World leaders urge Middle East tension de-escalation

A view of a crater on a damaged road, after Iran's mass drone and missile attack, at a location given as Hermon area, Israel, in this handout picture released on April 14, 2024. Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
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Updated 15 April 2024
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World leaders urge Middle East tension de-escalation

  • Leaders urge restraint and rational decision-making to avoid further instability in the region

LONDON: World leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, and the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, emphasized on Monday the need to prevent escalation in the Middle East following Iran’s failed attack on Israel.

They urged restraint and rational decision-making to avoid further instability in the region.

EU’s Borrell says Middle East on cliff edge

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Monday the Middle East stood “on the edge of the cliff” and called for de-escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran.

Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night in response to a suspected Israeli attack on the Tehran’s consulate in Damascus that killed seven officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards including two senior commanders.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the April 1 airstrike on the consulate in Syria’s capital.

“We’re on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear.”

Borrell said he expected a response from Israel to the unprecedented aerial attack by Iran but hoped it would not spark further escalation.

He said there was “profound division” within the Israel’s right-wing governing coalition between hardliners seeking fierce retaliation and a “more moderate and sensible” faction.

That faction advocates for retaliation, Borrell said, “but in a way that avoids a response to the response”.

Borrell, who spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian late on Sunday, said the EU needed to have the best possible relations with Iran despite the sanctions the bloc has imposed on the Islamic Republic over its disputed nuclear energy programme and other issues.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that Iran does not become a nuclear power and that the Middle East is pacified,” he said.

UK's Cameron urges Israel restraint after Iran attack

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Israel not to retaliate after Iran’s drone and missile attack, saying it should “think with head as well as heart” because Tehran’s strike had been a near total failure.
The strike by more than 300 missiles and drones from Iran caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down by its Iron Dome defense system and with help from the US, Britain, France and Jordan. It followed a suspected Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1.
“I think they’re perfectly justified to think they should respond because they have been attacked, but we are urging them as friends to think with head as well as heart, to be smart as well as tough,” Cameron told BBC TV.
He said he was urging Israel not to escalate the tensions in the Middle East.
“In many ways this has been a double defeat for Iran. The attack was an almost total failure, and they revealed to the world that they are the malign influence in the region prepared to do this. So our hope is that there won’t be a retaliatory response,” he told Sky News.
Cameron said Britain would also work with allies to look at imposing more sanctions on Iran, and it urged Israel to return its focus on agreeing a ceasefire with Iran-backed Hamas in the Gaza war.
Macron says will do everything to avoid Middle East ‘conflagration’
President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France would help do everything to avoid an escalation in the Middle East.
“We will do everything to avoid a conflagration that is to say an escalation,” he told the BFMTV news channel.
“For several years now we have had an air base in Jordan to fight terrorism,” he said.
“Jordanian airspace was violated... We made our planes take off and we intercepted what we had to intercept.”
Experts say Israel was able to neutralize most of the missiles and drones.
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne on Sunday said he had asked the foreign ministry to summon the Iranian ambassador on Monday to express a “message of firmness.”


Kremlin says Kyiv should ‘reflect’ on troop withdrawal

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Kremlin says Kyiv should ‘reflect’ on troop withdrawal

  • Kremlin: The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians
MOSCOW: Ukraine should “reflect” on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call to withdraw its troops from the east and south of the country to open peace talks as its military situation is worsening, the Kremlin said Sunday.
“The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and world leaders met in Switzerland to discuss how to end the conflict.
“It’s probable that a politician who puts the interests of his country above his own and those of his masters would reflect on such a proposal,” Peskov said.
Zelensky and other leaders have rejected Putin’s demand that Ukraine pull its troops out of the east and south of the country and drop its bid for NATO membership, in order for Moscow to halt its offensive.
Peskov said it was not an “ultimatum” but “a peace initiative that takes into account the realities on the ground.”
Zelensky has pledged to make peace proposals once they have the backing of the international community at the talks in Burgenstock, Switzerland, to which Putin was not invited.

