Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

Activists in the key midwestern battleground — where Biden’s winning margin four years ago was a mere 150,000 votes — want Michigan residents to vote “uncommitted” in protest, pressuring the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

  • A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population
  • Israel killed 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry

DEARBORN, United States: The US state of Michigan votes Tuesday in a presidential primary that is expected to be another ticker-tape parade for Republican Donald Trump — but could deliver Democratic leader Joe Biden a bloody nose over the war in Gaza.
Biden faces no serious opposition to being nominated to run for a second term in the White House.
But as the civilian death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, he has seen support erode among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory over Trump in Michigan.
Activists in the key midwestern battleground — where Biden’s winning margin four years ago was a mere 150,000 votes — want Michigan residents to vote “uncommitted” in protest, pressuring the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire.
“President Biden has funded the bombs falling on the family members of people right here in Michigan — people who voted for him, who now feel completely betrayed,” said Layla Elabed of the “Listen to Michigan” campaign.
The group aims to amass 10,000 “uncommitted” voters to deliver a “powerful, unequivocal message” that funding and supporting the war is “at odds with the values of the Democratic Party.”
Biden is cruising to the Democratic nomination, with his main would-be rival, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips, polling in single digits.
But activists deny that the “uncommitted” campaign is merely symbolic, given their importance in an election decided on small margins.
“Ten thousand votes is about the same as Donald Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Elabed said.
The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

White House officials have portrayed Biden as frustrated with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still, US weapons have continued to flow to Israel, even as efforts continue to broker a second pause in fighting.
Biden has asked Congress for billions of dollars in additional military aid and his government has vetoed multiple UN Security Council calls for a ceasefire.
A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population.
“With every day that passes, every minute that the president fails to do the right thing, the belief that I and so many others have invested in him dwindles,” Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the heavily Arab American Detroit suburb of Dearborn, wrote in The New York Times last week.
“With every American-made bomb that Israel’s right-wing government drops on Gaza, a stark numbness coats everything, restricting any space for belief to grow.”
On the Republican side, Trump has swept the early voting states and Michigan is not expected to interrupt his march to the nomination.
His sole remaining challenger, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, lost her home state of South Carolina to Trump at the weekend but has refused to quit, saying she doesn’t believe Trump can defeat Biden.
Haley suffered another blow Sunday when the wealthy Koch family network said it was halting its donations to her campaign.
Both parties hold votes on Tuesday, although Republicans have adopted a complex hybrid system that wraps up the contest four days later via caucus-style gatherings in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.
More than two-thirds of the Republican delegates — the individuals appointed by each state to back candidates at the party’s summer nominating convention — will be awarded on March 2.
 

 


Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

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Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

  • Local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat
  • Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871

MANADO, Indonesia: More than 2,100 people living near an erupting volcano on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island were evacuated Friday due to the dangers of spreading ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and the possibility of a tsunami.
Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation recorded at least three eruptions since Friday afternoon, with the maximum height of the eruption column reaching 1,200 meters (3,900 feet).
An international airport in Manado city, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the erupting Mount Ruang, is still temporarily closed as volcanic ash was spewed into the air.

This photo provided by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency shows a part of a village on Tagulandang island covered by ash from eruptions of Mount Ruang on April 19, 2024. (National Search and Rescue Agency via AP)

Satellite imagery from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency shows the ash has spread to the west, northwest, northeast and southeast, covering Manado and North Minahasa, according to a statement from Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry.
“We are still monitoring developments in the eruption of Mount Ruang and coordinating with relevant stakeholders … to anticipate the necessary actions to ensure flight safety, security and comfort,” said Ambar Suryoko, head of the regional airport authority.
More than 11,000 people were told to leave their homes that were located in the affected area. A joint team from the local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat.
Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871.
Houses, roads and other buildings were covered by gray volcanic ash, and many roofs were broken by debris spewed from the eruption.

Mount Ruang saw at least five large eruptions Wednesday, causing the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation to issue its highest level of alert. People were ordered to stay at least 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the 725-meter (2,378-foot) mountain.
The observation from the agency on Friday said white smoke was rising from the main crater with medium to thick intensity.
East of the volcano, Tagulandang Island could be at risk if a collapse occurred. Its residents were among those being told to evacuate. Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said residents would be relocated to Manado, a journey of 6 hours by boat.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, has 120 active volcanoes. It is prone to volcanic activity because it sits along the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean.
 


