Von der Leyen, Costa, Kallas approved for EU top jobs – Politico

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 26th June 2024.

The six EU leaders negotiating the bloc’s top jobs have agreed that Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, Portugal’s António Costa, and Estonia’s Kaja Kallas should get the most senior positions at the European Commission, European Council, and foreign policy service, according to five EU officials quoted by Politico.

The six negotiators are Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (for the European People’s Party), Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (for the Socialists), and French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (for the Liberals).
The next step will be a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels tomorrow, Thursday, at which the three names will be presented to the heads of state and government for their approval.

Politico quotes one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, saying Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni won’t like that she (again) wasn’t involved in the negotiation as her political group in the European Parliament is now the third-largest after June’s European election. Still, Italy is likely to get a very senior portfolio in the next European Commission.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wrote on social media after the news broke Tuesday that the deal the EPP “made with the leftists and the liberals runs against everything that the EU was based on. Instead of inclusion, it sows the seeds of division. EU top officials should represent every member state, not just leftists and liberals!”

Ukraine kicks off ‘historic’ EU membership talks

The European Union on Tuesday kicked off accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, setting the fragile ex-Soviet states on a long path towards membership that Russia has tried to block. The landmark move signals a vote of confidence in Kyiv’s future at a time when Moscow has momentum on the battlefield almost two and a half years into the Kremlin’s invasion.

“Dear friends, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between Ukraine and the European Union,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said via videolink at the start of the talks. President Zelensky called it a “historic day” as officials from Kyiv and the EU’s 27 member states gathered in Luxembourg. “We will never be derailed from our path to a united Europe and to our common home of all European nations,” the Ukrainian leader wrote on social media.

The opening of the talks marks just the beginning of a protracted process of reforms in Ukraine that is strewn with political obstacles and will likely take many years – and may never lead to membership. Standing in the way along that journey will be not just Russia’s efforts at destabilisation but reticence from doubters inside the EU, most notably Hungary.

The EU also began negotiations, on joining the bloc with Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova, another ex-Soviet state under pressure from Russia.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the opening of talks “very good news for the people of Ukraine, Moldova, and the entire European Union”.

“The path ahead will be challenging but full of opportunities,” she wrote on X on Tuesday.

Assange pleads guilty in US deal, heads home to Australia

An aircraft carrying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has left Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, after he pleaded guilty Wednesday to obtaining and publishing US military secrets. The plea in the US Pacific commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands concluded a drawn-out legal saga that spanned continents.

The agreement with the US Justice Department required Assange to admit guilt to a single felony count but permitted him to return to his home country of Australia without any time in an American prison. The judge sentenced him to the five years he’d already spent behind bars in the United Kingdom, fighting extradition to the United States.

Assange had earlier admitted violating the US Espionage Act by publishing a trove of classified information about the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was imprisoned in the United Kingdom while fighting his extradition to the United States. He had been indicted by the US Justice Department in 2019 on 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse.

“I feel elated,” said his wife, Stella Assange. Assange’s lawyer, Richard Miller, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the plea agreement.

Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese said that, regardless of what people think of Assange, “the case has dragged on for too long”. “There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

10 killed, parliament set ablaze in Kenya tax protests

Police shot at protesters as they breached the parliament complex in Nairobi on Tuesday, with at least ten demonstrators killed and dozens more wounded. Angry over proposed tax hikes, many protesters across the country are calling for President William Ruto to leave office.

The military has been deployed to support police, who earlier fired tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and – according to a rights group – live ammunition against protesters, as tensions sharply escalated in protests that have caught the government off guard. Mainly youth-led rallies have galvanised outrage over proposed tax hikes and simmering anger over a cost-of-living crisis to fuel rapidly growing demonstrations.

The protests had been largely peaceful but chaos erupted in the capital Tuesday, with crowds throwing stones at police, pushing past barricades and ultimately entering the grounds of Kenya’s parliament.

Amid the clashes, global web monitor NetBlocks reported that a “major disruption” had hit the country’s internet service.

“Despite the assurance by the government that the right to assembly would be protected and facilitated, today’s protests have spiraled into violence,” several NGOs, including Amnesty Kenya, said a joint statement.

The Kenya Medical Association had earlier said in a statement on X that: “At least five people have been shot dead. Thirty-one people have been injured.”

The White House appealed for calm and more than 10 Western nations – including Canada, Germany and Britain – said they were “especially shocked by the scenes witnessed outside the Kenyan Parliament”.

Israelis kill Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh’s family in dramatic Gaza blitz

In a series of devastating air raids, Israeli warplanes have targeted multiple locations across the Gaza Strip, leading to the death of at least 27 Palestinians, including high-profile casualties. The airstrikes, which occurred on Monday, have intensified the ongoing conflict in the region, marking one of the deadliest days since the escalation began.

One of the most significant and tragic targets was the family home of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in the Shati camp area near Gaza City. The attack resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people, all members of the Haniyeh family, including Haniyeh’s sister. This strike underscores the high-stakes nature of the conflict, with Israel targeting key figures within Hamas. Israel’s military said its forces had targeted militants overnight in Gaza City who had been involved in the planning of attacks on Israel.

In another tragic incident, an Israeli airstrike hit a house in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, killing five civilians, including three children, and injuring several others. The Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that this strike further highlights the severe humanitarian impact of the ongoing violence.

