Malta and Latvia count, Slovakian poll stays open late

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 9th June 2024.

Malta, together with Slovakia and Latvia held their polls on the third day of elections to choose the next European Parliament. The Malta Electoral Commission announced early Sunday a turnout of 72.8% against 2019’s 72.6%. Figures show that the highest number of voters was registered in Gozo (73.95%) and the least was the tenth district (56.33%).

For the first time, the voter turnout percentage factored in votes cast in early voting sessions held in the past days. The decision to factor them into provisional turnout calculations was made because of a dramatic increase in the number of early votes cast, an Electoral  Commission spokesperson told Times of Malta. “We included early voters in the calculation to give a truer picture of actual turnout,” he said.

On Saturday afternoon the crucial Italian vote got underway, with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her right-wing Brothers of Italy party hoping to cement their position as powerbroker in Brussels.

Euronews’ latest superpoll suggests Meloni’s far-right party is on course for a major victory in Italy, with her Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) party likely to win over a quarter of the vote. Overall, the survey of eight representative countries confirmed predictions of a strengthening of the conservative block in the European Parliament alongside a surge by parties further to the right in several member states.

Italy closed polling stations at 11pm, though polls will be open for Italians again all day Sunday. Ansa says turnout on Saturday was 14.64%.

Italians might be the last in Europe to close their polling stations on Sunday but their political leaders were early ballot birds, with many casting votes a couple of hours after polls opened. “You will decide the future of Italy and Europe. Now everything is in your hands,” Meloni wrote on X.

Elly Schlein, the leader of the centre-left PD party, voted in Bologna accompanied by her partner, without comment. A completely different approach from Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant Lega party, who told reporters he voted “against bombers like Macron”.

Former prime minister and president of the liberal Italia Viva party, Matteo Renzi, voted in his native Florence with his wife and daughter Ester, who came of voting age Saturday. Carlo Calenda, the leader of the other liberal party, Azione, went to the polls with his son, who was also voting for first time.

White powder stalls Latvia voting

Due to a security scare over the discovery of white powder, Slovaks were given an extra three hours, until early today, to finish voting. The final turnout in Latvia stayed at 33.7%, a very slight increase compared to 2019 data (33.5%) and far from the country’s all-time record, set in 2009, when more than half of eligible voters went to the polls.

Today will be the big election day. From this evening, all eyes will be on the first projection of the new European Parliament, expected around 8.15pm. These initial projections, based on national estimates, will provide the first glimpse into the potential makeup of the Parliament and set the tone for the night’s discussions and reactions.

Pro-EU rallies in Germany

Several pro-EU rallies against right-wing extremists were organised in Germany on Saturday with tens of thousands of people gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Leipzig among other cities. The target of demonstrators, organised by civil society groups, was the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD),which looks set to achieve its best ever electoral performance.

Despite looking likely to scoop up as many as 20 MEPs, AfD remains a pariah party in Brussels after controversial comments by the party’s lead candidate, Maximilian Krah, which sparked Marine Le Pen’s wrath, leading to the expulsion of the party from her parliamentary group, the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID).

Hundreds of Palestinians killed in Israeli hostage rescue

Four hostages kidnapped by Hamas from the Nova music festival on 7th October were rescued in a daylight raid in central Gaza on Saturday, as scores of Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks, an action which led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to call for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on “the bloody massacre that was carried out by the Israeli forces” at the al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, official news agency WAFA reported.

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrei Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, were freed during a “high-risk, complex mission” from two separate buildings in the Nuseirat area, the Israel Defense Forces said. The IDF said the released hostages were all in good health, and they were later pictured embracing family members and meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a medical centre near Tel Aviv.

It comes as dozens of Palestinians, including children, were killed on Saturday in the area where the operation took place. Two hospitals in Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital and al-Awda hospital, said they had counted 70 bodies between them, while Hamas’s government media office said at least 210 people had been killed. Earlier, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said Cogat, the Israeli defence ministry body in charge of civilian policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, estimated there had been under 100 casualties.

