Slovenia recognises Palestine as a state

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 5th June 2024.

Slovenia’s government endorsed a motion last week to recognise a Palestinian state, and sent the proposal to the parliament for final approval, which was needed for the decision to take effect. Lawmakers on Tuesday voted with 52 in favour and no one against recognition in the 90-seat parliament. The remaining lawmakers were not present for the vote.

“Dear people of Palestine, today’s final decision of Slovenia is a message of hope and peace,” Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon said on the social media platform X. “We believe that only a two-state solution can lead to a lasting peace in the MiddleEast. Slovenia will tirelessly continue to work on the security of both nations, Palestinians and Israelis.” Slovenia’s decision came days after Spain, Norway, and Ireland recognised a Palestinian state, a move that was condemned by Israel. Slovenia’s main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, opposes the recognition. The right-wing party has demanded a referendum on the issue that would delay the vote, but on Tuesday withdrew the bid before again filing another one that was rejected by parliament.

More than 140 countries, or more than two-thirds of the United Nations, recognise a Palestinian state. Of the 27 members of the EU, Sweden, Cyprus, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Spain have already recognised a Palestinian state. Malta has said it could follow soon.

Von der Leyen doubles down on foreign interference

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has reiterated her plan to create a European “shield for democracy” to deal with foreign interference.

She was in Sweden on Tuesday to meet with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Deputy PM Ebba Busch at a small-scale forestry north of Stockholm and during a news conference she was asked how Europe could prevent the kind of negative foreign influence seen in the recently-revealed ‘Pravfond’ case. The Commission president’s answer was that countries need to “join forces at the European level”.

The Pravfond case, as originally reported by major European outlets, revealed that a Russian organisation spent millions of euros across 48 European countries and elsewhere to fund propaganda and other campaigns. Also known as ‘The Fund for Support and Protection of the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad’, Pravfond was used to pay for the defence teams of convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout and assassin Vadim Krasikov.

The leaked internal documents from Pravfond, obtained by the Danish public broadcaster DR from a European intelligence source and shared with a consortium of European journalists, also show that the organisation had several former Russian intelligence officers working as heads of its operations across Europe.

Von der Leyen’s shield would be tasked with detecting and removing online disinformation – building on the work of the EU’s digital rulebook, the Digital Services Act (DSA) – and “inoculating” the bloc against malign influence by enabling Europeans to recognise threats. The Commission chief first spoke about the proposal in mid-May, as the bloc braced itself for an expected wave of disinformation and malign interference in the run up to this week-end’s European elections.

Farmers demonstrate in Brussels ahead of European elections

Farmers have protested against the European Union’s agricultural policy in Brussels a few days before the European elections. Around 1,200 demonstrators took part in the action with around 500 tractors, according to the Belgian police in Brussels on Tuesday. However, the Belgian news agency Belga reported that the organisers of the protest had expected 25,000 participants.

Initially, the farmers gathered near the Atomium, just outside the centre of Brussels. In the afternoon, some of the demonstrators set off in their tractors from the Brussels landmark in the direction of the European Parliament.

According to Belga, the tractors mainly came from the Belgian region of Flanders, the Netherlands and Poland. Tractors with German flags and German posters also took part in the protest. The demonstration was organised by the Farmers’ Defence Force movement. No incidents were reported. In the past, farmers’ protests in Belgium have got out of hand, including objects being thrown at police officers and fires being set.

15 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes on 2 Gaza refugee camps

At least 15 Palestinians were killed and dozens injured in Israeli airstrikes on the Al-Bureij and Al-Maghazi refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip, a ministry spokesman said in a statement at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah. The facility “is the only hospital currently providing health services to more than one million people, and its clinical capacity cannot bear to receive more martyrs and injuries in light of this serious aggression against civilians, children, and women,” it said.

The ministry urged “the international community and all international and UN organisations of all free countries in the world to immediately and urgently deploy field hospitals and medical teams to save the health situation in the Gaza Strip and to control the situations of dozens of thousands of wounded and injured people who are threatened by the risk of death”.

Israel has continued its offensive on Gaza since an October 7 Hamas attack despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire. More than 36,500 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, the vast majority being women and children, and nearly 83,000 others injured, according to local health authorities. Nearly eight months into the Israeli war, vast swathes of Gaza lay in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water and medicine.

The Israeli airstrikes and ground offensives across the Gaza Strip come as international mediators wait for Israel and Hamas to respond to a new cease-fire and hostage release proposal, according to Qatar, which has played a key role in negotiations alongside Egypt and the United States. A meeting is scheduled for today.

A senior Hamas official said Tuesday the group will not accept a deal with Israel that does not clearly lay out a permanent cease-fire and a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Announcing the proposal last week, President Biden said the three-phase plan was Israeli, however Israeli leaders have since appeared to distance themselves from the proposal and vowed to keep fighting Hamas until the group is destroyed.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ October 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people – mostly civilians – and abducted about 250. Around 80 hostages captured on October 7 are believed to still be alive in Gaza, alongside the remains of 43 others.

US House passes Bill to sanction ICC for seeking Israel arrests warrants

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives passed a Bill on Tuesday to sanction the International Criminal Court for requesting arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defencse Minister Yoav Gallant. The vote passed 247 to 155, with all 205 voting Republicans backing the measure alongside 42 Democrats.

The vote amounted to Congress’ first legislative rebuke to the war crimes court since its stunning decision last month to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel and Hamas. The move was widely denounced in Washington, creating a rare moment of unity on Israel even as partisan divisions over the war started by Hamas’s October 7 attack intensified.

