Von der Leyen doubles down on deal with Meloni

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 24th May 2024.

A coalition between the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia is a definite option, European Commission incumbent President Ursula von der Leyen told the Eurovision five-way lead candidate debate yesterday, clarifying that the Italian prime minister fulfils three criteria for future partners: she is pro-EU, against Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and for the rule of law.

The EPP is the only mainstream party that has not signed a declaration pledging not to cooperate with far-right forces such as the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy (ID) group – which are battling the EU liberals to become the third force in the next parliament. The ECR includes the likes of Spain’s Vox, France’s Reconquête, and Italy’s Fratelli d’Italia, while the ID includes Salvini’s Lega and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National.

The four leading candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission from the groups of the Left, the Greens, the Liberals and Democrats of Renew Europe, and the Party of European Socialists (PES) slammed von der Leyen for overtures to the far-right. Von der Leyen clearly signalled that she does not intend to ally with the entire ECR group, but only with parts of it that meet the three criteria, even if she and Meloni do not share the same views on issues such as LGBTQI rights, she said.

The five candidates discussed topics ranging from the economy to defence, migration, and climate in what was the last showdown for the parties’ lead candidates before voters go to the polls on 6th-9th June.

Eurovision Debate 2024 with Lead Candidates. Photo: Philippe Buissin/EU

“Give EU citizens a dignified life to defeat the far-right”

In the latest Eurobarometer, two of the top three concerns of citizens were the fight against poverty and the creation of new jobs – yet social issues played second fiddle in the debate to defence, foreign affairs, and security. The PES’ lad candidate, Luxembourgish Nicolas Schmit, who holds the post of EU Commissioner for Jobs, stressed the need to invest in people, improve their working conditions, ensure a decent standard of living, reduce poverty and provide equal opportunities for all. The European Left’s Austrian Spitzenkandidat, Walter Baier said, “Unless we give people a dignified life, decent housing and secure jobs, we will not be able to defeat the far right in Europe.”

Trump holds a rally in the South Bronx

Former US presient Donald Trump campaigned Thursday in one of the most Democratic counties in the nation, holding a rally in the South Bronx as he tries to woo minority voters. He addressed supporters in Crotona Park, a public green space in a neighbourhood that is among the city’s most diverse and its most impoverished – a change from the majority-white areas where he holds most of his rallies. The crowd included large numbers of Black and Hispanic voters. In his speech, Trump cast himself as a better president for Black and Hispanic voters than President Joe Biden as he railed against Biden on immigration.

Many concerned political violence could follow US election

Meanwhile, two out of three Americans say they are concerned that political violence could follow the November 5 election rematch between Democratic President Joe Biden and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll found. The survey of 3,934 US adults found widespread worries that the US could see a repeat of the unrest that followed Trump’s 2020 election defeat, when the then-president’s false claim that his loss was the result of fraud prompted thousands of followers to storm the US Capitol. Trump is once again laying the groundwork to contest the results should he lose to Biden.

Drills around Taiwan test “seizure of power” capability – China

Beijing today said ongoing drills encircling Taiwan were testing the military’s ability to seize power over the self-ruled island, days after a new president was sworn in. China’s military kicked off the war games Thursday morning, surrounding Taiwan with naval vessels and military aircraft, while vowing the blood of “independence forces” on the island would flow. The exercises come after Lai Ching-te took office as Taiwan’s new president this week and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a “confession of independence”. The drills are part of an escalating campaign  by China that has seen it carry out a series of large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence in Taipei has detected a total of 49 Chinese military aircraft “of various types (including Su-30, J-16, KJ-500) since 07.20 today (1.20 in Malta). Of these, 35 crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait. According to media, 15 ships and 16 coast guard units were also detected.

Israel warns against recognising Palestine

Israel on Thursday summoned the ambassadors of Spain, Norway and the Republic of Ireland to be “reprimanded” for their countries’ “perverse decision” to recognise a Palestinian state, according to Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yaakov Blitshtein. “There will be additional serious consequences for relations with their countries following the decision they made,” he said. “The twisted decision by your governments is a prize to Hamas,” Blitshtein reportedly told the ambassadors, “Hamas congratulates you!” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has rejected the idea, called the decision, “a reward for terror”.