The rare rescue of hostages – a joint operation conducted by the IDF, Israel Security Agency and Israel Police – came eight months into war with Hamas in Gaza. IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said the mission was based on “precise” intelligence and that Israeli forces came under fire during the operation. One special forces officer was wounded in the Gaza hostage rescue and later died in hospital, Israel police said. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said special forces operated “under heavy fire” when rescuing the four hostages. “This is one of the most heroic and extraordinary operations I have witnessed over the course of 47 years serving in Israel’s defence establishment,” Gallant said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Israeli forces for operating “creatively and bravely”, adding: “We will not let up until we complete the mission and return home all the hostages – both those alive and dead.”

‘A surgical operation’

New details about Israel’s bold rescue of the four hostages are coming to light with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) describing the daytime operation as a “high-risk, complex mission” that was “surgical” in its precision. The mission was planned for weeks using “precise intelligence” and took place at around 11am local time in the heart of Nuseirat in central Gaza, according to Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari of the IDF.

Officers of the National Police special anti-terror unit of Yamam along with Shin Bet agents simultaneously raided two Hamas buildings to pluck the three male hostages and one female hostage to safety. The soldiers had been undergoing intense training for weeks in preparation for the rescue mission, Hagari said.

Noa Argamani, 26, was rescued at one site, while Almog Meir Jan, 22, Shlomi Ziv, 41, and Andrey Kozlov, 27, were taken from the second location. Argamani has been one of the most widely recognised hostages since video of her abduction was among the first to surface. She could be seen in the video between two men on a motorcycle with one arm outstretched and the other held down as she screams “Don’t kill me!”.

Dramatic aerial footage from Saturday morning’s rescue shows Meir Jan, Kozlov and Ziv running with Israeli forces to a waiting helicopter before the chopper takes off to bring them to safety. During the operation, Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora, 36, an officer in the special anti-terror unit of Yamam, was critically injured and later died from his injuries. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Under 100 Palestinians were killed in the raid, Hagari said, adding that Hamas had been holding hostages inside civilian buildings, and Israeli intelligence was able to pinpoint two of those buildings in Nuseirat where families were staying with armed guards inside.

Blinken welcomes rescue, calls on Hamas to accept proposed deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the IDF rescue of four hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. “The United States will not rest until every hostage is returned home,” Blinken said. “The proposal that President Biden outlined eight days ago would bring relief to both the people of Gaza and the remaining hostages and their families through an immediate ceasefire that could lead to the release of all hostages, a surge of humanitarian assistance, Gaza’s reconstruction and an enduring end to the war,” he added. “The only thing standing in the way of achieving this ceasefire is Hamas. It is time for them to accept the deal,” Blinken said.

US resumes delivery of aid to Gaza from the pier

The United States has resumed the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza from the temporary dock that was damaged by a storm, according to a post on X by the American Central Command. “On Saturday around 10.30 (Gaza time) the United States Central Command began the delivery of humanitarian assistance for a total of approximately 492 tonnes,” one reads in the note which specifies that to date Centcom had contributed to the delivery of over 1,573 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Cargo ship hit by missile in the Gulf of Aden

An Antigua and Barbuda-flagged merchant ship has caught fire after being hit by a missile off the coast of Yemen, where attacks by Houthi rebels are increasing. The British maritime security company Ambrey reported: “The ship was heading southwest along the Gulf of Aden at a speed of 8.2 knots when the bow station was hit by a missile.”

‘Russia will not ‘stop at Ukraine’, Biden says after talks with Macron

Speaking alongside French President Emmanuel Macron after talks in Paris, US President Joe Biden on Saturday pledged Washington’s support for Kyiv in its battle against the Russian invasion, warning that Vladimir Putin would “not stop” at Ukraine.

