With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate

Update With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate
Republican candidates: top row, Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, bottom row, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Gov. Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson. (AP Photo)
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Updated 24 August 2023
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With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate

With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate
  • Raucous two-hour debate offered a view of the deep challenges the contenders face in seeking to dislodge former president from his perch at the top of the field

MILWAUKEE: Eight Republican presidential candidates traded barbs on Wednesday at their first debate of the 2024 election as they jockeyed for position behind the absent front-runner, Donald Trump, who derided the event in a pre-taped interview aimed at siphoning away viewers.

The raucous two-hour debate offered a view of the deep challenges the contenders face in seeking to dislodge Trump from his perch at the top of the field.

While the former president took the extraordinary step of skipping the debate entirely, his rivals were left taking shots at one another to try to emerge as the most viable alternative, five months before the first Republican presidential nominating contest in Iowa and more than 14 months before the election.

While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has consistently stood in second place in polls, albeit well behind Trump, it was Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur and political neophyte, who was at the center of many of the Fox News debate’s most dramatic moments.

Ramaswamy, a fierce Trump defender who is rising in national polls, faced plenty of incoming fire from his more experienced rivals, who appeared to view him as more of a threat than DeSantis.

“We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” former Vice President Mike Pence said, while former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused Ramaswamy of sounding “like ChatGPT,” a reference to artificial intelligence.

Ramaswamy fired back by emphasizing his status as an outsider, calling everyone else on stage “bought and paid for” and accusing DeSantis of being a “super PAC puppet,” a reference to independent political action committees that typically raise unlimited sums of money from corporations and individuals.

He also took the most isolationist position on the Ukraine-Russia war, arguing that it was not a priority for the US and saying he would end military aid to Ukraine. That drew a sharp rebuke from Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations.

The debate had been seen as a potentially pivotal moment for DeSantis, whose campaign has been riven by staff turmoil amid a slow but steady decline in the polls.

Trump, who remains the clear-cut favorite among Republican voters despite his four criminal indictments, chose to skip the event in favor of a friendly interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson that began streaming online minutes before the debate began. The interview had about 74 million views on X, formerly known as Twitter, during its 46 minutes.

Trump declined to directly answer provocative questions posed by Carlson, such as whether a civil war was coming in the United States. Instead, he stuck to well-worn themes: false claims that he won the 2020 election, a promise to tighten immigration controls and insults of President Joe Biden and some of his Republican rivals.

“Do I sit there for an hour, or two hours, whatever it’s going to be, and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president and a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me?” he asked Carlson.

The debate took place a day before Trump planned to surrender in Atlanta to face charges he sought to overturn his election loss in the state.

Six of the eight debaters on Wednesday raised their hands when asked whether they would support Trump as the nominee even if he had been convicted of a crime – North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, DeSantis, Haley, Pence, Ramaswamy and US Senator Tim Scott.

Christie, who appeared to start raising his hand before wagging his finger, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declined. Both have been vocal critics of Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

“Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States,” Christie said to boos from a rowdy and partisan crowd.

That led to a sharp back-and-forth between Christie, Trump’s biggest critic among Republican candidates, and Ramaswamy, Trump’s most ardent defender.

“Honest to God, your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible if your entire campaign were not based on vengeance and grievance against one man,” Ramaswamy said, prompting Christie to retort, “You make me laugh.”

Polls show that most Republicans view the criminal charges against Trump, 77, as politically motivated, making the topic a tricky one to navigate for his rivals.

In the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month, Trump held 47 percent of the Republican vote nationally, with DeSantis dropping six percentage points from July to 13 percent. None of the other candidates has broken out of single digits.

The candidates also went after Biden, a Democrat, from the outset. Moderators Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, both Fox News hosts, started the debate by asking about the US economy.

“Our country is in decline,” DeSantis said. “We must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance to succeed again.”

While the economy has shown surprising resilience, defying recession predictions with a robust labor market, polls show many voters – including a plurality of those who supported Biden in 2020 – feel the economy has worsened during his first three years in office amid persistent inflation.

The candidates were also asked about abortion, an issue that has bedeviled Republicans ever since the US Supreme Court last year eliminated a nationwide right to abortion.

