Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM

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Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks to media after voting during the European Parliament election, in Madrid, Spain, June 9, 2024. (REUTERS)
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) of the Social Democratic Party poses with Elisabeth and Valentin Jahn with their baby Benedikt after voting for the European Parliament Elections at a polling station in Potsdam, eastern Germany, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrives to vote for the European Parliament elections, in Rome, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (LaPresse via AP)
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Assessors count votes at a polling station, after the European Parliament elections in Palma de Mallorca on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks through a screen at the far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National - RN) party headquarters after the polls closed during the European Parliament elections, in Paris, on June 9, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 10 June 2024
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Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM

  • Italy’s PM Meloni solidifies top spot in EU vote -exit poll
  • Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk stayes undefeated

BRUSSELS: Voting has ended to elect the European Union’s regional lawmakers for the next five-year term after the last remaining polls closed in Italy, as surging far-right parties dealt a body blow to two of the bloc’s most important leaders: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In Spain, the center-right People’s Party (PP) came out on top, garnering 22 seats out of the 61 allocated to the country, and dealing a blow to the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s arch-conservative Brothers of Italy group won the most votes in the weekend EU parliamentary election, exit polls said, confirming its status as the country's  most popular party.

Official results were expected any moment after Italian polling stations closed at 11 p.m. local time (2100GMT), officially ending a marathon election spanning four days across 27 bloc member countries.
An initial projection provided by the European Union indicated far-right parties have made big gains at the European Parliament.
In France, the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen dominated the polls to such an extent that Macron immediately dissolved the national parliament and called for new elections, a massive political risk since his party could suffer more losses, hobbling the rest of his presidential term that ends in 2027.
Le Pen was delighted to accept the challenge. “We’re ready to turn the country around, ready to defend the interests of the French, ready to put an end to mass immigration,” she said, echoing the rallying cry of so many far-right leaders in other countries who were celebrating substantial wins.
Macron acknowledged the thud of defeat. “I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered,” he said, adding that calling a snap election only underscored his democratic credentials.
In Germany, the most populous nation in the 27-member bloc, projections indicated that the AfD overcame a string of scandals involving its top candidate to rise to 16.5 percent, up from 11 percent in 2019. In comparison, the combined result for the three parties in the German governing coalition barely topped 30 percent.
Scholz suffered such an ignominious fate that his long-established Social Democratic party fell behind the extreme-right Alternative for Germany, which surged into second place. “After all the prophecies of doom, after the barrage of the last few weeks, we are the second strongest force,” a jubilant AfD leader Alice Weidel said.
The four-day polls in the 27 EU countries were the world’s second-biggest exercise in democracy, behind India’s recent election. At the end, the rise of the far right was even more stunning than many analysts predicted.
The French National Rally crystalized it as it stood at over 30 percent or about twice as much as Macron’s pro-European centrist Renew party that is projected to reach around 15 percent.
Overall across the EU, two mainstream and pro-European groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, remained the dominant forces. The gains of the far right came at the expense of the Greens, who were expected to lose about 20 seats and fall back to sixth position in the legislature. Macron’s pro-business Renew group also lost big.
For decades, the European Union, which has its roots in the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, confined the hard right to the political fringes. With its strong showing in these elections, the far right could now become a major player in policies ranging from migration to security and climate.

Germany, traditionally a stronghold for environmentalists, exemplified the humbling of the Greens, who were predicted to fall from 20 percent to 12 percent. With further losses expected in France and elsewhere, the defeat of the Greens could well have an impact on the EU’s overall climate change policies, still the most progressive across the globe.
The center-right Christian Democratic bloc of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, which already weakened its green credentials ahead of the polls, dominated in Germany with almost 30 percent, easily beating Scholz’s Social Democrats, who fell to 14 percent, even behind the AfD.
“What you have already set as a trend is all the better – strongest force, stable, in difficult times and by a distance,” von der Leyen told her German supporters by video link from Brussels.

Italy’s PM Meloni solidifies top spot in EU vote — exit poll

As well as France, the hard right, which focused its campaign on migration and crime, was expected to make significant gains in Italy, where Premier Giorgia Meloni was tipped to consolidate her power.

