Poland, France, Germany vow to make Europe stronger

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 13th February 2024

The governments of Poland, France, and Germany vowed on Monday to make Europe a security and defence power with a greater ability to back Ukraine, amid concerns that former US President Donald Trump might return to the White House and allow Russia to expand its aggression on the continent. The foreign ministers of the three countries met in the Paris suburb of La Celle-Saint-Cloud to have talks about Ukraine, amid other issues. They discussed reviving the so-called Weimar Triangle – a long dormant regional grouping that was designed to promote cooperation between France, Germany, and Poland. The Weimar Triangle was created in 1991 as Poland was emerging from decades of communism as a platform for political cooperation among the three nations.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Monday, said he wanted to “revitalise” his nation’s relations with its key European partners. “There is no reason why we should be so clearly militarily weaker than Russia, and therefore increasing production and intensifying our cooperation are absolutely indisputable priorities,” Tusk said in arguing for the European Union to become “a military power” in its own right. The diplomatic push came after Trump shocked many in Europe over the weekend by appearing to invite Russia to invade any NATO member not spending enough on its own defense.

Speaking alongside Tusk in Berlin, Scholz blasted Trump’s comments. “NATO’s promise of protection is unrestricted – ‘all for one and one for all’,” Scholz said, without mentioning the former US president by name. “And let me say clearly for current reasons: any relativisation of NATO’s support guarantee is irresponsible and dangerous, and is in the interest of Russia alone. No one can play, or ‘deal’ with Europe’s security,” the chancellor added.

Earlier on Monday, Scholz inaugurated a new ammunition factory, underlining Europe’s efforts to ramp up weapons production. Tusk also urged European nations to invest more in military projects in order “to achieve as quickly as possible, in the next dozen or so months, much greater air defence capabilities, much greater production capabilities in terms of ammunition”.

Macron, speaking alongside Tusk in Paris, said Europe’s will “to further supply and meet Ukrainian needs is crucial” after leaders of the 27 EU member nations sealed a deal to provide Ukraine with 50 billion euros in support for its war-ravaged economy. This “will enable us to make from Europe a security and defence power that is both complementary to NATO and a pillar of the Atlantic alliance, Macron said. Trump’s remarks raised concerns that, if re-elected, he could embolden Russia to attack other countries besides Ukraine.

Speaking in Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani dismissed Trump’s threat as an “electoral campaign joke” but said it was legitimate for all NATO members to do their part. “To have more influence within NATO we need a Europe with its own army,” he said. “We must look forward, because it is fair that Americans are asking us to do our part, we must have equal responsibility.”

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski noted on Monday that he and his French and German counterparts “meet at a dramatic, but also solemn moment.” Russian President Vladimir Putin “must not be allowed to win this war. We must fulfill our obligations toward Ukraine.” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said that “each minute counts to get Europeans prepared to absorb the shock of a scenario that has been well described by Donald Trump.”

NATO cannot be an à la carte military alliance dependent on the whims of the US President, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday, as he responded to comments made by Donald Trump regarding NATO over the weekend. Reuters quotes Borrell saying: “NATO cannot be an à la carte military alliance… depending on the humour of the President of the US”.

Trump asks US Supreme Court to intervene in his immunity bid

Donald Trump yesterday asked the US Supreme Court to put on hold a judicial decision rejecting his claim that he is immune from being prosecuted for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss, arguing that without such a shield “the Presidency as we know it will cease to exist”. Trump, seeking to regain the Presidency in the 5th November US election, asked the justices to pause a 6th February ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejecting his claim of immunity from prosecution. Trump, the first former President to be criminally prosecuted, is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge President John Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020. Slowing the case could benefit Trump. If he wins the November election and returns to the White House, he could use his Presidential powers to force an end to the prosecution or potentially pardon himself for any federal crimes.