Finance firms urge ambitious action on plastic pollution

Updated 19 April 2024
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Finance firms urge ambitious action on plastic pollution

  • Curtailing the estimated 400 million metric tonnes of waste produced every year is a crucial part of efforts to protect biodiversity, with microplastics found everywhere from the mountainous Himalayas to staple foods and even human blood

LONDON: A group of 160 financial companies on Friday urged governments to agree a treaty to end plastic pollution that would help spur private sector action, ahead of the next round of global talks in Canada.
The fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC-4) is due to be held in Ottawa next week to lay the groundwork for an eventual deal before the end of the year.
Curtailing the estimated 400 million metric tonnes of waste produced every year is a crucial part of efforts to protect biodiversity, with microplastics found everywhere from the mountainous Himalayas to staple foods and even human blood.
To help fix the problem, the finance firms, which include Britain’s biggest investor Legal & General Investment Management and Canadian pension investor CDPQ, called for a policy framework backed up by binding rules.
Among specific steps, the group called for the treaty to set an objective for all public and private finance to be consistent with the goal of eliminating plastic pollution, similar to that in the Paris climate agreement and the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework.
It also called for companies to assess and disclose plastic-related risks and opportunities; clearer plastic-related policies and targets from governments in areas like waste creating and recycling; and for further private investment to be directed to ending plastic pollution.
“A clear transition pathway laid out in the Treaty will help leverage finance at scale for this massive task of ending plastic pollution worldwide,” said Anne-Sophie Castelnau, global head of sustainability at ING, one of the signatories.
Steve Hardman, CEO of Plastic Collective, an NGO which designed the world’s first plastic waste reduction bond alongside Citi and the World Bank, welcomed the support but called for business to provide more financial solutions.
In January, the World Bank issued the $100 million bond to finance plastic-reduction projects in Ghana and Indonesia. Investors will be paid a rate linked to plastic removal credits generated by the projects.

 


Finnish PM: EU should help end migrant influx from Russia

Updated 19 April 2024
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Finnish PM: EU should help end migrant influx from Russia

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visits the border to assess security situation

HELSINKI: The EU should take measures to help Finland stop an influx of migrants via Russia, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said.

Finland last year shut its long border with Russia amid a growing number of arrivals from countries including Syria and Somalia.
It accused Moscow of weaponizing migration against the Nordic nation and the EU, an assertion the Kremlin denies.
Finland’s government has closed eight of its nine checkpoints with Russia.
The only one that remains open is dedicated to rail travel and cargo trains mainly run through it.
“We are preparing our legislation, but we also need EU measures,” Orpo said, without elaborating, after visiting the Nordic country’s border with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Von der Leyen told the same press conference that the EU Commission was working closely with the migrants’ countries of origin, agreeing with Finland’s position.
“What we see is that a state is instrumentalizing poor people to put pressure on another state, so that is a clear security issue,” she said.
She said that the measures taken to deal with migrants from Russia must balance protecting the security of borders and international obligations.
Following Poland and Lithuania’s example on their borders with Belarus, the Finnish government is drafting legislation allowing border guards to block asylum seekers entering the country from Russia.
“We all know how (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his allies instrumentalize migrants to test our defenses and to try to destabilize us,” von der Leyen told officials.
“Now Putin is focusing on Finland, and this is no doubt in response to your firm support of Ukraine and your accession to NATO.”
Von der Leyen and Orpo flew in a Finnish helicopter over the landscape of forests and towns on the border.
Von der Leyen is campaigning as a conservative European People’s Party bloc member for a second term in office as head of the EU’s powerful executive branch.
Security is a top EPP theme before the June 6-9 European Parliament elections.
Most of the migrants hail from the Middle East and Africa.
Most of them have sought asylum in Finland, a member of the EU and NATO with a population of 5.6 million.
Finland joined NATO in April 2023, ending decades of neutrality after the country’s defeat by the Soviet Union in the Second World War.
In March, Sweden also became a member of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The move dealt a major blow to Putin, with a historic realignment of Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape triggered by Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine.

 


US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers

Updated 20 April 2024
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US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers

  • Move comes as West Bank sees some of its worst violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians since Gaza war

