Macron reaffirms possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 3rd May 2024.

French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed he did not rule out sending troops to Ukraine. In an interview with The Economist published Thursday, he said the issue would “legitimately” arise if Russia broke through Ukrainian front lines and Kyiv made such a request. The Economist said Macron gave the interview after delivering a keynote speech last week where he declared that Europe is “mortal” and could “die” partly due to the threat posed by Russian aggression after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“I’m not ruling anything out, because we are facing someone who is not ruling anything out,” said Macron when asked if he stood by comments earlier this year not excluding the sending of Western troops that sent shockwaves around Europe. France 24 quotes some analysts as saying they believed Russia could be on the verge of launching a major new offensive in Ukraine. Macron said “if Russia decided to go further, we will in any case all have to ask ourselves the question of sending troops, describing his refusal to rule out such a move as a “strategic wake-up call for my counterparts”.

He described Russia as “a power of regional destabilisation” and “a threat to Europeans’ security”. Macron said: “If Russia wins in Ukraine, there will be no security in Europe. “Who can pretend that Russia will stop there? What security will there be for the other neighbouring countries: Moldova, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and the others?” he asked.

Situation on eastern front worsens

The situation on the front line in eastern Ukraine is worsening, a senior Ukrainian military official said Thursday.  According to Nazar Voloshyn, spokesperson for Ukrainian strategic command in the east of the country, local defenders are so far holding firm against a concerted push by Russia’s bigger and better-equipped forces. Russia has amassed troops in the Donetsk region to punch through the Ukrainian defensive line, said Voloshyn. “The enemy is trying to seize the strategic initiative and breach our defences,” he said on national television. “The enemy is actively attacking along the entire front line, and in several directions, they have achieved certain tactical advances. The situation is changing dynamically.” Russia has pushed Ukraine onto the back foot on the battlefield as Kyiv grapples with shortages of troops and ammunition. Ukrainian forces are now racing to build more defensive fortifications at places along the 1000-kilometre front line. Kyiv’s struggle has been deepening for months as the military waited for vital new military aid from the US. The support was held up in Washington for six months.

Russian strikes Odesa again

Russia launched its third attack in a week on the southern port city of Odesa, firing ballistic missiles and injuring 14 people, local officials and emergency services said. The attack hit a sorting depot belonging to Ukraine’s biggest private delivery company, Nova Poshta. No staff were injured, the company said, but the strike started a major fire.

Nato sounds alarm over ‘hostile’ Russian activity across Europe

Nato has issued a sharp warning over “hostile” Russian activity across Europe. In a statement released on Thursday, the 32-member military alliance said it was “deeply concerned about recent malign activities” by Moscow, which it called “a threat to Western security”. It pointed to “disinformation, sabotage, acts of violence, cyber and electronic interference… and other hybrid operations”. According to Nato, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom have all been affected. The US-led military alliance called these incidents “part of an intensifying campaign of activities which Russia continues to carry out across the Euro-Atlantic area, including on alliance territory and through proxies”. “We support and stand in solidarity with the affected allies,” Nato said in its statement, condemning “Russia’s behaviour”. Nato vowed in its Thursday statement that member states would not be deterred from providing Ukraine with much-needed military and financial assistance as it battles the Russian army. 

Taiwan intercepts 26 planes, 5 Chinese ships around the island

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry has said 26 Chinese planes and five warships were intercepted around the island. All this happens with just a few weeks left until May 20, when the new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, who China considers a dangerous separatist, will take office. According to the Ministry of Defence, 17 aircraft “crossed the median line and entered the air defence identification zone in central and northern Taiwan. The line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometre-waterway that separates the Taiwan Strait.” Mainland China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Myanmar government bans men from working abroad

Myanmar’s junta has suspended issuing permits for men who want to work abroad, weeks after introducing a military conscription law that has led to thousands of people trying to leave the country. The junta, which is struggling to quell widespread armed opposition to its government, said in February it would implement a law that would allow it to call up all men to serve in the military for at least two years. This prompted thousands of people to queue for visas outside foreign embassies in Yangon, while others attempted to cross the border into neighbouring Thailand to escape the law. The Labour Ministry has thus decided to “temporarily suspend” the acceptance of applications from men who wish to work abroad. The measure, the ministry says, is necessary to “verify the departure processes and for other issues”. According to an ILO estimate that quotes data from the then government, in 2020 more than four million Burmese citizens worked abroad. The figure, however, could be much higher given that –  analysts point out – many work abroad illegally.

