Switzerland wins nail-biting Eurovision Song Contest final

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 12th May 2024.

Switzerland’s rapper Nemo early Sunday morning won the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 with the song ‘The Code’ – a drum and bass, opera, rap and rock song about Nemo’s journey of self-discovery as a non-binary person. After Lys Assia and Celine Dion, Nemo thus took the crystal microphone back Switzerland for the third time. The singer was awarded an overall 591 points to finish 44 points above second placed Croatia. Switzerland led after the national jury vote with 365 points, but Croatia’s Baby Lasagna had made for a tense finale after earning a hefty share of the public vote for ‘Rim Tim Tagi Dim’. The Ukrainian duo Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil placed third with ‘Theresa and Maria’. France and Israel trailed close behind. Seventh was Italy’s Angelina Mango. In a shock turn, the UK took home zero points in the public portion of the final’s voting.

Israel received 323 points from the public vote, briefly taking the country to the top of the table before finishing fifth. There were boos at the Malmo Arena at the end of the performance of Eden Golan, the artist competing for Israel with ‘Hurricane’. Dissent from the public was also expressed during the semi-final. The police chased away the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including Greta Thunberg sporting a keffiyeh around her neck, who were approaching the Malmo Arena, where the final of the contest with the participation of Israel was underway. In the area were several Swedish and Norwegian police vans and mounted officers. Several activists were forcibly removed and moved to an area some 200 metres away from the arena. A helicopter also monitored the area.

Although organisers proclaim the event is not political – and it was under the motto ‘United by Music’ – the war in Gaza continued to overshadow the competition. Norwegian singer Alessandra Mele, who came in fifth last year, posted a video on Instagram announcing that she was withdrawing as Norway’s official points spokesperson. In it she said the event’s motto was nothing more than “empty words” accusing Israel of committing “genocide” and ending the post with the words: “Free Palestine”. Irish performer Bambie Thug was among a number of contestants who did not participate in the competition’s final dress rehearsal, citing an unspecified “situation, which I felt needed urgent attention from the EBU”. Earlier this week, officials ordered the words “ceasefire” and “Freedom for Palestine” removed from the singer’s costume. Bambie Thug has criticised Israel’s inclusion in the competition. The singer joined performers from Switzerland and Greece in boycotting the flag parade that preceded the final dress rehearsal.

German, Italian, and Austrian presidents make joint call for strong Europe

The presidents of Germany, Italy, and Austria called for a strong and united Europe in a joint letter published ahead of June’s European elections. The joint letter was carried in Italian daily Corriere della Sera – a month before the 6-9 June elections where far-right parties are expected to do well.

“We see that the fundamental values – our values – of pluralism, human rights and the Rule of Law are being challenged, if not openly threatened, all over the world,” wrote the three leaders. “At stake here is none other than the foundations of our democratic order.”

Although they all hold largely ceremonial roles, the presidents are all tasked with ensuring respect for their countries’ constitutions. “It is therefore essential to defend democratic institutions and values, the guarantees of freedom, the independence of the media, the role of democratic political oppositions, the separation of powers, the value of limits to the exercise of power,” wrote Italy’s Sergio Mattarella, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Austria’s Alexander van der Bellen. The three presidents said more European unity was necessary to confront those “who question basic democratic principles”. “Our liberal democratic order is deeply intertwined with the unification of Europe: by anchoring ourselves to a European community of values and legal norms, we have presented to the world a coexistence based on democratic order and peace,” they said.

In Italy, the far-right Brothers of Italy party is in first place and credited with 27 per cent in polls – while in Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is at 15 per cent in second place behind the main centre-right party. In Austria, The Freedom Party (FPO) is also expected to make gains. While Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, head of the Brothers of Italy, is staunchly pro-Nato and pro-Kyiv, other far-right parties such Matteo Salvini’s League and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France are accused of being pro-Russian.

