France arrests three teens over links to Brussels jihadist suspects

France arrests three teens over links to Brussels jihadist suspects
Police in France have detained three teenagers who were allegedly in contact with four people arrested in Belgium over the weekend on suspicions of a jihadist attack. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 March 2024
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France arrests three teens over links to Brussels jihadist suspects

France arrests three teens over links to Brussels jihadist suspects
  • The arrests stemmed from a police operation looking into people deemed potentially violent and with links to Islamic extremism

PARIS: Police in France have detained three teenagers who were allegedly in contact with four people arrested in Belgium over the weekend on suspicions they were planning a jihadist attack, a source close to the case said Tuesday.
The three minors, aged 15 to 17, are not thought to be implicated directly in what was considered a looming attack on a Brussels concert hall, but allegedly have espoused extremist Islamist beliefs, the source said, confirming an online report by France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
Belgian police on Sunday detained three minors in their “late teens” and an 18-year-old for what prosecutors said were messages plotting an attack deemed “imminent enough to intervene.”
A source close to the investigation told AFP the three minors in particular were targeting the Botanique cultural complex, one of the capital’s best-known sites.
The initial investigation indicates the adult suspect was planning a separate attack, and was in contact with one of the three minors.
The arrests stemmed from a police operation looking into people deemed potentially violent and with links to Islamic extremism.
The suspects were arrested in raids on home addresses in the cities of Brussels, Ninove, Charleroi and Liege.
No weapons or explosives were found. Police took away mobile phones and laptops for analysis.
Belgian authorities remain highly vigilant since the 2016 jihadist attacks by suicide bombers that killed more than 30 people in blasts at the Brussels airport and the city’s metro system.
And in October last year, a Tunisian man shot dead two Swedish football fans in Brussels before being shot and killed by police.


Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts
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Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts
  • US President Joe Biden: ‘The Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today’
  • ‘The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step’

LOS ANGELES: President Joe Biden slammed the US Supreme Court as “out of kilter” at a glitzy fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday with former President Barack Obama and top Hollywood celebrities that has raised $28 million.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel began by showing a video montage contrasting Biden’s record with that of his predecessor and current Republican challenger Donald Trump. He drew cheers from the audience at a packed Peacock Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Hollywood celebrities George Clooney and Julia Roberts were among the guests.

Biden, a Democrat who has frequently denounced specific decisions but resisted a full-throated attack on the court itself, said on Saturday “the Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today.”

“The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step,” Biden said. He noted that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had said the court, which overturned the half-century-old federal right to abortion, should reconsider such things as in vitro fertilization and contraception.

Trump nominated three of the six conservatives who control the nine-member court. He and Biden are in a tight rematch race for the Nov. 5 election.

If Trump is elected again, Biden said, he “is likely to have two new Supreme Court nominees.”

“The idea that if he’s reelected, he’s going to appoint two more who are flying flags upside down... I think it is one of the scariest parts,” Biden said.

He was referring to a recent controversy involving Justice Samuel Alito, who allowed flags associated with the movement to reverse Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden — including an upside-down American flag — to fly outside his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

Democratic lawmakers, citing the flag displays, have said Alito should recuse himself from a case involving Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from prosecution on federal criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 results.

Since Biden took office, the court’s conservative majority has also restricted affirmative action, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation. It has blocked the president’s agenda on immigration, student loans, vaccine mandates and climate change.

Obama said “the power of the Supreme Court is determined by elections. What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of 2016” when Trump was elected. “Hopefully we have learned our lesson. Because these elections matter.”

‘LARGEST DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISER’

The Biden campaign hoped the star-studded event would display strength and momentum despite Biden’s low approval ratings and concerns about the age of the president, who is 81.

“This will be one of the biggest fundraisers we’ve had,” said Ajay Jain Bhutoria, deputy finance chair at the Democratic National Committee. A Biden campaign spokeswoman said “$28 million heading into President Biden’s LA fundraiser — and counting. This is the largest Democratic fundraiser in history.”

The Biden campaign outraised the $26 million a March fundraiser in New York City generated where comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert hosted Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. The top-ticket package for the LA event costs $500,000, campaign officials said.

