Protesting students arrested in Columbia University

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 1st May 2024.

Hundreds of New York Police Department officers Tuesday night entered Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall, occupied earlier by students protesting Israel’s war in Gaza, and made many arrests. The NYPD had received a letter from the university asking officers to clear protesters, a law enforcement official told CNN. The school had suspended protesters Monday, and is now threatening to expel those occupying the building. The New York Police, which said they would stay at the universiry until May 17, announced that the Black Bloc were in the Hamilton Hall building at the University. “There are anarchists who are well known to the police,” Rebecca Weiner, head of intelligence for the police force, told NBC. “These are people who do not profess ideologies or political interests, but only want to create chaos clash with the police,” she added.

Judge threatens jail as he fines Trump $9,000 for violating gag order

Donald Trump was held in contempt of court Tuesday and fined $9,000 for repeatedly violating a gag order that barred him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and some others connected to his New York hush money case. If he does it again, the judge warned, he could be jailed. Prosecutors had alleged 10 violations, but Judge Juan M. Merchan found there were nine. Trump stared down at the table in front of him as the judge read the ruling, frowning slightly. The Associated Press says the judge’s remarkable threat to jail a former president signaled that Trump’s already precarious legal standing could further spiral depending on his behaviour during the remainder of the trial.

Meanwhile, on his social network Truth, Trump reacted against the judge’s ruling aying, “The judge took away my constitutional right to freedom of expression. This trial is rigged and by taking away my free speech, this controversial judge is rigging the 2024 election. Election Interference!”. He also deleted all posts from social media that violated the gag order.

‘Rafah offensive will go ahead with or without hostage deal’ – Netanyahu

Israel will launch a ground offensive in Rafah regardless of the success of truce talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday in a conversation with bereaved families and relatives of hostages opposing a deal with Hamas that would end the war in Gaza before the group has been toppled. As Israel awaits a reply to its latest truce offer, it will not yet be sending a delegation to Cairo for hostage release and ceasefire talks, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel. A Hamas delegation reportedly departed Cairo with a promise to return with a written response to the proposal from Jerusalem. “The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all its aims is not an option,” Netanyahu told the hawkish Gvura and Tikva forums, which represent families of some slain soldiers and some of the families of hostages held in Gaza, respectively. “We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there – whether or not there is a deal – in order to achieve total victory.”

Blinken lands in Israel for talks

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials following visits to Jordan and Saudi Arabia – his seventh trip to the region since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war – as efforts intensified to reach a hostage deal and truce. Blinken will meet President Herzog, Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. He will also visit the Kerem Shalom Crossing and Ashdod Port to asses humanitarian aid flowing through to Gaza, and meet with families of American hostages.

Meanwhile, Kan TV reports Israeli Interior Minister Moshe Arbel rejected a request to UNWRA director general Philippe Lazzarini to enter Gaza.

Eurozone economy rebounds, inflation stable in April

The eurozone economy emerged from recession with greater than expected growth in the first quarter of 2024 and inflation under control, official data showed Tuesday. The EU’s official data agency said growth in the 20-country single currency area reached 0.3 per cent in the first three months of the year compared to the previous quarter. According to economists, the figures are unlikely to stop the European Central Bank (ECB) from cutting interest rates next month as expected, despite the growth figure.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet and Bloomberg had expected growth of 0.1 per cent. But the figures showed the eurozone economy had slipped into a technical recession in the second half of last year after gross domestic product retreated by 0.1 per cent in the last two quarters of 2023. The better-than-hoped-for growth follows welcome news for consumer prices.

Eurostat said the eurozone’s annual rate of inflation remained unchanged at 2.4 per cent in April from the previous month, in line with economists’ expectations. The figure means the rate is still close to the ECB’s two per cent target. ECB officials will also welcome the data for core inflation, which strips out volatile energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices and a key indicator of the bank, after it slowed to 2.7 per cent in April, from 2.9 per cent in March. Eurozone inflation has significantly fallen from the peak of 10.6 per cent reached in October 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis that followed. The ECB aggressively hiked rates from July 2022 to tame soaring price rises but has frozen borrowing costs in the past few months amid growing calls for a rate cut.

