Polish opposition leader Tusk declares win after exit poll shows ruling conservatives lose majority

Polish opposition leader Tusk declares win after exit poll shows ruling conservatives lose majority
Donald Tusk, leader of Poland's largest opposition grouping Civic Coalition (KO), gestures after the exit poll results are announced in Warsaw on October 15, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 16 October 2023
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Polish opposition leader Tusk declares win after exit poll shows ruling conservatives lose majority

Polish opposition leader Tusk declares win after exit poll shows ruling conservatives lose majority
  • Exit poll shows ruling Law and Justice party still got the most number of votes, obtaining 200 out of the 460-seat lower house of parliament
  • Poll also showed that three opposition parties, including Tusk's Civic Coalition, have likely won a combined 248 seats

WARSAW, Poland: Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk declared the beginning of a new era for his country after opposition parties appeared to have won enough votes in Sunday’s parliamentary election to oust the governing nationalist conservative party.

That party, Law and Justice, has bickered with allies and faced accusations of eroding rule of law at home in its eight years in power. It appeared that voters were mobilized like never before, voting in even greater numbers than when the nation ousted the communist authorities in 1989. Exit poll results pegged it at a record 72.9 percent. In some places people were still in line when polling officially closed, but all were allowed to vote.
If the result predicted by the exit poll holds, Law and Justice won but also lost. It got more seats than any other party but fewer than in the previous election and not enough to be able to lead a government that can pass laws in the legislature.
The Ipsos exit poll suggested that Law and Justice obtained 200 seats. Its potential partner, the far-right Confederation got 12 seats, a showing the party acknowledged was a defeat.
It also showed that three opposition parties have likely won a combined 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm. The largest of the groups is Civic Coalition, led by Tusk, a former prime minister and former European Union president. It won 31.6 percent of votes, the exit poll said.
“I have been a politician for many years. I’m an athlete. Never in my life have I been so happy about taking seemingly second place. Poland won. Democracy has won. We have removed them from power,” Tusk told his cheering supporters.
“This result might still be better, but already today we can say this is the end of the bad time, this is end of Law and Justice rule,” Tusk added.
Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski acknowledged the ambiguous result. He told supporters at his headquarters that his party’s result, at nearly 37 percent of the vote, according to the exit poll, was a success, making it the party to win the most votes for three parliamentary elections in a row.
“We must have hope and we must also know that regardless of whether we are in power or in the opposition, we will implement this (political) project in various ways and we will not allow Poland to be betrayed,” Kaczynski said.
If the result holds, and Law and Justice is the single party with the most seats, then it would most likely get the first chance to try to build a government.
It falls to President Andrzej Duda, who is an ally of Law and Justice, to tap a party to try to form a government.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Polsat News that Duda “will entrust the mission of forming the government to the winning party and in this first step we will certainly try to build a parliamentary majority.”
The question arose whether it would obtain the new parliament’s approval.
Three opposition parties, Tusk’s Civic Coalition, Third Way and the New Left, ran on separate tickets but with the same promises of seeking to oust Law and Justice and restore good ties with the European Union.
Wlodzimierz Czarzasty, a leader of the Left party, vowed to work with the others to “create a democratic, strong, reasonable and predictable government.”
Katarzyna Pelczynska-Nalecz, the head of election campaign for Third Way, called it a “huge day for our democracy.”
Votes were still being counted and the state electoral commission says it expects to have final results by Tuesday morning.
The high turnout also extended the count of Ipsos’ late poll, based on findings from 50 percent of the voting stations, which was still not published in the early hours of Monday.
At stake in the election were the health of the nation’s constitutional order, its legal stance on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, and the foreign alliances of a country that has been a crucial ally to Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
LGBTQ+ rights activist Bart Staszewski called it the end of a “nightmare” for himself as a gay man and others.
“This is just the beginning of reclaiming of our country. The fight is ahead but we are breathing fresh air today,” Staszewski said.
Environmental activist Dominika Lasota was emotional with relief, saying “we have our future.”
Law and Justice has eroded checks and balances to gain more control over state institutions, including the courts, public media and the electoral process itself.
During the campaign many Poles described the vote as the most important one since 1989, when a new democracy was born after decades of communism. Turnout then was 63 percent.
Despite many uncertainties ahead, what appeared certain was that support for the governing party has shrunk since the last election in 2019 when it won nearly 44 percent of the vote, its popularity dented by high inflation, allegations of cronyism and bickering with European allies.
There is a high level of state ownership in the Polish economy, and the governing party has built up a system of patronage, handing out thousands of jobs and contracts to its loyalists.
A political change could open the way for the EU to release billions of euros in funding that has been withheld over what the EU viewed as democratic erosion.
Piotr Buras, of the European Council of Foreign Relations, said the opposition had gained from “growing fatigue” with the government among Poles, “beyond the groups usually supporting the liberals.”
The fate of Poland’s relationship with Ukraine was also at stake. The Confederation party campaigned on an anti-Ukraine message, accusing the country of lacking gratitude to Poland for its help in Russia’s war. Its poor showing will be a relief for Kyiv.
A referendum on migration, the retirement age and other issues was held simultaneously. Some government opponents called on voters to boycott the referendum, saying it was an attempt by the government to galvanize its supporters. Many voters were seen refusing to take part in the referendum and the exit poll pegged participation at 40 percent, which meant the results would not be legally binding.
 