An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said Brothers of Italy won between 26-30 percent of the vote, with the center-left opposition Democratic Party (PD) coming second with 21-25 percent
The other main opposition party, the 5-Star Movement, was seen on 10-14 percent, while Forza Italia, founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi, was in fourth place on 8.5-10.5 percent, potentially beating its old ally, the far-right League, which was on 8-10 percent.
Brothers of Italy won just 6.4 percent of the vote in the last EU ballot in 2019, but jumped ahead of all other parties in 2022 national elections, when it took 26 percent, with Italians seeing Meloni as a no-nonsense, straight-talking leader.
Her party traces its roots back to a neo-fascist group and her 2022 victory set the tone for far-right gains across Europe, including in the June 6-9 EU ballot, which has seen the continent swing sharply right.
Meloni governs in Rome with the center-right Forza Italia and the League, presenting this as a model for the next EU government in Brussels, where Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will need to build consensus to secure a second term.
If confirmed, the PD result would represent a good score for its leader Elly Schlein, who took charge of the party in 2023 and has struggled to impose her will on the old guard. The PD won 19 percent in 2022 and Schlein was anxious to improve on that.
The one disappointment for all parties this weekend was the turnout, which was expected to come in at around or even beneath 50 percent — a record low in a country that has had historically strong voter participation.

Spain’s right wing wins

In Spain, Prime Minister Sanchez’s Socialists, spearheaded by Energy Minister Teresa Ribera, earned 20 seats after a campaign in which the opposition honed in on private corruption allegations against the premier’s wife and an amnesty law for Catalan pro-independence leaders passed just one week before the election.
With 99.7 percent of the vote counted, far-right Vox finished third with six lawmakers, up from the four it had in the previous legislature.
Still, in terms of vote share, support for Vox dipped to 9.6 percent from 12.4 percent in the July 2023 general election. The far-right party is struggling to break a vote ceiling of 14 percent, making it an outlier compared to its peers in other EU countries.
Alvise Perez, a far-right social media influencer running against what he describes as universal corruption, managed to obtain three seats with a campaign mostly conducted through the messaging app Telegram.
The combined right won nearly 50 percent, while the left followed with 43 percent.
The leftist vote was split between Sumar — the junior partner in the government coalition — that won three seats and hard-left Podemos, led by former Equality Minister Irene Montero, which got two.

Poland's Tusk holds on

Bucking the trend was former EU leader and current Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who overcame Law and Justice, the national conservative party that governed Poland from 2015-23 and drove it ever further to the right. A poll showed Tusk’s party won with 38 percent, compared to 34 percent for his bitter nemesis.
“Of these large, ambitious countries, of the EU leaders, Poland has shown that democracy, honesty and Europe triumph here,” Tusk told his supporters. “I am so moved.”
He declared, “We showed that we are a light of hope for Europe.”
EU lawmakers, who serve a five-year term in the 720-seat Parliament, have a say in issues from financial rules to climate and agriculture policy. They approve the EU budget, which bankrolls priorities including infrastructure projects, farm subsidies and aid delivered to Ukraine. And they hold a veto over appointments to the powerful EU commission.
These elections come at a testing time for voter confidence in a bloc of some 450 million people. Over the last five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fueled by the biggest land conflict in Europe since the Second World War. But political campaigning often focuses on issues of concern in individual countries rather than on broader European interests.
Since the last EU election in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three nations — Hungary, Slovakia and Italy — and are part of ruling coalitions in others including Sweden, Finland and, soon, the Netherlands. Polls give the populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.
“Right is good,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who leads a stridently nationalist and anti-migrant government, told reporters after casting his ballot. “To go right is always good. Go right!”


Thirty-five Democrats in US Congress have called on Biden to drop out

Updated 10 sec ago
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Thirty-five Democrats in US Congress have called on Biden to drop out

