Orbán blasted for ‘appeasing’ Russian president

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 6th July 2024.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán was accused of ‘appeasement’ yesterday after he held talks with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

He arrived in Russia after an unannounced trip to Ukraine, where he met President Zelensky and proposed that Kyiv consider agreeing to an immediate ceasefire with Moscow.

At the beginning of their meeting Putin suggested Orbán – whose country took over the rotating EU presidency on Monday – had come as a representative of the European Council. Several European officials – including the leaders of Germany, Denmark and Estonia – dismissed that suggestion.

The only other European leader to visit Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine was Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer, who failed in April 2022 to convince Putin to end the war.

Orbán said yesterday: ‘We are slowly running out of countries that can talk to both sides of the conflict. Soon Hungary will be the only country in Europe that can talk to everyone.’

But European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer criticised his visit, saying: ‘This is about appeasement. It’s not about peace.’

EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said Orbán ‘had not received any mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow’. He added that Orbán’s ‘position excludes official contacts between the EU and President Putin – the Hungarian prime minister is thus not representing the EU in any form’. Borrell said the visit to Moscow ‘takes place exclusively in the framework of bilateral relations between Hungary and Russia’.

Kaja Kallas, the outgoing Estonian prime minister nominated to become the next EU foreign policy chief, accused Orbán of ‘exploiting’ the presidency and said he was trying ‘to sow confusion’. She wrote on X: ‘The EU is united, clearly behind Ukraine and against Russian aggression.’

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Orbán told him in advance about his visit to Moscow but that he ‘is not representing Nato at these meetings’.

The Hungarian prime minister, widely seen as having the warmest relations with Putin among European leaders, has routinely blocked, delayed or watered down EU efforts to help Kyiv and impose sanctions on Moscow for its war in Ukraine. He has long argued for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine but without outlining what that might mean for the country’s territorial integrity or future security.

After Orbán’s meeting with Putin, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said they had a ‘frank conversation’ on Ukraine. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said Orbán’s decision to visit Moscow was made ‘without approval or coordination’ with Kyiv. It added ‘the principle of ‘no agreements on Ukraine without Ukraine’ remains inviolable for our country’ and called on all states to adhere strictly to it.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the visit to Moscow was Orbán’s idea, according to the Russian state news agency Tass. He added Moscow valued Orbán’s ‘strong, clear and consistent course’ in trying to resolve the conflict.

The presidency of the Council of the EU is a largely formal role that can be used to shape the bloc’s policy agenda. Orbán has said he wants to use his country’s six-month term to push for an end to fighting in Ukraine.

Royal family congratulates Starmer on his electoral win

The British Royal family on Friday congratulated Sir Keir Starmer for his landslide electoral victory in the House of Commons. Sir Keir met King Charles on Friday and was formally appointed as UK Prime Minister after Rishi Sunak tendered his resignation.

The Royal Family shared a message on X, saying that the King requested Starmer to form a new administration. “Sir Keir accepted His Majesty’s offer and was appointed Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.”

Starmer received congratulatory messages from leaders across the world for his historic win as the Conservative Party, which held the reins of England’s government for 14 years, stepped down.

Starmer, a former barrister who entered Parliament in 2015 and assumed Labour leadership in 2020, has steered his party towards the political centre. He has appointed his new Cabinet which includes the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner as Deputy Prime Minister, former Bank of England economist Rachel Reeves as Chancellor of the Exchequer (she becomes the UK’s first female chancellor in 800 years), David Lammy has been named Foreign Secretary, Yvette Cooper is the Home Secretary, and John Healey was named the Defence Secretary. Starmer’s Cabinet includes the highest number of female ministers in history.

Outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took 47.5 per cent of the vote in his constituency. The Labour Party won 403 seats, while Sunak’s Conservative Party won just 109 in the 650-member House of Commons. Conceding the Labour Party’s win, Sunak apologised took responsibility for the loss. In May this year, Sunak called for a snap vote, which came as a surprise for many in his party.

Celebrating the landslide win, Starmer said that the victory comes with a great responsibility, and pledged “national renewal” after 14 years of Conservative rule.

European Council President Charles Michel said he was looking forward to working with Starmer in what he called a ‘new cycle for the UK’.

Trump ignores Starmer, congratulates Farage

Former US President, Donald Trump has celebrated the election of fellow populist Nigel Farage to Britain’s parliament, neglecting to applaud the new Prime Minister, Keir Starmer.

Farage’s Reform UK party, known for its anti-immigration stance, won the third largest vote haul.

“Congratulations to Nigel Farage on his big WIN of a Parliament seat amid Reform UK Election Success. Nigel is a man who truly loves his country!” Trump wrote on Truth Social platform. Farage is a long-standing ally of Trump, and a champion of Brexit elected to parliament on his eighth attempt.

Moderate Pezeshkian leads in Iran election results

Masoud Pezeshkian, a moderate who has promised to open Iran to the world, is expected to win the run-off presidential election based on early results, reports said. Voters in Iran hit the polls in a run-off election to choose a successor to late President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in May along with the foreign minister and other officials.

The two contenders are Saeed Jalili, 58, a hard-liner who is a former negotiator with the West over Iran’s contentious nuclear programme, and Pezeshkian, 69, a heart surgeon and reformist politician who was health minister from 2001 to 2005.

“The vote counting has ended and the rival candidates have been informed about the result. Pezeshkian is around three million votes ahead of his hardline rival Saeed Jalili,” said a source, who requested anonymity, to Reuters news agency. Earlier, the interior ministry announced that Pezeshkian was leading in early results.

