Trump guilty on all 34 felony charges in hush money trial

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 31st May 2024.

Donald Trump became the first former US president ever convicted of a crime after a New York jury found him guilty on all charges in his hush money case, months before an election that could see him yet return to the White House. The jury found him guilty on each of the 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide a payment meant to silence porn star Stormy Daniels. He could in theory be sentenced to four years behind bars for each count but is more likely to receive probation.

The 77-year-old Republican, who was released without bail, is now a felon – a historic and startling first in a country where presidents are frequently described as “the most powerful men in the world”. Trump, however, is not barred from continuing his battle to unseat President Joe Biden in November – even in the unlikely event he goes to prison. And he voiced immediate defiance. “I’m a very innocent man,” Trump told reporters, vowing that the “real verdict” would come from voters. He branded the trial “rigged” and a “disgrace”.

Biden’s campaign issued a statement saying the trial showed “no one is above the law”. It added that “the threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater”.

Judge Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11 – four days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Trump is due to receive the party’s formal nomination.

The 12-member jury had deliberated for more than 11 hours over two days before the foreman read out the unanimous conclusion within a matter of minutes. Merchan thanked the jurors for completing the “difficult and stressful task”. Their identities had been kept secret throughout proceedings – a rare practice more often seen in cases involving mafia or other violent defendants.

Trump also faces federal and state charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Biden, and for hoarding secret documents after leaving the White House.

Donald Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche, who led the tycoon’s defence team, tolf CNN, “We will appeal as soon as possible,” adding “We were also prepared for a guilty verdict.”

Trump will give a speech at 11am on Friday local time (5pm today in Malta) from the Trump Tower.

‘Ukraine can strike Russia with US arms to defend Kharkiv’

President Biden has given Ukraine the go-ahead to use American weaponry to strike inside Russia for the limited purpose of defending Kharkiv, according to three US officials familiar with the matter. Biden’s decision was first reported by Politico. Reuters, the Washington Post and other US media outlets also quoted Biden administration officials confirming the move.

The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, underscored that the US policy calling on Ukraine not to use American-provided ATACMS or long-range missiles and other munitions to strike offensively inside Russia has not changed.

Biden’s directive allows for US-supplied weapons to be used for “counterfire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them”, one official said. The move comes as Ukrainian officials have stepped up calls on the US administration to allow its forces to defend itself against attacks originating from Russian territory. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is just 20 kms from the Russian border.

Ukrainian officials, most notably Ukrainian President Zelensky, have been increasingly vocal in arguing that the restriction was putting Ukrainian forces in an untenable situation as Russia intensified attacks around the northeast Kharkiv region.

Russian oil depot set on fire following drone attack

Three fuel tanks caught fire after a drone attack on an oil depot in Russia, in the Temryuk district of the Krasnodar Territory, causing casualties among the plant’s employees. The head of the region, Veniamin Kondratyev, announced the news on a Telegram channel, saying, “A massive drone attack was repelled in several municipalities in the region. The situation is more serious in the Temryuk region. The infrastructure of an oil depot was damaged and set on fire. The fire is being put out. Employees will be evacuated.”

Germany pledges €500 million in arms support for Ukraine

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced a new package of arms support for Ukraine worth €500 million during an unannounced visit to the port city of Odesa on Thursday. The new German arms package was unveiled by Pistorius alongside Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov.

Pistorius’ third visit to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022, comes as Ukrainian forces are under pressure from a renewed Russian offensive in the northeast, combined with heavy airstrikes on Ukrainian cities. A top request by President Zelensky from Ukraine’s allies has been more ammunition for air defence systems. “We will continue to support you in this defensive campaign,” Pistorius said at a meeting with Umerov on Thursday evening in Odesa, adding that some of the materials were already about to be delivered.

Hamas ready for a ‘complete agreement’ if Israel stops war

Hamas said yesterday it had told mediators it would not take part in more negotiations during ongoing aggression but was ready for a “complete agreement” including an exchange of hostages and prisoners, if Israel stopped the war, Reuters reports. Talks, mediated by among others Egypt and Qatar, to arrange a ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist movement in the Gaza war have repeatedly stalled with both sides blaming the other for the lack of progress.

The latest Hamas statement came as Israel pressed on with an offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, despite an order by the International Court of Justice, the top UN court, to halt the attacks. “Hamas and the Palestinian factions will not accept to be part of this policy by continuing (ceasefire) negotiations in light of the aggression, siege, starvation and genocide of our people”, the Hamas statement read.

Latest Israeli dawn strike in Rafah kills 12 Palestinians

Israeli forces killed at least 12 Palestinians in a dawn airstrike on Rafah in southern Gaza yesterday and fighting raged in several other areas of the coastal enclave. Gaza medics said the 12 Palestinians, all civilians, had been killed and an unspecified number of others wounded in an Israeli airstrike as they tried to recover the body of a civilian in the centre of Rafah.

Israel pressed on with its offensive on Rafah a day after saying its forces had taken control of a buffer zone along the nearby border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, giving it effective authority over Gaza’s entire land frontier. It said the buffer zone’s capture had cut off a route used by Hamas to smuggle arms into Gaza during more than seven months of war, which has laid waste to much of the territory and raised fears of famine.

Gantz’s party presents Bill to dissolve the Knesset

Minister Benny Gantz’s ‘National Unity’ party has presented a Bill to dissolve the Israeli Parliament and call early elections by October, one year after the October 7 massacre, as reported by the Israeli media. The Bill to dissolve the 25th Knesset was presented by MP Pnina Tamno Sheta, president of ‘National Unity’. The party does not have the majority to dissolve the Knesset, as the Netanyahu coalition has the numbers to continue with his government. However, writes Haaretz, this indicates the major split in the coalition.

