Scholz warns of the rise of right-wing ahead of EU elections

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 8th April 2024

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned of threats posed by right-wing populists as he addressed a gathering of centre-left European parties ahead of elections for the European Parliament in June. Scholz was in in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, for a conference of the Party of European Socialists, part of the Socialists and Democrats group, the second biggest in the Parliament. Voters in the 27 EU member states go to the polls between 6th and 9th June.

“Right-wing populists are running election campaigns against our united Europe,” the German leader said at Romania’s Parliament Palace, which hosted the conference. “They are ready to destroy what we have built for the kids; they stir up sentiment against refugees and minorities.” Scholz said a prosperous EU capable of “getting things done” is “the best response to populism and autocrats”. He also pledged continued support for Ukraine, saying it’s “key to restoring peace in Europe”.

Opinion polls indicate a significant shift to the right in the upcoming elections, with the radical right Identity and Democracy group likely to gain enough seats to become the third largest group in the legislature, mainly at the expense of the Greens and the centrist Renew Europe group.

Pictured front row from left: PES Secretary General Giacomo Filibeck, PES Vice-President Victor Negrescu, SPD Germany Spitzenkandidat and PES Executive Vice-President Katarina Barley, S&D President and PES Executive Vice-President Iratxe García, PES Common Candidate Nicolas Schmit, Prime Minister of Romania Marcel Ciolacu, Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz, PES President Stefan Löfven, Leader of CHP Özgür Özel, Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti. Pictured back row from left: PES Deputy Secretary General Yonnec Polet, Leader of PSDE Moldova Ion Sula, head of PSD-PNL candidate list for the European elections Mihai Tudose, Leader of the Labour Party Ireland Ivana Bacik, President of YES Enric López Jurado, Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government of Malta Owen Bonnici.

Poland’s PiS ahead in local elections, but not in political control

The parties of the democratic coalition led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk maintained their majority, but the sovereignists of Jaroslaw Kakzynski’s PiS asserted themselves in first place in Poland on Sunday. It is the result of the administrative elections – the first electoral test after the pro-European turn of the Poles, according to the exit polls of the Ipsos institute, released immediately after the closure of the 31,000 seats. In Warsaw and Gdansk the two outgoing mayors were confirmed in the first round.

Both Donald Tusk and his opponent Kakzynski both claimed victory, and in fact the polls confirmed the particularity of the country’s political situation: where the sovereignists are the most voted for, but are unable to form alliances. The outcome means that Tusk’s liberal-left coalition will still run the show in most of Poland’s 16 regions; the number will be clearer once vote totals are released, probably by this evening. PiS currently rules in six regions. According to the poll based on 970 seats, which for now only reflects the situation in the regional councils, the PiS obtained 33.7 per cent of the votes, while Tusk’s PO had 31.9 per cent. However, the latter is flanked by the results of the Third Way with 13.5 per cent and the Left with 6.8 per cent. The most evident victory was achieved by two outgoing mayors from the prime minister’s party: in Gdansk, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz was re-elected with 62.3 per cent of the votes; and in Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski won with 59.8 per cent. Poland’s TVN television quotes Tusk calling the outcome a repeat of the October election that removed PiS from power, but then added: “Today we see that this road will not be easy, including in the future.” Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s comment: “Now to win in the EU election!”

“3 attacks on Zaporizhzhia reactor

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that “the main containment structures of the reactors of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant suffered at least three direct attacks yesterday”. It is the first case of its kind since November 2022 and “after having established the five basic principles to avoid a serious nuclear accident with radiological consequences” says IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi. “No one can in theory benefit or obtain any military or political advantage from attacks against nuclear facilities,” continues Grossi in a post on his X account. “I strongly appeal to military leaders to refrain from any action that violates the fundamental principles that protect nuclear facilities.” The IAEA had earlier declared that “drone attacks caused a physical impact on one of the six reactors of the plant and one victim”, specifying that “the damage to unit six did not compromise nuclear safety but it is a serious accident that could undermine the integrity of the reactor containment system”.

Trump’s plan to end war: “Kiev gives ground to Russia

The Washington Post reports Donald Trump’s secret plan to end the war between Ukraine and Russia: putting pressure on Kiev to cede Crimea and the Donbas border region to Russia. Citing some sources, the newspaper says the former president believes that both Russia and Ukraine “want to save face and have a way out”. The former President also believes that some areas of Ukraine would be fine with being part of Russia.

Thousands return to Khan Yunis after Israeli army withdrawal

Thousands of Palestinian families displaced from Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, are on their way back to the city following the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the area. This was reported by local sources in Rafah where there are hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The Israeli military said it had withdrawn some of its ground forces from Khan Younis after months of fighting but a “significant force” remains in other areas of the Strip. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said on Sunday that its 98th division had “concluded its mission” in Khan Younis and that the division left the Gaza Strip to “recuperate and prepare for future operations”. A “significant force led by the 162nd division and the Nahal brigade continues to operate in the Gaza strip,” the IDF said.

The move raises questions over Israel’s much-touted plan to invade Rafah, the heavily-populated area of southern Gaza that has so far escaped on-the-ground fighting. IDF officials have confirmed that they are “far from stopping” military operations in the Gaza Strip, with General Herzi Halevi stating, “We will not leave any Hamas brigades active.” They also added that they were shifting from defence to offence on the Israeli border with Lebanon. The US has said that Israel’s partial withdrawal from Khan Younis is likely so its troops can “rest and recover”.

But National Security spokesperson John Kirby said on ABC’s “This Week, “the word is they’re [Israeli troops] getting tired” after four months of fighting in Gaza. Israeli public broadcaster and CNN affiliate Channel 11 reported that the remaining forces would be located along the so-called ‘Netzarim Corridor’, a route that splits the Gaza Strip in two. The corridor intersects one of Gaza’s two main north-south roads, Salaheddin Street, to create a strategic, central junction.

The IDF said that commando units had raided and searched more than a hundred locations in the Al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis. It claimed that “terrorist infrastructure” had been found in every location searched, including a tunnel about 900 metres long. The Israeli military said it “eliminated terrorists” during its operation. The report comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech that Israel is “one step away from victory”. “But the price we paid is painful and heartbreaking.” Speaking as truce talks were to resume in Cairo with international mediators, he said: “There will be no ceasefire without the return of hostages. It just won’t happen!”

Egyptian sources predict a temporary ceasefire this week

Meanwhile, Egyptian sources told a pro-Qatari newspaper that they predict that during the days of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which commences this week, there will be a temporary ceasefire. An Egyptian source told state broadcaster Al Qahera that negotiations on Gaza in Cairo have made “great progress” and that talks will continue over the next 48 hours. According to the source, there would be “agreement on the main points between the various parties”. Delegations from Israel, Hamas, the United States and Qatar will leave the Egyptian capital later today for consultations, but are expected to return in two days “to agree on the articles of the final agreement”. Several hours after the IDF had withdrawn ground forces from southern Gaza, four rockets were fired at southern Israel from the city of Khan Yunis. Two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Aid agencies decry “shocking” toll six months into Gaza war

United Nations agencies and other aid organisations decried the devastating toll wreaked by six months of war in Gaza, warning that the situation was “beyond catastrophic”. “Six months is an awful milestone,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said, warning that “humanity has been all but abandoned”. The UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths insisted Saturday that there needed to be “a reckoning for this betrayal of humanity”. UNICEF chief Catherine Russell pointed out that more than 13,000 children were reportedly among those killed. “Homes, schools and hospitals in ruin. Teachers, doctors and humanitarians killed. Famine is imminent,” she said on X. “The level and speed of destruction are shocking. Children need a ceasefire NOW.”

IFRC chief Jagan Chapagain meanwhile described the situation as “beyond catastrophic”. Amid looming famine, he warned that “millions of lives are at risk of hunger”. IFRC said 18 members of its network – 15 staff and volunteers with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and three from Magen David Adom (MDA) –  had been killed since October 7. “These deaths are devastating and unacceptable,” Chapagain said. For the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the caretaker of the Geneva Conventions, “a steady flow of humanitarian aid” into Gaza was vital, but it was “only part of the solution”. “Both sides must conduct their military operations in a way that spares civilians caught in the middle,” it said on X.

Houthis fired rockets and drones at Israeli, US, and British ships

Houthi forces in Yemen claimed on Sunday to have launched rockets and drones at British, US, and Israeli ships – the latest in a campaign of attacks on shipping in support of Palestinians in the ongoing Gaza war. The Iranian proxy said it had targeted a British ship and a number of US frigates in the Red Sea, while in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, it attacked two Israeli vessels heading to Israeli ports. The latest attacks come after a lull of several days in Houthi aggressions, which have disrupted traffic along the vital Red Sea global trade route. The operations took place during the last 72 hours, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said in a televised statement.

