Poland’s president becomes the latest leader to visit Donald Trump as allies eye a possible return

US President Donald Trump (R) and Poland's President Andrzej Duda meet in the White House in Washington, DC, on June 12, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 18 April 2024
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Poland’s president becomes the latest leader to visit Donald Trump as allies eye a possible return

  • Andrzej Duda, who has long expressed admiration for Trump, is also a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia
  • He has encouraged the US to provide more aid to Kyiv. That funding has been held up by Trump allies in Congress

NEW YORK: Former President Donald Trump met Wednesday in New York with Polish President Andrzej Duda, the latest in a series of meetings with foreign leaders as Europe braces for the possibility of a second Trump term.

The presumptive Republican nominee hosted Duda for dinner at Trump Tower, where the two were expected to discuss Ukraine, among other topics. Duda, who has long expressed admiration for Trump, is also a staunch supporter of Ukraine and has encouraged Washington to provide more aid to Kyiv amid Russian’s ongoing invasion. That funding has been held up by Trump allies in Congress.
As he arrived, Trump praised the Polish president, saying, “He’s done a fantastic job and he’s my friend.”
“We had four great years together,” Trump added. “We’re behind Poland all the way.”
US allies across the world were caught off guard by Trump’s surprise 2016 win, forcing them to scramble to build relationships with a president who often attacked longstanding treaties and alliances they valued. Setting up meetings with him during the 2024 campaign suggests they don’t want to be behind again.
Even as he goes on trial for one of the four criminal indictments against him, Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden are locked in a rematch that most observers expect will be exceedingly close in November.
“The polls are close,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, a Biden ally and a major voice in his party on foreign affairs. “If I were a foreign leader — and there’s a precedent attached to meeting with candidates who are nominated or on the path to being nominated — I’d probably do it too.”
Murphy noted that former President Barack Obama did a lengthy international tour and met with foreign leaders when he first ran for the White House. So did Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who challenged Obama in 2012 and whose trip included a stop in Poland’s capital, Warsaw.
Duda’s visit comes a week after Trump met with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, another NATO member and key proponent of supporting Ukraine, at the former president’s Florida estate.
And last month, Trump hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, an autocrat who has maintained the closest relationship with Russia among European Union countries. Orban shared a montage of footage of the visit on his Instagram feed, with included an image of him and his staff meeting with Trump and the former president’s aides in a scene that looked like an official bilateral meeting.
Trump also met briefly in February with Javier Milei, the fiery, right-wing populist president of Argentina who ran a campaign inspired by Trump, complete with red “Make Argentina Great Again” hats. Milei gave Trump an excited hug backstage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, according to video posted by a Trump campaign aide.
Biden administration officials have been careful not to weigh in publicly on foreign leaders’ meetings with Trump, who they acknowledge has a real chance of winning the race.
While some officials have privately expressed frustration with such meetings, they are mindful that any criticism would open the US to charges of hypocrisy because senior American officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meet frequently with foreign opposition figures at various forums in the United States and abroad.
Security and policy officials monitor the travel plans of foreign officials visiting the US, but generally don’t have a say in where they go or with whom they meet, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss protocol.
Trump has been back in his hometown this week for the start of his criminal hush money trial, which has dramatically limited his ability to travel and campaign. While in town, aides have been planning a series of events that began Tuesday night when Trump, after court adjourned, stopped by a Harlem bodega where a man was killed to rail against crime and blast the district attorney who made him the first former president in US history to stand criminal trial.
Duda, a right-wing populist who once proposed naming a military base in his country “Fort Trump,” described the dinner earlier Wednesday as a private get-together between friends at Trump’s former residence while he is in town for meetings at the United Nations.
“I have been invited by Mr. Donald Trump to his private apartment,” Duda told reporters, saying it was “a normal practice when one country has good relations with another country” to want those relations to be as strong as “possible with the representatives of various sides of the political stage.”
He described a friendly relationship with Trump built over years of working together.
“We know each other as people. Like two, I can say in some way, friends,” said Duda, whose term ends in 2025.
Duda’s visit comes as House Republicans wrangle over a $95 billion foreign aid bill that would provide new funding to Ukraine, including money for the US military to replace depleting weapon supplies.
Many Trump allies in the House are fiercely opposed to aiding Ukraine, even as the country warns that it is struggling amid a fresh Russian offensive. Trump has said he might be open to aid in the form of a loan.
Like Cameron, Duda’s efforts to push the US to approve additional aid put him in common cause with Biden, who has struggled for six months to unlock additional congressional funding.
One area where Trump and Duda agree when it comes to the conflict are their efforts to push NATO members to increase their defense spending. Duda has called on fellow members of the alliance to raise their spending to 3 percent of gross domestic product as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine. That would represent a significant increase from the current commitment of 2 percent by 2024.
Trump, in a stunning break from past US precedent, has long been critical of the Western alliance and has threatened not to defend member nations that do not hit that spending goal. That threat strikes at the heart of the alliance’s Article 5, which states that any attack against one NATO member will be considered an attack against all.
In February, Trump went even further, recounting that he’d once told leaders that he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to members that are — in his words — “delinquent.”
Duda suggested he intended to raise his proposal at the dinner.
“I have never talked with President Donald Trump about my proposal of raising the spending on defense of NATO countries from 2 percent to 3 percent of GDP, but I think that his approach to it will be positive,” he said.
The visit was met with mixed reaction in Poland, where fears of Russia run high and Duda’s friendly relationship with Trump has been a source of controversy.
Poland’s centrist Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a political opponent of Duda, was critical of the dinner but expressed hope that Duda would use it as an opportunity “to raise the issue of clearly siding with the Western world, democracy and Europe in this Ukrainian-Russian conflict.”
Duda, for his part, said he wasn’t worried since presidents regularly meet with various politicians during foreign trips.
“No, I am not worried because presidents meet with their colleagues, especially with those who had held presidential offices in their respective countries,” he said. “This is regular practice, there is nothing extraordinary here.”
 


Eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Ibu forces seven villages to evacuate

Updated 19 May 2024
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Eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Ibu forces seven villages to evacuate

  • Ibu’s activities follow a series of eruptions of different volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has 127 active volcanoes

JAKARTA: A volcano on the remote Indonesian island of Halmahera has spectacularly erupted, spewing a grey ash cloud into the sky, and people from seven nearby villages have been evacuated, authorities said on Sunday.
Mt. Ibu erupted on Saturday evening, sending ash 4 km (2.5 miles) high, as streaks of purple lightning flashed around its crater, according to information and images shared by Indonesia’s volcanology agency.
A joint team comprised of police, military and search and rescue officials was dispatched to the area to evacuate residents from surrounding villages, Abdul Muhari, from the disaster mitigation agency, said in a statement.
Photos shared by the disaster agency showed authorities assisting the elderly, while other residents were moved in pick-up trucks and accommodated in emergency tents for the night.
The agency did not provide any information about how many people had been moved, but authorities have recommended that a seven-km (4.35-mile) radius be cleared.
Indonesia’s volcanology agency raised the alert level of the volcano to the highest level on Thursday, after Ibu erupted multiple times earlier this month.
Ibu’s activities follow a series of eruptions of different volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has 127 active volcanoes.
Flash floods and cold lava flow from Mount Marapi, one of the most active in West Sumatra province, covered several nearby districts following torrential rain on May 11, killing more than 60 people.
In recent weeks, North Sulawesi’s Ruang volcano has also erupted, spewing incandescent lava. The eruption prompted authorities to evacuate more than 12,000 people on a nearby island.


Despite polls, Biden aides insist Gaza campus protests will not hurt reelection bid

President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Despite polls, Biden aides insist Gaza campus protests will not hurt reelection bid

  • Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have broken out at more than 60 colleges and universities this year, disrupted Biden’s events around the country, pushed Democrats in key battleground states to vote “uncommitted” and divided the Democratic party

WASHINGTON: Several top White House aides say they are confident protests across US college campuses against Israel’s offensive in Gaza will not translate into significantly fewer votes for Joe Biden in November’s election, despite polls showing many Democrats are deeply unhappy about the US president’s policy on the war.
The White House optimism on the issue, which is shared by many in the Biden campaign, runs contrary to dire warnings from some Democratic strategists and youth organizers who warn misjudging the situation could cost Biden dearly in a tight race with Republican rival Donald Trump.
Several aides told Reuters they are advising Biden to remain above the fray, rather than directly engage with the relatively small groups of protesters on college campuses, arguing their numbers are too insignificant to harm the president’s reelection campaign.
Faced with a choice between Biden and Trump in November, many officials remain confident even Democrats who oppose US policy will choose Biden. Reuters interviewed nearly a dozen top White House officials in recent days, but only two expressed concern about the impact of the protests and Biden’s handling of the issue.
The issue returns to the spotlight Sunday, when Biden makes the commencement address at Morehouse College, over some objections by students and faculty, and a warning from the college’s president that the ceremony will stop if there are protests.
Most officials Reuters spoke to said they believe housing costs and inflation were the issues top of mind for young voters, not the war in Gaza, pointing to a recent Harvard poll that ranks Israel/Palestine 15th on a list of issues, after taxes, gun violence and jobs. Several aides refer to the protesters as “activists” rather than students.
Asked for comment on the issue, White House senior deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said Biden understands this is a painful moment for many communities and is listening. He has said too many civilians have died in the “heartbreaking” conflict and that more must be done to prevent the loss of innocent lives, Bates added.
Biden and Trump are nearly tied in national polls, and Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, multiple recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found Democrats deeply divided over Biden’s handling of both the war in Gaza and the US campus protests against it, with 44 percent of registered Democrats disapproving of Biden’s handling of the crisis, and 51 percent of his handling of the protests.
Young voters still favor Biden, but support has dropped significantly since 2020, polls show. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in March showed Americans aged 18-29 favored Biden over Trump by just 3 percentage points — 29 percent to 26 percent — with the rest favoring another candidate or unsure if anyone would get their vote.
Two White House officials Reuters spoke to emphasized Biden’s support among young voters is not where it was in 2020 and said they worry the administration is not taking the drop seriously enough.
With over 35,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza since war began in October, US support for Israel’s government could weigh heavily on the presidential election in November, they said.
“There is almost a level of defiance when it comes to some of the president’s closest advisers on this issue,” said a senior White House official with direct knowledge of the matter, who did not wish to be named. “They think the best approach is to simply steer clear and let it pass.”

BIDEN SPEAKS CAUTIOUSLY
Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have broken out at more than 60 colleges and universities this year, disrupted Biden’s events around the country, pushed Democrats in key battleground states to vote “uncommitted” and divided the Democratic party.
Biden, who is known for saying what he thinks, even when it’s not politically beneficial, has been cautious on the issue of protests over Gaza. He spoke in early May on the importance of following the law, while defending free speech and later on addressed the threat of antisemitism on college campuses.
Both times, he mostly avoided the issue that has sparked the protests — how young Americans feel about his support for Israel. But he also said bluntly that protests will not change his Middle East policy.
Groups organizing the protests say that a recent halt to some weapons to Israel was too little too late, and are planning fresh demonstrations, though the summer break may quieten action on campuses.
Michele Weindling, political director of the climate-focused youth group the Sunrise Movement, said “young people are incredibly disillusioned, they are angry at the way the president has treated this conflict.”
“A huge risk right now is that young voters will completely stay out of the electoral system this November, or deliberately vote against Biden out of anger,” Weindling said.
That has the potential to cost Biden dearly, given 61 percent of the more than half of Americans aged 18 to 29 that voted in the 2020 general election voted Democratic, a Tufts University research group found. The youth turnout was up 11 points from 2016.

