With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate

Republican candidates: top row, Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, bottom row, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Gov. Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson. (AP Photo)
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Updated 24 August 2023
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With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate

  • Raucous two-hour debate offered a view of the deep challenges the contenders face in seeking to dislodge former president from his perch at the top of the field

MILWAUKEE: Eight Republican presidential candidates traded barbs on Wednesday at their first debate of the 2024 election as they jockeyed for position behind the absent front-runner, Donald Trump, who derided the event in a pre-taped interview aimed at siphoning away viewers.

The raucous two-hour debate offered a view of the deep challenges the contenders face in seeking to dislodge Trump from his perch at the top of the field.

While the former president took the extraordinary step of skipping the debate entirely, his rivals were left taking shots at one another to try to emerge as the most viable alternative, five months before the first Republican presidential nominating contest in Iowa and more than 14 months before the election.

While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has consistently stood in second place in polls, albeit well behind Trump, it was Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur and political neophyte, who was at the center of many of the Fox News debate’s most dramatic moments.

Ramaswamy, a fierce Trump defender who is rising in national polls, faced plenty of incoming fire from his more experienced rivals, who appeared to view him as more of a threat than DeSantis.

“We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” former Vice President Mike Pence said, while former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused Ramaswamy of sounding “like ChatGPT,” a reference to artificial intelligence.

Ramaswamy fired back by emphasizing his status as an outsider, calling everyone else on stage “bought and paid for” and accusing DeSantis of being a “super PAC puppet,” a reference to independent political action committees that typically raise unlimited sums of money from corporations and individuals.

He also took the most isolationist position on the Ukraine-Russia war, arguing that it was not a priority for the US and saying he would end military aid to Ukraine. That drew a sharp rebuke from Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations.

The debate had been seen as a potentially pivotal moment for DeSantis, whose campaign has been riven by staff turmoil amid a slow but steady decline in the polls.

Trump, who remains the clear-cut favorite among Republican voters despite his four criminal indictments, chose to skip the event in favor of a friendly interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson that began streaming online minutes before the debate began. The interview had about 74 million views on X, formerly known as Twitter, during its 46 minutes.

Trump declined to directly answer provocative questions posed by Carlson, such as whether a civil war was coming in the United States. Instead, he stuck to well-worn themes: false claims that he won the 2020 election, a promise to tighten immigration controls and insults of President Joe Biden and some of his Republican rivals.

“Do I sit there for an hour, or two hours, whatever it’s going to be, and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president and a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me?” he asked Carlson.

The debate took place a day before Trump planned to surrender in Atlanta to face charges he sought to overturn his election loss in the state.

Six of the eight debaters on Wednesday raised their hands when asked whether they would support Trump as the nominee even if he had been convicted of a crime – North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, DeSantis, Haley, Pence, Ramaswamy and US Senator Tim Scott.

Christie, who appeared to start raising his hand before wagging his finger, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declined. Both have been vocal critics of Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

“Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States,” Christie said to boos from a rowdy and partisan crowd.

That led to a sharp back-and-forth between Christie, Trump’s biggest critic among Republican candidates, and Ramaswamy, Trump’s most ardent defender.

“Honest to God, your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible if your entire campaign were not based on vengeance and grievance against one man,” Ramaswamy said, prompting Christie to retort, “You make me laugh.”

Polls show that most Republicans view the criminal charges against Trump, 77, as politically motivated, making the topic a tricky one to navigate for his rivals.

In the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month, Trump held 47 percent of the Republican vote nationally, with DeSantis dropping six percentage points from July to 13 percent. None of the other candidates has broken out of single digits.

The candidates also went after Biden, a Democrat, from the outset. Moderators Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, both Fox News hosts, started the debate by asking about the US economy.

“Our country is in decline,” DeSantis said. “We must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance to succeed again.”

While the economy has shown surprising resilience, defying recession predictions with a robust labor market, polls show many voters – including a plurality of those who supported Biden in 2020 – feel the economy has worsened during his first three years in office amid persistent inflation.

The candidates were also asked about abortion, an issue that has bedeviled Republicans ever since the US Supreme Court last year eliminated a nationwide right to abortion.

Pence, the staunchest anti-abortion opponent in the field, criticized Haley for saying that a bipartisan consensus must be reached on a federal approach.

Haley, who would be the first woman to win the Republican presidential nomination, responded that it was impractical to back nationwide limits given Democratic opposition.