“Putin is not going to stop at Ukraine,” Biden said. “All of Europe will be threatened; we are not going to let that happen,” Biden told journalists during his state visit to France. “The United States is standing strong with Ukraine. We will not, I say it again, walk away,” he added.

President Macron paid tribute to Joe Biden praising the “loyalty” of a partner who “loves and respects Europeans”. “From Ukraine to the Middle East, passing through what we want to relaunch on an economic level, thank you for being present on all these issues,” said Macron, addressing the US president.

Macron told Biden in front of reporters: “I thank you, Mr President, for being the president of the world’s number one power but doing it with the loyalty of a partner who likes and respects the Europeans.” Both Biden and Macron on Friday met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris, pledging support for the Ukrainian cause.

UK: Tories face election wipeout with Labour set to gain a 416 majority

The British Labour Party is heading for a majority of 416 in an election result which would prove cataclysmic for the Tory Party, according to a new Mail on Sunday poll. The Deltapoll survey gives Sir Keir Starmer’s party a 25-point lead, which would reduce the Conservatives to a Liberal Democrat-sized rump of 37 seats. Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would lose his Yorkshire seat, despite defending a majority of more than 27,000.

The polling company carefully caveats that the projection is based on a crude uniform swing, and should be treated with caution. Nonetheless, the poll, which was partly conducted in the aftermath of the furore over Rishi Sunak’s early return from the D-Day commemorations, highlights the scale of Sunak’s task in the run up to the 4th July vote.

The poll puts Labour on 46% and the Conservatives on 21%, their lowest rating in this Parliament. Nigel Farage’s Reform is on 12%. Despite the colossal Labour lead, it reveals some scepticism about Starmer.

Asked about the Labour leader’s insistence, during last Tuesday’s leaders’ debate, that he would not support the use of private healthcare for family members who need it, only 13% of respondents agreed.

World War II veteran, 100, weds 96-year-old bride

Together, the collective age of the bride and groom was nearly 200. But American World War II veteran Harold Terens and his sweetheart Jeanne Swerlin proved that love is eternal as they tied the knot near the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France. Their respective ages – he is 100, she is a youngster of just 96 – made their nuptials on Saturday an almost double-century celebration. They were later guests at a state dinner with French President Macron and US President Biden.

On her way into the nuptials, the bubbly bride-to-be said, “It’s not just for young people, love, you know? We get butterflies. And we get a little action, also.” As the swing of Glenn Miller and other period tunes rang out on the streets, well-wishers – some in WWII-period clothes – were already lined up a good hour before the wedding, behind barriers outside the town hall, with a rousing pipe and drum band also on hand to serenade the happy couple. After both declaring “oui” to vows read by Carentan’s mayor in English, the couple exchanged rings.

‘Reporters Without Borders’ chief dies at 53

Christophe Deloire, who negotiated to free imprisoned journalists around the world and offered refuge to reporters under threat as the head of the media freedom group Reporters Without Borders, died Saturday. He was 53. Deloire had been battling sudden and aggressive cancer and died in Paris surrounded by loved ones, according to board members of Reporters Without Borders, also known by its French acronym RSF. Deloire was “a tireless defender, on every continent, of the freedom, independence and pluralism of journalism, in a context of information chaos,” RSF said in a statement. “Journalism was his life’s struggle, which he fought with unshakeable conviction.” He is survived by his wife Perrine and their son Nathan.

Brazil becomes eighth largest global economy

Although Brazil’s economy is the most stable in Latin America, it reached a new high after growing 0.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2024 – a figure slightly above market expectations after two periods of stagnation, surpassing even Italy. Through his account on the social network X, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva stressed that this rise in GDP and the country’s new position in the global economy is “further proof that we are on the right path”.

For his part, Brazil’s Finance Minister Fernando Haddad told a news conference in Rome that Brazil’s economic growth was “in line with the forecasts” of the government and the ministry, which allows the 2.5 per cent projection for 2024 to be maintained.   

Photo: EPA

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