Macron’s party’s election campaign with eye on Ukraine

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 10th March 2024

French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance launched off its campaign for European Parliament elections in the northern city of Lille, as he tries to curb the rapid rise of the far right and hammer home the importance of greater support for Ukraine. The European elections are seen as a key milestone ahead of France’s next presidential election in 2027, when far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen is expected to mount a fourth bid for the top job and Macron cannot stand again due to term limits. Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party leads Macron’s alliance by a wide margin in polls on the European elections in June, and members of the centrist alliance say privately that narrowing the gap will not be easy. “The main subject will be support for Ukraine,” Sylvain Maillard, the leader of Macron’s Renaissance party in parliament, said yesterday of the campaign launch. Macron, who plans to join the campaign at a later stage, has asked his ministers to fight the RN “every step of the way” and has sought to cast Le Pen’s forces as bedfellows of Russia.

Orban, Trump’s meeting raises issues for EU, NATO, US allies

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with his ally and United States former president Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday night, raising several eyebrows among the world leaders including European nations but now it is an open secret that it is raising a series of issues for the EU, NATO and other US allies. According to a statement from Trump’s campaign, the two discussed a wide range of issues affecting Hungary and the United States, including the paramount importance of strong and secure borders to protect the sovereignty of each nation”. Notably, Orban, an autocrat and a strongman who is known for his anti-immigration and anti-LGBTQ policies, did not get any formal invitation from the White House. Orban also did not reach out or meet with any members of the Biden administration during his visit. It acquires significance as Trump is not only the former US president but also the presumptive Republican nominee, who might become the president again. According to experts, Orban’s visit gives an idea of where he might align himself with the world leaders if Trump is elected to power.

Trump in several situations has mentioned how he admires authoritarian leaders like Orban as well. Both Trump and Orban have more or less similar political views on the free press, immigration and the Ukraine war. In some instances, Orban had mentioned that Ukraine war would not have happened if Trump had become the president. Regarding the Russia-Ukraine war too, Orban had locked horns with the European Union members. Orban had said that only the return of Trump to the White House could bring peace to Ukraine. “We need leaders in the world who are respected and can bring peace. He is one of them! Come back and bring us peace, Mr. President!,” Orban said in a post on X after the meeting. “Make America great again, Mr. President!” wrote Orban. He had also said that during Trump’s term, there was peace in the Middle East, referring to the Israel-Hamas war, and also Ukraine.

Prisident Biden immediately drew sabres. When asked whether he was concerned, he said “If I’m not, you should be. You know who he’s meeting with today, down in Mar-a-Lago? Orbán of Hungary, who stated flatly he doesn’t think democracy works – he’s looking for dictatorship,” Biden told the crowd gathered for what was effectively his first rally of the 2024 general election campaign. “That’s who he’s meeting with,” Biden added. “I see a future where we defend democracy, not diminish it,” said Biden.

Ireland rejects referendum on ‘less sexist’ constitution

In Ireland, the double referendum on redefining the role of the family and women in the Constitution was defeated. “I think it is clear – announced Prime Minister Leo Varadkar – that the two referenda on the family amendment and the welfare amendment have been defeated”. The first question proposed broadening the concept of “family founded on marriage” included in the 1937 Constitution to every form of “lasting relationship” and “cohabitation between couples or with children”; while the second aimed to eliminate the article that establishes “domestic care” on the part of women as a duty. Regina Doherty, a lawmaker for the Fine Gael party which rules in coalition with Fianna Fail and the Green Party, told national broadcaster RTE that early tallies from yesterday’s poll indicated the Irish people had voted “in a very large way” against the proposals in two referenda.

Aid ship from Cyprus ‘ready’ to sail for Gaza

Two-hundred tonnes of food aid were “ready” to be sent from Cyprus to war-ravaged Gaza by sea, a Spanish NGO said today, the first shipment along an EU-backed maritime corridor. A spokeswoman for Open Arms, a charity whose boat docked three weeks ago in the Cypriot port of Larnaca, said “everything will be ready to be able to set sail” later today. “Depending on all the authorisations and permits, and when we get them”, the vessel – also called Open Arms – could embark “today or tomorrow”, Laura Lanuza told AFP. The Spanish aid group has partnered with US charity World Central Kitchen to prepare the first aid delivery through the sea route that the EU Commission hopes will open this weekend. Lanuza said Israeli authorities, which have welcomed the Cypriot initiative, have already begun inspecting the cargo of “200 tonnes of basic foodstuffs, rice and flour, cans of tuna”. Dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza and overland access restrictions have led some countries to airdrop food and other assistance.

3 Palestinan children die of dehydration, malnutrition

Three Palestinian children died of dehydration and malnutrition at the northern Al Shifa Hospital overnight, said Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra. He said this raised to 23 the number of Palestinians who had died of similar causes in nearly 10 days. “This brutal war has ruptured any sense of a shared humanity,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. She called for an end of hostilities to allow for meaningful aid distribution in Gaza, for Hamas to release all hostages without conditions and for Israel to treat Palestinians in its custody humanely and to permit them to contact their families.

‘Hamas do not want an agreement but to set Ramadan on fire’

Hamas “is reinforcing its position that it is not interested in the agreement and seeks to inflame the region during Ramadan at the expense of the Palestinian residents of the Strip,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. Thhe statemet was made on behalf of the Mossad, confirming the meeting held by the head of the Israeli Intelligence David Barnea with the director of the CIA William Burns “as part of the incessant effort to promote another agreement for the return of the hostages”. The note from the prime minister’s office added that “contacts and collaboration with mediators continue constantly in an attempt to reduce the gaps”.

