Italy calls for formation of EU army

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 8th January 2024

The European Union should form its own combined army that could play a role in peacekeeping and preventing conflict, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in an interview with La Stampa, published on Sunday. “If we want to be peacekeepers in the world, we need a European military. And this is a fundamental precondition to be able to have an effective European foreign policy,” he said. “In a world with powerful players like the United States, China, India, Russia – with crises from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific – Italian, German, French, or Slovenian citizens can only be protected by something that already exists, namely the European Union,” he added.

European defence cooperation has risen up the political agenda since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago. However, efforts have been more focused on NATO expansion, with EU nation Finland joining the alliance last year and Sweden also on track to become a member. Tajani also said the 27-nation EU should streamline its leadership and have a single presidency, rather than the current structure of a European Council President and a European Commission President.

Macron moves to name new government chief in reshuffle

French President Emmanuel Macron could choose a new prime minister as soon as today, according to his entourage, as he seeks a new look for a widely-criticised government. The position of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has been tenuous ever since an immigration bill pushed by Macron was voted down in parliament last month. It was finally passed with many controversial changes imposed by the centre-right opposition. Macron, who is also facing a growing challenge from the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen, met with Borne last night. His office said the discussion centred on flooding in northern France and a looming freeze across the country, but observers said they likely discussed a widely-predicted cabinet reshuffle.

Paris, France, le 8 février 2023. 48 heures avec Elisabeth Borne, première ministre, en pleine réforme des retraites. Après le conseil des ministres dans le salon des ambassadeurs, apparté entre Emmanuel Macron, président de la République, Elisabeth Borne, première ministre photo : LP / Olivier Corsan

German farmers in Berlin for protest cut subsidies

Dozens of farmers on Sunday arrived in Berlin ahead of demonstrations today against government plans to reduce subsidies. The governing coalition is made up of Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP). Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the FDP urged farmers to “turn around”, adding that agriculture was a “highly-subsidised sector”, according to der Spiegel. The conservative opposition coalition CDU/CSU, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the right-wing populist Free Voters, have expressed their support for the farmers’ protests. Major transport disruptions are expected on Monday due to the demonstrations.

Flooding hits southeast Australia

First responders rescued more than 20 people from flooding in Australia’s Victoria state today, and officials warned of further flooding as storms lashed an already-drenched region in the latest bout of wild weather to hit the country’s east coast. Reuters reports showers and thunderstorms are forecast to bring up to 100mm of rain, more than a month’s worth in places, to a wide belt stretching from southwest New South Wales state into northeast Victoria this morning, according to the bureau of meteorology. Victorian state first responders received roughly 700 calls for help and conducted 26 rescues in the early hours of today, in particular around the regional town of Bendigo, roughly 120 km north of Melbourne. Seven flood warnings are in place across Victoria and dangerous flash flooding is possible through this afternoon as the rain rolls east towards the coast.

Massive winter storm puts nearly 70 million Americans at risk

Nearly 70 million Americans across the Gulf Coast and Southeast are at risk for severe weather, including tornadoes, damaging wind and flooding rain on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Storm Prediction Centre. Days after the season’s first big winter storm, there is now a Level 3 of 5 enhanced risk Monday for cities like New Orleans, Louisiana, Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, as storms sweep across the area in the afternoon and overnight. Tornadoes are especially likely in this area.

Additionally, there is also a Level 3 of 4 moderate risk of excessive rainfall with 3 to 5 inches expected, which could lead to flooding. On Tuesday, the same system moves further east, where there is an enhanced risk of severe weather for cities like Tallahassee, Florida, Albany, Georgia, and Panama City, Florida in the early morning and continuing into the afternoon. The coming disruptive weather arrives just a day after a winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow on the Northeast and brought rain, snow, ice, and even a tornado as it tracked from the Gulf Coast to Maine.

Blinken heads to UAE, Saudi Arabia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold talks in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia later today before heading to Israel, as he continues his Mideast tour to discuss post-war Gaza and head off a wider regional conflagration amid intensifying skirmishes between Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel. He is set for talks with Israeli leaders on Tuesday. Blinken was in Jordan and Qatar on Sunday at the start of a five-day diplomatic effort in the Middle East seeking to avert a wider war in the region. He is also due to visit the West Bank and Egypt this week. The US delegation aims to gather Arab states’ views on the future of Gaza before taking those positions to Israel, the US official said, acknowledging that stances would be far apart.

The Israel-Hamas war, currently concentrated in Gaza, “could easily metastasise” beyond the Palestinian territory as “profound tension” in the region raises the prospect of a wider conflict, Blinken said on Sunday. Such fighting would “cause even more insecurity and suffering”, Blinken told reporters in Doha, Qatar, alongside Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. The death toll in Gaza surpassed 22,800 as of Sunday, according to the Gazan Ministry of Health, amid repeated calls from Arab leaders for a broad cease-fire, including from Al Thani, who’s also the Qatari minister for foreign affairs and a key figure in negotiations over freeing the more than 100 hostages thought to still be held in Gaza.