DeSantis, who signed a six-week ban into law in Florida, did not specify whether he would back a similar national ban, saying he understood that different states would take different stances.

“Look, I understand, Wisconsin is going to do it different than Texas,” he said. “But I will support the cause of life as governor and as president.”


UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement

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UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement

  • Michael Gove: University encampments represent ‘antisemitism repurposed for Instagram age’
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Britain ‘complicit’ in ‘genocide in Gaza’

LONDON: The UK’s secretary of state for leveling up, housing and communities has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” after accusing pro-Palestinian demonstrators of antisemitism.
Political parties and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned Michael Gove, with the Revolutionary Communist Party calling his accusations an attempt to distract from the Conservatives’ “support for genocide” in Gaza.
The Socialist Workers Party said he is conducting a “witch hunt (against) the Palestine solidarity movement.”
Gove announced plans to make protest organizers foot the cost of policing at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, saying they are not doing enough to stop some attendees spreading anti-Jewish messages.
“Many of those on these marches are thoughtful, gentle, compassionate people — driven by a desire for peace and an end to suffering. But they are side by side with those who are promoting hate,” he added.
“The organizers of these marches could do everything in their power to stop that. They don’t.”
Gove also said pro-Palestinian university encampments across the UK represent “antisemitism repurposed for the Instagram age,” and their presence has facilitated hostility against Jewish students on campuses.
Ben Jamal, PSC director, said in a statement: “Apologists for Israel’s genocidal violence and system of apartheid have lost the democratic and legal arguments, but continue to attempt to delegitimize Palestinian solidarity. They will not succeed.
“At a moment when Israel is on trial in the world’s highest court for the crime of genocide and the day after its Prime Minister has been threatened with ICC (International Criminal Court) arrest warrants for war crimes, it is grotesque that these smears continue.
“The real issues are that the UK government continues to arm Israel, refuses to resume funding to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), and is attempting to protect Israel from legal accountability.
“Far from stopping the genocide in Gaza as required under international law, the UK is complicit.”


NGOs seek climate trial of French oil giant TotalEnergies

Updated 21 May 2024
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NGOs seek climate trial of French oil giant TotalEnergies

  • The complaint was filed at Paris judicial court days before TotalEnergies holds annual shareholders meeting
  • The offenses carry prison sentences ranging between one year to five years and fines of as much as $163,000

PARIS: NGOs filed a criminal complaint against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its top shareholders in Paris on Tuesday, seeking a trial for involuntary manslaughter and other consequences of climate change “chaos.”
The case targets the company’s board, including chief executive Patrick Pouyanne, and major shareholders that backed its climate strategy, including US investment firm BlackRock and Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank.
In a statement, the three NGOs and eight individuals said they accused the group of “deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity.”
The complaint was filed at the Paris judicial court, which has environmental and health departments, three days before TotalEnergies holds its annual shareholders meeting.
The prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation, the NGOs said. If it does not go ahead, the plaintiffs can take their case directly before an investigative judge.
The offenses carry prison sentences ranging between one year to five years and fines of as much as 150,000 euros ($163,000).
“This legal action could set a precedent in the history of climate litigation as it opens the way to holding fossil fuel producers and shareholders responsible before criminal courts for the chaos caused by climate change,” the NGOs said.
The plaintiffs include “victims or survivors of climate-related disasters” in Australia, Belgium, France, Greece, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.
TotalEnergies did not immediately return a request for comment.
Oil and gas companies, other corporations and governments are facing a growing number of legal cases related to the climate crisis worldwide.
TotalEnergies is facing other legal cases in France related to climate change.
Outside the Paris judicial court, the NGOs held a banner reading “climate change kills” and “let’s put shareholders behind bars” — with the “share” in shareholders crossed out and replaced by the “death.”
The latest complaint aims to “recognize the deadly consequences of their decisions, their stubbornness in voting for fossil projects which threaten the stability of the climate and therefore of all living things,” Claire Nouvian, founding director of conservation group Bloom, said at a news conference.
Fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal — are the biggest contributors to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the plaintiffs in the Paris case is Benjamin Van Bunderen Robberechts, a 17-year-old Belgian whose friend Rosa died in flash floods in Belgium at the age of 15 in 2021.
In Paris to file the complaint, he said he had come to “demand justice” against those “who choose profit over human lives and climate.”
In their statement, the plaintiffs said “TotalEnergies has known the direct link between its activities and climate change” since at least 1971.
“TotalEnergies followed a climate skeptic line in order to waste time, delay decision-making and protect its increasing investments in fossil fuels,” they added.
They said they hope to set a legal precedent “whereby opening new fossil fuel projects would be considered criminal.”
While the case was filed on Tuesday, TotalEnergies announced a deepwater project off the coast of Angola, with production set to start in 2028 to extract 70,000 barrels per day.