Israel strikes residential tower in Rafah

Israel struck one of the largest residential towers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday, stepping up pressure on the last area of the enclave it has not yet invaded and where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. The 12-floor building, located some 500 metres from the border with Egypt, was damaged in the strike. Dozens of families were made homeless though no casualties were reported, according to residents. One of the tower’s 300 residents told Reuters that Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night. People were startled, running down the stairs, some fell, it was chaos. People left their belongings and money. A Rafah-based official with the Fatah party said he feared that hitting the Rafah tower was a sign of an imminent Israeli invasion.

In a speech marking Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Day in Egypt yesterday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the cost of rebuilding Gaza could exceed US$90 billion (€83 billion).

Turkey firmly backs Hamas leaders, says Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday Ankara “firmly backs” Palestinian group Hamas. “No-one can make us qualify Hamas as a terrorist organisation,” he said in a speech in Istanbul. “Turkey is a country that speaks openly with Hamas leaders and firmly backs them.” Erdogan has been one of the most virulent critics of Israel since the start of the war in Gaza, which began after an October 7 attack by Hamas in Israel that claimed at least 1,160 lives, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures. Israel has responded with a relentless ground and air offensive that the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said has killed nearly 31,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, over 72,500 were wounded and thousands were trapped under rubble. Erdogan has called Israel a “terrorist state” and accused it of conducting a “genocide” in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has returned the accusations made against him by Turkish President Erdogan who, after siding with Hamas, compared him to “Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin”. “Israel, which adheres to the laws of war, does not accept moral sermons from a man who supports the murderers and rapists of the terrorist organisation Hamas,” Netanyahu said on X, “a man who denies the Armenian holocaust, massacres the Kurds in his own country and puts regime opponents and journalists in prison.”

Pope accepts resignation of Polish bishop for negligence over abuse

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a Polish bishop for negligence in handling cases of sexual abuse committed by some clergy against minors, his representatives in the country said Saturday. Andrzej Dziuba, a bishop in Lowicz, had not informed law enforcement authorities about the case of a priest from his diocese who abused a 14-year-old boy, according to local media reports, which said Dziuba is facing charges in Poland. Dziuba had been asked to resign by the Holy See. The Lowicz diocese said on its website that Dziuba was retiring, citing the Pope’s decision to accept his resignation without further elaboration. Dziuba did not comment.

Portugal goes to early polls

Portugal is set to hold early parliamentary elections today with voters set to elect 230 lawmakers to the National Assembly. Leaders of Portugal’s political parties have wrapped up a two-week campaign for the tight election that could end eight years of Socialist rule. The election was called after Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa resigned in November following an investigation into alleged illegalities in how his government handled major investments. The scandal included a police search of Costa’s official residence and the arrest of his chief of staff. Costa has not been charged. Two moderate parties, the centre-left Socialist Party (PS) and the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), have alternated in power in Portugal for decades. They are expected to win the most votes again.

OSCARS – 96th Academy Awards tonight

The 96th annual Academy Awards will tonight bring together nominees that include box office record-breakers, Hollywood veterans, newcomers and more than one epic drama as big players and even bigger films contend for prestigious recognition. The 2024 Oscar ballot promises to make for an interesting night.

The Oscars signals the end of awards seasons, where strong showings for Poor Things, Barbie, Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest have been eclipsed by the success of Oppenheimer.

“Oppenheimer” is the clear frontrunner to win the Oscar for best picture. Christopher Nolan’s epic historical drama about the nuclear physicist known as “the father of the atomic bomb” leads nominations at the Academy Awards this year, with 13 nods. It has also already taken home every precursor prize at earlier awards shows this season – including in equivalent categories at the Critics Choice and Golden Globe Awards, as well from the Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Producers Guild and British Academy – giving big hints as to how it will fare in today’s best picture race.

The nominations:

‘Oppenheimer’: Thirteen nominations, including best director (Christopher Nolan), best actor (Cillian Murphy), best supporting actress (Emily Blunt), best supporting actor (Robert Downey Jr.), best adapted screenplay, best costume design, best makeup and hairstyling, best original score, best production design, best film editing, best sound and best cinematography.

‘Poor Things’: Eleven nominations, including best director (Yorgos Lanthimos), best actress (Emma Stone), best supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo), best adapted screenplay, best costume design, best makeup and hairstyling, best original score, best production design, best film editing and best cinematography

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’: Ten nominations, including best director (Martin Scorsese), best actress (Lily Gladstone), best supporting actor (Robert De Niro), best costume design, best original song, best original score, best production design, best film editing and best cinematography

‘Barbie’: Eight nominations, including best supporting actress (America Ferrera), best supporting actor (Ryan Gosling), best adapted screenplay, best costume design, best original song (two songs in the same category), best production design.

‘Maestro’: Seven nominations, including best actress (Carey Mulligan), best actor (Bradley Cooper), best original screenplay, best makeup and hairstyling, best sound and best cinematography.

‘American Fiction’: Five nominations, including best supporting actor (Sterling K. Brown), best actor (Jeffrey Wright), best adapted screenplay and best original score.

‘Anatomy of a Fall’: Five nominations, including best director (Justine Triet), best actress (Sandra Hüller), best original screenplay and best film editing.

‘The Holdovers’: Five nominations, including best actor (Paul Giamatti), best supporting actress (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), best original screenplay and best film editing.

‘The Zone of Interest’: Five nominations, including best director (Jonathan Glazer), best adapted screenplay, best international feature and best sound.

‘Past Lives’: Two nominations, including best original screenplay.

Photo: AFP

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