“The Hague will not stop us in the war against Hamas”

“Israel will not be discouraged in its war on Hamas by the decision that the Court of Justice in The Hague, following input from South Africa, could give on Friday (today) on a halt to the war in Gaza and the operation in Rafah,” Avi Hyman, one of the Israeli government’s spokespersons, told newsmen. “No power on earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and prosecuting Hamas in the Strip.”

Meanwhile,Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said, “We are strengthening our commitment against Rafah. The operation will continue and increase with additional forces on the ground and from the air. We will achieve our objectives.” As he was off the coast of Gaza aboard a military boat, Gallant eplained, “Our efforts are to deal a very hard blow to Hamas and deprive it of its military potential and create the conditions for the release of the hostages.”

UN resumes transporting aid from US-built pier in Gaza

The United Nations has resumed transporting humanitarian aid arriving at a US-built pier off the coast of the Gaza Strip after deliveries were halted for two days because some truckloads of aid were intercepted by needy Palestinians. Aid deliveries began arriving at the US-built pier last Friday as Israel came under growing global pressure to allow more supplies into the besieged coastal enclave. Ten truckloads of aid – driven from the pier site by UN contractors – were received on Friday, at a World Food Programme warehouse in Deir El Balah. But last Saturday, only five loads made it to the warehouse after 11 others were intercepted. A US official said that so far, some 800 metric tonnes of aid had been delivered off the pier to a staging area. More than 307 metric tonnes of aid had been transported “to onward points in Gaza”. The aid offloaded at the pier comes via a maritime corridor from Cyprus, where it is first inspected by Israel. So far, 3,474 pallets of aid have been shipped out of the Cypriot port of Larnaca, with each pallet weighing about a tonne. The UN has said at least 500 trucks a day are needed to enter Gaza.

Sunak and Starmer kick off campaigns

British Prime Minister and Tory leader Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer kicked off their election campaigns on Thursday, six weeks before the country goes to the polls on July 4. Immigration policy, specifically the Rwanda Bill, has been top of the agenda and a key point of contention as the two rivals started their trips around the country. Meanwhile in Westminster, Parliament is rushing through a number of Bills including the Victims and Prisoners Bill, to provide compensation for victims of the infected blood scandal. There are just two days left for Commons business, as King Charles has approved to prorogue Parliament, on a day no earlier than today and no later than Tuesday 28th May.

Fourth Russian top defence figure detained for alleged bribe-taking

Russia has detained the deputy head of the army’s general staff, Lieutenant-General Vadim Shamarin, on suspicion of large-scale bribe-taking, Russian media reports. It is the fourth arrest of a high-ranking defence figure in the space of a month, starting on April 23 when Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov was placed in pre-trial detention for suspected bribe-taking. Since then, Lieutenant-General Yuri Kuznetsov, head of personnel at the defence ministry, and Major-General Ivan Popov, former commander of Russia’s 58th army, have also been arrested. Three other people have also been arrested. The scandal is the biggest to hit the Russian government in years. The arrests signal a major effort to stamp out corruption surrounding the awarding of lucrative military contracts.

Russia passes decree to allow seizure of US assets

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed a decree allowing the confiscation of assets inside Russia belonging to the United States, its citizens and companies, to compensate those hit by Western sanctions against Moscow.

The West froze around $300 billion of Russian financial assets, mostly its central bank reserves, after Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine in February 2022. And the US Congress last month passed a Bill that would allow President Joe Biden to use frozen Russian assets in the United States for a special fund to support Ukraine.

The Russian decree will give Russian companies, organisations and individuals that have been hit by sanctions the right to apply for compensation from the Russian government. The compensation would come in the form of US-owned assets such as real estate, companies, bank accounts or shares based in Russia.

