Pope calls for a universal ban on surrogacy

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 9th January 2024

Pope Francis on Monday called for a universal ban on what he called the “despicable” practice of surrogate motherhood, as he included the “commercialisation” of pregnancy in an annual speech listing threats to global peace and human dignity.

In a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, the Pontiff lamented that 2024 had dawned at a time in which peace is “increasingly threatened, weakened and in some part lost”. Citing Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, the issue of migration, climate crises, and the “immoral” production of nuclear and conventional weapons, Francis delivered a list of the ills afflicting humanity and the increasing violation of international humanitarian law that allows them.

But Pope Francis also listed smaller-scale issues that he said were threats to peace and human dignity, including surrogacy. He said the life of the unborn child must be protected and not “suppressed or turned into an object of trafficking”.

“I consider despicable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs,” he said. Saying a child is a gift and “never the basis of a commercial contract”, he called for a global ban on surrogacy “to prohibit this practice universally”.

In his geopolitical roundup, Francis singled out Russia by name in noting the “large-scale war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. He was more balanced in his lament of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, condemning Hamas’ 7th October assault on southern Israel “and every instance of terrorism and extremism”. At the same time, he said the attack provoked a “strong Israeli military response” that had left thousands dead and created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He called for an immediate ceasefire, including in Lebanon, and the liberation of hostages held in Gaza, and reiterated the Holy See’s position seeking a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem.

Blinken expects to discuss Israel’s next phase of war in Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s delegation is in Tel Aviv and expects to discuss the Israeli defence minister’s plan for the next phase of the war in Gaza during key meetings today. Last week, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant put forward the military’s plan for the next phase of the war, which states that Palestinians will not be allowed to return to their homes in northern Gaza until all the remaining hostages are freed. The US side is expected to push Israeli officials on an “imminent” transition of the war to a lower-intensity phase, the official said.

On Monday, Blinken said Palestinians “must not be pressed to leave Gaza” and criticised “irresponsible” comments by some Israel ministers calling for Gazans’ resettlement outside the enclave. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said on Monday that he has been quietly working to persuade the Israeli government to reduce or “significantly get out of Gaza”.

Meanwhile, Israel claimed responsibility on Monday for the death of a senior Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon. Additionally, Israel’s military said it completed the dismantling of Hamas’ command structure in northern Gaza. At the same time, Israeli forces announced they had located what they said was the largest weapons production site so far found in Gaza, with underground workshops they said were used to produce long-range missiles capable of hitting targets in northern Israel.

The war will last “many more months” even in its new low intensity phase, the Israeli Intelligence Minister, Gila Gamliel, said in an interview with ‘Tazpit Presse Service’, underlining that there will still be “difficult times”. “The conflict will not end before all objectives are achieved; difficult times await us,” Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, said, adding: “We cannot – and will not – end this war before we have achieved our goals.”

Security chiefs have repeatedly warned Prime Minister Benamin Netanyahu that the West Bank is on the verge of a serious escalation. This was reported by the Israeli broadcaster Channel 12, according to which the increased concern comes following Israel’s refusal to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues belonging to the Palestinian National Authority, in addition to the refusal to allow around 150,000 Palestinians to return to their jobs in Israel and the settlements. Netanyahu has so far refused to hold votes in the security cabinet to review both decisions, given pressure from far-right allies.

Europe, US in grip of storms, chaos, and disruption in transport

The wave of frost and extreme cold continues to hit Northern Europe and in particular Scandinavia, creating chaos and inconveniences especially in transport and on the roads. There are also power outages and problems with water pipes freezing. Today in Sweden, where the temperature is around -9 degrees, many trains have been cancelled, including 36 in Stockholm.

In Norway, the Oslo train station was opened to help the homeless cope with the cold wave and yesterday hosted over 30 people. In Oslo, in recent days, the temperature dropped below -30 degrees, for the first time in the history of the Norwegian capital.

Last week in the village of Kvikkjokk, in the Arctic region of Sweden, the mercury dropped to -43.6 degrees, the lowest temperature recorded in the country in January in the last 25 years. Extremely cold temperatures, snow, and gale-force winds have caused transport disruption across the Nordic region, with several bridges closed and some rail and ferry services suspended.

Police in Denmark have urged motorists to avoid unnecessary travel as wind and snow hit northern and western parts of the country.

Meanwhile, a powerful winter storm is slated to bring major flooding and blizzard conditions to the Southeast and East Coast of the United States later this week. The National Weather Service warned the storm will “produce widespread, significant impact” to large portions of the US, just days after a winter storm walloped the Northeast over the weekend, bringing the first accumulated snow of the season to many parts of the region.

