Swiss vote to boost pensions

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 4th March 2024

Switzerland voted on Sunday in favour of increasing the retirement pension to include a 13th monthly payment in a referendum. Provisional official results published by the government showed over 58 per cent of voters backed the measure, with less than 42 per cent against. The initiative also won in a majority of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, giving it the double majority needed to pass. Pensioners’ group Avivo said the result was “a historic day for retirees”. The “Better living in retirement” proposal was put forward by trade unions to combat the rising cost of living. Retirement pension payments are currently capped at 2,450 Swiss francs (€2,550) per month for individuals and 3,675 francs (€3,838) per month for married couples. But these payments do not necessarily go far in a country that is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive in the world. While the proposal was supported by unions and left-leaning parties, it was fiercely opposed by right-wing and centrist parties, business lobbies and the Swiss government itself. The government has said the proposed hike would cost more than four billion Swiss francs a year and would require it to raise taxes. It also noted that the payment would go to all retirees regardless of their financial situation. The pension boost is set to take effect from 2026.

EU warns: ‘Prepare for worst-case scenario on gas’

The EU must prepare for the “worst case” scenario on Russian gas supplies ahead of the expiration of the transit agreement between Moscow and Kiev, expected at the end of the year, an internal EU Commission document says. Security of supply will require “close monitoring” to “guarantee the winter of 2024/2025”, writes Brussels, also highlighting the progress on the front of dependence on Moscow: “In 2023, Russian gas was only 15 per cent of total EU import” compared to over 50 per cent before the war. The halt to the transit agreement could lead to a loss of around five per cent of this share.”

Nikki Haley beats Donald Trump for the first time

Nikki Haley won her first Republican primary contest on Sunday in a victory over Donald Trump in Washington DC. The former South Carolina governor won the capital by 63 per cent to Trump’s 33 per cent, with around 2,000 Republicans in Washington casting a ballot. The win makes Haley the first woman to win a Republican primary in US political history, and marks the victory of Haley’s bid for the nomination. The Washington DC primary has far fewer voters than most states, and has an electorate of Republicans that are generally more moderate than the rest of the US. Trump has won 10 consecutive primaries, and is expected to win the contest by securing half of the total delegates in the next few weeks.

Trump calls Haley “chicken brains”

In a post on his social media site Truth, Donald Trump denigrated Nikki Haley’s first victory in the Republican primaries and insulted her by calling her “chicken brains”. “I purposely stayed away from Washington – the ‘swamp’ with very few delegates and no advantages. ‘Chicken Brain’ spent all her time, money and effort there. The really big numbers will come on Super Tuesday”, attacked the tycoon.

US Supreme Court to issue Trump ruling

The US Supreme Court plans to issue at least one ruling today, a day before Colorado holds a presidential primary election in which a lower court kicked Republican frontrunner Donald Trump off the ballot for taking part in an insurrection during the 2021 US Capitol attack. The Supreme Court, in an unusual Sunday update to its schedule, did not specify what ruling it would issue. But the justices on last month heard arguments in Trump’s appeal of the Colorado ruling and are due to issue their own decision. Colorado is one of 15 states and a US territory holding primary elections on “Super Tuesday”. Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 US election. The Republican Party of Colorado has asked the Supreme Court, whose six to three conservative majority include three justices appointed by Trump, to rule before Tuesday in the ballot eligibility case.

Germany accuses Russia of ‘information war’ after spy leak

Moscow was waging an “information war” against Germany by intercepting and releasing a sensitive discussion among high-ranking Bundeswehr military officers concerning Ukraine, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said. Reacting to the leak for the first time on Sunday, Pistorius accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of seeking to sow disunity and create divisions within Germany. “It is about using this recording to destabilise and unsettle us,” the German minister said, adding that he “hoped that Putin will not succeed”. The head of Russian state broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonyan, released a 38-minute audio recording of four officers discussing the possibility of sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine late on Friday. On Saturday, the Defence Ministry in Berlin said it believed the audio was genuine and that the conversation had been wiretapped. “The incident is much more than just the interception and publication of a conversation … It is part of an information war that Putin is waging,” Pistorius said. He added that he was yet to receive any information about further leaks that might have been intercepted by Moscow. He said the results of an internal investigation were expected early next week.

Additional weapons to be deployed in Russian regions – Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that additional weapons will be deployed in Russian regions to match the threats that “may appear on the territory of Finland and Sweden” following their accession into NATO. “The conclusion that we will draw for our security is that we have already made an organisational decision,” Lavrov said on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey. “Additional weapons will be located, stationed, deployed there, which will be adequate to the threats that may appear on the territory of Finland and Sweden,” he concluded. Hungary’s parliament on Monday approved Sweden’s bid to join NATO, removing the final hurdle for the Scandinavian country to become the trans-Atlantic military alliance’s 32nd member. Sweden’s accession means NATO members will enclose nearly all of the strategically-important Baltic Sea, which borders Russia and is expected to enhance the alliance’s deterrence against Moscow, military experts say.