Pence, the staunchest anti-abortion opponent in the field, criticized Haley for saying that a bipartisan consensus must be reached on a federal approach.

Haley, who would be the first woman to win the Republican presidential nomination, responded that it was impractical to back nationwide limits given Democratic opposition.

DeSantis, who signed a six-week ban into law in Florida, did not specify whether he would back a similar national ban, saying he understood that different states would take different stances.

“Look, I understand, Wisconsin is going to do it different than Texas,” he said. “But I will support the cause of life as governor and as president.”


Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age

Updated 18 sec ago
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Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age

Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age
Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry “announced a temporary suspension of accepting new applications for consular services” for men between 18 and 60
It made an exception for documents allowing Ukrainians to return to Ukraine

KYIV: Ukraine authorities on Tuesday suspended consular services for men of fighting age living abroad, after announcing measures to bring them home amid manpower shortages in the army fighting Russia.
Ukraine’s army has been struggling to hold frontlines, partly due to a lack of soldiers over two years into Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry “announced a temporary suspension of accepting new applications for consular services” for men between 18 and 60.
It made an exception for documents allowing Ukrainians to return to Ukraine.
The move would likely oblige Ukrainian men to return from abroad to undergo administrative procedures that were previously available abroad.
The government has already adopted a mobilization law, due to come into force on May 18, that toughens penalties against draft dodgers and obliges men to keep their military registration up-to-date.
The ministry said men would be able to access consular services once the law came into force and “after updating their military registration.”
“Male citizen of Ukraine aged 18 to 60 with valid military registration documents will have full access to consular services,” the ministry said.
Ukrainian men have been forbidden to leave the country since the invasion began, apart from a few exceptions.
But some lived away before the war began, and Ukrainian media estimates that thousands more illegally fled the country.

Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

New York University students set up a
New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business.
Updated 23 April 2024
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Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business.
  • Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks
  • On Tuesday, the New York Police Department said 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons

NEW YORK: More than 130 people were arrested overnight during pro-Palestinian protests at the New York University campus, as student demonstrations gather pace in the United States over the Israel-Hamas war.
Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks as students and other agitators take over quads and disrupt campus activities.
The demonstrations come amid sweeping debates over Israel’s assault on Gaza, following Hamas’s deadly invasion on October 7.
Such bastions of higher education — Harvard, Yale, Columbia and others — are grappling for a balance between students demanding free speech rights and others who argue that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.
On Tuesday, the New York Police Department told AFP that 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons, as protests also intensify at Yale, Columbia University and other campuses.
As the holiday of Passover began Monday night, police began detaining demonstrators at an encampment at NYU who had earlier refused orders to disperse.
A New York University spokesman said the decision to call police came after additional protesters, many of whom were not thought to be affiliated with NYU, suddenly breached the barriers erected around the encampment.
This “dramatically changed” the situation, the spokesman said in a statement on the school’s website Monday, citing “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior” along with “intimidated chants and several antisemitic incidents.”
“Given the foregoing and the safety issues raised by the breach, we asked for assistance from the NYPD. The police urged those on the plaza to leave peacefully, but ultimately made a number of arrests.”
The spokesman said the school continues to support freedom of expression and the safety of students.
But protests have grown large and disruptive enough — New York Police Department spokesmen have spoken of their officers facing violence when confronting protesters at NYU — to draw the attention of President Joe Biden and his administration.
“Anti-Semitic hate on college campuses is unacceptable,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on X on Tuesday, expressing concern about the unrest.
The protests began last week at Columbia University, also in New York, with a large group of demonstrators establishing a so-called “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on school grounds.
But more than 100 protesters were arrested after university authorities called the police onto Columbia’s campus Thursday, a move that seemingly escalated tensions and sparked a greater turnout over the weekend.
Social media images late Monday appeared to show pro-Palestinian Jewish students holding traditional seder meals inside the protest areas on campuses including at Columbia.
There were also demonstrations at MIT, the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and Yale, where at least 47 people were arrested Monday after refusing requests to disperse.