French prime minister resigns

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne resigned on Monday following recent political turmoil over a new immigration law, paving the way for President Emmanuel Macron to seek fresh momentum by appointing a new government in the coming days. The shakeup was widely seen as an attempt by the 46-year-old centrist Macron to head off a looming lame-duck status. Macron’s term is to end in 2027 and, in line with the French Constitution, he won’t be able to run again for President. In her resignation letter, Borne suggested she resigned at Macron’s request, citing the president’s “will” to “appoint a new prime minister”. Political observers also suggested that Macron, a staunch supporter of European integration, wants his new government to get ready for June’s European Union elections.

Photo: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

German farmers’ protest sparks chaos

German farmers began a week of nationwide protests on Monday, causing traffic jams across the country as they blocked streets and highways with thousands of tractors and trucks. Monday’s actions were the latest in a series of protests venting anger over the coalition government’s decision to cut some diesel subsidies to farmers and transport truckers. Many of the vehicles involved in Monday’s protests featured banners emblazoned with the logo of the far-right nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has unsurprisingly come out in support of farmers rallying against the government. Politicians from other parties, including the conservative CDU/CSU, as well as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), have also voiced support. Currently, AfD is polling at around 23% nationally, far outpacing the governing SPD, Greens, and FDP.

Photo: Ying Tang / AP

Loose bolts, “installation issues” on some Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners

United Airlines said on Monday it found loose bolts and other “installation issues” on a part of some Boeing 737 Max 9 jets that were inspected after a mid-flight blowout on a similar Alaska Airlines jet on Friday. The inspections are focused on plugs used to seal an area set aside for extra emergency doors that are not required on United and Alaska Max 9s.

“Since we began preliminary inspections on Saturday, we have found instances that appear to relate to installation issues in the door plug – for example, bolts that needed additional tightening,” Chicago-based United said. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all Max 9s operated by Alaska and United and some flown by foreign airlines after a terrifying flight on Friday night.

On Monday, the FAA approved guidelines for inspecting the door plugs on other Max 9 jets and repairing them, if necessary. That move could speed the return to service of the 171 planes that the FAA grounded. Alaska has 64 other Max 9s, and United Airlines owns 79 of them. No other US airlines operate that model of the Boeing 737. Shares of The Boeing Co. fell 8% and those of Spirit AeroSystems, which builds the fuselage for Boeing’s 737 Max, tumbled 11% on Monday, the first day of trading since the incident occurred. Shares of Alaska Airlines were nearly unchanged after slumping earlier in the session.

“Epstein filmed sex tapes of Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew”

Newly unsealed Jeffrey Epstein documents have described bombshell allegations about sex tapes involving former US Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Richard Branson. A US court on Monday released a new batch of documents related to Epstein, the millionaire and jet-setting financier who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

According to the unsealed documents, a woman who had accused Epstein of sexual abuse claimed that she had copies of tapes he had made of some of his high-profile friends – including Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and British business tycoon Richard Branson – allegedly having sex with an unnamed woman. However, the woman had retracted the allegations in an email written in October 2016, saying that “only bad things” and “pain for my family” would come from going public, the web portal report said. Later, in a post in 2019, she also admitted in a New Yorker article that she “invented the tapes to draw attention to Epstein’s behaviour”.

Football legend Franz Beckenbauer dies, aged 78

The world of football is in mourning following the death of Franz Beckenbauer, the German football legend. He was 78 years old. The German broadcaster Ard broke the sad news, citing family sources and specifying that the death occurred on Sunday, as reported by the Dpa agency. Known as ‘Der Kaiser’, Beckenbauer won the World Cup both as a player and as coach of Germany and also as a manager he played a fundamental role in the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to his country.

Beckenbauer wrote the history of football in Germany on the pitch and on the bench. From a very young age he became a cornerstone of Bayern Munich, with whom he won everything in an extraordinary career. The boy from the Giesing district won four Bundesliga titles, three European Cups, and the Intercontinental Cup. With his elegance and ease on the pitch, he redefined the role of libero.

Kaiser Franz crowned his career in 1974, leading the national team to triumph in the home World Cup, with the memorable 2-1 victory against the Netherlands in the final. Two years earlier he had already led the Mannschaft to triumph in the European Championship. As coach, he lifted the World Cup again by leading Germany to victory in 1990 in Italy: in the final, they beat Diego Armando Maradona’s Argentina 1-0.

Tributes from noteable coaches and former players poured in from all over the world.

Main photo: AFP

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