Israel won’t send team to Cairo

Israel will not be sending a negotiating team to Cairo, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday, after receiving an unsatisfactory response from Hamas on the latest framework for a hostage deal hammered out in Paris last weekend. The Gaza-based organization refused to address Jerusalem’s demand to provide a list of living hostages and to lock down how many Palestinian prisoners Israel must release for every hostage freed, added the official. Hamas’s position was conveyed to Israel through Qatar. According to Channel 12, the war cabinet and the professional echelon all agreed that there was no point in sending a delegation to Egypt for ongoing talks given Hamas’s response. Several Hebrew media outlets reported growing pessimism in Israel on Sunday that a hostage and truce deal could be reached before Ramadan. Unnamed officials cited by Channel 12, Ynet and others said Jerusalem suspects Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar has no intention of reaching an agreement in the coming days and hopes to escalate violence over Ramadan, which is expected to start March 10. A senior Hamas official told Al Jazeera that its delegation was in Cairo “to meet with the Egyptian and Qatari brothers and to present the movement’s vision. Whether or not the occupation delegation arrives in Cairo does not concern us,” he said.

Israeli bomb on cemetery in Jabalia, corpses resurface

Al Jazeera reports the Israeli army hit a cemetery in the Jabalia refugee camp, recently created by residents of the repeatedly bombed area in northern Gaza. Videos and reports from the site indicated that “human remains have re-emerged from the ground following the explosion and residents are trying to re-bury them in another location”. Al Jazeera relaunched a video published by a Palestinian journalist – “and verified by the broadcaster’s fact-checking unit” – which shows a large crater left by the attack and the wrapped bodies of the dead which were thrown out by the explosion.

Harris says Israel not doing enough to get aid to Gazans

In the harshest comments by the US administration yet, Vice President Kamala Harris called out Israel on Sunday for not doing enough to ease a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and called for an extended pause in hostilities to be implemented immediately, as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure to rein in its close ally. Harris’s call for an “immediate ceasefire” won loud cheers from the crowd even as she clarified that she was referring to a cessation of hostilities as part of a deal that would free hostages kidnapped from southern Israel by the Hamas five months ago. “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza there must be an immediate ceasefire,” Harris said to raucous applause. “Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Harris said. “Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”

Gaza: Stop! This is not how a better world can be built – Pope

Pope Francis has yet made another heartfelt appeal at the Angelus for the cessation of hostilies in Gaza, saying that he carries in his heart “every day, the pain and the suffering of the populations in Palestine and Israel due to the ongoing hostilities, thousands of dead, injured, displaced, the immense destruction causes pain”. He said the hositilies were having “terrible consequences on the small and defenseless who see their future compromised”. “Do you really think you can build a better world in this way? Do we really think we can achieve peace? Please stop! Let’s all say stop please! Stop! I encourage you to continue negotiations for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and throughout the region.”

Belgian police arrest teens over alleged jihadi plot

Police in Belgium arrested four teenagers on Sunday after they allegedly exchanged messages to plot a jihadi terror attack. The four suspects – three minors in their “late teens” and an adult man aged 18 – were arrested when police raided home addresses in Brussels, Ninove, Charleroi and Liege and retrieved mobile phones and laptops for further analysis. They did not recover any weapons or explosives. A spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office told the AFP news agency that the details of the alleged attack were deemed “worrying enough to intervene”. Sunday’s arrests were the result of a police operation looking into people deemed potentially violent and with links to Islamic extremism.

Scientists create testicles in a lab in new hope for male infertility

Scientists in Israel have managed to create artificial testicles in what could be a significant step in helping men with fertility issues. The testicles, or testes, are responsible for sperm production and androgen synthesis which play a part in male sexual development. Infertility affects up to seven per cent of men. Currently, no in vitro system exists for modelling the testis and producing sperm in the same way that IVF treatment can harvest eggs from a female. “Artificial testicles are a promising model for basic research on testicle development and function, which can be translated into therapeutic applications for disorders of sexual development and infertility,” Dr Nitzan Gonen who specialises in the process of foetal sex determination said in a statement. The team led by Gonen and her research students at Bar Ilhan University, published its results in the International Journal of Biological Sciences. The miniature artificial testicles generated are synthetic organs created using mouse testicular tissue.

Israel changes the song for Eurovision

The Israeli broadcasting body Kan has bowed to pressure from the European Bruadcasting Union and would notnow present the song ‘October Rain’ at the Eurovision Song Festival after references were found, at least implicit, to the drama experienced in Israel on October 7. It will now compete with a song titled ‘Hurricane’, which Kan said, has the same melody but the lyrics have been changed. The new song will talk, according to rumors in musical circles, about a young woman after a personal crisis. In a statement Kan specified that “to this day it does not share the position of the EBU, which cancelled two of our songs (‘October Rain’ and ‘Dance Forever’) claiming that they had ‘a political character’. However, we decided to welcome the advice given by the head of state Isaac Herzog, to make the necessary adjustments to allow Israel to be present on the Eurovision stage”. A few hours after the release of the note, Kan underlined that they were now focusing on ‘Hurricane’. If the programme do not change, it will be performed for the first time on March 10 on Kan TV by 20-yer-old singer Eden Golan.

Photo: AFP

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