Photo: WSJ

Trump takes 11-point lead over Biden on economy – poll

Former President Trump has a large lead over President Biden in a new poll released by The Financial Times that shows him ahead by 11 points on the question of who would best handle the economy, often the key issue in a presidential election. About 42 per cent of respondents in the poll said Trump would be the best steward for the US economy going forward, while 31 per cent chose Biden. The remaining were undecided or said neither candidate. The figure underlines a dilemma for Biden, who is presiding over historically-low unemployment and a booming stock market but seemingly has yet to convince voters of his economic stewardship. The Financial Times poll did show some evidence of rising sentiment on the economy, however. But that sentiment has not crossed into approval for Biden. His 36 per cent approval on the economy is the same as in the November survey. The Trump campaign has continued to hit Biden over inflation, which was high during his first years in office but has now reached its lowest levels since it last peaked in 2022.

Photos: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg; Al Drago/Bloomberg

Kamala Harris “ready to serve as leader

US Vice President Kamala Harris says she is ready to “serve” as a leader. While fears about Joe Biden’s advanced age are rampant, Harris – in an interview with the Wall Street Journal conducted two days before the report by special prosecutor Robert Hur – assures: “I’m ready, there’s no doubt about it.” Harris had called the Hur report “politically motivated”. An overwhelming majority of 86 per cent of Americans think President Joe Biden, 81, is too old to serve another term, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. In recent months the White House has tried to revive the image of Harris who, in the polls, is performing worse than Biden. Attention is high on the vice president, considering the president’s age and the possibility that she could replace him if something happened while he is in office.

100 Palestinians killed in Rafah to rescue 2 Israeli hostages

More than 100 Palestinians, icluding any women and children, were killed in “extremely intense” Israeli airstrikes and shelling which pounded locations in Rafah on Monday, according to local officials, as alarm mounts over Israel’s planned ground offensive in the Gazan city. The airstrikes were part of the operation to rescue Israeli hostages. The Israeli military confirmed it conducted a “series of strikes” in the Shaboura area of Rafah and that two Israeli hostages were rescued in a “special operation”. Israeli forces stormed a heavily guarded apartment to rescue the hostages early on Monday. An aid worker who has just left the city, situated in southern Gaza, described the so-called safe zones in the area as “fiction”.

UN won’t participate in forced displacement of Palestinians

The United Nations has said it will not participate in the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza. It stressed Palestinians have no safe place to go as Israel is still carrying out a military offensive. UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric made the comments in response to Israel’s announced plans to evacuate about 1.5 million Palestinian civilians who have fled to southern Rafah to seek safety. The Israeli military wants to continue its operation against Hamas in the Egyptian border city, despite having ordered civilians to evacuate there. Dujarric said the vast majority of Palestinians in the south can’t be sent back to northern and central areas littered with unexploded ordnance and destroyed housing. They face a dire humanitarian situation with very few supplies of food and other necessities. Dujarric stressed that “there is no place that is currently safe in Gaza” and the UN wants to ensure “that anything that happens is done in full respect of international law, in full respect of the protection of civilians.”

The prospect of a Rafah offensive is “terrifying

The prospect of a “real” offensive by the Israeli army in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are refugees, is “terrifying”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said Monday. “Considering the carnage that has taken place so far in Gaza, we can perfectly imagine what will happen in Rafah,” Türk said in a statement.

“Give Israel fewer weapons” – Borell tells Biden

“President Biden has said that civilian deaths in Gaza are too many. If there are too many then maybe you have to give Israel fewer weapons, it’s quite logical,” EU high representative Josep Borrell said this during the news conference with the commissioner of the UN agency UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini. “Everyone goes to Tel Aviv and asks ‘please, there are too many victims, kill fewer civilians’ but Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t listen to anyone. Maybe it’s time to stop asking please and do something”, added Borrell. Regarding the latest evacuation requests, Borrell then controversially asked as to where the Gazans would go: “And where, on the moon?”.

