Orbán calls for voter support to “occupy Brussels”

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 16th March 2024

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán lobbied for public support for his under-fire Fidesz party in European Parliament elections this summer during a speech in Budapest on Friday, saying it was necessary to “defend Hungary’s freedom and sovereignty” in Brussels. Right-wing or far-right parties are likely to fare better in several EU countries during the elections this summer, meaning Orbán, a nationalist in power for 14 years, might find more allies in the next parliament.

The 15th of March marked the anniversary of the start of the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Although the revolution failed, Orbán sought to touch on this history and use it to send a message about the present. “Brussels is not the first empire that has set its eyes on Hungary,” Orbán told the gathering of his supporters. The European Union wants to “force us to welcome migrants and re-educate children to accept homosexuality. As Hungarians we have been screwed, it’s time for a revolt”, he adds, announcing “a march on Brussels to bring about change”. Orbán promised that he will not allow the European Union to “undermine freedom: Hungary will remain free and sovereign. The nations of Europe today fear for their freedom” threatened “by Brussels. Hungary rejects war, is committed for peace” but “from the EU we receive war instead of peace… If we want to defend Hungary’s freedom and sovereignty, we have no other choice but to occupy Brussels.”

EU Commission unveils concessions for farmers after protests

The European Commission on Friday proposed further concessions on climate and environmental measures in response to ongoing farmer’s protests in several European countries. Farmers across the bloc have said proposed cuts to fuel subsidies, along with heavy environmental regulations as part of the  EU’s Green Deal plan to tackle climate change, were placing unaffordable burden on their operations. “The main goal of these legislative proposals is to further ease the administrative burden for EU farmers and give farmers and member states greater flexibility for complying with certain environmental conditions,” said a statement from Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Agricultural policy adapts to changing realities,” the statement added. Farmers from countries like France, Germany and Poland have blocked cities and highways with tractors in recent weeks. The protests have disrupted the lives of tens of millions of EU citizens and cost businesses tens of millions of euros due to transportation delays. Farmers argue that the free-trade agreements cause unfair competitions due to products arriving from overseas.

Flight arrives at Oregon airport missing an external panel

More trouble for Boeing! A United Airlines flight that took off on Friday morning from San Francisco International Airport landed in Oregon missing an external panel, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The panel was found to be missing after the plane, a Boeing 737-800, landed safely at its scheduled destination at Rogue Valley International Medford Airport in Oregon and parked at a gate, United Airlines said in a statement. It was unclear when or how the panel went missing. According to the airline, there was no indication of any damage to the plane during the flight, and the aircraft did not declare an emergency on its way to the Medford airport. “We’ll conduct a thorough examination of the plane and perform all the needed repairs before it returns to service,” the airline said. “We’ll also conduct an investigation to better understand how this damage occurred.” No one realised that the panel from the plane was missing until it had landed safely, the airline said.

‘More arms for Ukraine’ says Scholz after Berlin trilateral meeting

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to Berlin for a summit of the so-called “Weimar Triangle”. The trio, seeking to repair relations that became strained under Poland’s previously nationalist government, primarily discussed military support for Ukraine. Speaking after Friday’s Chancellery meeting, Scholz said, “We will begin acquiring more arms for Ukraine immediately.”

Those arms will be purchased on the global arms market, he added. However, the chancellor added that “we will increase military arms production capacity – also in cooperation with our partners on the ground in Ukraine.” Scholz also noted that a new coalition aimed at providing long-distance artillery rockets will be set up within the so-called Ramstein Format, a 40-plus-member group of allies – both NATO and non-NATO, and from across Europe, North America and Africa. It was also announced that the EU will be expanding financial as well as training assistance. Moreover, said Scholz, “We will use windfall profits from Russian assets frozen in Europe to provde financial assistance to Ukraine as well as to purchase further arms.” The EU’s plans to make a million artillery rounds for Ukraine have fallen well short. However, Politico reports Hungary, Luxembiurg, Malta and Slovakia emphatically said  they were against  the use of Russian assets frozen in Europe to purchase further arms.