Bank of Israel warns war will cost over €63 billion

The cost to Israel of the war in Gaza will be over €63 billion, according to estimates by the governor of the Central Bank of Israel Amir Yaron, referring to defence spending, civilian needs and tax revenue losses in the years 2023 to 2025. Yaron then warned that the costs of security and war to civilians are “significant” and represent a budgetary burden. Furthermore, he added, the future security budget is expected to grow permanently and have a macro-economic impact, warning against giving the military a “blank cheque”.

German government sued over weapons sold to Israel

The German government is violating its international obligations by shipping weapons to Israel, human rights lawyer Alexander Schwarz said in an interview with DW’s chief political correspondent Nina Haase on Thursday. Schwarz is deputy programme director of the International Crimes and Accountability Programme at the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). The organisation is suing the government before a federal court in Berlin, hoping to stop the weapon exports.

According to Schwarz, Germany is delivering weapons including bazookas, ammunition and tank engines to Israel. The ECCHR has “reasonable grounds to believe that with these kind of weapons, Israel is committing crimes against civilians in Gaza. Crimes consisting of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as recently confirmed by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,” Schwarz told DW.

Israel has denied committing war crimes, insisting it was targeting Hamas militants. Hamas is labelled as a terror group by the US, the EU, and others.

Schwarz said his organisation examined evidence of alleged crimes which include videos, photos and witness statements. “We used international reports from the UN, from Human Rights Watch and other organisations that really have a huge number of incidents,” he said. “And as well we see online, for example, on social media, we see incidents and evidence delivered by members of the IDF themselves by showing they are destroying, for example, civilian objects.”

Slovenian government recognises Palestinian state

Slovenia has become the latest European country to recognise Palestine after its government approved Prime Minister Robert Golob’s proposal on Thursday. “The government has made a decision to recognise the State of Palestine as an independent and sovereign state within the borders from 1967, or the borders that the parties involved should agree on in a future peace agreement,” Golob said at a news conference after the government meeting in Ljubljana.

Although the question of Palestine’s recognition was not on the government’s agenda on Thursday, Golob said he pushed for a swift decision due to recent developments in Rafah, where Israel conducted several deadly attacks over the past couple of days. However, the prime minister stated that the resolution was not aimed against the state of Israel. “The message of recognition is not directed against anyone,” Golob said, “It is a message of peace. We believe that today the moment has come when we all – the whole world – must act … in a manner that brings lasting peace in the Middle East.” The country’s parliament still has to ratify the decision before it can come into full effect. However, this is considered a mere formality as none of the parliamentary parties in the 90-seat National Assembly are expected to oppose the motion.

Euronews says following Spain, Ireland, and Norway’s formal recognition of Palestine on Tuesday, Slovenia aimed to announce its recognition alongside other EU member states, with Malta mentioned as one of the potential co-recognisers. However, the Maltese government has since said it would do so “when the circumstances are right”.

Tribute to late Iranian president at UN stirs anger

The UN General Assembly drew criticism yesterday for its tribute to the late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash, with Washington boycotting the gathering. Following a minute’s silence, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered his condolences to the families of the victims of the May 19 incident, as well as to the Iranian people. Asked about the UN chief offering condolences in the days after the leader’s death, Guterres’s official spokesman defended his position. The Secretary-General “has never been shy about expressing his deep concerns about the human rights situation in Iran, notably on the issues of women,” said Stephane Dujarric. “It does not stop him from expressing condolences when the head of state of a Member State of this organisation, and a foreign minister, with whom he met regularly… dies in a helicopter crash,” he added.

No representatives of Western countries spoke at the tribute and some, such as France and the United States, did not send representatives. Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan, who condemned the initial minute silence at the Security Council on May 20, also hit out at Thursday’s event.

Outside the UN headquarters in New York several dozen protesters opposed to the Iranian authorities chanted “shame on UN”.

‘Iran targets Israeli embassies in Europe’

According to Israeli and Swedish security services, Iran is behind a string of terror attacks by criminal networks on Israeli Embassies in Europe. In Sweden, the criminal gang known as Foxtrot was following Iran’s orders when it attempted an attack on the Israeli Embassy in January. The report also found that Iran was behind last week’s attack on Israel’s Embassy in Belgium in which two airsoft grenades were thrown.

South Africa’s ANC leads but may lose majority

As the votes are being counted in South Africa’s most competitive election since the African National Congress came to power 30 years ago, the ANC is currently leading with 44 per cent of the vote followed by the Democratic Alliance with 25 per cent. If the ANC fails to capture a clear majority but can scrape out at least 45 per cent of the vote, it will likely be able to reinstate current President Cyril Ramaphosa and only need to make minimal policy compromises. “If the ANC come in just under a majority, they are likely to approach smaller, ideologically aligned parties … to put together a stable coalition where they would be the dominant party,” says Eurasia Group’s senior Africa analyst, Ziyanda Stuurman.

Meanwhile, former President Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party – which has received just 14 per cent of the vote – is calling for an opposition coalition to be formed to rival the ANC. But the second- and the third-largest opposition parties are not interested in joining the ranks.

Lennon’s lost guitar fetches  nearly $3 million

John Lennon’s missing guitar featured in The Beatles’ 1965 film “Help!” sold at an auction at New York’s Hard Rock Cafe for over $2.8 million (€2.6m). Julien’s Auctions confirmed in a statement that the Framus Hootenanny 12-string acoustic guitar became the fifth most-expensive guitar ever sold. The guitar was found in an attic after going missing 50 years ago. According to Julien’s Auctions, Lennon gave the guitar to fellow musician Gordon Waller in 1965. Lennon and Paul McCartney had been writing songs for Waller at the time. Waller later gave the guitar to his manager, who brought it home and put it in his attic, where it remained for the next five decades.

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