Von der Leyen backs calls for EU air defence shield

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

The European Union is considering setting up its own air defence shield after bloc leaders threw their support behind a Greek-Polish initiative to that effect this week, according to Defence News, the authoritative, independent, professional news source for the world’s defence decision-makers.

The two countries’ prime minsters, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Donald Tusk, pitched the idea to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a letter earlier this month. After von der Leyen, who is eyeing a second term following elections early this month, swiftly endorsed the idea, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, also signalled support. “I welcome that member states say that to defend our airspace, why should we look at that in a fragmented manner?” Borrell said ahead of a May 28 meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. Borrell told reporters the idea raises plenty of questions. “But the devil is in the details,” he said. “Where will these air defences be put? At the border? Which border? With which capacities? With which funding?”

In their letter, Mitsotakis and Tusk said they envision “a comprehensive air defence system to protect our common EU airspace against all the incoming threats,” citing Russia’s war against Ukraine as key motivation. Besides the tangible, military benefits such an endeavour could bring, the two leaders argued that a joint “flagship” programme would signal to would-be attackers that the EU is united on defense.

That wording could be seen as a veiled dig at Berlin, where officials are well underway in assembling an air defence coalition under their’ European Sky Shield Initiative’, which now counts 21 member countries. German officials created the initiative in 2022 amid the shock over Russian troops targeting Ukrainian infrastructure and population centers with missiles and drones.

Poland’s Tusk previously said he wants his country to join, but he has faced opposition from President Andrzej Duda, who was re-elected in 2020 with backing of the then-ruling Law and Justice party.

But not all EU member states have bought into the idea, partly because the aperture for sourcing the requisite hardware leans heavily on non-European products, including the Israeli-American Arrow 3 missile and the US Patriot system. The German reaction to the Greek-Polish proposal has been muted, with officials saying they have nothing against it as long it doesn’t interfere with their initiative. In the end, the council meeting came and went without any action on the issue, according to officials in Berlin and Brussels. A spokesperson with the German government said the Greek-Polish proposal came up only on the periphery, while an EU spokesperson said formalising national proposals wasn’t the panel’s job to begin with.

Moscow’s “North” group continues to advance in Ukraine

During a special military operation in Ukraine, units of Troop Group North continued to advance deeper into enemy defences during the day, the head of the group’s press centre, Sergei Zybinsky, reported to Tass.  “The units of the North troop group continue to advance into the depths of the enemy defence,” he said, adding, “Four counterattacks on Liptsy and Volchansk repelled. The Ukrainian armed forces lost up to 225 soldiers, a tank, six vehicles and an ammunition depot.”

Biden announces Israeli ceasefire proposal to end Gaza war

US President Joe Biden announced a three-phase Israeli ceasefire proposal on Friday that would entail Hamas’s release of all hostages in exchange for a permanent end of hostilities in Gaza. In a speech from the White House, Biden claimed that Hamas is “no longer capable of carrying out another October 7”, arguing that an “indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of total victory will only bog down Israel in Gaza, draining military, economic and human resources and further Israel’s isolation in the world”.

The first phase of the proposal, lasting six weeks, “would include a full and complete ceasefire, withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza, the release of a number of hostages including women, the elderly, the wounded in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners”.

During this time, Israel and Hamas would “negotiate the necessary arrangements to get to phase two, which is a permanent end to hostilities”. Phase two would also entail the release of all remaining living hostages.

In phase three, “a major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence” and Hamas would return the remains of any dead hostages to Israel.

Biden said the deal would generate the possibility for more progress, including calm along the northern Israeli border, the return of residents of northern Israel to their homes, a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and “self-determination” for the Palestinian people.

von der Leyen welcomes Gaza’s roadmap as ‘realistic approach’

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has welcomed the Israeli roadmap towards a cease fire in Gaza announced by President Biden affirming that it is a “significant opportunity” to put an end to the war. “I fully agree with Biden on the fact that the last proposal is a significant opportunity to go towards the end of the war and civil suffering in Gaza. This three-phase approach is balanced and realistic. Now it needs the support from all parties,” affirmed von der Leyen on social media.