Photo: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

Israel kills eldest son of Al Jazeera’s Wael Dahdouh

Journalist Hamza Dahdouh, the eldest son of Al Jazeera journalist Wael Dahdouh, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Sunday that targeted a team of journalists west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Journalist Mustafa Tharia was also killed by the missile from an Israeli drone that targeted the car they were travelling in near the Al-Mawasi area in the southwestern Gaza Strip, according an Al Jazeera correspondent. The correspondent explained that the Israeli forces targeted Hamza and a group of journalists while they were reporting from an area where civilians had sought refuge from Israeli strikes. Commenting on the killing of the Al Jazeera journalists in Gaza, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this was “an unimaginable tragedy”. Hamza was the eldest and the last surviving son of Wael Al-Dahdouh, whose other children, along with his wife and grandson, were killed in an Israeli airstrike targeting a house they had sought refuge in at the Nuseirat camp.

Libya declares “force majeure” at Al-Sharara amid protests

Libya’s state-owned energy firm said on Sunday it had declared a state of “force majeure” at Al-Sharara oilfield after production at the major facility was suspended due to protests. AFP quotes a National Oil Corporation (NOC) statement saying it had taken legal action for the southwestern oilfield, which provides a quarter of the country’s daily oil output, “due to the closure of the site by protesters”. Declaring “force majeure” allows parties to free themselves from contractual obligations when factors such as fighting or natural disasters make meeting them impossible. The NOC did not elaborate on the protesters’ demands but said “negotiations are ongoing to resume production as soon as possible”, adding that “the closure has resulted in the suspension of crude oil supplies from the field to Zawiya terminal.”

US lawmakers approve federal budget

The agreement on a roughly $1.6 trillion “topline” federal spending limit was announced by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and Democratic leaders in Congress after weeks of negotiations. The bipartisan agreement on fiscal year 2024 funding totals marks a step towards averting a looming government shutdown in a presidential election year. It was swiftly applauded by President Joe Biden, who said in a statement that the deal “moves us one step closer to preventing a needless government shutdown and protecting important national priorities”.

“By securing the $772.7 billion for non-defence discretionary funding, we can protect key domestic priorities like veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and nutrition assistance from the draconian cuts sought by right-wing extremists,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries said in a joint statement.

Photo: AFP

Sheikh Hasina wins controversial Bangladesh election

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured her fourth straight term in a controversial election. She will serve another five years in office after her party, the Awami League, and its allies won at least 152 of 300 parliamentary seats contested. With the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotting the poll, Ms Hasina’s party and allies are expected to win the remaining seats as well. The BNP alleged the poll was a sham. Sunday’s result comes after mass arrests of BNP leaders and supporters. Official figures suggested a low voter turnout of about 40%, though critics say even those numbers may be inflated. Independents, almost all of them from the Awami League itself, won 45 seats and the Jatiya Party won eight seats. Results are expected to be announced officially later today.

Photo: AFP

Oppenheimer, Succession sweep up Golden Globes

Oppenheimer was the big winner at the Golden Globe Awards, taking home five awards. including the top prize. Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr were both recognised for their acting performances, while Christopher Nolan won best director. Succession scored the most wins in the TV categories following its acclaimed fourth and final season. Meanwhile, Barbie won the inaugural box office achievement award, after grossing $1.4bn (€1.3bn) worldwide.

There were two wins each for Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers, and Poor Things, and one for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. The latter film’s star, Lily Gladstone, was named best drama actress, making her the first indigenous person to win the award, something she described as “historic”. Oppenheimer star Murphy paid tribute to Nolan’s “rigour, focus, and dedication” in making the film, which grossed $954m (€873m) at the box office and won best drama film at the ceremony. The biopic also won awards for best score and best supporting actor for Downey Jr, who portrayed US government official Lewis Strauss.

Show host Jo Koy in “brutal” Harry and Meghan joke

Comedian Jo Koy had Hollywood stars in stitches with an anti-Prince Harry and Meghan Markle joke at the Golden Globes. “Harry and Meghan Markle got paid millions for doing absolutely nothing – and that’s just by Netflix,” the Filipino-American comedy star told the crowd, who laughed in response. The camera zoomed in on the streaming service’s CEO, Ted Sarandos, after he cracked the joke. Both Harry and Meghan were not present at the ceremony. Joy was addressing the Netflix documentary, Harry & Meghan, which was released in December 2022 to mixed reviews, and saw the pair discuss their decision to step back as working members of the British royal family. His joke, branded “brutal” by viewers, arrived after what is considered to have been a tumultuous year for the former royals, who faced several obstacles, both professionally and personally, in 2023.

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