Iran buries late President Ebrahim Raisi in home city

Late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been buried at Iran’s holiest Shiite Muslim site after days of mourning. Iran held the final day of funeral rites for its late president, Ebrahim Raisi, on Thursday, with thousands marching in the eastern city of Birjand to pay their last respects. Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash alongside his foreign minister and six others on Sunday, was buried in the afternoon at the holy shrine of Imam Reza in his home city of Mashhad in the country’s northeast. Raisi had been widely expected to succeed Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also buried Thursday in the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in the town of Shahr-Rey, south of the capital, Tehran

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared five days of national mourning for Raisi’s death and made Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 68, caretaker president until a June 28 election for Raisi’s successor. Raisi was widely expected to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader of Iran.

Carlo Acutis to be canonised after 2nd miracle recognised

A declaration on Thursday from the Vaticans’ Dicastery for Saints’ Causes has announced that another miracle has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis (1991-2006), meaning he will be canonised. The miracle involved the healing of a young woman, 21, from Costa Rica, studying in Florence, Italy, who fell from her bicycle in 2022. She incurred a severe head injury. She was taken to the hospital, where her skull was opened to relieve pressure on the brain, but her situation was critical. The accident occurred on July 2, 2022, and a coworker of the girl’s mother immediately began to pray to Blessed Carlo. Six days later, the mother went to Assisi to pray at Blessed Carlo’s tomb. That same day, the girl began to breathe on her own. Within 10 days, she was discharged from ICU; the next month, she was discharged from rehab after only a week, due to her recovery.

In addition to Blessed Carlo, others are set to be canonised, including Canadian nun Blessed Marie-Léonie Paradis, founder of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family, and Blessed Elena Guerra, known as the Apostle of the Holy Spirit. Blessed Giuseppe Allamano is also included.

Record number of abortions in UK

The number of abortions recorded in England and Wales soared to record levels in the wake of the pills-by-post policy, figures show. There were 251,377 abortions conducted in 2022 – the most recent year that official data is available. The rise is the highest since the introduction of the Abortion Act nearly 60 years ago and marked an increase of 17 per cent on the 2021 figure – which itself was a significant hike.

4 killed, 27 injured after restaurant collapses in Majorca

At least four people were killed and more than 20 others injured after a beachfront restaurant on the Spanish island of Majorca partly collapsed on Thursday, officials said, with others feared trapped in the wreckage, The New York Times reported. However, Spanish news outlets later reported that officials had increased the number of people who were injured to 27. Video from the state-owned broadcaster RTVE and images from other news outlets appeared to show that at least parts of the terraces had collapsed down to the ground floor, and rescue workers were working to pull out the victims from the debris. The restaurant, Medusa Beach Club, had three levels, with large terraces on the middle and upper floors that were supported by pillars.

EU hits Oreo maker with €338 million antitrust fine

The European Union has issued a €337.5 million-fine to Mondelez, the US confectionary giant behind like likes of Toblerone, Oreo, Cadbury, and Milka, for anticompetitive behaviour. The EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, accused Mondelez of “restricting the cross-border trade of chocolate, biscuits and coffee products within the European Union”. “This harmed consumers, who ended up paying more for chocolate, biscuits and coffee,” she told reporters in Brussels.

FBI investigating Graceland ‘fraud’

The FBI is reportedly investigating the attempted ‘fraudulent’ sale of Graceland, the former home and burial site of Elvis Presley. Sources told TMZ that officials at Graceland and people from Riley Keough’s camp, who is the sole trustee of her grandfather’s estate, have been in touch with the FBI. The outlet reported that the agency is ‘interested’ in launching a criminal probe into the sale.

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Memphis estate was due to go under the hammer this week until Keough, 34, launched a legal bid to block the sale. The FBI probe came after a judge stepped in to block the sale. Keough’s lawyer Jeff Germany told a court there were ‘significant serious allegations regarding the authenticity’ of documents supposedly showing that her late mother Lisa Marie Presley borrowed $3.8million using Graceland as collateral. The alleged loan was taken through a Missouri company called Naussany Investments and Private Lending. Germany told the court he had had ‘no contact’ whatsoever with Nassauny, any lawyers acting on its behalf, or from its supposed boss Kurt Naussany. That left it a straightforward decision for Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins who said it was in the ‘public interest’ to uphold a temporary restraining order blocking the proposed Thursday 10am sale on the steps of the courthouse.

Main photo: governo.it

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