Russians vote amid sporadic acts of protest

Russia began three days of voting Friday in a presidential election that is all but certain to extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule for six more years after he stifled dissent. At least half a dozen cases of vandalism at polling stations were reported, including a firebombing and several people pouring green liquid into ballot boxes – an apparent nod to the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who in 2017 was attacked by an assailant splashing green disinfectant in his face. One clip circulating online purports to show a woman throwing a petrol bomb near a St Petersburg polling station. Another widely shared video shows a young girl pouring ink into a ballot box. Polling stations in Moscow, Voronezh in south Russia, and the region of Karachay-Cherkessia in the north Caucasus are most affected by vandalism. Euronews reports several people have been detained at polling stations, according to Russian officials, who are urging law enforcement officers to remain vigilant. Voting is taking place through Sunday at polling stations across the vast country’s 11 time zones, in illegally annexed regions of Ukraine and online. Putin cast his ballot online, according to the Kremlin.

The election comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine enters its third year. Russia has the advantage on the battlefield, where it is making small, if slow, gains. A Russian missile strike on the port city of Odesa killed at least 14 people on Friday, local officials said. Ukraine, meanwhile, has made Moscow look vulnerable behind the front line with long-range drone attacks deep inside Russia and high-tech drone assaults that put its Black Sea fleet on the defensive. Russian regions bordering Ukraine reported a spike in shelling and repeated attacks this week by Ukrainian forces, which Putin described Friday as an attempt to frighten residents and derail the vote. “Those enemy strikes haven’t been and won’t be left unpunished,” he vowed at a meeting of his Security Council. “I’m sure that our people, the people of Russia, will respond to that with even greater cohesion,” Putin said. “Whom did they decide to scare? The Russian people? It has never happened and it will never happen.”

UN accuses Russia of ‘horrific treatment’ of Ukrainian POWs, civilians

Meanwhile, UN investigators have accused Russian authorities of disregarding basic human rights principles and causing untold suffering to Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilians by subjecting them to appalling treatment. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine submitted its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council this week. The investigators presented a blistering account of “violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and corresponding war crimes,” committed by Russia in Ukrainian areas under its control. The report focuses on torture against Ukrainian prisoners of war and describes “horrific treatment” of POWs in several detention facilities in the Russian Federation. He said new evidence underlines that torture had been widespread and systematic.

90,000 worshippers pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque despite Israeli restrictions

Ninety thousand Palestinian worshippers performed Tarawih prayers Friday at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, despite Israeli restrictions. The prayers are special night prayers that are performed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Islamic Endowments Department in Jerusalem said the worshippers attended the prayers on the sixth night of Ramadan. The official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, said it was the largest of worshippers attending prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque in months. Witnesses told Anadolu news agency that Israeli forces denied access to scores of youths from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the world’s third-holiest site for Muslims. Jews call the area the Temple Mount, claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times. Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognised by the international community.

UN chief urges ‘unconditional’ release of hostages in Gaza

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met Friday with the families of American hostages who have been held in the besieged Gaza Strip, according to a statement. Guterres reiterated his urgent call for an immediate and “unconditional” release of all hostages, including human remains, it said. Israel has waged a deadly military offensive on the Gaza Strip since an October 7 cross-border attack led by Hamas, in which 1,163 people were killed. More than 31,500 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have since been killed in Gaza, and over 73,000 injured amid mass destruction and shortages of necessities. The Israeli war has pushed 85 per cent of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid a crippling blockade of most food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN. Israel is accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice. An interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to stop genocidal acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.

