Biden, fragile at home, faces historic leadership task in Europe

Biden, fragile at home, faces historic leadership task in Europe
US President Joe Biden faces the big task of restoring the traditional US role as a first among equals. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 June 2022

Biden, fragile at home, faces historic leadership task in Europe

Biden, fragile at home, faces historic leadership task in Europe
  • big part of Biden\'s campaign is rebuilding alliances and restoring the traditional US role as a first among equals

WASHINGTON: Leader of the free world sounds like a superhero character, but the Joe Biden heading this week to twin European summits is in reality a politically fragile president tasked, somehow, with resolving an unenviable string of diplomatic problems.
Biden arrives Saturday in Germany for the G7 summit of major Western powers, followed next week by the NATO military alliance summit in Madrid.
Both sessions will take place in the shadow of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, but also a global surge in inflation, fears of recession, and the ever-growing challenge of containing China while avoiding open conflict.
For sure, Biden will tout the success of a monumental effort to rally the West and breathe new life into NATO — a “high water mark in transatlantic solidarity in the post-Cold War period,” according to a senior US official.
But the less flattering picture is one of a 79-year-old politician whose approval rating at home has plummeted below 40 percent and whose Democratic party seems likely to lose control of Congress this November, giving way to vengeful Republican opponents.
As Donald Trump — who spent four years in the White House shredding American alliances — prepares his own possible revenge match in the 2024 presidential election, Biden is the first to admit that not all view the United States with confidence.
“I travel the world trying to put things back together,” Biden told an audience of trade union members this month, and “no matter where I go... they look at me and I say — I say, ‘America is back,’ and they look and me and they say: ‘For how long?’“

'Inflection point'
Biden refers to his presidency as an inflection point in a battle for the survival of Western democracy against the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as against internal attacks, like Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
A big part of that campaign is rebuilding alliances and restoring the traditional US role as a first among equals — in contrast to Trump’s policy of treating all countries as bitter rivals.
Both in Germany and Spain, Biden will be able to showcase considerable success, especially concerning the response to Russia’s onslaught in Ukraine.
“He came into office with the express purpose of revitalizing and reinforcing our allies, our alliances and our partnerships around the world and that’s exactly what he’s done,” John Kirby, a White House spokesman, said.
“He has been unafraid to use the convening power of the United States which is still ample, still relevant, still viable. The free world has demonstrated incredible unity.”

Multilateral leadership needed
But for all the self-congratulations likely to emanate from Bavaria and Madrid, the Western partners face increasingly tricky blowback from their own sanctions on Russia.
Their coordinated attempt to shut down Russia’s economy and cripple the ruble has clearly not worked so far, while spiraling energy costs are instead exacting a political price on leaders like Biden at home.
A US official said the G7 will “roll out” yet more measures to “increase pressure” on Moscow. But there will also be a parallel question for leaders to ponder.
“How do we maximize pain on Putin’s regime? How do we minimize spill-backs back to the rest of the world? And I think that’s exactly how the discussion around energy markets and energy market challenges will get framed,” the official said.
Amid warnings of Ukraine fatigue setting in across Western capitals, Biden says the transatlantic coalition has to tough it out.
“At some point, this is going to be a bit of a waiting game: what the Russians can sustain and what Europe is going to be prepared to sustain. That’s one of the things we’re going to be speaking in Spain about,” he said.
If that’s going to happen — and if the West is going to stick together through the growing threat of global recession — then much may depend on Biden.
“Leadership matters a lot here,” Kirby said.
“Multilateral leadership matters a lot — because this isn’t just affecting the United States, it’s affecting the whole world.”


12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
Updated 5 sec ago

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
BEIJING: Twelve bodies have been found following a shipwreck in the South China Sea over the weekend that left the crew of 30 missing, Chinese authorities said Monday.
“As of 3:30 p.m. on July 4, rescue forces found and recovered 12 bodies, suspected to be of victims who drowned, in an area around 50 nautical miles southwest of the site where the vessel sank,” said the Guangdong Maritime Search and Rescue Center in a notice.