France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
Updated 23 April 2024
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France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
  • The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said
  • French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts

PARIS: French police arrested eight men on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the finances of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), banned as a terror organization by Turkiye and its Western allies, anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.
The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkiye, the United States and the European Union.
French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts, and of conspiring to extort, or attempt to extort, funds to finance a terrorist organistion between 2020 and 2024, the PNAT said.
Investigators believe the eight to be connected to a campaign to collect funds from Kurdish business people and other Kurds in France, a source close to the case added.
Police can hold the suspects for up to 96 hours for questioning, the source said.
Another source said the funds were destined for use in Belgium, where police on Monday raided Kurdish-run media as part of a probe undertaken at the request of a French anti-terror judge, the PNAT said.
The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority of Turkiye in the southeast of the country, in a standoff with the Ankara government that remains unresolved to this day.


Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats

Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats
Updated 23 April 2024
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Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats

Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats
  • The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and the destruction of a Qur’an outside parliament last year are “trigger events” for extremists
  • “The terrorist threat is serious at this moment,” the agency’s director-general, Erik Akerboom, told AP

ZOETERMEER, Netherlands: The Dutch national intelligence agency said Tuesday that threats targeting the Netherlands are increasingly connected to worldwide turmoil, including the wars in Gaza and Ukraine.
Although the number of terror attacks across Europe has been down in recent years, the General Intelligence and Security Service in its annual report said the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and the destruction of a Qur’an outside parliament last year are “trigger events” for extremists.
“The terrorist threat is serious at this moment,” the agency’s director-general, Erik Akerboom, told The Associated Press.
Akerboom said he is particularly concerned about big events, noting that the agency is working closely with French authorities to prevent incidents during the Paris Olympics this summer.
In December, the Dutch counterterrorism agency increased the country’s threat alert to its second-highest level because of concerns about the Daesh group’s Khorasan affiliates, Akerboom said. IS-K, a Central Asian affiliate, was responsible for the attack at a suburban Moscow concert hall that killed at least 133 people in March.
According to the new report, “global jihadism has been the greatest terrorist threat for years in the Netherlands.” Incidents such as the one last April, when an anti-Islam activist tore pages from the Qur’an in front of the Dutch parliament building, put the Netherlands on the map of targets.
About a dozen terror attacks were thwarted by authorities in Europe last year and in four cases, suspects were arrested in the Netherlands, the report said. None of those attacks was focused on the Netherlands, according to Akerboom.
The Dutch also see threats from China, in particular cyberattacks, as a major concern. Akerboom said China is producing more hackers to break into Dutch systems than the Dutch can produce to defend them. The security service has cited China as the biggest threat to the country’s economic security.
Russia also continues to pose a risk to the Netherlands amid Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. So-called peace protests in Amsterdam which call for the Dutch to stop sending arms to Ukraine have included demonstrators paid by Russian sources to attend and given prefabricated slogans, the security service has asserted.
The Netherlands is of particular interest to Moscow in part because of the international institutions housed here, including the International Criminal Court. The Hague-based court is investigating crimes in Ukraine and has issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and other Russians.


Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats

Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats
Updated 23 April 2024
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Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats

Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats
  • “In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” Sunak told reporters
  • The increase in spending from 2.3 percent will see the UK become one of the highest spenders on defense in the 32-member defense alliance

WARSAW: Britain will raise defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030 in a “most dangerous” world, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday during a visit to Poland.
The commitment came as NATO countries face pressure to raise defense spending in the face of global threats, particularly from Russia.
“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” Sunak told reporters in Warsaw, where he held a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The increase in spending from 2.3 percent will see the UK become one of the highest spenders on defense in the 32-member defense alliance after the United States, the British government said.
It means the UK is expected to spend £87 billion on defense in 2030-31, an increase of £23 billion over current levels.
“I believe we must do more to defend our country, our interests, and our values,” Sunak said, announcing “the biggest strengthening of national defense for a generation.”
Western nations are under pressure to boost defense funding following Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine as well as the threat of escalation in the Middle East.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen recently called for a “European awakening on defense and security.”
Brussels is set to come up with more proposals for financing the defense push by a summit of EU leaders in June.
Sunak has also faced calls from his Conservative Party to boost defense spending, with some calling for a level of three percent of GDP.
On Tuesday, Sunak also announced £500 million additional funding for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia.