US Defense Secretary Austin admitted to critical care, hospital says

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized a Pentagon spokesman said, this time "for symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue," weeks after a previous stay he controversially kept secret. (AFP)
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Updated 12 February 2024
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US Defense Secretary Austin admitted to critical care, hospital says

  • Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized Austin last month for failing to disclose a cancer diagnosis and subsequent hospitalizations in December

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was admitted to a critical care unit in Washington on Sunday for treatment of “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” officials of Walter Reed Military Medical Center said.
Austin, 70, later transferred the duties of his office to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Pentagon Press Secretary Major General Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized Austin last month for failing to disclose a cancer diagnosis and subsequent hospitalizations in December and January, including to President Joe Biden. Some prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, called for Austin to be removed from his job.
The incident was an embarrassment for Biden, and Austin apologized during a televised news briefing. He is scheduled to testify before Congress on Feb. 29 about the situation.
Biden, a Democrat, has said he has confidence in Austin despite what the president agreed was a lapse in judgment.
With its announcement of the secretary’s trip to the hospital and the quick decision to transfer his duties to a deputy, the Pentagon appeared determined to avoid a repeat of last month’s political uproar.
It was unclear how long Austin would remain hospitalized, officials of the hospital said in a statement late on Sunday.
Austin’s cancer prognosis remained excellent and the bladder issue was not expected to change his anticipated full recovery, the officials added.
Austin, a retired four-star general who led forces in Iraq and is America’s first Black defense secretary, was still in hospital last month as US forces launched a retaliatory strike against an Iranian-backed militia leader in Baghdad.
There are now three different investigations into Austin’s behavior, including one by the office of the Pentagon’s Inspector General, a watchdog agency that tracks military waste, fraud and abuse. The Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Mike Rogers, has called Austin to testify.
Austin is scheduled to travel to Brussels for a Wednesday meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. It was not clear if his hospitalization would affect those travel plans.


’Uncommitted’ voters angry over Gaza test Biden’s support in Michigan

Updated 10 sec ago
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’Uncommitted’ voters angry over Gaza test Biden’s support in Michigan

  • Many in Michigan’s Arab American community who supported Biden in 2020 are now outraged, along with some progressive Democrats, over Biden’s support for Israel’s Gaza offensive in which tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed
  • Michigan turnout for Trump rival Nikki Haley, who won nearly 40 percent of Republican votes in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, could offer signs about the number of Republicans who harbor doubts about a second four-year Trump term

DEARBORN, Michigan: President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza was being put to the test on Tuesday in Michigan, home to a large Arab American constituency where Democratic voters were urged to mark their primary ballots as “uncommitted” in protest.
Biden, a Democrat, and Republican former President Donald Trump were expected to easily win their separate party primaries. But the vote count for both was being closely watched for signs of wavering support.
Michigan is expected to play a decisive role in the head-to-head Nov. 5 US presidential election. It is a battleground state that could swing toward either party. Biden beat Trump in Michigan by just 2.8 percentage points in the 2020 election.
Voting sites begin closing at 8 p.m. ET (0100 GMT Wednesday) with the final locations closing an hour later.
Many in Michigan’s Arab American community who supported Biden in 2020 are now outraged, along with some progressive Democrats, over Biden’s support for Israel’s Gaza offensive in which tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed.
Six voters Reuters interviewed at a polling place on Tuesday in Dearborn — a liberal city that is the epicenter of the pushback against Biden’s Israel strategy — said they were voting uncommitted. Another said he was voting for Trump.
But in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, most Democrats interviewed said they would stick with Biden despite misgivings about his Israel policy, because of their dislike for Trump or Republican policies on abortion rights.
Late on Monday, Biden said Israel had agreed to halt military activities in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan expected to begin on the evening of March 10, as Hamas studied a draft for a truce that includes a prisoner-hostage exchange.
It should have happened sooner, said Michael Bristol, 21, a student at Wayne State University who said he cast an uncommitted vote.
Engage Action and Listen to Michigan say they’re aiming for 10 percent of Michigan’s Democratic primary voters to mark their ballots that way, a symbolically significant 10,000 votes – about equal to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss in Michigan to Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats, overall, support Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict by 61 percent, February polling by Harvard-Harris shows.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other Democrats have warned that if Democratic voters abandon Biden, they could hand the swing state and the country back to Trump in November. Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.
A senior Biden campaign official said: “We’re taking this seriously. The president himself has said repeatedly that he hears these demonstrators and that he thinks that their cause is important.”
On Feb. 1, Biden won a strong pledge of support from union autoworkers, a Michigan voting bloc no less crucial to his reelection bid. The state is home to nearly 20 percent of all US auto production, more than any state in the country.
“We are going to keep highlighting the contrast between Biden and Trump and once that becomes clear, we fully expect these voters, who have walked away from Biden, to come back,” said LaShawn English, UAW Director Region 1, which represents eight counties in Michigan.

