Sinn Fein poised for ‘seismic’ victory
Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the IRA, is on track to win the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The party won the most first-preference votes, and has the largest number of candidates returned so far, with 18 of the 47 seats declared. More results are to follow later today. They looked set to claim top spot in British-controlled Northern Ireland for the first time on Friday – a historic shift that could bring the once-remote prospect of a united Ireland closer. Sinn Fein secured 29% of the first-preference vote compared with 21.3% by the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). “Sinn Fein on course to hold the first minister job is an earthquake” for Northern Ireland politics, said Bill White, chief executive of polling company LucidTalk. “This is seismic.”
Tories fare badly in UK local elections
The Conservatives in the UK have suffered significant losses at Thursday’s local elections, losing almost 500 seats and control of 11 councils. The party shed support to the Liberal Democrats in southern England, and lost key London councils to Labour. The Tories also saw losses in Scotland, where the SNP won the most seats, and in Wales to a resurgent Labour. The PM said it had been “tough” in some areas. The results come after votes to elect 200 councils in England, Wales and Scotland, and the devolved Stormont assembly in Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued the results had been mixed overall. Labour gains were more modest outside London, with limited breakthroughs for the party in its traditional heartlands in northern England. With nearly all results in, Labour has gained 137 seats, with leader Sir Keir Starmer saying his party was “on track” to win the next general election.
France’s left agrees to campaign together against Macron
Long-divided left-wing parties in France will march into forthcoming legislative elections largely together, after the Socialist Party agreed to join a new coalition of the left that hopes to limit re-elected centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s room for policy-making in his second term. The Socialists join the Greens and the Communist Party in hooking their wagon to the France Unbowed party of hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who placed third in the presidential election in April. Meanwhile, Macron’s centrist party is rebranding and forming alliances with other moderate parties ahead of the legislative elections. The president’s political movement, La Republique en Marche, changed its name to Renaissance and teamed up with two other centrist parties to mount a joint effort to win a ruling majority in the parliament for Macron’s second term.
EU struggles to find unity on Russian oil embargo
Representatives from EU member states gathered in Brussels on Friday to negotiate a possible gradual embargo on Russian oil imports. In order to implement a Russian oil ban, all 27 EU members would need to support the policy. Yet some EU member countries are concerned that that such a policy would result in negative consequences for their economies. Hungary and Slovakia, for example, are opposed to an oil embargo because of their dependency on Russian energy. Cyprus, Greece and Malta are also concerned about the idea of prohibiting the transport of Russian oil. The three countries have the largest shipping fleets within the bloc. “It’s not easy to establish unity,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a conference organized by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. “The countries that are now hesitating are not yet ready. We are sitting together with these countries to work out pragmatic things, such as getting alternative oil to these countries.” In an interview with state radio, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said an embargo would cross a “red line” for Budapest and claimed von der Leyen “attacked European unity” in backing the policy.
UN Security Council expresses concern about Ukraine
The UN Security Council has issued its first statement on the war in Ukraine, but withheld from using the words “war”, “conflict” or “invasion”. The statement instead “expresses deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine” and voiced “strong support” for Secretary General Antonio Guterres in seeking a peaceful solution to the “dispute”. The brief text adopted on Friday, drafted by Norway and Mexico, expressed “strong support for the efforts of the secretary general in the search for a peaceful solution”. Antonio Guterres welcomed the council’s support, saying he would “spare no effort to save lives, reduce suffering and find the path of peace”.
Washington to send more military aid to Ukraine
The White House has announced a new package of security assistance for Ukraine that would include artillery, munitions, radars and other equipment. “The United States is continuing our strong support for the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country against Russia’s ongoing aggression,” President Joe Biden said. “We are sending the weapons and equipment that Congress has authorised directly to the front lines of freedom,” he added. Biden said existing funding for Ukraine was “nearly exhausted” and urged the US Congress to pass his proposed $33bn €32bn) assistance package to “strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.” A US official said the latest arms package was worth $150m (€142m), Reuters news agency reports. Germany will also send seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, on top of five artillery systems the Dutch government has already pledged, the German defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, said.
Chinese companies withdraw from Russian market – WSJ
Some Chinese hi-tech companies are quietly withdrawing from the Russian market under pressure from US sanctions and suppliers, despite Beijing’s call to resist Western coercion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Among these companies are the PC giant Lenovo and the smartphone and gadget manufacturer Xiaomi.
Zelensky opens to peace with Russia
Ukrainian President Zelensky has said they were working “on diplomatic options to rescue our military, who still remain in the Azovstal steel plant”. In his daily late-night address, Zelensky said “influential mediators are involved, including influential states”. In the meantime, he added, “we continue the evacuation mission from Mariupol, in particular from Azovstal, with the mediation of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross”. He said the besieged southern port city of Mariupol is “an example of torture and starvation used as a weapon of war”. The Ukrainian presidency has said “about 500 civilians have already been evacuated from the beseiged city of Mariupol” in southern Ukraine. The evacuation operation continues. Zelensky has also warned citizens to “strictly follow the public order and curfew regulations” and “stay out of the forests” in formerly-occupied territory because “a great threat of mines and tripwire mines”. Ukrainian officials are warning that Russian forces may escalate missile and air strikes over the weekend, ahead of Russia’s planned Victory Day celebrations on Monday.
Russian frigate ‘hit by Ukrainian rocket’
The Russian frigate Admiral Makarov is burning near Snake Island in the Black Sea after being hit by a Ukrainian Neptune rocket. This was reported by the chairman of the Odessa Regional Council, Oleksiy Honcharenko, who is quoted by Ukrainian media saying an explosion would have occurred on the ship, followed by a fire. Russian planes flew over that area of the Black Sea and rescue ships arrived from Crimea to aid the frigate. On Telegram there are photos of a burning ship but there have been no confirmations neither from the Russian side nor from the Pentagon.
180 people kidnapped by Russian troops – UN
The UN has identified 180 cases of arbitrary detentions and possible forced disappearances of local officials, journalists, activists, former members of the army and other civilians by Russian troops in controlled areas of Ukraine from Moscow. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reports five of these people were found dead and some were taken to Belarus and Russia, unbeknownst to their families.