‘Positive spirit in studying ceasefire proposal’ – Haniyeh

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke of the “positive spirit of the movement in studying the ceasefire proposal”. In a phone call to the head of Egyptian intelligence Abbas Kamal, Haniyeh – as released by the faction on Telegram – said that “the movement’s negotiating delegation will come to Egypt as soon as possible to complete the ongoing discussions with the aim of developing a agreement that meets the demands of our people and stops the aggression.”

Temporary pier in Gaza completed

“The construction of the temporary aid pier in Gaza –  which is being handled by US soldiers as part of what the US Defence Department calls a Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore operation – has been completed,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, said in a briefing with journalists. Kirby tempered his positive news on the port with a caveat. “There’s also some weather concerns in the eastern Mediterranean, which might affect the date at which they’ll be able to start receiving humanitarian goods,” he said. Kirby, who is a retired US Navy Rear Admiral, added that based on his experience, the weather in that region “can be unpredictable. I understand that weather right now is as much a factor as just about anything else,” he said. The temporary port is a major project for the American military and other Middle East allies.

Unesco award for press freedom to Palestinian journalists

Unesco has awarded the World Press Freedom Prize to all Palestinian journalists covering the war in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting Hamas for over six months. “In these times of darkness and desperation, we wish to share a strong message of solidarity and recognition to the Palestinian journalists who are covering this crisis in such dramatic circumstances,” said Mauricio Weibel, president of the international jury of media professionals. “As humanity, we owe a tremendous debt to their courage and commitment to freedom of expression,” Weibel said. Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay said the award pays “homage to the courage of journalists facing difficult and dangerous circumstances”. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 97 members of the press have been killed since the war broke out in October, 92 of whom were Palestinians.

French students demand an end to ties with Israeli universities

Student protests against Israel have entered their second week in France. A town hall event Thursday at the prestigious Sciences Po University in Paris ended with the administration refusing to create a working group to investigate ties with Israeli universities, which students across France want to see cut over the war in Gaza. It is just one demand of many that are motivating students across France and beyond to keep protesting. Students said they were “disappointed” by the event, according to France 24’s James André, reporting on the ground, with a spokesman for the Palestine Committee of Sciences Po saying that “none of [their] requests” had been met. Among the Committee’s list of demands are ending links with institutions that pursue “Zionist ideologies”.

US campus protests: Biden says ‘order must prevail’

President Joe Biden has urged pro-Palestinian protesters on US university campuses to uphold the rule of law. “We are a civil society, and order must prevail,” Mr Biden said from the White House, in his first direct remarks about a wave of student unrest. Police have detained more than 2,000 people nationwide in the past fortnight at college rallies and protest camps. That includes 209 arrests in the past day at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Petriashvili also takes to the streets to protest

Former Georgian minister Alex Petriashvili, who was arrested several days ago during another demonstration, joined the protest taking place in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, in the central Heroes’ Square. Petriashvili, who held his ministerial post from 2012 to 2014, was arrested on April 28 and fined 2,000 Georgian lari (about $750). Heroes’ Square is currently blocked by thousands of protesters, blocking access to all entry and exit roads, completely paralyzing traffic. They demand that authorities revoke the controversial foreign agents law, as the country’s parliament passed the second reading of the highly controversial foreign influence Bill.

Environmental journalists suffer attacks, threats

Unesco has announced that 70 per cent of environmental journalists have experienced “attacks, threats or pressure” related to their work. Of these, two out of five subsequently suffered physical violence. The alarming data, obtained on the basis of a series of interviews conducted last March with journalists from 129 countries, was made known by Unesco in a report published on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. Unesco has warned of an increase in violence and intimidation against journalists covering the environment and climate. “Without reliable scientific information on the ongoing environmental crisis, we can never hope to overcome it,” Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. “Yet the journalists we rely on to investigate this matter and ensure information is accessible are at unacceptably high risks around the world, and climate-related misinformation is rampant on social media.”