The Bill would apply sweeping economic sanctions and visa restrictions to individuals and judges associated with the ICC, including their family members. Despite the strong support in the House, the measure is expected to face a tougher time in the Democrat-led Senate.

The White House opposes the legislation, calling it overreach, and Democratic lawmakers have labelled the approach as “overly broad”, warning it could ensnare Americans and US companies that do important work with the court. It would also hamper steps taken by the tribunal that the US has supported, such as an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have acknowledged the Bill is unlikely to become law and left the door open to further negotiation with the White House. They said it would be better for Congress to be united against The Hague-based court.

Biden issues order allowing temporary border closure to migrants

President Biden issued an executive order on Tuesday that prevents migrants from seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border when crossings surge – a dramatic election-year move to ease pressure on the immigration system and address a major concern among voters. The measure is described as “the most restrictive border policy instituted by Biden, or any other modern Democrat, and echoes an effort in 2018 by President Trump to cut off migration that was blocked in federal court”.

In remarks at the White House, Biden said he was forced to take executive action because Republicans had blocked bipartisan legislation that had some of the most significant border security restrictions Congress had considered in years. Analysts said the move shows how drastically the politics of immigration have shifted to the right in the United States. Polls suggest there is support in both parties for border measures once denounced by Democrats and championed by Trump as the number of people crossing into the country has reached record levels in recent years. Biden’s executive action was set to go into effect at 00:01 on Wednesday, at which point border officers could return migrants across the border into Mexico or to their home countries within hours or days.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was “very concerned” by the tightening of American immigration policy announced by President Biden, urging Washington to reconsider its decisions. “The new measures will prevent many people in need of international protection from benefiting from asylum, and will find themselves without a viable option to find safety,” UNHCR commented in a statement. The American Civil Liberties Union said it planned to challenge the executive action in court.

Shocking Indian election results are a crushing blow to Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party has lost outright majority for the first time in a decade, but looks set to retain power as part of a ruling a coalition. In a stunning blow to the political leader, voters defied predictions of another landslide for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But Modi looks set to head a ruling coalition of parties.

The outcome unnerved investors. Stocks fell steeply as emerging results showed that Modi would, for the first time since sweeping to power in 2014, depend on at least three different regional parties the political loyalties of which have wavered over the years. This, analysts say, could introduce some uncertainty into policymaking in the world’s most populous democracy after a decade in which Modi has ruled with a strong hand.

Modi’s BJP won a majority on its own in 2014, ending India’s era of unstable coalition governments, and repeated the feat in 2019. Modi said people had placed their faith in the BJP-led coalition for a third time and it was historic, in his first comments since counting of votes began.

Promising to work harder and take “big decisions”, Modi listed electronics, semiconductors and defence manufacturing, renewables and the farm sectors as areas of special focus in his third term.

BJP is part of the National Democratic Alliance, which so far had won 67 seats, 62 of them going to BJP. The Congress party is part of the INDIA alliance, which so far had won 31 seats, 27 of them for Congress. A total of 272 seats are needed for a majority in the 543-seat Parliament.

Nearly 970 million people – more than 10 per cent of the world’s population — were eligible to vote and turnout averaged 66 per cent, according to official data. The tallying at counting centers in 543 constituencies stretched well into Tuesday evening before substantial leads emerged.

Mourners in Taiwan remember Tiananmen Square

Hundreds have gathered in Taiwan to commemorate the 35th anniversary of China’s deadly crackdown at Tiananmen Square. Chinese troops and tanks forcibly dispersed peaceful protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, quelling huge, weeks-long demonstrations demanding greater political freedoms. Decades on, China still censors any mention of the crackdown.

On Tuesday evening local time, hundreds of people converged around Taipei’s Liberty Square for an annual vigil, placing candles on a laid-flat banner with the date of the crackdown, while listening to activists criticise the Chinese government for alleged rights abuses. China claims democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory, to be seized one day. “We will continue to work hard to keep this historical memory alive and touch everyone who cares about Chinese democracy,” Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. China has repeatedly lashed out against Lai, branding him a “dangerous separatist” and a “saboteur of peace and stability”.

Life appeared normal in Beijing on Tuesday, even if there were checkpoints and police vehicles at Tiananmen Square. In Hong Kong, once the sole place on Chinese soil where public commemoration was allowed, an annual Tiananmen vigil had been banned. On Tuesday scores of police patrolled an area of the city where tens of thousands previously gathered each year to mourn the dead.

Nigel Farage doused with milkshake while on campaign trail

Nigel Farage, the new leader of Britain’s right-wing Reform Party, has been doused with a milkshake on his first full day of campaigning for a seat in parliament in the July 4 election. On Monday, Farage produced the biggest shock of the campaign by announcing he would head Reform and run in the election – a major blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose Conservative Party trails Labour badly in surveys. Farage is best known for helping to lead 2016’s successful Brexit campaign, and his popularity has put pressure on a succession of Conservative leaders to be tougher on immigration.

Pope Francis tells gay man to ‘go ahead with your vocation’

Pope Francis has reportedly encouraged a 22-year-old gay man to continue to pursue a vocation to the priesthood after he was not accepted into a Catholic seminary. According to the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, the pope responded to an email from Lorenzo Michele Noè Caruso, telling him to “go ahead” with his vocation, just days after the Vatican issued an apology for the pontiff’s use of a slur in reference to seminarians who identify as gay. The pope’s handwritten note was sent June 1 as an email attachment. According to news reports, it condemned clericalism and worldliness and said: “Jesus calls all, all.” According to Il Messaggero, Pope Francis told the 22-year-old that “some people think of the Church as a customs house, and this is terrible. The Church should be open to everyone. Brother, go ahead with your vocation.”

Photo: AP/Darko Bandic

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