There was further good news in Tuesday’s data for the eurozone after its two biggest economies, Germany and France, recorded growth of 0.2 per cent in the first quarter. Southern Europe appeared to be doing even better. The Spanish economy grew more than expected by 0.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2024 due to higher exports and business investment. Italy registered growth of 0.3 per cent for the same period. International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva, who was in Brussels for meetings with EU officials, said she was “optimistic” about Europe’s growth. But she warned that “inflation is going down, but it’s not over”.

Energy prices in the eurozone dipped in April, recording a significantly narrower drop of 0.6 per cent compared with a fall of 1.8 per cent in March.

EP political parties promise housing, jobs, and competitiveness

Improving competitiveness or better conditions for businesses, cutting bureaucracy, protecting jobs and supporting the green transition are just a few of the key pledges from the party groups ahead of the European Parliament elections taking place next month.

Turning on the economic growth engine in the continent for the next five years appears to be a complicated task. The current output is little more than zero and the outlook for the next years appears to be stark, according to the IMF which states: “Europe’s medium-term growth prospects have been declining for some time.” The last five years have seen an unprecedented pandemic, a war erupting in Europe and the bloc losing a member as the UK’s Brexit unfolded. The economy had to nurse one blow after the other, energy and commodity price hikes hitting Europe very hard, productivity lowering, while high inflation and tight monetary policy also took their toll and squeezed the continent’s output.

The accompanying cost of the living crisis set the tone for voters, according to Euronews’ exclusive poll, with their priorities grouped around economic issues, such as tackling high prices, before they go to the polls. What comes next is not any easier, it appears, with European leaders needing to get ready to handle the increasing challenges of technological and climate change as well as demographic pressures and other issues.

The majority of the groups have competitiveness at the top of their agenda, many of them are calling for the strengthening of the single market, and the removal of red tape, also believing that innovation and investment is crucial. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament’s largest group, lists restoring European competitiveness on top of its economic agenda along with strengthening the single market. The EPP is considering launching a “Competitiveness Strategy for Europe” and appointing a dedicated European Commissioner solely responsible to focus on what SMEs need to thrive. They also set out plans to cut red tape. The group also aims to expand the number of trade agreements, including partners from Africa, and complete the ongoing negotiations for the Southern Common Market, or Mercosur, and develop agreements on critical raw materials – a crucial ingredient of new technologies including electric vehicles. EPP’s manifesto also names as an economic priority the safeguarding of critical infrastructure such as ports, telecommunication and energy facilities from takeovers by third countries, notably China.

Meanwhile, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) echo some of the EPP’s priorities stating that improving competitiveness would come by revitalising industrial policy and reinforcing the single market. According to their manifesto, the group also vows to support SMEs, slash red tape, bring back strategic productions to Europe, and support energy security, with special regard to nuclear energy and geothermal power. They are not too keen on the current form of the Green Deal, but promise to prioritise Europe’s defence and tech industry, spurring innovation and investment in cutting-edge technologies such as AI and quantum computing.

To improve competitiveness, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) also calls the strengthening of the single market an “essential priority”, and a way to reduce external dependence on key sectors and materials.  The group also sees further fiscal integration in the bloc as a priority, including the consolidation of the Banking Union and Capital Markets Union. “We have to create a permanent fiscal capacity, as an additional special instrument over and above the mechanism used for funding development projects in multiple tranches or installments (MFF) ceilings, which can protect against disruptive shocks,” MEP Jonás Fernández, S&D spokesperson on economic and monetary affairs told Euronews Business.

The liberal, pro-European Renew Europe Group, the successor to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group, states that the next Commission must be an “Investment Commission”, tackling research, development and innovation to increase the EU’s global competitiveness. It proposes to spend three per cent of the EU’s GDP on research and investment starting in 2027. (In 2022, EU research and development expenditure was 2.24 per cent of the GDP, according to Eurostat.) Renew Europe has also highlighted that SMEs need easier access to capital. The group said in a special 10-point plan, released earlier this year part of the problem could be tackled by dismantling national barriers in capital markets. It also advocates a dedicated Commissioner for Enforcement, whose job should be to fully enforce existing EU rules.

The Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance foresees boosting competitiveness through green investments. The group campaigns with a “Green and Social Deal”. That is a package which promises to inject money from fossil fuel companies and other groups into green investments, thereby creating jobs and providing basic rights to everybody in Europe. Its concerns revolve around food, clean water, basic housing, cheap public transport, and energy.

The Left group in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL) sees that rising inequalities, tax avoidance and the lack of investment in public services as the three most important issues to tackle. “Inequality between the rich and poor is growing,” a spokesperson told Euronews Business, adding that changes in taxing could replace the austerity measures planned currently across the bloc. “EU governments are losing out on a staggering €286.5 billion in revenue annually, equivalent to €33 million per hour, due to their failure to fairly tax Europe’s wealthiest.”

The far-right Identity and Democracy group hadn’t responded to Euronews Business’ request for comment.

Romania’s Iohannis could pip von der Leyen at the post – Politico

Current European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is running for a second term at the helm of the Union’s executive, but EU diplomats and politicians have been speculating on who could replace her. Politico Europe gathered the names being thrown around in Brussels and ranked their chances. Romanian president Klaus Iohannis is ranked as having the biggest chance to take her spot. All candidates belong to the centre-right European People’s Party, which is most likely going to retain the position of the largest family in the European Parliament after the upcoming European elections.

Given a three-out-of-five shot to replace von der Leyen, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis has a few arguments in his favour. According to Politico, he is “seen as a steady hand and is a darling of European leaders, particularly among conservatives. Both French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have showered him with praise for keeping his country anchored in the pro-Western and pro-European camp after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which can’t be said of Hungary, Slovakia or Bulgaria”. Unlike Poland, Romania refrained from imposing restrictions on Ukrainian grain. As such, many see Iohannis as a pro-European team player. He is also coming from Eastern Europe, a region which has long been skipped at the helm of the Union.

“With his second term ending in December, Iohannis is looking for a top international job. Last month he agreed to run as NATO’s next leader – but that will be an uphill battle, given the widespread backing for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte,” Politico argues. The same attempt is likely to backfire, as it “annoyed some Western European countries”. The other Eastern European with real chances at replacing von der Leyen is Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. Also part of the centre-right EPP as Iohannis and von der Leyen, Plenković’s appointment as Commission head would also send a positive signal to aspiring EU members, seeing as his country is the newest entry.

“Plenković’s surprise announcement that he will lead the MEP candidates list of Croatia’s ruling HDZ Party has some suspecting he wants to abandon domestic politics. His experience as prime minister since 2016 has certainly provided him with authority and networking opportunities with his fellow European leaders,” Politico highlights.  Plenković has dismissed rumours he could replace von der Leyen, “which, of course, could be seen as a good indication he’s interested in the job,” the magazine says. Italy’s Mario Draghi, European Parliament head Roberta Metsola, ECB president Christine Lagarde, and internal market commissioner Thierry Breton are also on the list of possible von der Leyen replacements, but below Iohannis and Plenković.

Laos immigrant battling cancer wins $1.3B Powerball jackpot

The winner of the $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot has been identified as an immigrant from Laos who is in the midst of battling cancer. The Oregon Lottery announced that Cheng “Charlie” Saephan, 46, won the fourth-largest Powerball jackpot, which was drawn earlier this month. He will split the prize with his wife, Duanpen, and friend Laiza Chao, who gave Saephan $100 toward his purchase of more than 20 tickets for the game.

Grandma mistakes wine in preparing baby’s feed

An Italian grandmother mistakenly used wine instead of water to prepare a powdered milk bottle feed for a four-month-old baby from the province of Brindisi who ended up in an ethyl coma. The police ascertained this was a domestic accident. What misled grandma was the fact that the bottle containing the white wine was dark. The little boy is in the intensive care unit of the Giovanni XXIII pediatric hospital in Bari and his condition is improving, but the doctors have not yet resolved the prognosis.

Photo: AFP

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