US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury
Updated 13 sec ago
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US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to impose sanctions on more than 500 targets involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine, as fighting continues to rage two years after Moscow’s invasion, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

The action to be rolled out on Friday will hit “Russia, its enablers, and its war machine,” a Treasury spokesperson told AFP.


Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons
Updated 23 February 2024
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Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

WASHINGTON: Four men have been charged after the US Navy interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea last month that was transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons, the US Justice Department said on Thursday.

Two US Navy Seals died during the interdiction, which happened in international waters near the coast of Somalia.

In a statement following the seizure of the vessel, the US Central Command said the seized contraband consisted of both "Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missiles components."

"Seized items include propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), as well as air defense associated components,"  CENTCOM said.

"Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea," it said.

The weapons parts were seized from a dhow — a traditional masted sailing vessel — which was deemed unsafe and sunk. Fourteen crewmembers were taken into custody.

The seizure of the weapons came after US and British forces hit scores of rebel targets across Yemen, a move triggered by the rebels' repeated attacks on shipping.

Attacks by and against the Huthis, part of the "axis of resistance" of Iran-aligned groups, have raised concerns about violence spreading in the region from the Gaza war.

The Houthis say their attacks on Red Sea shipping are in solidarity with Gaza, where Iran-backed Hamas militants have been at war with Israel for more than three months.


France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister

France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister
Updated 23 February 2024
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France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister

France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister
  • “The radical Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi has just been expelled from the national territory,” Darmanin said

PARIS: France has expelled a Tunisian imam for “radicalism” and “unacceptable remarks,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a statement on X.
“The radical Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi has just been expelled from the national territory, less than 12 hours after his arrest. We will not let people get away with anything,” Darmanin said in a statement on X.


Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial
Updated 22 February 2024
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Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial
  • The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco
  • Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard

MOSCOW: The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last week, said Thursday officials were pressuring her to agree to a “secret” burial for her son.
The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco on Thursday.
Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard, the nearest town to the remote prison, after several days of being refused access.
“Yesterday evening they secretly took me to the morgue where they showed me Alexei,” she said in a video released on social media by Navalny’s team.
But she said investigators wanted her son, who was 47, to be buried “secretly, without a chance to say goodbye.
“They are blackmailing me, they put conditions for where, when and how Alexei should be buried. This is illegal,” she said.
Navalny, whose death was announced last Friday, galvanized mass protests against Putin, winning popularity with a series of investigations into state corruption.
He was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent in 2020, then jailed in 2021 after returning to Russia following a period of treatment in Germany.
He was sentenced to 19 years in prison on extremism charges and sent to IK-3, a harsh penal colony beyond the Arctic Circle known as “Polar Wolf.”
Western governments and Russian opposition figures have accused the Kremlin of being responsible for Navalny’s death on February 16.
Biden met privately with the Navalny’s widow and daughter “to express his heartfelt condolences for their terrible loss,” the White House said.
The White House also backed the mother’s campaign to retrieve Navalny’s body.
“The Russians need to give her back her son,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Personal tensions between Biden and Putin increased after the US leader called his Russian counterpart a “crazy SOB” an election campaign event late Wednesday.
Putin responded with his sarcasm, referring to his recent remark that he would prefer the more “predictable” Biden over Donald Trump in the White House.
“He can’t of course say to me: Volodya, well done, thank you (for the endorsement), you’ve helped me a lot?” Putin said.
Hundreds of people have been detained in Russia in recent days at events to pay tribute to Navalny and his widow has vowed to continue his work.
Lyudmila Navalnaya traveled to Russia’s Far North the morning after Navalny’s death was announced, hoping to be able to see and retrieve her son’s body.
“They want to take me to the edge of a cemetery to a fresh grave and say: Here is where your son lies. I am against that.
“I want that for those of you for whom Alexei is dear, for everyone for whom his death became a personal tragedy, to have the possibility to say goodbye to him.”
She said she recorded the video because investigators were “threatening” her.
“Looking me in the eye, they said that if I do not agree to a secret funeral they’ll do something with my son’s body... I ask for my son’s body to be given to me immediately,” she said.
Navalny’s mother also said that investigators had told her they knew the cause of death but did not say what it was.
The Kremlin has refused to say when the body will be handed over and has branded Western accusations as “hysterical.”
Putin has remained silent on the death of his main political opponent.
Navalny’s spokesman Kira Yarmysh said that a medical report on the death shown to Lyudmila Navalnaya “stated that the cause of death was natural.”


Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy

Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy
Updated 22 February 2024
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Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy

Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy
  • First example of a non-European Union country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation
  • Accord has drawn comparisons with Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

TIRANA: Albanian lawmakers on Thursday ratified a migration deal with Italy under which Rome will build processing centers for migrants that it will send on to its Balkan neighbor across the Adriatic Sea.
It is the first example of a non-European Union country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation, and is part of an EU-wide campaign to clamp down on irregular immigration that has fueled a rise in the popularity of the far right.
The accord has drawn comparisons with Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in East Africa as a deterrent to further migrant journeys in small boats across the Channel from France organized by human traffickers.
Seventy-seven deputies in the 140-seat parliament voted in favor of the deal, announced in November, under which Italy will open two camps in EU-candidate Albania, one of Europe’s poorest and least developed countries.
“Albania is standing together with Italy by choosing to act like an EU member state,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on social media platform X following parliament’s vote.
“No country can solve such a challenge alone. Only a stronger, braver and more sovereign Europe loyal to itself can.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni replied on X, thanking Rama, Albania’s institutions and people “for their friendship and collaboration.”
One of the camps Italy plans to set up on the Albanian coast would screen sea migrants on arrival, and a second nearby would hold them while asylum applications are processed. Migrants would then either be allowed to enter Italy or be repatriated.
An Italian government source said Rome aimed to have the centers in Albania operational by this spring.
The deal has drawn international criticism from human rights advocates, and domestically from those who fear its impact on Albania’s security and on its financially vital tourist industry.
“This (tourist area) will not be the same again once the migrant processing centers are built,” said Arilda Lleshi, an activist who protested in front of parliament during the vote.
“We have reasons to believe that these (migrant centers) will be a security problem for the whole area.”
The agreement was challenged before Albania’s Constitutional Court by the main opposition Democratic Party, which argued that it broke the constitution by ceding sovereignty over Albanian soil to another country.
The Constitutional Court rejected the claims and gave a green light last month. While UN officials have criticized the Italy-Albania deal, the European Commission has said it does not appear to breach EU law as it falls outside its jurisdiction.
Rights experts warn it might be hard for Italian courts to promptly process asylum requests or appeals against detention orders from people hosted in another country, and lengthy procedures could put an unjustified burden on migrants.