Families of Israeli hostages applaud cease-fire proposal

The families of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip commended President Biden’s speech Friday in which he announced a new cease-fire proposal that he said was greenlighted by Tel Aviv, according to media reports. The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said the families, who hold US citizenship, hailed Biden’s laying out details of the proposal. “It’s time to reach a deal immediately,” the families were quoted, “After 238 days of war, the world must take all necessary steps to put an end to this war, and to return all 125 captives to home.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, however, responded to the speech with an intention to continue the military’s offensive in the Gaza Strip until all of Tel Aviv’s war goals are achieved. The Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, said it positively views Biden’s “call to a permanent ceasefire, the Israeli forces’ withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the reconstruction of Gaza, and the exchange of prisoners”.

Israel has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians in Gaza since a cross-border attack by Hamas on October 7, which killed less than 1,200 people and around 250 were taken as hostages. As many as 105 captives were released as part of a brief truce in November in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. Around 125 people remain captive, with many believed to be dead due to Israeli airstrikes.

Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas, mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt, have so far failed to agree on a permanent cease-fire.

‘We’ve hit the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier’ – Houthis

Houthi rebels in Yemen claim to have attacked and hit the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea in response to UK and US attacks on the organisation’s facilities. This was stated by the military spokesperson of the Yahya Saree movement, quoted by Tass, specifying that the attack was launched with several missiles and rockets which reached their target. “It was an accurate shot,” insisted the same source. Last night the US and UK launched a massive attack on Houthi targets.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said it intercepted four drones launched by the Houthis – three over the Red Sea and another over the Gulf of Aden – while a fifth drone crashed. The Houthis also launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles. No injuries or damage were reported by US, coalition or commercial vessels.

Trump supporters call for riots and violent retribution after verdict

Supporters of former President Donald Trump, enraged by his conviction on 34 felony counts by a New York jury, flooded pro-Trump websites with calls for riots, revolution and violent retribution. After Trump became the first US president to be convicted of a crime, his supporters responded with dozens of violent online posts, according to a Reuters review of comments on three Trump-aligned websites: the former president’s own Truth Social platform, Patriots.Win and the Gateway Pundit.

Trump ‘threatening’ democracy says Biden

President Biden has said that his predecessor was “threatening” democracy, after former President Donald Trump vowed to appeal his hush money conviction on Friday. Trump’s words came a day after a jury found him guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

“We’re going to be appealing this scam… on many different things,” Trump said in a rambling, 33-minute-long speech at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Biden warned of Trump’s condemnation of the verdict against him, saying the former president was “threatening” democracy. “First, he questioned our election system. Then, he questioned our judicial system,” Biden said on social media, in his first remarks on the verdict. Biden’s presidential campaign also issued a statement describing Trump as “confused, desperate and defeated”. “This man cannot be president,” the campaign said.

The former US president also denounced the hush money trial as “very unfair”. “You saw what happened to some of the witnesses that were on our side: they were literally crucified,” Trump said. “If they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone,” he added. “These are very bad people.”

Judge Juan M. Merchan has scheduled Trump’s sentencing for July 11. He also faces three other felony indictments.

Trump collects $53 million in the 24 hours after the verdict

Donald Trump’s campaign collected $53 million in donations in the 24 hours following the guilty verdict for pornostar payments. The campaign affirmed Trump talking about a record collection achieved thanks to small donors.

Mexico set for historic election on Sunday

As many as 100 million Mexicans go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president and it is already guaranteed to be historic. Both leading candidates are women and the country has never had a female leader. The main issues are security, migration and the economy.