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on an ally of Israel’s far-right national security minister and two entities that raised money for Israeli men accused of settler violence, the latest actions aimed against those Washington blames for an escalation of violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The sanctions, in addition to those already imposed on five settlers and two unauthorized outposts already this year, are the latest sign of growing US frustration with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The moves on Friday, which freeze any US assets held by those targeted and generally bar Americans from dealing with them, hit two organizations that launched fundraising campaigns to support settlers accused of violence and targeted by previous sanctions, the Department of the Treasury said in a statement.
The Biden administration’s moves against Israeli settlers have upset right-wing members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition who support the expansion of Jewish settlements and ultimately the annexation of the West Bank, where Palestinians envisage a future state.
They come as the complex relationship between Washington and its ally Israel is tested by the war in Gaza and as the Biden administration urges Israel to show restraint in responding to retaliatory strikes by Iran.
Washington sanctioned Ben-Zion Gopstein, founder and leader of the right-wing group Lehava, which opposes Jewish assimilation with non-Jews and agitates against Arabs in the name of religion and national security. Gopstein has said Lehava has 5,000 members.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said members of the group had engaged in “destabilizing violence affecting the West Bank.”
“Under Gopstein’s leadership, Lehava and its members have been involved in acts or threats of violence against Palestinians, often targeting sensitive or volatile areas,” Miller said in a statement, warning of additional steps if Israel does not take measures to prevent extremist attacks amid an escalation of violence in the West Bank in recent days.
The European Union also said on Friday it had agreed to take sanctions against Lehava and other groups linked to violent settlers.
A spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gopstein, the most prominent Israeli figure targeted by US sanctions, is a close associate of and has family ties to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who himself lives in a West Bank settlement.
Ben-Gvir, like Gopstein, was a disciple of the late Meir Kahane, an ultranationalist rabbi whose Kach movement was listed by Washington as a specially designated global terrorist organization.
Ben-Gvir on Friday slammed what he called harassment against Lehava and “our dear settlers who have never engaged in terrorism or hurt anyone,” labeling the allegations against them a “blood libel” by Palestinian groups and anarchists.
“I call on Western countries to stop cooperating with these antisemites and end this campaign of persecution against the pioneering Zionist settlers,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement released by his office.
CROWDFUNDING
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and Biblical ties to the land.
The Biden administration in February said settlements were inconsistent with international law, signaling a return to long-standing US policy on the issue that had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.
One entity targeted on Friday, Mount Hebron Fund, launched an online fundraising campaign that raised $140,000 for settler Yinon Levi, the Treasury said, after he was sanctioned on Feb. 1 for leading a group of settlers that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields and destroyed their property.
It said the second entity, Shlom Asiraich, raised $31,000 on a crowdfunding website for David Chai Chasdai, who the United States sanctioned for initiating and leading a riot that included setting vehicles and buildings on fire and causing damage to property in the Palestinian town of Hawara, resulting in the death of a Palestinian civilian.
“These types of enforcement actions against entities helping violent settlers evade US sanctions are what give sanctions teeth,” said Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, director of research for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now, a human rights group that has highlighted efforts by supporters to evade sanctions against settlers.

 

 


Hindu-Muslim divisions sway voting in Indian district scarred by deadly riots

Updated 19 April 2024
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Hindu-Muslim divisions sway voting in Indian district scarred by deadly riots

  • Villages are largely self-segregated by religion in and around Muzaffarnagar in the most populous Uttar Pradesh state
  • Violent clashes broke out in 2013 after two Hindus stabbed Muslim youth to death, accusing him of harassing their sister

MUZAFFARNAGAR: Hindu-Muslim enmity made way for peace in an Indian district that saw deadly riots a decade ago but religious divisions still influence residents who voted on Friday in general elections in which Hindu nationalism is a key theme.

Villages are largely self-segregated by religion in and around Muzaffarnagar district, in the most populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, but people say there is no longer tension between the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

Violent clashes broke out here in 2013 after two Hindus stabbed a Muslim youth to death, accusing him of sexually harassing their sister. They were later beaten to death by a Muslim mob, which sparked riots that killed about 65 people, mostly Muslims, and displaced thousands.

Violence has not returned to the district known as the country's sugarcane-belt, but political divisions remain as Hindus typically vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Muslims for the opposition.

Modi's government has "controlled Muslims", said Ramesh Chand, a Hindu biscuit baker in Kairana city near Muzaffarnagar.

Critics accuse the nationalist BJP of targeting India's 200 million minority Muslims to please their hardline Hindu base - charges they deny.

Modi is widely expected to win a third term on the back of strong growth, welfare and his personal popularity despite some concern about unemployment, price rises and rural distress.

Chand said Modi had improved security in the region. "We can live in peace, whether or not we have jobs ... We can sleep with our doors open."

There were opposing views too.

In Jaula village, sugarcane farmer Mohammed Irfan, 50, said Modi's "high-handedness against Muslims" as well as unemployment and inflation were major reasons for him voting for the opposition Samajwadi Party.

Uttar Pradesh elects 80 lawmakers to the 543-member lower house of parliament, the most among all states, and a strong showing here is critical to the nationwide outcome.

Support for Modi was visible in Kutba Kutbi village, the epicentre of the 2013 riots.

Although there is "brotherhood" between the two communities now, nearly all Muslim families left the village after the riots, said Vinay Kumar Baliyan, 43, a farmer who said he supports Modi for promoting economic growth and raising India's stature globally.

But Irfan said Muslims are expected to vote in larger numbers this time as Eid celebrations this month brought many migrant workers and students home.