DUELING REPUBLICAN CONTESTS
Michigan turnout for Trump rival Nikki Haley, who won nearly 40 percent of Republican votes in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, could offer signs about the number of Republicans who harbor doubts about a second four-year Trump term.
Michigan’s Republican Party, beset by internal turmoil, will allocate some delegates to the party’s July convention based on Tuesday’s primary results.
Rival factions are holding dueling party meetings on Saturday that will award the bulk of the delegates. It was unclear, however, which results will be official, although Trump was expected to handily win both sets of Saturday’s votes.
Opinion polls show Trump holding an average statewide lead of nearly 57 percentage points over Haley, according to the poll tracking website FiveThirtyEight.
Still, the results in Michigan will be watched to see how much Trump struggles to attract large numbers of moderates and traditional Republicans, voters he will likely need to win back the White House in November.
Despite having lost to Trump in every primary race, Haley has performed well with moderate voters and has vowed to carry on despite having no clear path to the nomination.
“I’m not going to stop when 70 percent of Americans say they don’t want Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” Haley told CNN on Tuesday. “We’re gonna give them an option.”

 


‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza

Updated 23 min 25 sec ago
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‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza

  • American envoy Robert Wood also tells Security Council Israel must not proceed with any major incursion into the southern city of Rafah
  • Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Zbogar, says: ‘Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire can avert the risk of famine’

NEW YORK CITY: The US on Tuesday urged Israel to ensure existing border crossings into Gaza remain open so that humanitarian aid can enter the territory, facilitate the opening of additional crossings to meet the growing humanitarian needs of Palestinians, and to support the rapid and safe delivery of relief supplies to vulnerable people throughout the enclave.
“Simply put, Israel must do more,” said Robert Wood, US alternate representative to the UN for special political affairs.
He also warned that any major Israeli ground incursion into the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which has become the last refuge for more than a million Palestinian civilians who fled fighting in other parts of the territory, should not proceed “under the current circumstances.”
He added: “It is unconscionable that Hamas fighters continue to embed themselves among civilians and civilian infrastructure, including in hospitals and schools.”

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (AP)

Wood vowed that the US will continue to engage in “intensive diplomacy” in its attempts to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and enable an agreement for a “significant temporary ceasefire.”
He was speaking during a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the threat of starvation in Gaza. It was called by Guyana, which holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, with the support of Switzerland, Slovenia and Algeria.
Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Zbogar, said: “Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire can avert the risk of famine.”
His country also calls for continuing safe, secure and unhindered humanitarian access to the entire Gaza Strip, he said, including the establishment of additional border crossings and simplified entry procedures for the delivery of aid supplies. He also called for the restoration of sufficient and safe water supplies, and for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“There are times when we need to make choices and we need to prioritize,” Zbogar said. “Slovenia is choosing a ceasefire to prevent famine in Gaza, a ceasefire to provide relief to Palestinian people and to release hostages.”
Ramesh Rajasingham, the head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office in Geneva and director of its coordination division, told the council that at least 576,000 people in Gaza, about a quarter of the population, are one step away from famine.
One in six children under the age of 2 years old in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting (a term used to describe low body weight relative to height), he added, and almost the entire population of the territory relies on “woefully inadequate” humanitarian food assistance to survive.
“If nothing is done, we fear widespread famine in Gaza is almost inevitable (and) the conflict will have many more victims,” Rajasingham said.
Maurizio Martina, deputy director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, told the council that Gaza has the highest percentage of people experiencing acute food insecurity the organization “has ever classified.”
Gaza’s food systems have been severely affected by the damage and destruction Israeli military operations have caused to civilian infrastructure, he said, including that which is essential for the production, processing and distribution of food, including farmland, irrigation, greenhouses and bakeries.
About 55 percent of land in Gaza used to grow crops has been damaged, Martina added, and other agricultural infrastructure has been devastated, with the greatest destruction affecting sheep farms, dairy farms, poultry farms, animal shelters and home barns. Meanwhile the capacity of bakeries to produce bread has been seriously hampered, and the commercial sector has been decimated as a result of a near-total lack of imports of essential items, including food.
The harvest of olives and citrus fruits, which provide an important source of income for many Palestinians, has been greatly affected by the hostilities as well, Martina added, while fodder shortages and the damage resulting from airstrikes have taken a toll on livestock, with many owners reporting substantial losses. All poultry used for breeding purposes has been slaughtered or died due to lack of feed and clean water, he said, as has up to 60 percent of calves and 70 percent of beef cattle.
Martina called for an immediate ceasefire as a prerequisite for preventing famine.
Carl Skau, the deputy executive director of the World Food Program, told council members that Gaza now has the worst level of child malnutrition seen anywhere in the world. He lamented the fact that the growing risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to get critical food supplies into the enclave in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions workers from his organization have to contend with in Gaza.
“WFP trucks face delays at checkpoints; they face gunfire; food was looted along the way; and at their destination they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people,” Skau said.
“The breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid.”
The WFP earlier announced it had paused the distribution of aid in the north of the territory.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” Skau said. “We must all live up to our responsibilities to ensure it does not happen on our watch.”
Guyana’s permanent representative to the UN, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, said the Security Council must take action to halt violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, and called on all those with influence on the “perpetrators” of such actions to exert that influence to prevent further incidents.
Algeria’s permanent representative to the UN, Amar Bendjama. told fellow council members that Israel’s “deliberate use of starvation as a policy is a blatant violation of international law” and was intended to ensure Palestinians in Gaza “lose hope and dignity, and push them to violence and to the breakdown of law and order.”
The war in Gaza is not being waged on Hamas, he added, but is “collective punishment for Palestinian civilians.”
The Algerian envoy warned the council that “our silence grants a license to kill and starve the Palestinian population,” as he again called on the council to urgently demand a ceasefire.