“Stop arms supplies to Israel” – German civil servants

A group of German civil servants have written to Chancellor Scholz and other senior ministers calling on the government to “cease arm deliveries to the Israeli government with immediate effect”. “Israel is committing crimes in Gaza that are in clear contradiction to international law and thus to the Constitution, which we are bound to as federal civil servants and public employees”, the statement says, citing the International Court of Justice’s ruling in January that Israel’s military actions are “plausible acts of genocide”. According to the organisers of the five-page statement, around 600 civil servants have voiced support for the initiative. The statement also requested that the German government pressure Israel for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip; that it renew payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA); and that it “actively and resolutely advocates for the recognition of a Palestinian state” within the internationally recognised 1967 borders. In 2023, Germany approved arms exports to Israel worth €326.5 million, a tenfold increase compared to the previous year, providing 30 per cent of the Israeli military’s weapons, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Researchers also found that 99 percent of Israel’s arms come from the United States and Germany, with the latter being the second-biggest supplier.

Engine part falls off Southwest Airlines’ Boeing during takeoff

Part of an engine covering fell off a Boeing airplane in the US on Sunday during takeoff and struck the wing flap. Southwest flight 3695 was leaving Denver International Airport on Sunday when the engine’s cowling detached and hit the wing, according to Reuters. A video posted to social media, the engine cowling can be seen flapping in the wind before it detaches completely and bangs against the aircraft’s wing. The Houston-bound flight, carrying 135 passengers, returned to the Colorado airport without incident. No injuries were reported. Southwest said the plane “landed safely after experiencing a mechanical issue”, according to ABC News.

International leaders condemn Ecuador after raid on Mexico embassy

The global condemnation of Ecuador’s government for its decision to break into the Mexican embassy snowballed on Sunday with more presidents and other leaders expressing disapproval, shock and dismay. The South China Morning Post quotes Alicia Bercena, Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations, saying Mexico plans to challenge the raid later today at the World Court in The Hague. She added that 18 countries in Latin America, 20 in Europe and the Organisation of American States have backed Mexico. The criticism came as Mexico’s ambassador and other personnel arrived in Mexico City on Sunday afternoon after departing Ecuador’s capital, Quito, on a commercial flight. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador severed diplomatic ties with Ecuador immediately after Friday’s raid, which international law experts, presidents and diplomats have deemed a violation of long-established international accords. Police broke through the external doors of the embassy to arrest Jorge Glas, a former vice-president who had been residing there since December. He had sought asylum after being indicted on corruption charges.

Double amputee learns to walk normally again

A double-amputee, named Nick Garwood, has learned to walk again after a groundbreaking surgery, the first of its kind, was successfully completed. An Oregon-based surgeon completed the first osseointegration, a surgery that involves inserting a titanium implant into the bone of a patient. This allows for the direct attachment of a prosthetic limb. Doctors claim that the method has a number of benefits over conventional arm and leg socket-mounted prosthetics. Patients who get this surgery will have less pain, more independence, and regain the ability to feel the ground beneath them – referred to as ‘osseoperception.’ This ‘game changer’ of a surgery, as Dr. Steve Wallace, the surgeon spearheading the osseo-integration procedures, said ‘is giving people their lives back. It’s a device that is inserted into the bone, goes through the skin and allows for a direct attachment of prosthesis,’ Wallace said. ‘These implants were basically scaled up from a dental implant many years ago. They’ve been in the US for probably 10 years or so, but are becoming more and more popular, and not fully FDA approved yet, but we get them approved on a provisional basis.’

Pockets of air in coat kept girl afloat after she was swept out to sea

A lifeboat volunteer who jumped into the sea to save a young girl has revealed that pockets of air trapped under her coat helped keep her afloat before the rescue. Andrew Sykes was on board the RNLI lifeboat that reached the girl and pulled her out of the water within eight and half minutes of receiving the emergency call on Saturday evening. The operation was mounted after the girl was swept out to sea from the east pier of Dun Laoghaire Harbour in Co Dublin at around 8.20pm. The incident came amid rough seas as Storm Kathleen hit Ireland. Skyes, a volunteer helm with the RNLI, said the stormy conditions made the rescue operation difficult. “With the high winds and storm we were experiencing, with large waves and surge coming off the pier, to get alongside her was extremely difficult. She would be pushed one way and we would be pushed another,” he told the PA news agency. After two attempts to reach the girl from within the boat, Skyes entered the water to grab hold of her and help her onboard. He said she was calm and alert and was lying on her back in the water with her arms out wide. Skyes said the air trapped in her coat was crucial.

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