WASHINGTON: Thirty-five congressional Democrats have publicly called on Democratic President Joe Biden to end his re-election bid after the 81-year-old incumbent’s halting debate performance against Republican rival Donald Trump.
They represent more than one in eight Democrats in Congress, where Biden’s party controls 213 seats in the House of Representatives and 51 in the Senate.
Here is a list of the Democratic US lawmakers who have publicly and directly called for Biden to not run again.
Senators
Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
Martin Heinrich (New Mexico)
Jon Tester (Montana)
Peter Welch (Vermont)
Representatives
Mark Takano (California’s 39th district)
Earl Blumenauer (Oregon’s 3rd district)
Ed Case (Hawaii’s 1st district)
Sean Casten (Illinois’ 6th district)
Jim Costa (California’s 21st district)
Angie Craig (Minnesota’s 2nd district)
Lloyd Doggett (Texas’ 37th district)
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (Illinois’ 4th district)
Raul Grijalva (Arizona’s 7th district)
Jim Himes (Connecticut’s 4th district)
Jared Huffman (California’s 2nd district)
Greg Landsman (Ohio’s 1st district)
Mike Levin (California’s 49th district)
Zoe Lofgren (California’s 18th district)
Seth Moulton (Massachusetts’ 6th district)
Betty McCollum (Minnesota’s 4th district)
Morgan McGarvey (Kentucky’s 3rd district)
Scott Peters (California’s 50th district)
Brittany Pettersen (Colorado’s 7th district)
Mark Pocan (Wisconsin’s 2nd district)
Mike Quigley (Illinois’ 5th district)
Pat Ryan (New York’s 18th district)
Adam Schiff (California’s 30th district)
Brad Schneider (Illinois’ 10th district)
Hillary Scholten (Michigan’s 3rd district)
Mikie Sherrill (New Jersey’s 11th district)
Adam Smith (Washington’s 9th district)
Eric Sorensen (Illinois’ 17th district)
Greg Stanton (Arizona’s 4th district)
Gabe Vasquez (New Mexico’s 2nd district)
Marc Veasey (Texas’ 33rd district)

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.


Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Updated 20 July 2024
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Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

  • Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention

GRAND RAPIDS:Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally on Saturday since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt one week ago and fresh from his nominating convention where his takeover of the Republican Party was cemented.
Trump will appear in Grand Rapids, in the battleground state of Michigan, along with his new vice presidential pick, Ohio US Senator J.D. Vance. It will be their first campaign event together as the now official Republican presidential ticket.
Republican Party officials said during Trump’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this week that his brush with death last Saturday had changed him, and that when he made his acceptance speech on Thursday night he would call for national unity.
While Trump began the address with a call for unity and national healing, much of his speech was his well-known list of grievances and attacks on opponents.
It is unclear what type of a speech Trump will deliver on Saturday, but his diehard supporters typically flock to such events to hear Trump’s more traditional inflammatory rhetoric.
Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention. In contrast, the Democrats are in turmoil and it is no longer certain that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee facing Trump in the Nov. 5 election.
Biden is facing mounting calls from many elected officials in his own party to step aside as the party’s White House candidate and to end his re-election bid, after his poor debate performance against Trump last month.
Biden is trailing in opinion polls and is behind in every swing state against Trump. Many Democrats fear he may have virtually no path to victory and that the party needs a new presidential candidate to take on Trump.
The rally in Grand Rapids will be in an indoor arena, unlike the event in Butler, Pennsylvania last weekend, which was outdoors. At that event, the gunman was able to scale the roof of a building outside the Secret Service perimeter before opening fire on Trump, clipping his ear, killing a rally-goer and wounding several others.
The US Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, declined to comment on security for the Grand Rapids event. An investigation is under way into the security failures at the Butler rally.
“The Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used for our protective operations,” the agency said in a statement.
Trump gave a detailed account of his narrow brush with death in his convention speech on Thursday, telling the audience that he was only talking to them “by the grace of Almighty God.”


Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

Updated 20 July 2024
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Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

DAKAR: Senegal’s army said Saturday that it had intercepted a boat carrying over 200 migrants trying to reach Europe, after nearly 90 died when attempting the dangerous Atlantic crossing earlier this month.
The boat intercepted by the patrol boat in fishing waters near Lompoul in northwest Senegal on Friday was carrying 202 people, including five women and a minor, the army posted on X.
In early July, a boat carrying around 170 people who set off from Senegal capsized off the coast of Mauritania, killing nearly 90 people.
The disaster prompted Senegal’s President Ousmane Sonko to urge people not to risk the Atlantic Ocean’s currents in overcrowded vessels that often are not seaworthy.
But the route is increasingly used as authorities step up surveillance in the Mediterranean.
“I once again make a plea to the young: your solution is not to be found in boats,” Sonko told a crowd of youths in Saint-Louis.
“The future of the world is in Africa... the only continent that still has the significant scope for progress and growth.”
According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, more than 5,000 people died trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, representing the highest daily average toll since it began keeping records in 2007.