GAZA NOT A TOP ISSUE
Republicans both overwhelmingly disapprove of the protests and Biden’s handling of the war, a Reuters/Ipsos poll published this week shows. Some Republicans have called for him to send National Guard troops on to campuses.
But until a day before Biden delivered his first speech on the protests on May 2, he remained unsure he needed to address the issue, two officials said. Biden asked his team to put together “something rudimentary,” so he could edit and change it, which he did that evening, one of the officials said.
He did not make the final decision to speak until the morning, after violence broke out on the UCLA campus, the official added.
The Harvard youth poll showing Israel/Gaza is low on youth concerns is being circulated at internal meetings at the campaign and the White House and is in line with private data the White House has seen, the first official said.
The president doesn’t speak about every issue in the news, on purpose, another White House official said. It “doesn’t always happen, no matter what kind of news it is, whether it’s the news of the day or the week or the month,” he said.

 


Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region

Updated 19 May 2024
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Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region

  • Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating as a potential war crime a Russian air strike on a residential area of the regional capital Kharkiv in which six civilians were wounded

KHARKIV: Ukraine said Russian shelling targeted civilians in two cities in the northeastern region of Kharkiv on Saturday while President Volodymyr Zelensky reported successes by troops fighting a renewed Russian assault there.
Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating as a potential war crime a Russian air strike on a residential area of the regional capital Kharkiv in which six civilians were wounded, including a 13-year-old girl, 16-year-old male and an eight-year-old.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians but thousands have been killed and injured since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
About 70 km (45 miles) to the northeast in Vovchansk, a city just 5 kilometers (three miles) from the Russian border, prosecutors said Russian shelling killed a 60-year-old woman and injured three other civilians. A 59-year-man was also injured in the village of Ukrainske, they said.
Across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region, Moscow’s defense ministry said its forces shot down a Tochka-U missile fired by Ukraine. A similar missile caused a Belgorod apartment building to collapse last week, killing at least 15 people, Russia said.
Late on Saturday Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a Ukrainian drone attack injured a woman and a man in the village of Petrovka. They were treated for shrapnel injuries in Belgorod, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Zelensky said in his nightly video address that Ukrainian forces were on surer footing, particularly in Kharkiv region.
“The occupier is losing its infantry and equipment, a tangible loss, even though, just as in 2022, it was counting on a quick advance on our land,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in February of that year.
However, Russia’s defense ministry said its forces captured the village of Starytsia in the Kharkiv region on Saturday, eight days after a new Russian push in the area began.
Zelensky said his forces repelled an assault farther south in the eastern Donetsk region around Chasiv Yar, a city seen as a key target in Russia’s campaign. “Our soldiers destroyed more than 20 units of the occupier’s armored vehicles,” he said.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.
Regional governor Vadym Filashkin credited special units under the HUR military intelligence agency for the battlefield success, which he said took place on Friday.
“There is not a single occupier in Chasiv Yar,” he said on the Telegram messaging app. “They burned armored vehicles and smashed enemy ranks,” he added in comments accompanying a video showing vehicles exploding.
In the village of Stanislav in the southern region of Kherson, governor Oleksandr Prokudin said a Russian drone strike killed a man about 40 years old and injured a woman.


Tunisia recovers bodies of four migrants off its coast, rescues dozens

Updated 19 May 2024
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Tunisia recovers bodies of four migrants off its coast, rescues dozens

  • Tunisia has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East

TUNIS: Tunisia recovered the bodies of four migrants off the country’s coast on Saturday, the national guard said, amid an increase in migrant boats heading from Tunisia toward Italy in recent weeks.
The force said the coast guard separately rescued 52 migrants. The national guard arrested nine smugglers, and boats were seized.
At least 23 Tunisian migrants were missing after setting off in a boat for Italy, the national guard said earlier on Saturday.
Tunisia is facing a migration crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.