Trump calls the hush-money case ‘a Biden show trial’

After a long week in court, Donald Trump headed to the Jersey Shore, where a mega crowd of between 80,000 and 100,000 fans heard him repeatedly blame President Joe Biden for the criminal charges he’s facing as the presumptive nominees prepare to face off in the November election and called his New York hush money case “a Biden show trial”. Blasting the Democratic president “a total moron”, Trump repeatedly characterised the cases against him as “politically motivated” and “timed to harm his ability to campaign”. “He’s a fool. He’s not a smart man,” Trump said of Biden. “I talk about him differently now because now the gloves are off.” Trump drew what his team called a “mega crowd” a Saturday evening rally in the southern New Jersey resort town of Wildwood, 241 kms south of the New York City courthouse where he has been forced to spend most weekdays sitting silently through his felony hush money trial. The beachfront gathering, described as “the largest political gathering in state history”, was designed to serve as a show of force at a critical moment for Trump, who is facing dozens of felony charges in four separate criminal cases with the election less than six months away. And there is a real possibility that Trump could be a convicted felon by Election Day.

Mary Trump predicts how Trump would handle going to jail

Mary Trump, Donald Trump’s estranged niece, told MSNBC Reports during an interview appearance on Saturday that she doesn’t think the former president “could handle” going to jail amid his criminal hush money trial. “I think it’s absurd for anybody to think he would willingly go into jail even for a night, even for an afternoon,” Mary Trump, a critic of her uncle, said. “Hopefully, if he ever is sent to jail for breaking the gag order…it’s for real, it’s not that he is going to some suite in some fancy hotel that’s just guarded. He is there in a cell without his phone just like any other American would be. He would come out a changed man. I don’t think he could handle it.” She added: “He would love the martyrdom, but I don’t believe for a second that he is willing to go to jail for real. No way.”

Trump may owe over $100m in taxes after Chicago Tower audit

Former US President Donald Trump is potentially facing an Income Tax bill exceeding $100 million following a government audit related to tax deductions on a Chicago skyscraper. This development comes from a collaborative report by The New York Times and ProPublica, which utilised information from a lengthy audit and public filings. The focus on Trump’s business dealings intensifies as he aims to reclaim the presidency in the upcoming election, despite his refusal to release his tax filings – a departure from the practice of past presidential candidates. The controversy centres around the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. According to the report, Trump initially claimed losses of $658 million in 2008, arguing the property was “worthless” due to underwhelming condominium sales and vacant retail space during the US recession. Subsequently, in 2010, Trump reportedly transferred ownership of the property to another holding company he controlled, claiming an additional $168 million in losses over the next decade for the same property.

The report suggests that if Trump were to lose this audit battle, he could owe over $100 million, including penalties. In parallel legal challenges, Trump is appealing a New York judge’s ruling from February after a civil trial found that he and his executives misrepresented his wealth on financial statements. This judgment requires Trump to post a $175 million bond to prevent asset seizure while appealing the more than $454 million owed.

Israel orders new evacuations in Rafah

Israel ordered new evacuations in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on Saturday, forcing tens of thousands more people to move as it prepares to expand its military operation closer to the heavily populated central area, in defiance of growing pressure amid the war from close ally the United States and others. As pro-Palestinian protests continued, Israel’s military also said it was moving into an area of devastated northern Gaza where it asserted that the Hamas militant group has regrouped.

Israel has now evacuated the eastern third of Rafah, considered Gaza’s last refuge. The United Nations has warned that the planned full-scale Rafah invasion would further cripple humanitarian operations and cause a surge in civilian casualties. Rafah borders Egypt near the main aid entry points, which are already affected. Israeli troops have captured the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing, forcing it to shut down. Egypt has refused to coordinate with Israel the delivery of aid through the Rafah crossing point because of “the unacceptable Israeli escalation”, the state-owned Al Qahera News television channel reported, quoting an unnamed official. The channel has close ties with Egyptian security agencies.

US President Joe Biden has said he won’t provide offensive weapons to Israel for Rafah. On Friday, the Biden administration said that there was “reasonable” evidence that Israel had breached international law protecting civilians – Washington’s strongest statement yet on the matter. In response, Ophir Falk, foreign policy adviser to Israel’s prime minister, told The Associated Press that Israel acts in compliance with the laws of armed conflict and the army takes extensive measures to avert civilian casualties, including alerting people to military operations through phone calls and text messages.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians – half of Gaza’s population – have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere. The evacuations are forcing some people to return north where areas are devastated from previous Israeli attacks. Aid agencies estimate that 110,000 had left before Saturday’s order, which adds a further 40,000.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said rockets were launched Saturday from Rafah in southern Gaza towards the Kerem Shalom crossing, which was temporarily shut earlier this week after deadly fire. The military said one rocket was intercepted by Israeli air defences “and the rest (three) fell in open areas” around Kerem Shalom. No injuries were reported.

