Donald Tusk becomes Poland’s prime minister with the mission of improving European Union ties

Donald Tusk speaks after he was nominated to be new prime minister in the Polish Parliament, Warsaw on December 11, 2023. (AFP)
Donald Tusk speaks after he was nominated to be new prime minister in the Polish Parliament, Warsaw on December 11, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 12 December 2023
Follow

Donald Tusk becomes Poland’s prime minister with the mission of improving European Union ties

Donald Tusk speaks after he was nominated to be new prime minister in the Polish Parliament, Warsaw on December 11, 2023. (AFP)

WARSAW, Poland: Donald Tusk, a leader of a centrist party, returned as Poland’s prime minister for the first time in nearly a decade after a vote in parliament on Monday, paving the way for a new pro-European Union government following eight years of stormy national conservative rule.
Tusk, a former EU leader who served as European Council president from 2014-2019 and has strong connections in Brussels, is expected to improve Warsaw’s standing in the bloc’s capital. He was Poland’s prime minister from 2007-2014.
Tusk’s ascension to power came nearly two months after an election which was won by a coalition of parties ranging from left-wing to moderate conservative. The parties ran on separate tickets, but promised to work together under Tusk’s leadership to restore democratic standards and improve ties with allies.
The change of power is felt as hugely consequential for the 38 million citizens of the Central European nation, where collective anger against the Law and Justice party produced a record-high turnout to replace a government many believed was eroding democratic norms.
Law and Justice, which took office in 2015, increased its power over courts and judicial bodies, drawing accusations from the EU and others that it was eroding judicial independence. It also turned taxpayer funded public media into a party mouthpiece.
The vote was 248-201 in support of Tusk in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm, with no abstentions.
“Thank you Poland, this is truly a wonderful day,” Tusk said in a short speech. “Not only for me, but for all those who throughout these many years deeply believed ... that things would get better.”
Tusk is scheduled on Tuesday to give a more substantial speech to parliament, present his Cabinet and face a vote of confidence for his new government. He should then be sworn in by President Andrzej Duda, a step scheduled for Wednesday morning.
The election of Tusk comes after the former government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lost a confidence vote in parliament earlier in the day.
The votes marked the ended of eight tumultuous years in which Law and Justice ruled the country with the support of many Poles — but at bitter odds with liberal Poles as well as the 27-nation EU and other Western allies.
Tusk’s leadership of the EU’s fifth-largest member by population will boost centrist, pro-EU forces at a time when euroskeptics, such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, are gaining strength.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen could hardly contain her elation in congratulating Tusk.
“Your experience and strong commitment to our European values will be precious in forging a stronger Europe, for the benefit of the Polish people,” she tweeted. “I look forward to working with you, starting with this week’s important” summit, which begins Thursday.
The power transition, coming nearly two months after the election, was delayed for weeks by Duda, who kept his political allies in office as long as possible.
Voters who opted for change, including many young Poles, were eager for the transition to finally arrive, and the parliamentary proceedings have ignited widespread interest, leading to a spike in the number of people watching the parliament’s livestream online.
Szymon Holownia, a former reality television personality who leads a party allied with Tusk, became the speaker of parliament last month and has attracted interest as he has tried to encourage discipline in the sometimes raucous assembly.
A Warsaw cinema, which livestreamed Monday’s proceedings, drew spectators who munched on popcorn and erupted in laughter as the outgoing prime minister spoke.
“So many disturbing things took place in the past eight years that I’m not surprised by this joy that it’s over,” said Justyna Lemanska, a young advertising agency employee in the audience.
There is relief for many women who saw reproductive rights eroded and LGBTQ+ people who faced a government hate campaign that drove some to leave the country.
Law and Justice remains popular with many conservatives thanks to its adherence to traditional Roman Catholic values, and the popularity of social spending policies. The party lowered the retirement age and introduced cash payments to families with children while also increasing pension payments to older people.
The day marked a bitter turn for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the conservative ruling party leader who has guided Poland for the past eight years but now, at 74, is seeing the huge power he wielded slip away.
Kaczynski has for years accused Tusk, who has good relations with Germany and other countries, of representing the interests of Berlin, though there is no evidence of that.
At the end of the parliamentary session, Kaczynski went up the lectern, turned to Tusk, and said with anger: “You are a German agent, simply a German agent.”
Tusk frowned, while Holownia expressed his disappointment that the day ended on a bitter note.
Former President Lech Walesa, who was hospitalized last week with COVID-19 and remains weak, traveled from his home in Gdansk to attend the parliamentary session.
The anti-communist freedom fighter had despaired at what he viewed as the unraveling of democracy under Kaczynski. He appeared in parliament wearing a shirt with the word “Constitution” — a slogan against Law and Justice. He watched the events from a balcony, and was given a standing ovation by Tusk and other political admirers.
Tusk’s government will have many challenges to face, including Russia’s war across the border in Ukraine.
Tusk plans to fly to Brussels for an EU summit later in the week for discussions critical to Ukraine’s future. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Russia’s closest ally in the EU, is demanding that Ukraine’s membership in the EU and billions of euros in funding meant for the war-torn country be taken off the agenda.
Poland’s outgoing government was initially one of Kyiv’s strongest allies after Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago, but ties have worsened as economic competition from Ukrainian food producers and truckers has angered Poles who say their livelihoods are threatened.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted his congratulations to Tusk, saying: “When we stand together, both our nations’ freedom is unbeatable.”
 