Israel approves Rafah attack

Israel has approved a potential assault on the Gazan city of Rafah while also keeping ceasefire hopes alive with plans to send another delegation to Qatar for talks on a possible hostage deal with Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had approved a plan to attack the city on the southern edge of the shattered Palestinian enclave where more than half of its 2.3 million residents are sheltering after five months of war. Global allies and critics have urged Netanyahu to hold off attacking Rafah, fearing mass civilian casualties. Israel says it is one of the last strongholds of Hamas whom it has pledged to eliminate and that residents will be evacuated. In Washington, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said a Hamas ceasefire-for-hostages proposal was within the bounds of what was possible and expressed cautious optimism about it. Hamas has presented a Gaza ceasefire proposal to mediators and the US, which includes release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences. A statement from Netanyahu’s office on the Rafah attack plan said Hamas’ demands for the release of hostages remained unrealistic, but an Israeli delegation would still head to Doha once the security cabinet had discussed its position.

First load of aid delivered to Gaza using new sea route

A ship has delivered 200 tons of aid to Gaza with the hopes of alleviating the humanitarian crisis gripping the region. It is the first time that aid has travelled on this particular route from Cyprus. Israeli military officials confirmed the aid had been delivered. It comes as news from northern Palestine has become increasingly isolated and hunger hits the region, with many reduced to eating weeds and animal feed.The ship left Cyprus towing a barge filled with food sent by World Central Kitchen, a charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés. The charity has served 32 million meals in Gaza since the war began. The aid includes rice, flour, lentils, beans, tuna and canned meat. Israel has come under mounting pressure to allow more aid into Gaza, as its war with Hamas enters its fifth month.

IDF shows video, ‘Palestinian shots fired at crowd in Gaza’

The Israeli military spokesman released images showing Palestinian gunmen Thursday firing on a crowd of Gazans in the Zeitun neighborhood “one hour before the entry of a humanitarian convoy”. With these images, Israel intends to refute Hamas’ accusations of Israeli responsibility in the accident in which 21 people were killed and 155 injured, IDF said. “We reiterate – added the military spokesperson – that no member of the Israeli armed forces opened fire on the humanitarian convoy in Kuwait Square”. The IDF assures that the incident will not weaken its determination to distribute aid.

Biden applauds Senator Schumer’s bold rebuke of Netanyahu

US President Joe Biden has praised a speech by the US Senate leader Chuk Schumer that sought ouster of Israeli PM and new elections in Israel, saying many Americans shared concerns about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war on Gaza. “He made a good speech, and I think he expressed serious concern shared not only by him, but by many Americans,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office. The call by Democratic Senate majority chief Chuk Schumer, the highest-ranking elected Jewish American in history, was the most strident rebuke of Israel yet by a senior US official since Hamas’ October 7 blitz. “As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders… but there needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after October 7.” Schumer also said Netanyahu was one of four “major obstacles” to peace in Middle East. Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party retorted that Israel was “not a banana republic but an independent and proud democracy”.

UEFA Champions League quarter-final draw:

Arsenal v Bayern Munich; Atletico Madrid v Borussia Dortmund; Real Madrid v Manchester City; Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

Semi-final draw:

Atletico Madrid/Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain/Barcelona;

Arsenal/Bayern Munich v Real Madrid/Manchester City

The final of the competition takes place at Wembley on June 1.

UEFA Europa League quarter-final draw:

AC Milan v Roma; Liverpool v Atalanta; Bayer Leverkusen v West Ham; Benfica v Marseille

Semi-final draw

Benfica or Marseille v Liverpool or Atalanta; AC Milan or Roma v Bayer Leverkusen or West Ham

The final is set for Dublin on May 22.

UEFA Europa Conference League quarter-final draw:

Club Brugge v PAOK; Olympiakos v Fenerbahce; Aston Villa v Lille; Viktorias Plzen n Fiorentina

Semi-final draw:

Olympiakos v Fenerbahce v Aston Villa v Lille; Plzen v Fiorentina v Club Brugge v PAOK

This season’s Conference League final will be played in Athens at the OPAP Arena on May 29.

Photo: Janos Kummer/Getty Images

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