Iran’s hardliners win parliamentary run-off vote

Iran’s hardline factions have won most of the remaining seats in a parliamentary run-off vote, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday. Hardliners have secured 233 of 290 seats in Iran’s parliament, according to a tally by the Associated Press news agency. The ‘principlist’ faction won 10 of 16 remaining seats in the run-off vote in Tehran, with the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces (Shana) receiving the remaining six. Both groups are classified as hardline factions. The majority of the remaining seats in the provinces were also taken by hardline groups. Most independent and opposition candidates were not allowed to run in the election, with the Guardian Council banning them months before the vote. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the election saw “good participation” without giving concrete figures. “All elected people have had a relatively good and acceptable” number of votes, he said. Turnout in March’s election was just under 41 per cent – the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The election was the first since the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in custody in 2022, which sparked mass protests. Amini died after being detained for allegedly failing to adhere to the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Russia ‘captures’ five villages in northeast Ukraine

The Russian forces captured five villages after launching fresh ground assault in north-eastern Ukraine, Al Jazeera reported, quoting the Russian Ministry of Defence. However, the Ukrainian officials did not confirm whether Russia had taken the villages, which lie in a contested “grey zone” on the border of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region and Russia. Al Jazeera’s report quoted several Ukrainian journalists who said that the villages of Borysivka, Ohirtseve, Pylna and Strilecha were taken by Russian troops on Friday. Russia claimed that the village of Pletenivka was also taken. President Zelenskyy said on Saturday evening fighting was continuing in Strilecha and Pletenivka, as well as Krasne, Morokhovets, Oliinykove, Lukyantsi and Hatyshche. “Our troops are carrying out counterattacks there for a second day, protecting Ukrainian territory,” he said.

Kharkiv governor says 1,775 people relocated

Hundreds of civilians were evacuated from Ukraine’s border with Russia in the Kharkiv region, the local governor said on Saturday, a day after Moscow launched a renewed ground offensive there. “A total of 1,775 people have been evacuated,” governor Oleg Synegubov wrote on social media. He said that there had been Russian artillery and mortar attacks on 30 settlements in Kharkiv over the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the US has announced a  €370 million-package of weapons for Ukraine – the third instalment of aid since late April, following congressional approval after months of delay. President Zelensky, addressing the escalating situation, reassured the nation of incoming US weaponry, ensuring confidence in their ability to fight off Russia. Included in the package are rockets, patrol vehicles and anti-radiation missiles and they’re  coming from existing US stockpiles so they can get more quickly to the war front.

Harry ‘in tears’ after Charles bestows military honour on William

Prince Harry was reduced to tears after learning King Charles had bestowed a new honour upon Prince William, a royal expert claims. On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace announced that William, 41, will be made colonel-in-chief of the Army Air Corps – despite Prince Harry, 39, having personally served with the unit in Afghanistan. The announcement appeared timed to inflict maximum pain on Harry, coming on the same day that he returned to London to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the ‘Invictus Games’. “King Charles’ announcement … is a real kick in the teeth for the son who always felt marginalised and underrated,” royal expert Tom Quinn told The Mirror. “He is said to have been in tears when he heard. What makes it much worse is that the role is being given to the very man who Harry sees as the cause of so many of his problems – his brother.” Both William and Harry are trained military pilots. Harry served in the Army Air Corps during his second tour of Afghanistan up until 2014. Prince William was not involved in active conflict, however he has served as a search and rescue pilot and as an air ambulance pilot. Harry was expected to spend time with cancer-stricken King Charles upon his return to the UK this week, but the reunion was not possible “due to His Majesty’s full programme”.

William gives new update on Kate

Amid his ongoing tour of the Scilly Isles, Prince William opened up about Kate Middleton’s health following her cancer diagnosis. Speaking with BBC during his visit to St Mary’s Community Hospital, William said Kate “is doing well”, and quipped that his kids – George, Charlotte and Louis – were “very jealous” of his trip. “My family is very upset I’m here without them,” he mentioned, adding that “The children will kill me if I don’t go home later.” William, 41, has resumed his royal duties while Catherine is undergoing treatment for abdominal cancer.

Photo: Reuters

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