 


London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source

Updated 28 February 2024
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London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source

  • Khan, who is the first Muslim mayor of the British capital, is reportedly protected around the clock by 15 police officers

LONDON: The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has received death threats from Islamic extremists and has been under police protection since 2017, it was reported on Tuesday.

A source with knowledge of the mayor’s security arrangements told The Guardian newspaper that the threat from Islamic fundamentalists was as high as it was from right-wing extremists.

Khan, who is the first Muslim mayor of the British capital, is protected around the clock by 15 police officers, the source added.

The Labour mayor, who has voted for same-sex marriage and backed gay rights in the UK, is seen as a target for Islamists because of his liberal views and his denouncement of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists, such as the twin attacks in London in 2017 and the Manchester Arena bombing in the same year.

The news comes in the same week that Khan was accused by former senior Conservative politician Lee Anderson of being “under the control of Islamists.”

A man pleaded guilty on Monday to two charges of sending communication threatening death or serious harm, reportedly to Khan, on Saturday following Anderson’s comments.

The charges against the man said that he called police to “convey a threat of death or serious harm to another, intending or being reckless as to whether an individual encountering the message would fear that the threat would be carried out.”


3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

Updated 27 February 2024
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3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

  • Men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target
  • Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court

LONDON: Three men arrested in an investigation into right-wing extremism were charged Tuesday in a London court with preparing to commit a terrorist act, authorities said.
They were arrested on Feb. 21, Counter Terrorism Policing North East said.
Prosecutors said the men had joined extreme right-wing online chat forums, had right-wing text messages and distributed information on guns and ammunition.
The men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target.
Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and ordered to return to the Central Criminal Court on March 15. They did not enter pleas.


Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

Updated 27 February 2024
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Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

  • Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules
  • Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports

WARSAW: Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc’s markets.
Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, carrying the national flag and blowing handheld horns, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules.
Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks against constraints placed on them by the EU’s “Green Deal” regulations meant to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine.
The EU in 2022 waived duties on Ukrainian food imports following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
“We are talking about it with the Ukrainian side — that it will be necessary to expand the embargo to other products if the European Union does not find more effective ways to protect the European and Polish markets,” Tusk said on Tuesday.
Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski said in a Tuesday evening interview on Polsat News TV that further talks with Ukraine on solutions were planned for Wednesday and various possibilities were being considered.
“Tomorrow we will also talk about it with Ukraine’s minister of economy, who will be a guest at the Ministry of Development and New Technologies,” he said, adding that he would be participating.
He said Polish farmers were invited to the agriculture ministry for talks on Thursday.
Speaking after Siekierski on Polsat News, protest organizer Szczepan Wojcik said the invitation was welcome, but warned of more protests if no progress was made during the next few days.
“Further protests in Warsaw have already been announced for March 6. Farmers are already organizing on the roads, and border crossings will continue to be blocked,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of further escalation, Wojcik said, “The farmers are desperate. ... The ball is in the government’s court.”
Earlier in the day, Tusk said the EU had to solve the problems created by its decision to open its borders to imports of Ukrainian food products.
He added that Poland was ready to co-finance purchases of Polish, European and Ukrainian food and agricultural products to be sent as humanitarian aid to famine-stricken countries, and that “Europe should certainly find funds for this.”
Back home, farmers rallied in central Warsaw before marching toward parliament and then Tusk’s office. A city hall official cited by PAP state news agency put the number of protesters around 10,000.
“We are protesting because we want the ‘green deal’ to be lifted, as it will lead our farms to bankruptcy with its costs...that are not comparable to what we harvest and to what we are paid,” said Kamil Wojciechowski, 31, a farmer from Izbica Kujawska in central Poland.
“What we’re paid for our work, it has decreased because of the influx of grain from Ukraine and this is our second demand — to block the influx of grain from Ukraine,” he said.
The farmers began a series of protests throughout the country earlier this month, which included a near-total blockade of all Ukrainian border crossings, as well as disruptions at ports and on roads nationwide.
“We won’t give up. We have no choice. Our farms will go bankrupt, we will lose our livelihoods,” Pawel Walkowiak, 47, a corn and wheat producer from Konarzewo in western Poland, said.
The city hall official said Tuesday’s protest in Warsaw took place without major incidents.