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
Updated 04 July 2022

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
  • A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters

COPENHAGEN: Danish police said Monday that the suspect in a weekend shooting at a Copenhagen mall that left three dead, including two teenagers, was known to mental health services.
“Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services, beyond that I do not wish to comment,” Copenhagen police chief Soren Thomassen told a press conference.
Thomassen added that the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.
“Our assessment is that the victims were random, that it isn’t motivated by gender or something else,” Thomassen said.
The police chief could not yet comment on a motive, but said there seemed to have been preparation ahead of the attack and that the 22-year-old suspect was not aided by anyone else.
“As things stand, it seems he was acting alone,” he said.
The three killed have been identified as a Danish teenage girl and boy, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian citizen residing in Denmark.
Another four were injured in the shooting: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, and two Swedish citizens, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman.
Police confirmed that the suspected shooter was present at the mall at the time of the shooting and is known to the police “but only peripherally.”
They added that they believe videos of the suspect circulating since Sunday evening on social media to be authentic.

An ambulance and armed police are seen during the evacuation of people at the Fields shopping center in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 3, 2022 after Danish media reported a shooting. (AFP)

In some of the images, the young man can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work.”
YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to the suspect were closed overnight, AFP noted.
The shooting occurred Sunday afternoon at the busy Fields shopping mall, located between the city center and Copenhagen airport.
According to police, the shooter was armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, and while the guns were not believed to be illegal, the suspect did not have a license for them.
Witnesses quoted by the Danish media described how the suspect had tried to trick people by saying his weapon was fake to get them to approach.
“He was sufficiently psychopathic to go and hunt people, but he wasn’t running,” one witness told public broadcaster DR.
Other eyewitnesses told Danish media they had seen more than 100 people rush toward the mall’s exit as the first shots were fired.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen denounce the “cruel attack” in a statement late Sunday.

People embrace outside Fields shopping center, after Danish police said they received reports of a shooting at the site, in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 3, 2022. (Reuters) 

“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” she said.
The shooting came just over a week after a gunman opened fire near a gay bar in Oslo in neighboring Norway, killing two people and wounding 21 others.
In February of 2015, two people were killed and five injured in Copenhagen in a series of Islamist-motivated shootings.


Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon
Updated 30 min 35 sec ago

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon
  • The 85-year-old pontiff repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has dismissed reports that he plans to resign in the near future, saying he is on track to visit Canada this month and hopes to be able to go to Moscow and Kyiv as soon as possible after that.
In an exclusive interview in his Vatican residence, Francis also denied rumors that he had cancer, joking that his doctors “didn’t tell me anything about it,” and for the first time gave details of the knee condition that has prevented him carrying out some duties.
In a 90-minute conversation on Saturday afternoon, conducted in Italian, with no aides present, the 85-year-old pontiff also repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month.
Rumors have swirled in the media that a conjunction of events in late August, including meetings with the world’s cardinals to discuss a new Vatican constitution, a ceremony to induct new cardinals, and a visit to the Italian city of L’Aquila, could foreshadow a resignation announcement.
L’Aquila is associated with Pope Celestine V, who resigned the papacy in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI visited the city four years before he resigned in 2013, the first pope to do so in about 600 years.
But Francis, alert and at ease throughout the interview as he discussed a wide range of international and Church issues, laughed the idea off.
“All of these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” he said. “But it never entered my mind. For the moment no, for the moment, no. Really!”
Francis did, however, repeat his often-stated position that he might resign someday if failing health made it impossible for him to run the Church — something that had been almost unthinkable before Benedict XVI.
Asked when he thought that might be, he said: “We don’t know. God will say.”
The interview took place on the day he was to have left for Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, a trip he had to cancel because doctors said he might also have to miss a trip to Canada from July 24-30 unless he agreed to have 20 more days of therapy and rest for his right knee.
He said the decision to cancel the Africa trip had caused him “much suffering,” particularly because he wanted to promote peace in both countries.
Francis used a cane as he walked into a reception room on the ground floor of the Santa Marta guest house where he has lived since his election in 2013, eschewing the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.
The room has a copy of one of Francis’ favorite paintings: “Mary, Untier of Knots,” created around 1700 by the German Joachim Schmidtner.
Asked how he was, the pope joked: “I’m still alive!”
He gave details of his ailment for the first time in public, saying he had suffered “a small fracture” in the knee when he took a misstep while a ligament was inflamed.
“I am well, I am slowly getting better,” he said, adding that the fracture was knitting, helped by laser and magnet therapy.
Francis also dismissed rumors that a cancer had been found a year ago when he underwent a six-hour operation to remove part of his colon because of diverticulitis, a condition common in the elderly.
“It (the operation) was a great success,” he said, adding with a laugh that “they didn’t tell me anything” about the supposed cancer, which he dismissed as “court gossip.”
But he said he did not want an operation on his knee because the general anesthetic in last year’s surgery had had negative side-effects.
Speaking of the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there have been contacts between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible trip to Moscow.
The initial signs were not good. No pope has ever visited Moscow, and Francis has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; last Thursday he implicitly accused it of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression.”
When the Vatican first asked about a trip several months ago, Francis said Moscow replied that it was not the right time.
But he hinted that something may now have changed.
“I would like to go (to Ukraine), and I wanted to go to Moscow first. We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the Russian president gave me a small window to serve the cause of peace ...
“And now it is possible, after I come back from Canada, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine,” he said. “The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.”
Asked about the US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a woman’s right to have an abortion, Francis said he respected the decision but did not have enough information to speak about it from a juridical point of view.
But he strongly condemned abortion, comparing it to “hiring a hit man.” The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception.
“I ask: Is it legitimate, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?”
Francis was asked about a debate in the United States over whether a Catholic politician who is personally opposed to abortion but supports others’ right to choose should be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion.
House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, has been barred by the conservative archbishop of her home diocese of San Francisco from receiving it there, but is regularly given communion at a parish in Washington, D.C. Last week, she received the sacrament at a papal Mass in the Vatican.
“When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem,” the pope said. “That’s all I can say.”


Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16

Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16
Updated 04 July 2022

Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16

Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16
  • Deadly road accidents are common in India due to reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles

NEW DELHI: A passenger bus slid off a mountain road and fell into a deep gorge in northern India on Monday, killing 16 people, including schoolchildren, a government official said.
Rescue workers pulled out the badly injured from the wreckage of the vehicle and sent them to a hospital, Ashutosh Garg, a senior administrator for the district of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh state, told news agency Press Trust of India.
Another official, Prashant Sirkek Singh, said about 20 passengers were traveling in the bus.
Photos shared on social media showed responders trying to rescue survivors from the mangled hulk of the yellow bus. The exact cause of the crash was not immediately known.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sorrow over the accident.
Deadly road accidents are common in India due to reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles. More than 110,000 people are killed every year in road accidents across India, according to police.


Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands

Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands
Updated 04 July 2022

Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands

Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands
  • The islets, known as the Senkaku by Tokyo and the Diaoyu by Beijing, are at the center of a long-running dispute between Japan and China

TOKYO: Japan lodged a protest with China on Monday over a Chinese naval vessel sailing near disputed islands, a Japanese official said, as reports emerged of Russia also sending its own navy ship to the area.
The islets in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku by Tokyo and the Diaoyu by Beijing, are at the center of a long-running dispute between Japan and China.
Japanese officials regularly protest the presence of Chinese coast guard vessels in waters near the islands, but it is the first time since 2018 that a navy ship has been spotted there, according to public broadcaster NHK.
At around 7:44 a.m. on Monday, a Chinese navy frigate “was observed entering Japan’s contiguous waters” southwest of one of the Tokyo-controlled islands, a statement from the Japanese defense ministry said.
Contiguous waters are a 12-nautical-mile band that extends beyond territorial waters.
“We expressed grave concerns and lodged our protest to the Chinese side through a diplomatic route, and urged them to prevent a repeat” of similar incidents, deputy chief cabinet secretary Seiji Kihara told reporters.
The islets “are Japanese territory from the viewpoints of both history and international law,” he added.
Separately, a Russian naval ship was also spotted in the contiguous waters of the disputed islands on Monday morning, NHK, Jiji Press and other Japanese media reported, citing anonymous defense ministry sources.
The ministry could not immediately confirm the reports to AFP.
In May, Chinese and Russian fighter jets carried out joint flights near the East Asian country as leaders of the so-called Quad bloc — Japan, United States, Australia and India — met in Tokyo.
While the planes did not breach territorial airspace, Japan said the move was “provocative” given that the timing coincided with the leaders’ summit.
Beijing said the flights were part of Chinese and Russian “annual military cooperation plan.”