Fresh Gaza truce talks next week

Israel said Friday that “gaps” remained with Hamas on how to secure a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release but that it will send a delegation for fresh talks with Qatari mediators next week. The statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman came after a delegation led by the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, held a first round of talks with mediators in Doha on Friday.

“It was agreed that next week Israeli negotiators will travel to Doha to continue the talks. There are still gaps between the parties,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The United States, which has worked alongside Qatar and Egypt in trying to broker a deal, had talked up the significance of Netanyahu’s decision to send a delegation to Qatar. The US believes Israel and Hamas have a “pretty significant opening” to reach an agreement, a senior official said.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP that new ideas from the group had been “conveyed by the mediators to the American side, which welcomed them and passed them on to the Israeli side. Now the ball is in the Israeli court.”

The Gaza war – which has raised fears of a broader conflagration involving Lebanon – began with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the military says are dead.

In response, Israel has carried out a military offensive that has killed at least 38,011 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The war has uprooted 90 per cent of Gaza’s population, destroyed much of the territory’s housing and other infrastructure, and left almost 500,000 people enduring “catastrophic” hunger, UN agencies say. The head of the World Health Organization warned that “further disruption to health services is imminent in Gaza due to a severe lack of fuel”.

The main stumbling block to a truce deal has been Hamas’s demand for a permanent end to the fighting, which Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners strongly reject.

Netanyahu will probably meet President Biden during a scheduled visit to Washington to address Congress on July 24, the White House said. He has faced a well-organised protest movement in Israel demanding a deal to free the hostages, which took to the streets again on Thursday evening. The veteran hawk demands the release of the hostages but also insists the war will not end until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s ability to make war or govern.

Spain and France to face off in Euros last four

Spain will face France in the semi-finals of Euro 2024 after knocking out hosts Germany as Turkey reacted with dismay to defender Merih Demiral’s two-match ban for making an alleged ultra-nationalist salute.

Luis de la Fuente’s Spain triumphed 2-1 in an engrossing match between the two best-performing teams at the tournament, thanks to Mikel Merino heading home Dani Olmo’s cross just as the match looked destined for a penalty shoot-out. “This is a winning horse… I’m proud to coach players like this, players that are insatiable,” said De la Fuente.

It was a tough end to the tournament for Germany, who pushed Spain all the way and took the match to extra time with Florian Wirtz’s 89th-minute strike which levelled Olmo’s opener for La Roja. “We played a good tournament but when you’re so close, to be eliminated like that, it’s bitter,” said Toni Kroos.

Spain now will be favourites to claim a record-breaking fourth European crown after their seventh straight win inspired by Olmo, who replaced injured Pedri after just eight minutes following a clash with Kroos.

They came through a huge test against the Germans in Stuttgart and will pose a completely different kind of problem to France, who beat Portugal 5-3 on penalties after a drab match finished goalless after extra time.

Theo Hernandez coolly struck home the winning spot-kick as France went through to the last four despite their only goals from open play in the tournament being scored by opposition players.

Joao Felix was the only player to miss in the shoot-out, striking the base of post, meaning that Portugal go home and ageing icon Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score a goal at a major tournament for the first time in his career.

France have reached the semis in four of the last five tournaments and coach Didier Deschamps said: “We mustn’t take that for granted, that’s what I always say. It’s what all the players in the team deserve.”

Demiral ban anger

Turkey’s government blasted as “unfair and biased” Demiral’s ban, which means he misses today’s last-eight clash with the Netherlands and that his Euros campaign is over unless Vincenzo Montella’s team reach the final.

Demiral was the unlikely hero with a brace in Turkey’s 2-1 win over Austria in the last 16 and during celebrations for his second goal made a gesture associated with Turkish right-wing extremist group Grey Wolves.

UEFA banned Demiral for, among other things, “violating the basic rules of decent conduct” – a move which Turkey’s Sports Minister Osman Askin Bak claimed was politically-motivated and Montella said was based on a “misunderstanding”. “It wasn’t a political gesture as it was interpreted,” insisted Montella, who added that the wolf gesture is a “symbol of the Turks”.

Turkey will have a vociferous backing in Berlin for a match which will be attended by the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claimed Demiral was just “showing his excitement”.

Bellingham to face Swiss

England will have Jude Bellingham available for their quarter-final with Switzerland after he was handed a reprieve by UEFA for his crotch-grabbing celebration after keeping the Three Lions in the competition in the last 16.

Bellingham, who has scored twice in Germany, was filmed mimicking the gesture while apparently looking towards Slovakia’s bench following his stunning stoppage-time overhead kick which took that match to extra time.

Coach Gareth Southgate called UEFA’s ruling, which allows him to select his star player, a “common sense” decision.
A win over the Swiss, who dumped out Italy in the last 16, would set up a semi-final with Turkey or the Dutch as England look to break a 58-year major tournament duck.

England and Germany fans clash in Dusseldorf

Fighting broke out last night between England and Germany fans after the home nation was knocked out of Euro 2024. Videos showed England fans taunting German fans, before fists flew as police sealed off both sides of the street where fans had been drinking all day in Alstadt. Witnesses said: ‘The England fans were taunting the Germans about them losing to Spain and then they started singing songs like ‘have you ever seen the Germans win a war?’ Some 20 Englishmen got involved in confronting a group of Germans and then a couple got involved in a punch up.

Copa America: Quarter-final: Venezuela v Canada 1-1 (Canada win 4-3 on penalties). The other two quarter-finals will be played early Sunday morning: Colombia v Panama (midnight, Malta time) and Uruguay v Brazil at 3am.

Photo: Kremlin

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