 


Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker

Updated 4 sec ago
Follow

Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker

Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker
MOSCOW: Telegram, the most popular messaging app used in Russia, suffered a temporary outage on Tuesday as security services conducted stress tests on online resources to eliminate possible vulnerabilities, a lawmaker said.
President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for over 20 years, is expected to easily win another six-year term in power at next month’s election.
Telegram and other sites were affected, while some previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia.
The monitoring center for Russia’s public communications network said on Tuesday its specialists had recorded a “massive failure” of Telegram, without providing a reason. Telegram did not reply to a request for comment.
“The work of Telegram messenger and a number of other services in Russia is already being restored,” Russia’s digital ministry said in a statement, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.
“We are working to establish the cause of the incident,” it said. “As for Russian telecom operators, their networks are operating normally.”
But Andrei Svintsov, a deputy head of the State Duma parliamentary committee on information policy told gazeta.ru that the outages were due to pre-election work.
“These outages are due to the fact that on the eve of the presidential election, our special services are checking the operability of all systems inside Russia related to the Internet and cybersecurity infrastructure,” gazeta.ru quoted Svintsov as saying.
“Banned sites, banned resources, banned social networks will have access restricted once again,” Svintsov added.
Reuters correspondents in Moscow noted outages of Telegram, YouTube and Vkontakte for around 90 minutes.
Soon after the outage, several previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia on Tuesday, according to Reuters reporters in Moscow.
Reuters reporters were able to browse Instagram without requiring a virtual private network (VPN) for the first time since blocks were imposed shortly after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Communications regulator Roskomnadzor has moved to block some foreign tech companies including Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Instagram.
Moscow has long sought to improve its domestic Internet infrastructure, or Runet, even disconnecting itself from the global Internet for tests.
Anton Gorelkin, another member of the same parliamentary committee as Svintsov, said it was unclear what had caused the Telegram outages, but that immediately blaming the Russian state was a mistake, noting “conspiracy theories” that Russia was trying to block foreign resources prior to the election.
“There have been, and will be, such incidents for a variety of reasons: from human error to hacker attack,” he said.
“Much more important is how long it takes to eliminate the failure; the scale of damage to the Russian economy depends on this.”

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest
Updated 12 min 52 sec ago
Follow

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest
  • The militant group said it was “an expression of the growing state of anger among the American people” over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza
  • The airman “will remain immortal in the memory of our Palestinian people and the free people of the world,” Hamas said

JERUSALEM: Hamas on Tuesday said a US airman who died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington would “remain immortal” for his shocking anti-war protest.
Footage of the self-immolation was widely shared online, and the militant group said it was “an expression of the growing state of anger among the American people” over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The war was sparked by the Palestinian militant group’s surprise October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the death of 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Israel’s military launched a devastating response, aimed at destroying Hamas, that in less than five months has killed nearly 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
The airman “will remain immortal in the memory of our Palestinian people and the free people of the world, and a symbol of the spirit of global human solidarity with our people and their just cause,” Hamas said in a statement issued in English.
In the footage of Sunday’s protest, the military fatigues-wearing man declares he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid, lighting himself on fire and yelling “Free Palestine!” until he collapses.
His death was announced on Monday.
Some members of US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party are attempting to press him on his support for Israel, with Arab American voters in Michigan pledging to vote “uncommitted” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary on Tuesday.
The White House has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.