Gunmen kill around 40 people in attack in northcentral Nigeria: official

Updated 21 May 2024
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Gunmen kill around 40 people in attack in northcentral Nigeria: official

  • Armed men invaded Zurak community, shooting sporadically and torching houses
  • Local youth leader Shafi’i Sambo also said at least 42 people had been killed in the raid

LAGOS: Gunmen riding motorbikes killed around 40 people in a raid on a mining community in northcentral Nigeria, opening fire on residents and torching homes, the local government said on Tuesday.
The attack late on Monday on Wase district in Plateau state was the latest violence in an area which has long been a flashpoint for disputes over resources and for outbreaks of intercommunal clashes.
Armed men invaded Zurak community, shooting sporadically and torching houses, Plateau state commissioner for information Musa Ibrahim Ashoms told AFP by telephone.
“As we speak, about 40 people have been confirmed dead. Zurak is a popular mining community,” he said.
Local youth leader Shafi’i Sambo also said at least 42 people had been killed in the raid.
Wase has deposits of zinc and lead, while Plateau as a whole is known for its tin mining industry.
Sitting on the dividing line between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, Plateau often sees outbreaks of violence sparked by disputes between nomadic herders and pastoral farmers.
Climate change has also helped escalate tensions over grazing land, water access and other resources such as the state’s metal reserves.
Parts of northwest and northcentral Nigeria have also been terrorized by heavily armed criminal gangs, who raid villages to loot and carry out mass kidnappings for ransom.
In January, intercommunal clashes erupted in Plateau’s Mangu town that left churches and mosques burned, more than 50 people dead and thousands displaced.


Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

Updated 21 May 2024
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Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

  • Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield
  • “We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said

KYIV: Thousands of Ukrainian inmates are seeking to join the military, Kyiv said Tuesday, following a decision by lawmakers enabling some categories of prisoners to join the armed forces.
The move echoes a policy in Russia, where tens of thousands of prisoners have been sent to Ukraine with the promise of amnesty and were killed in gruelling battles that produced few gains.
Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield that have allowed Russian forces to advance on the eastern and northern front lines.
“This is more than 3,000 people. We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said, referring to the number of prisoners who have submitted applications to join the military.
She said authorities had identified 20,000 eligible prisoners and that of them, 4,500 had “expressed interest” in joining. She added that the figure was likely to fluctuate.
Only prisoners with fewer than three years left on their sentence can apply. Mobilized prisoners are granted parole rather than a pardon.
Among those not eligible to serve include those found guilty of sexual violence, killing two or more people, serious corruption and former high-ranking officials.
Russia has recruited prisoners to serve on the front lines since the first days of its invasion, initially offering presidential pardons for six months’ service.


EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

Updated 21 May 2024
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EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

  • To actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process
  • At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations“

BRUSSELS: Several EU countries on Tuesday called for the bloc to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova in June, but Hungary threatened to throw a spanner in the works.
The 27-nation EU took the landmark step in December of agreeing to open talks on its war-torn neighbor — and fellow ex-Soviet state Moldova — joining the club.
But to actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process, proposed in March by Brussels.
At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations” before Belgium’s rotating presidency concludes at the end of June.
That statement was echoed by other ministers — including from Ireland and Sweden.
The push to move Ukraine onto the next step in its quest for EU membership comes amid fears that Hungary, the friendliest country with Moscow in the bloc, could stall progress when it takes over the presidency after Belgium.
Budapest has been hostile to Kyiv’s bid to join, arguing that Ukraine is getting pushed ahead in the queue without meeting the required criteria.
“There can be no exception on the basis of political or ideological considerations,” Hungarian minister Zoltan Kovacs said.
“There is very little, if any, progress. Again, I can repeat to you that membership, approval should be a merit based process. No exceptions.”
Another possible hurdle could come from a new right-wing government being formed in The Netherlands opposed to any new enlargement of the bloc.
Ukraine applied to join the EU shortly after Russia launched all-out invasion in February 2022.
Starting the negotiations would put Ukraine still only at the start of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before it can finally become a member.