Palestinian flags banned at Eurovision

Palestinian flags will not be allowed in the Malmö Arena, Sweden, where the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 will take place starting from Tuesday May 7, according to the Swedish media. Only the flags of the countries participating in the event will be admitted, therefore also that of Israel. The only other flags allowed are the peace flag and the European Union flag as long as they are not used for political purposes. The EBU organisers want the event to be apolitical so anyone who attempts to introduce any object that could “interrupt a successful event” will be stopped at the entrance. Anti-war protests are planned in Malmo during Eurovision week.

Malta’s represenative at the Song Contest, Sarah Bonnici, held her first on-stage rehearsal at the Malmö Arena, Sweden, on Monday. She performed her song ‘Loop’, accompanied by a number of dancers.

This year security measures at Eurovision are being strengthened and clearly visible: pro-Palestine protests are expected against the Israeli bombings on the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas attack. Israel has raised the alert level for its citizens who intend to travel to Malmo to follow the event. This was announced by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, according to which the measure concerns only Swedish cities and not the entire national territory. “Malmo,” reads the notice from the Ministry of Security, “is known as the centre of anti-Israeli protests (the city has a high concentration of immigrants from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran). It should be noted that on  October 7 (the day of the Hamas attack on Israel), anti-Israeli elements in the city expressed joy over the events of the massacre carried out by Hamas in Israel”. Israelis who intend to travel to the city should evaluate the necessity of the trip, it advised.

The Israeli delegation will be accompanied by an unprecedented level of security. Israel is represented by a very young Russian-Israeli singer, 20-year-old Eden Golan who, among other things, had to change her song (no longer ‘October Rain’, but ‘Hurricane’, because the former seemed to want to bring the theme into the singing competition of the violence carried out by Hamas on October 7). In recent weeks the young singer met with Shin Bet men in view of her trip to Sweden. Golan and her team were advised not to leave their hotel rooms, except for performances and official events .

Meryl Streep to receive honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes

Actress Meryl Streep will receive an honorary Palme d’Or at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, Le Monde quotes organizers as saying. Streep, 74, is one of the most-feted actors in Hollywood history, with a record 21 Oscar nominations and three wins. Her career has run the gamut of modern classics, from dramas such as The Deer Hunter, Out of Africa and Kramer vs Kramer to family favorites like The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! Surprisingly, she has been at Cannes only once before – though she did win best actress that year – in 1989’s A Cry in the Dark.

“Because she has spanned almost 50 years of cinema and embodied countless masterpieces, Meryl Streep is part of our collective imagination, our shared love of cinema,” the festival organisers said in the statement. Also receiving an honorary Palme d’Or are legendary Japanese animators Studio Ghibli – the first time it will be awarded to a group rather than an individual. Streep joins a host of Hollywood veterans appearing at this year’s festival on the French Cote d’Azur, including Star Wars creator George Lucas, who is also receiving a lifetime achievement award at the closing ceremony.

No clothes? No problem: Nude cruise to set sail from Florida next year

The “Big Nude Boat” cruise, which allows passengers to bare all is set to sail from Florida next year. The “11-day adventure” to the Caribbean is set for the first two weeks of February on the Norwegian Pearl, according to the Bare Necessities Tour & Travel website. “Bare Necessities’ newest nude cruise is a private island double-dip with a brand new travel partner!” the company wrote on its website. While there will be clothes-free experiences throughout the trip, proper nudist etiquette and other rules for passengers must be followed, such as wearing clothes inside dining rooms. The trip which embarks from Miami, includes “an exclusive visit to an idyllic private island” in The Bahamas as well another exclusive stop on the way back to the Port of Miami. “Two opportunities to enjoy a new slice of Bare-adise, coupled with a beautiful selection of Eastern Caribbean island stops, will make this a can’t miss Big Nude Boat experience,” the travel company posted.

Photo: EPA

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