinping on Wednesday assured President Putin of China’s support on Russian “sovereignty and security” – leading Washington to warn Beijing it risked ending up “on the wrong side of history”. China has refused to condemn Moscow’s massive military assault on Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by blasting Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv. According to CCTV, Xi praised the “good momentum of development” in bilateral relations since the start of the year “in the face of global turmoil and changes”. But the United States swiftly weighed in with a frosty retort to Beijing’s expressed alignment with Moscow. “China claims to be neutral, but its behaviour makes clear that it is still investing in close ties to Russia,” a State Department spokesperson said.

US pledges new $1 billion in weapons for Ukraine

President Joe Biden on has announced a fresh infusion of US$1 billion in weapons for Ukraine that sources familiar with the package said included anti-ship rocket systems, artillery rockets, and rounds for howitzers. In a phone call with Ukraine President Zelenskyy, Biden said he told the embattled leader about the new weaponry. The president also announced an additional US$225 million in humanitarian assistance to help people in Ukraine, including by supplying safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and healthcare, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items. The aid packages, which come as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with allies in Brussels, could be split into two categories: transfer of excess defense articles from US stocks and other weapons being funded by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), a separate congressionally-authorised programme.

UN alarm for water and food supplies in the Azot bunkers

Thousands of civilians have been trapped in increasingly dramatic conditions in Severodonetsk under Russian siege, including the elderly, women and children, and the most urgent situation is that of the hundreds of people trapped in the factory bunkers Azot chemistry. The spokesman for the UN office for humanitarian affairs told the BBC, sounding the alarm on the shortage of water and food supplies, sanitation and electricity. The UN, he added, is currently unable to provide the necessary aid due to the continuous bombing of the city.

German, French, Italian leaders expected in Kyiv

The leaders of the European Union’s three biggest countries – Germany, France and Italy – are expected in Kyiv later today to show their backing for Ukraine as it struggles to withstand a relentless Russian assault. The visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has taken weeks to organise for security reasons. It comes a day before the European Commission is due to make a recommendation on Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate, something the biggest European nations have been lukewarm about. Speaking in Romania on Wednesday, Macron said it was time for Europe to reassure Ukraine over its EU ambitions.

WHO looks into monkeypox virus in semen

The World Health Organisation is looking into reports that the monkeypox virus is present in the semen of patients, exploring the possibility that the disease could be sexually-transmitted, a WHO official said on Wednesday. Many cases in the current monkeypox outbreak, largely centred on Europe, are among sexual partners who have had close contact, and the agency reiterated that virus is mainly transmitted via close interpersonal contact. In recent days, scientists say they have detected viral DNA in the semen of a handful of monkeypox patients in Italy and Germany, including a lab-tested sample that suggested the virus found in the semen of a single patient was capable of infecting another person and replicating.

Millions in Britain to receive £650 cost-of-living payment

Eight million homes across the UK will start to see cost-of-living payments hit their bank accounts on July 14 as part of a package to help people deal with soaring energy prices. From that date, a first instalment of £326 will start to be paid out to low-income households on benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions has announced. The second portion of the one-off £650 payment will follow in the autumn, as part of support worth £1,200 that vulnerable households will receive this year, which also includes a previously-announced £150 council tax rebate. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said, “This one-off payment, totalling £650, is part of our £37 billion cost-of-living support package that will put an extra £1,200 into the pockets of those most in need.”

Germany accuses Russian gas giant of pushing up energy prices

Germany has accused Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom of attempting to push up energy prices by sharply reducing supplies. Gazprom said it was limiting the amount of gas to Germany to under 70million cubic metres per day – well under half the current rate. The reason it gave was to service equipment in the Nord Stream pipeline. But German economy minister Robert Habeck said it was “a political decision” and not a technical one. “It is obviously a strategy to unsettle and drive up prices.” Gazprom said initially on Tuesday it was cutting the Nord Stream 1 gas flow from 167m cubic metres a day to 100m but then on Wednesday announced it would be cut further to 67m cubic metres. Gazprom also reduced its gas supply to Italy by around 15% on Wednesday, energy firm ENI said. Italy, like Germany, is heavily reliant on Russian gas, which accounts for 40% of its imports. The Russian company’s move came two weeks after European Union leaders agreed to block most Russian oil imports by the end of 2022 to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine. Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands have already had their Russian natural gas deliveries suspended after they refused a demand for “unfriendly countries” to pay in Russian roubles.

‘20-month suspended jail sentence for Platini, Blatter’

The Swiss prosecutor’s office on Wednesday demanded a 20-month suspended jail sentence for Michel Platini and ex-president of FIFA Sepp Blatter, accusing them of defrauding football’s governing body. Blatter and Platini are being tried over a two-million-Swiss-franc (€1.9 million) payment in 2011 to the former France captain, who by that time was in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA. The prosecutor’s demand is more lenient than he could have asked for – a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty.

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