US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House
Updated 27 February 2024
Follow

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House
  • Biden believes the “path to victory” is for Congress to pass blocked military aid

WASHINGTON: The White House said Tuesday that the United States would not send troops to fight in Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron refused to rule out the dispatch of Western forces.
“President Biden has been clear that the US will not send troops to fight in Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Biden believes the “path to victory” is for Congress to pass blocked military aid “so Ukrainian troops have the weapons and ammunition they need to defend themselves” against Russian invasion, Watson added.


Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
Updated 27 February 2024
Follow

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
  • The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt
  • “Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated

VIRGINIA, USA: Four crew members from an unflagged ship that US officials say was carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthis in Yemen are scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court in Virginia, where prosecutors are expected to argue they should be held without bond while they await trial.
US Navy SEALs and the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel in January in the Arabian Sea in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Two Navy SEALs drowned during the Jan. 11 operation. US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.
As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.
Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful. They were later declared dead by the US Navy.
The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it,” according to court documents filed in the federal court in Richmond.
The ship was described in court documents as a dhow.
“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”
During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.
The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.
“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners,” the FBI agent wrote, quoting Central Command.
The Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.
The four crew members scheduled to appear Tuesday in US District Court were all carrying Pakistani identification cards, according to court documents.
Pahlawan, the alleged captain, is charged with attempting to smuggle advanced missile components, including a warhead he is accused of knowing would be used by the Houthis against commercial and naval vessels. He is also charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel.
Pahlawan’s codefendants — Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad — were also charged with providing false information.
Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.
Their attorneys have declined to comment.
Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”
The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.


‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
Updated 27 February 2024
Follow

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
  • Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine
  • Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo: “There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward”

SAO PAULO, Brazil: US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday it was urgent for G7 nations to jointly seize profits from frozen Russian assets and redirect them to Ukraine, as the group prepared to meet on the issue.
Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine using billions of dollars in bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen by the West over Russia’s 2022 invasion.
“It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilized assets to support Ukraine’s continued resistance and long-term reconstruction,” Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she will attend a meeting of G20 finance ministers Wednesday and Thursday.
“There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward. This would be a decisive response to Russia’s unprecedented threat to global stability. It would make clear that Russia cannot win by prolonging the war and would incentivize it to come to the table to negotiate a just peace with Ukraine.”
Yellen urged joint action by the Group of Seven — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, plus the European Union — after evaluating the risks, which include triggering financial instability.
“The G7 should work together to explore a number of approaches: seizing the assets themselves, using them as collateral to borrow from global markets,” she said.
G7 officials say the group is due to meet on the sidelines of the Sao Paulo gathering to discuss support for Ukraine, as its grueling fight against Russia enters its third year.
Ukraine has warned it desperately needs more military and financial assistance, as a fresh $60 billion US package remains stalled in Congress.
That has cast a spotlight on the estimated $397 billion in Russian assets frozen by the West, ranging from central bank assets to yachts, real estate and other property from oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.
But there are risks involved, including likely Russian legal action and the potential for scaring other countries, such as China, into reducing their own investments in the West, fearing similar action.
Yellen said a risk to financial stability would arise “if there were a massive shift away from currencies” of Western countries in response to seizing Russian funds. But she said the risk was minimal if the G7 acted together.
“I think (financial instability) is extremely unlikely, especially given the uniqueness of this situation, where Russia is brazenly violating international norms and a group of countries representing half the global economy... have the capacity to work together,” she said.
“Realistically, there are not alternatives” to the dollar, euro and other G7 currencies on international markets, she said.
“There are risks,” she acknowledged. “We’re working to evaluate and outline options for consideration.”
The US Congress is currently weighing a bill that would authorize the confiscation and disposition of Russian sovereign assets.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Sunday for “bolder” action on the issue, writing in an opinion piece in the Sunday Times that the West should start by taking interest from Russian assets before finding “lawful ways to seize the assets themselves.”
And Greece’s special envoy on Ukraine, Spiros Lampridis, told AFP Monday the EU is close to seizing Russian profits, saying it was “a question of months.”
However, he added that the estimated 50 billion to 60 billion euros the move would yield was a “trifle” compared with the roughly 500 billion euros or more needed for Ukraine’s reconstruction.