New Caledonia ‘under siege’ as French troops bid to restore order

Updated 19 May 2024
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New Caledonia ‘under siege’ as French troops bid to restore order

  • The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and — above all — a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities
  • New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s

NOUMEA, New Caledonia: French Pacific territory New Caledonia was “under siege” Saturday, the mayor of its capital Noumea said, after another person was killed, bringing the toll to six in six days of unrest.

Two other men were wounded in Saturday’s deadly incident, which occurred in the archipelago’s northern Kaala-Gomen area, General Nicolas Mattheos said.
Hundreds of heavily armed French soldiers and police patrolled the debris-filled streets of Noumea Saturday.
But Philippe Blaise, vice president of the territory’s southern province, said: “Today, the rule of law, security for citizens, are not back in place everywhere in (New) Caledonia.”
And Noumea mayor Sonia Lagarde told news channel BFMTV: “We’re far from getting back to calm.”
Anger is still high over a contested voting reform, even after the arrival of hundreds of military and police reinforcements.
AFP reporters in the city’s Magenta district saw vehicles and buildings torched, with riot police on the scene trying to reassert control.
Overnight, residents reported hearing gunfire, helicopters and “massive explosions” — seemingly gas canisters blowing up inside a burning building.
For days, Helene, 42, has been guarding makeshift barricades in shifts with neighbors as they waited for hundreds of French security forces to be flown in to restore order.
“At night we hear shooting and things going off,” she told AFP. “Helicopters and military planes landing — which is sweet music to our ears.”

Economic malaise

For almost a week, the usually calm oceanside city has been convulsed with violence.
Two gendarmes and three other people, Indigenous Kanaks, have also been killed.
The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and — above all — a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities.
French officials have accused a separatist group known as the CCAT of being behind the riots and have placed 10 of its activists under house arrest.
CCAT on Friday called for “a time of calm to break the spiral of violence.”
Annie, an 81-year-old Noumea resident, said the week’s violence had been worse than that seen during the tumultuous 1980s: a time of political killings and hostage-taking referred to as “The Events.”
“At the time, there weren’t as many weapons,” she said.

Google map showing the location of New Caledonia.

Seeking independence
New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.
Almost two centuries on, its politics remains dominated by debate about whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent — with opinions split roughly along ethnic lines.
The latest cycle of violence was sparked by plans in Paris to impose new voting rules that could give tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents voting rights.
Pro-independence groups say that would dilute the vote of Indigenous Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.
French authorities have called for talks and insist the situation is now “calmer” and being brought under control.
Around 1,000 security forces began reinforcing the 1,700 officers on the ground from Thursday.
Efforts to negotiate peace have so far stumbled, although French President Emmanuel Macron had begun contacting pro- and anti-independence officials individually on Friday, his office said.

'Azerbaijani actors'
A local business group estimated the damage, concentrated around Noumea, at 200 million euros ($217 million).
The damage to the islands’ reputation may cost even more.
Tourism is a big earner for New Caledonia, but an estimated 3,200 tourists and other travelers have been stranded inside or outside the archipelago by the closure of Noumea’s international airport.
The unrest has also pushed organizers to cancel plans to bring the Olympic flame through New Caledonia on its journey from Athens to Paris — where the summer Games will begin in late July.
“I think everyone understands, given the current context, the priority is consolidating a return to public order and then appeasement,” French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said on Saturday.
On Friday, French government agency Viginum said it detected a “massive and coordinated” online campaign pushing claims that French police had shot pro-independence demonstrators in New Caledonia.
Paris pointed to the involvement of “Azerbaijani actors” in the campaign, deepening a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
Azerbaijan has denied accusations of interference in New Caledonia.