Daesh linked-hostage takers at Russian detention center killed, guards freed

Updated 16 June 2024
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Daesh linked-hostage takers at Russian detention center killed, guards freed

  • Daesh members who are due to appear in court on terrorism charges are among the hostage takers

MOSCOW: Russian special forces freed two guards and killed several men linked to Daesh who had taken them hostage at a detention center in the southern city of Rostov on Sunday, the prison service said.

Intense automatic gunfire could be heard in footage published on Russian Telegram channels.

“The criminals were eliminated,” Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service said in a statement, which said a “special operation” had taken place to free the hostages.

“The employees who were being held hostage were released. They are uninjured,” the prison service said.

The hostage takers, who included some already convicted of terrorism offenses, had knocked out the bars of a window in their cell and entered a guard room where they took at least two prison officers hostage, Russian media said.

State media said that some of the men were accused of affiliation with the Daesh militant group, which claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall in March.

Before special forces stormed the detention center, one of the hostage takers was shown by the 112 Telegram channel brandishing a knife beside one of the bound guards.

The hostage taker wore a headband with the flag used by the Daesh that bears an Arabic inscription.


China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

Updated 16 June 2024
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China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

  • Li Qiang, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years
  • The pandas at Adelaide’s zoo would return to China in November and it would get to select two new giant pandas

China Premier Li Qiang made a low-key start on Sunday to a four-day trip to Australia with visits to a South Australian winery and Adelaide Zoo, where he announced Beijing would provide two new pandas after the current pair go home later this year.
Li, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years, is due to meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday. He arrived in the South Australia state capital late on Saturday, saying bilateral relations were “back on track.”
China, Australia’s largest trade partner, imposed restrictions on a raft of Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has now largely eased.
On Sunday, Li’s first official stop was to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide’s zoo, where Australian Broadcasting Corp. television showed crowds gathered, some waving Chinese flags, while others held signs that read “No more panda propaganda.”
At the zoo, Li announced the pandas would return to China in November and the zoo would get to select two new giant pandas, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pandas had “become envoys of friendship between China and Australia, and a symbol of the profound friendship between the two peoples,” Li said, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.
“China is ready to continue with the cooperative research with Australia on the conservation of giant pandas, and hopes that Australia will continue to be an amicable home for giant pandas,” Li added.
The pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, have been at the zoo since 2009 but have not successfully bred, the ABC reported.
Li later attended an event with South Australia wine exporters, who until recently have been shut out of the Chinese market in a dispute that suspended A$20 billion ($13 billion) in Australian agriculture and mineral exports last year.
Speaking at the winery in the Adelaide suburb of Magill, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the venue was chosen “because of course one of the impediments that has been removed is the export of Australian wine and we welcome that.”
Earlier on Sunday, Wong said Li’s visit was “really important” in showing stabilized ties between the two major trading partners.
“It comes after two years of very deliberate, very patient work by this government to bring about a stabilization of the relationship,” Wong told the ABC.
On the pandas, Wong, who lives in Adelaide, said the animals “have been a great part of the lives of many Adelaide families.”
On Monday, Li will visit the capital Canberra for a meeting with Albanese.
During the talks, the prime minister is expected to bring up the case of Australian writer Yang Hengjun who was given a suspended death sentence on espionage charges in February, as well as an incident last month where a Chinese military jet dropped flares near an Australian defense helicopter.
Li’s final stop on Tuesday will be in resource-rich mining state Western Australia. Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, though some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.
Li arrived from New Zealand, where he highlighted Chinese demand for its agricultural products.
Canberra and Wellington are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over China’s ambitions in the Pacific Islands and on issues including human rights the contested South China Sea.


Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

Updated 16 June 2024
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Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

  • The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman

GORMAN, California: Authorities issued evacuation orders Saturday as a wildfire in Los Angeles County spread thousands of acres close to a major highway and threatened nearby structures, officials said.
The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman, which is about 100 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames broke out at around 1:45 p.m., authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the evacuations, whether there were injuries reported and the latest size of the blaze. An investigation is ongoing.


Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Updated 16 June 2024
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Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

  • US President Joe Biden: ‘The Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today’
  • ‘The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step’

LOS ANGELES: President Joe Biden slammed the US Supreme Court as “out of kilter” at a glitzy fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday with former President Barack Obama and top Hollywood celebrities that has raised $28 million.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel began by showing a video montage contrasting Biden’s record with that of his predecessor and current Republican challenger Donald Trump. He drew cheers from the audience at a packed Peacock Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Hollywood celebrities George Clooney and Julia Roberts were among the guests.

Biden, a Democrat who has frequently denounced specific decisions but resisted a full-throated attack on the court itself, said on Saturday “the Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today.”

“The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step,” Biden said. He noted that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had said the court, which overturned the half-century-old federal right to abortion, should reconsider such things as in vitro fertilization and contraception.

Trump nominated three of the six conservatives who control the nine-member court. He and Biden are in a tight rematch race for the Nov. 5 election.

If Trump is elected again, Biden said, he “is likely to have two new Supreme Court nominees.”

“The idea that if he’s reelected, he’s going to appoint two more who are flying flags upside down... I think it is one of the scariest parts,” Biden said.

He was referring to a recent controversy involving Justice Samuel Alito, who allowed flags associated with the movement to reverse Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden — including an upside-down American flag — to fly outside his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

Democratic lawmakers, citing the flag displays, have said Alito should recuse himself from a case involving Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from prosecution on federal criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 results.

Since Biden took office, the court’s conservative majority has also restricted affirmative action, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation. It has blocked the president’s agenda on immigration, student loans, vaccine mandates and climate change.

Obama said “the power of the Supreme Court is determined by elections. What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of 2016” when Trump was elected. “Hopefully we have learned our lesson. Because these elections matter.”

‘LARGEST DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISER’

The Biden campaign hoped the star-studded event would display strength and momentum despite Biden’s low approval ratings and concerns about the age of the president, who is 81.

“This will be one of the biggest fundraisers we’ve had,” said Ajay Jain Bhutoria, deputy finance chair at the Democratic National Committee. A Biden campaign spokeswoman said “$28 million heading into President Biden’s LA fundraiser — and counting. This is the largest Democratic fundraiser in history.”

The Biden campaign outraised the $26 million a March fundraiser in New York City generated where comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert hosted Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. The top-ticket package for the LA event costs $500,000, campaign officials said.

Other celebrities who took the stage at the Saturday event included Jack Black, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

In recent weeks, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame made a White House briefing room appearance to praise the president, Robert De Niro showed up in lower Manhattan for a press conference at the Biden campaign’s behest and Steven Spielberg has been helping the Biden campaign with storytelling.

Actor Michael Douglas held a fundraiser for the president and artists Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, Lizzo, James Taylor, Christina Aguilera and Barbra Streisand have all performed to help Biden raise money.

Biden campaign’s fundraising in April lagged Trump’s for the first time, after the former president ramped up his joint operation with the Republican National Committee and headlined high-dollar fundraisers.

Democrats still maintained an overall cash advantage over Trump and the Biden campaign continues to have a considerably larger war chest.

Biden and Trump are tied in national polls with less than five months to go before the election, while Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.

Democrats have long counted on the liberal Los Angeles area as a rich source of financial backing. Republicans often decry Democrats nationwide as funded by Hollywood elites and California liberals.

But the state’s donors bankroll presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Biden and Trump have both raised more in the state for their reelection bids than anywhere else, according to fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Biden raised $24 million through April 30 in California, and Trump $11.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The president was largely unable to host high-dollar Hollywood fundraisers for much of 2023 because of industry strikes. But since they were resolved, Biden has headlined several fundraisers in the state, including one in December where top tickets approached $1 million.