Slovakia PM Fico’s fate remains in balance after surgery, deputy PM says

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico walks during the European Council summit at EU headquarters in Brussels on Apr. 18, 2024. He was shot on May 15, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 16 May 2024
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Slovakia PM Fico’s fate remains in balance after surgery, deputy PM says

  • The shooting was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years
  • "Unfortunately, I cannot say yet that we are winning (the battle to save Fico) or that the prognosis is positive," Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said

BRATISLAVA: Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico remains in a serious condition and it is too soon to say whether he will recover, a deputy prime minister said on Thursday, a day after an assassination attempt that has sent shock waves across Europe.
The shooting was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years, and has drawn international condemnation. Political analysts and lawmakers say it has exposed an increasingly febrile and polarized political climate both in Slovakia and across Europe.
“Unfortunately, I cannot say yet that we are winning (the battle to save Fico) or that the prognosis is positive because the extent of the injuries caused by four gunshot wounds is so extensive that the body’s response will still be very difficult,” Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said.
Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok, speaking at the same news conference, said the shooter — whom police have charged with attempted murder — had acted alone and had previously taken part in anti-government protests.
“This is a lone wolf who had radicalized himself in the latest period after the presidential election (in April),” Sutaj Estok said.
The suspect listed government policies on Ukraine and its plans to reform the country’s public broadcaster and dismantle the special prosecutor’s office as reasons for the attack, the interior minister added.
Miriam Lapunikova, director of the F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital in Banska Bystrica where Fico is being treated, said the 59-year-old prime minister had undergone five hours of surgery with two teams to treat multiple gunshot wounds.
“At this point his condition is stabilized but is truly very serious, he will be in the intensive care unit,” she told reporters.
Slovak President Zuzana Caputova called for a calming of political tensions. Fico ally and President-elect Peter Pellegrini urged parties to suspend or tone down their campaigning for next month’s European Parliament elections.
“If there is anything the people of Slovakia urgently need today, it is at least a basic consensus and unity among Slovaks’ political representatives,” said Pellegrini, who won an April election for the mainly ceremonial post of president.

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Fico has dominated Slovak politics for much of the past two decades, winning re-election last October for a fourth stint as premier.
He has fused left-leaning economic views with nationalism, tapping into widespread discontent over living standards, but has also proved a divisive figure. His critics say new reforms threaten the rule of law and media freedoms in Slovakia, a member state of the European Union and NATO.
Fico’s calls for ending sanctions on Russia and halting arms supplies to Ukraine have endeared him to Moscow, and President Vladimir Putin and other Russian politicians have been prominent among those condemning Wednesday’s assassination attempt.
Fico was shot while greeting supporters in the street after chairing a government meeting in the central town of Handlova.
Slovak news media reported that the 71-year-old gunman was a former security guard at a shopping mall, the author of three collections of poetry and a member of the Slovak Society of Writers. News outlet Aktuality.sk cited the suspect’s son as saying his father was the legal holder of a gun license.
There has been no official confirmation of the gunman’s identity and background.
The incident raised questions over Fico’s security arrangements, as the attacker managed to fire five shots at point blank range despite the prime minister being accompanied by several bodyguards.
In an undated video posted on Facebook, the alleged attacker was seen saying: “I do not agree with government policy” and criticizing government plans to revamp the public broadcaster.
Reuters verified the person in the video matched images of the man arrested after Fico’s shooting.
Fico and his government coalition allies have criticized sections of the media and the opposition, saying they had inflamed tensions in the central European state.
Slovakia’s biggest opposition party, the liberal, pro-Western Progressive Slovakia, was quick to condemn the shooting and called off a protest rally planned for Wednesday evening. It has also urged all politicians to avoid stoking tensions.


Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says

Updated 8 sec ago
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Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says

DAGESTAN: Gunmen opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, and two police officers were killed, news agencies quoted the Russian Interior Ministry as saying.
Six people were wounded in the attacks.
The reports said one officer was killed when shots were fired at a synagogue in Derbent, home to an ancient Jewish community in the North Caucasus. An exchange of fire also took place in an Orthodox Church in the town, a UNESCO heritage site.
Another exchange of shots took place at a police post in Makhachkala, about 125 kilometers (75 miles) to the north along the Caspian Sea coast and the main city in Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

Updated 23 June 2024
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UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

  • The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.


Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Updated 23 June 2024
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Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”


Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Updated 23 June 2024
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Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

LONDON: The UK interior minister has defended a parliamentary aide who called the government plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda “crap,” in a leaked audio revealed by the BBC Sunday.
A controversial law by the Conservative government allowing irregular migrants arriving in the UK to be deported to Rwanda was finally passed in April, after months of parliamentary wrangling.
But in the recording James Sunderland, a parliamentary aide and Conservative party candidate, was heard saying: “the policy is crap, ok? It’s crap.”
“But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy,” he went on to say, speaking at a Youth Conservatives conference in April.
“There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off it will send such a shockwave across the Channel,” Sunderland clarified.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was “surprised,” when asked about the audio, before saying Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive statement to grab the attention.”
Cleverly told Sky News on Sunday that his aide Sunderland “is completely supportive of the deterrent effect.”
Sunderland told the BBC he was “disappointed” to have been recorded at a private event, and said although the policy is “not the be all and end all,” it is “part of a wider response.”
No flights deporting asylum seekers have actually taken off yet for the African country, due to lengthy legal challenges and with parliament dissolved ahead of a looming general election on July 4.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the policy would only come into effect after the election, if he was re-elected.
The opposition Labour party — which looks poised to replace the Conservatives — has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan.
The government cleared a law allowing some asylum seekers to be deported in April, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling that said sending migrants to Rwanda in this way would be illegal because it “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment.”
Supporters of the Rwanda policy say it will deter tens of thousands of annual cross-Channel arrivals by small boats, and insist the policy is already having an impact.
More than 12,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel to Britain on small boats this year, according to government data.


Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Updated 23 June 2024
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Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.