International efforts to broker deal between Israel and Hamas intensify

The US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar are expected to meet in Cairo today to work on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas which would bring a six-week pause in the fighting. Speaking after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House Monday, US President Joe Biden said: “A major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of more than one million people sheltering there”.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II appealed for a full ceasefire to end the war in Gaza after talks with Joe Biden, striking a discordant note with the US president who is seeking a shorter six-week pause to allow Israel time to defeat Hamas. Speaking at the White House with Abdullah by his side, Biden said civilians in the southern city of Rafah must be protected as Israel considers a ground incursion, while the Jordanian warned against any offensive at all. Biden, 81, said that the United States was working to negotiate a pause in fighting of least six weeks in the Gaza strip as part of a wider deal that would also involve the release of hostages.

Pakistani protesters take to the streets

Thousands of protesters have blocked highways in Pakistan and started a day-long strike to demonstrate against the results of last week’s general election. The demonstrations on Monday follow the announcement of the final results from the February 8 vote, with tensions high amid claims of vote rigging and tampering, and intense uncertainty over the formation of the next government. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its affiliates won the most seats in the final tally published on Sunday, securing 95 of 264 seats. Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party came second with 75 seats. With no one party winning a majority, complex negotiations are ongoing over forming a coalition government that will pick the country’s next prime minister. Meanwhile, Sharif’s PML-N, which has the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which came third in the election with 54 seats, are holding alliance talks and wrangling over who would be prime minister. With dozens of constituency results facing challenges in court, Pakistan has weeks of political uncertainty ahead. Thousands took to the streets over the weekend in Lahore, where dozens were arrested. On Monday, the party organised further protests and a strike. A government spokesperson in the province of Balochistan urged protesters to “show grace” by accepting defeat and moving from the highways. Police had previously warned that they would come down hard on illegal gatherings and cited a colonial-era law banning public gatherings. A similar warning was also issued in Rawalpindi, where police fired tear gas at a crowd of PTI supporters.

20% of migratory animals at risk of extinction

All migratory animals, from humpback whales to monarch butterflies, eels, sharks and fruit bats, are increasingly at risk of extinction, everywhere in the world, according to the first UN report called ‘State of the World’s Migratory Species’. The report shows that one in five migratory species is at risk of extinction. A particularly dramatic situation is for migratory fish, 97 per cenr of which are at risk of disappearing. The cause lies in particular in the reduction of habitats due to human exploitation and climate change as well as indiscriminate trapping. Performing migrations is a strategy adopted by many animal species that allows them to follow the best environmental conditions and have food available more easily. These are often animals that have a fundamental role in regulating the balance of the ecosystems into which they periodically move and in many cases are the protagonists of incredible journeys – such as that of the Bar-tailed Godwit, a bird that is able to fly non-stop for 13,000 kilometres. moving from Alaska to Tasmania, or eels that are all born in the Sargasso Sea and then spend their lives in rivers around the world and finally return to spawn in their place of origin.

Students use AI to translate ancient scrolls text

Three students took home a $700,000 prize for winning a competition that aims to decode the Herculaneum papyri, a collection of papyrus scrolls that have been unreadable for centuries. The students, Youssef Nader, Luke Farritor, and Julian Schilliger, had never met in person but were the first team to uncover at least four legible passages in the scrolls of 140 characters each (the length of just two tweets). “I think this promises a very exciting future where seemingly-impossible ideas will become possible,” Nader, a 27-year-old machine-learning PhD student at Freie University in Berlin, told The Wall Street Journal. Farritor, 22, is a student at the University of Nebraska, and Schilliger, 28, is a robotics graduate student at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the Journal reported. The scrolls were buried in the first century during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the Villa of the Papyri – an Italian countryside estate that historians have linked to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. About 800 scrolls have been excavated from the site to date. “Some of these texts could completely rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world,” Robert Fowler, chair of the Herculaneum Society, which raises awareness of the scrolls, told Bloomberg. “This is the society from which the modern Western world is descended.”

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