MSF denounces killing of doctor who IDF identified as Jihad

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they killed a member of the Islamic Jihad yesterday in a drone raid on the city of Gaza, who Doctors Without Borders (MSF) instead identified as a member of his staff.

The IDF assured that Fadi Jihad Muhammad al-Wadiya was, in particular, involved in the development of the Islamist militia’s missile systems. MSF instead stated that the 33-year-old was a physiotherapist who had been working with the humanitarian organisation since 2018. “We are outraged and strongly condemn the killing of our colleague”, reads the note. This is the sixth killing of an MSF staff member in Gaza since October 7, according to the humanitarian organisation.

The IDF responded in turn with a post onX, saying, “Always check to see who you are hiring. Your colleague was a major Islamic Jihad terrorist. He carried out the terrorist organisation’s missile system and was also known to endanger the lives of civilians It’s just another case of terrorists exploiting the civilian population in Gaza as human shields.”

In other developments:

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has urged Israel not to open a second front against Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, saying the ongoing fighting could “easily become a regional war” as he met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Israel’s Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service – a ruling that could split Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

At least 37,658 Palestinians have been killed and 86,237 injured in Israel’s war in Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave. The Hamas-led October 7 attacks resulted in the deaths of more than 1,190 people, mostly civilians, according to official Israeli figures. Some 250 people were taken hostage, with about 120 remaining in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies. Many have been declared dead by Israeli authorities.

Khamenei warns presidential candidates against ‘bowing to enemies’

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, leader of the Islamic Revolution, commended the ongoing televised debates among Iran’s presidential candidates. Highlighting the importance of these discussions, he emphasised how they help the public understand the views and policies of the six contenders.

However, Khamenei also issued a stern warning to the candidates: avoid making statements that could please Iran’s enemies. He urged that all public discourse should strengthen the nation and its values as the country approaches the June 28 election.

Princess Anne suffering memory loss after horse-related concussion

Princess Anne, sister of King Charles, is said to be suffering from memory loss after an accident thought to involve a horse left her with a concussion and minor injuries. The Daily Telegraph reported that the 73-year-old’s memory loss is believed to be temporary. The Princess Royal’s husband, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, gave a brief update on Tuesday to well-wishers, saying: “She is recovering well, thank you,” as quoted by People magazine.

South Korea battery plant fire kills 22

The South Korean government today ordered urgent safety inspections at high-risk industrial sites a day after a fire at a lithium battery factory that killed 22 workers with one person still missing. Officials from agencies including the National Forensic Service, police and the fire department entered the factory as part of a joint investigation.

The blaze which broke out inside a warehouse with 35,000 lithium batteries produced toxic smoke, and the workers likely lost consciousness and succumbed within seconds, fire officials have said. Seventeen of the 22 workers who died were Chinese and one Laotian was also among the dead. Most of them were hired temporarily to work at the plant packing primary lithium batteries run by unlisted company Aricell.

The fire was the latest industrial accident in a country where dozens of manufacturing workers lose their lives on the job each year despite repeated calls to improve workplace safety.

Germany finds population less than previously thought

Germany’s population was 82.7 million in a census published on Tuesday, the country’s Federal Statistical Office announced – 1.4 million fewer residents than previously assumed. The figures reveal that the population grew by around 2.5 million between the 2011 census and the 2022 census. One theory for the shortfall was that some foreigners may not have deregistered in Germany if they are spending their retirement abroad. Some 10.9 million foreigners lived in Germany in 2022, about a million fewer than previously reported.

The census determines the population figures of all 10,786 municipalities in Germany. In 56 per cent of those, there were at least one per cent fewer people living when the census took place on May 15, 2022. The deviation was particularly marked for Cologne, where 5.6 per cent fewer people than assumed were living when the census took place.

UEFA EURO2024: Belgium ‘out to win’ against Ukraine

Belgium will be “going out to win” against Ukraine at 6pm this evening even though a draw will be enough for them to reach the last 16 at Euro 2024.

Group E has all four teams locked on three points ahead of the final round of fixtures, with numerous permutations for finishing positions. But as long as Belgium avoid defeat, they will stay in one of Group E’s top two spots thanks to their positive goal difference. In theory, Domenico Tedesco’s side will receive an easier last-16 draw if they top the group, although their manager has warned against looking too far ahead. Belgium lost 1-0 to Slovakia in their opener, but responded with a 2-0 win over Romania. The other Group E match, at the same time, is Slovakia v Romania.

The other two matches, this time at 9pm in Group F, are Czech Republic v Turkey and Georgia v Portugal. BBC Sports quotes Georgia winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia saying he believes his side are “more motivated” than Portugal to win their final group-stage match. Roberto Martinez’s Portuguese side have already qualified as winners of Group F. A win would realistically be needed for Georgia to progress. If the Czech Republic and Georgia both win, they will advance in second or third. There is an opportunity to rest players but Martinez said he would start 39-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, who could become the oldest player to score at the Euros.

Yesterday’s results: Group C: Denmark v Serbia (0-0) and England v Slovenia 0-0. Group D: France v. 1-1 and Netherlands v Austria 2-3. England, Denmark, Austria and France qualify for last 16.
Copa America: Group A: Peru v Canada 0-1; Chile v Argentina 0-1.

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