Sunday’s historic elections weigh gender, democracy and populism, as they chart the country’s path forward in voting shadowed by cartel violence. With two women leading the contest, Mexico will likely elect its first female president – a major step in a country long marked by its “macho” culture. The election will also be the biggest in the country’s history. More than 20,000 congressional and local positions are up for grabs, according to the National Electoral Institute.

The number of contested posts has fed bloodshed during the campaigns, as criminal groups have used local elections as an opportunity to exert power. A toxic slate of cartels and gangs have battled for turf and more than 20 people seeking political office have been killed just this year.

Pope allegedly tells group of priests ‘gossip is a women’s thing’

Pope Francis is alleged to have told a group of young priests that “gossip is a women’s thing” – two days after he apologised for using a homophobic slur. The remark was allegedly made during a closed-door meeting on Thursday with a group of newly-ordained priests in Rome, according to a story published on Il Silere Non Possum, a website dedicated to Vatican news, and then reported by several mainstream Italian newspapers and news agencies.

The pontiff, 87, is reported to have advised the priests against “badmouthing” in parishes and congregations, before allegedly saying: “Gossip is a women’s thing.” He is alleged to have added: “We wear the trousers, we have to say things.” Marco Perfetti, the director of Il Silere Non Possum, said the site had audio of the discussion, which he claimed was recorded by more than one participant at the event and backed up by sources.

Canada’s infamous serial killer dies after prison attack

Convicted Canadian serial killer Robert Pickton died yesterday aged 74 after he was assaulted by another inmate in a maximum-security prison earlier this month, Reuters quote prison authorities saying. Pickton was convicted in 2007 of killing drug addicts and prostitutes and butchering their remains at his pig farm in the Pacific province of British Columbia. He was convicted of killing six women whose partial remains were found on his ramshackle property near Vancouver. Government prosecutors dropped charges for an additional 20 murders after he was sentenced to life in prison.

Canada’s correctional service said Pickton had died after being assaulted on May 19 in the Quebec prison where he had been serving his sentence.

Football: Ancelotti confirms first choice goalkeeper for UCL Final

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that he will be sticking with his first-choice goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois for the UEFA Champions League final this evening when the Spaniards take on Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium for the 2023-2024 UEFA Champions League title (kick-off 9 pm). Ahead of the final, Andriy Lunin, who was between the goalposts for Real Madrid in most parts of the group stage games and all the knockout games, developed a flu. He was not allowed to train with the rest of the team but was also allowed to fly with the team to London for the final. Afterwards, the goalkeeper took to his social media pages to confirm that the flu won’t allow him to feature in the Champions League final.

During the game’s pre-match news conference earlier on Friday, Ancelotti confirmed that he had made his choice in terms of who will man the post for the Spanish giants tonight. Despite this development, Andriy Lunin is expected to fly solo to London to watch the Champions League final. Ancelotti has confirmed that the Ukrainian goalkeeper would watch the game from the bench.

The final will be the fifteenth time that the two teams meet each other in the history of the Champions League. In the fourteenth direct confrontation between Borussia and Real Madrid, the balance is completely favourable for Real Madrid with six wins against Borussia’s three wins, while five times they ended in a draw. Borussia Dortmund had won the competition once in the 1996-97 edition, while Real Madrid won no less than 14 editions, with the last time being in 2021-22.

The first confrontation between them in the history of the Champions League were the semi-finals of the 1997-98 edition where from the draw of 0 – 0 in Dortmund, Real Madrid went to the final with the victory of 2 – 0 in Santiago Bernabeu, with goals from Morientes and Karambeu. The last match between them was in the 2017-18 edition with a victory for Real Madrid with a score of 3-2. The Wembley final, expected to be watched by some 450 million football fans, will be controlled by Slovenia’s Slavko Vincic. Ancelotti, 64, has lifted the famous trophy twice as a player and four times as a manager. He has coached fellow European heavyweights such as Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Chelsea, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

Photo: Markus Schreiber / AP

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