Other celebrities who took the stage at the Saturday event included Jack Black, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

In recent weeks, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame made a White House briefing room appearance to praise the president, Robert De Niro showed up in lower Manhattan for a press conference at the Biden campaign’s behest and Steven Spielberg has been helping the Biden campaign with storytelling.

Actor Michael Douglas held a fundraiser for the president and artists Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, Lizzo, James Taylor, Christina Aguilera and Barbra Streisand have all performed to help Biden raise money.

Biden campaign’s fundraising in April lagged Trump’s for the first time, after the former president ramped up his joint operation with the Republican National Committee and headlined high-dollar fundraisers.

Democrats still maintained an overall cash advantage over Trump and the Biden campaign continues to have a considerably larger war chest.

Biden and Trump are tied in national polls with less than five months to go before the election, while Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.

Democrats have long counted on the liberal Los Angeles area as a rich source of financial backing. Republicans often decry Democrats nationwide as funded by Hollywood elites and California liberals.

But the state’s donors bankroll presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Biden and Trump have both raised more in the state for their reelection bids than anywhere else, according to fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Biden raised $24 million through April 30 in California, and Trump $11.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The president was largely unable to host high-dollar Hollywood fundraisers for much of 2023 because of industry strikes. But since they were resolved, Biden has headlined several fundraisers in the state, including one in December where top tickets approached $1 million.


Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him
Updated 16 June 2024
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Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him
  • "Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas?" asked Trump, referring to former White House doctor Ronny Jackson
  • Trump went on to make fun of a tampered video showing Biden stepping away from G7 leaders, turning his back and walking in the other direction

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Saturday night suggested President Joe Biden “should have to take a cognitive test,” only to confuse who administered the test to him in the next sentence.

The former president and presumptive Republican nominee referred to Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, who was the White House physician for part of his presidency, as “Ronny Johnson.” The moment came as Trump was questioning Biden’s mental acuity, something he often does on the campaign trail and social media.
“He doesn’t even know what the word ‘inflation’ means. I think he should take a cognitive test like I did,” the former president said of Biden during a speech at a convention of Turning Point Action in Detroit.
Seconds later, he continued, “Doc Ronny Johnson. Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas? He was the White House doctor, and he said I was the healthiest president, he feels, in history, so I liked him very much indeed immediately.”
Jackson was elected to Congress in 2021 and is one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders on Capitol Hill.
Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, has made questioning whether the 81-year-old Biden is up for a second term a centerpiece of his campaign. But online critics quickly seized on his Saturday night gaffe, with the Biden campaign — which has long fought off criticism about the Democratic president’s verbal missteps — posting a clip of the moment minutes later.
Trump took the cognitive test in 2018 at his own request, Jackson told reporters at the time. The exam is designed to detect early signs of memory loss and other mild cognitive impairment.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment that Trump took includes remembering a list of spoken words; listening to a list of random numbers and repeating them backward; naming as many words that begin with, say, the letter F as possible within a minute; accurately drawing a cube; and describing concrete ways that two objects — like a train and a bicycle — are alike.
Trump later said that he had to remember and accurately recite a list of words in order: “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”
During the same speech in Detroit, Trump also referenced a video clip widely circulated online in Republican circles where Biden is seen during the recently concluded Group of Seven summit in Italy watching skydivers land with flags from different nations.
A cropped version of the video shows Biden stepping away from the leaders, turning his back and walking in the other direction. He flashes a thumbs-up but it’s not clear who he is gesturing to. A more complete angle of the same scene, however, shows that the president had turned to face a skydiver who has landed.
Trump nonetheless seized on the video clip, falsely describing Biden turning around “to look at trees,” drawing laughter and hoots from the crowd.
The Biden campaign issued a statement dismissing the clip as misleadingly cropped and accusing those disseminating it as “tampering with the video to make up lies.”


Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine
Updated 16 June 2024
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Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine
  • Absence of China, Russia seen limiting potential impact
  • Putin outlines conditions to end war on eve of gathering

BUERGENSTOCK, Switzerland: A draft communique for a summit of world leaders convened to pursue a pathway for peace in Ukraine makes reference to Russia’s “war” against Kyiv and urges that Ukraine’s territorial integrity be respected, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.
The final communique is due to be issued on Sunday at the conclusion of the two-day conference at the Buergenstock resort in central Switzerland. The draft was dated June 13.
The Swiss government has said it hopes the final summit declaration will be supported unanimously by participants. The document tracked certain changes made to the draft.
The document also calls for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to be restored to Ukrainian control and for Kyiv’s access to its Azov sea ports to be safeguarded.

More than 90 countries are taking part in the conference, but China’s absence in particular dimmed hopes the summit would show Russia as globally isolated, while recent military reverses have put Kyiv on the back foot.

China has shunned the summit and it was dismissed as a waste of time by Russia, which pushed its own rival ceasefire plans from afar.

The war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has also diverted the world’s attention from Ukraine.
The talks focused on broader concerns triggered by the war, such as food and nuclear security. But Turkiye and Saudi Arabia, both mooted hosts for another such event, said meaningful progress required Russia’s participation.
A draft of a final summit declaration, seen by Reuters, blames Russia’s “war” in Ukraine for causing “large-scale human suffering and destruction” and urges Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be respected.
The document, dated June 13, also calls for Kyiv to regain control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and access to its sea ports. The draft had deleted an earlier reference to Russian “aggression” where “war” is cited.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky trumpeted the summit’s attendance as a success and predicted “history being made.”
“Today is the day when the world begins to bring a just peace closer,” he told leaders assembled around a giant rectangular table.
US President Joe Biden sent his deputy Kamala Harris to represent him — a decision that had riled Kyiv.
Harris announced more than $1.5 billion in energy and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, where infrastructure has been pounded by Russian airstrikes since the 2022 full-scale invasion.
On the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would end the war if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over four provinces claimed by Moscow. The conditions apparently reflected Moscow’s growing confidence its forces have the upper hand.
But they were swiftly rejected by Ukraine and its allies.
“He’s calling for surrender,” Harris said, adding: “Let nothing about the end of this war be decided without Ukraine.”
“Freezing the conflict today, with foreign troops occupying Ukrainian land, is not the answer. It is a recipe for future wars of aggression,” added European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

China and Russia
China said it would boycott the event after Russia was frozen out of the process, with the US suggesting Beijing’s decision was taken at Moscow’s behest.
“Putin has no interest in a genuine peace,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“He has launched a sustained diplomatic campaign against this summit ordering countries to stay away, spinning a phoney narrative about his willingness to negotiate.”
Avoiding some of the most difficult issues, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz compared the summit to “a small plant that needs watering, nurturing and delicate care” that would yield results further down the line.
But countries including Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Kenya noted Russia’s absence as a hurdle.
“I must also note that this summit could have been more result-oriented if the other party to the conflict, Russia, was present in the room,” said Turkiye’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said credible talks would involve “difficult compromise.”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer saw an opportunity to start building a broader global consensus to pressure Russia.
“It’s like we’re in a Western echo chamber. That is: all Western European countries, the USA, we agree on what we want to happen with Ukraine,” Nehammer said. “But that alone is not enough.”
Calls for Russia to be at the table will only get stronger over time, said Bob Deen, senior research fellow at the Netherlands-based Clingendael Institute think-tank.
“There is a risk that if Ukraine waits too long, it might end up with rival formats popping up. It may risk losing the initiative,” Deen told a forum on the summit’s sidelines.
Supporters of Ukraine marked the talks with a series of events in the nearby city of Lucerne to draw attention to the war’s humanitarian costs.
Dozens of Ukrainian refugees from choirs around Switzerland converged in a public square to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Earlier about 250 people gathered in the center of the city, many wrapped in Ukrainian flags, wearing traditional clothes and carrying pictures of missing brothers, husbands or sons as they shared their stories.
“I’m clinging to the idea that my husband is still alive,” said Svitlana Bilous, the wife of a soldier who has been missing for more than 14 months. “That’s what keeps me going.”


Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament

Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament
Updated 16 June 2024
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Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament

Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament
  • Salis became a hot-button political issue in Italy after images emerged of her handcuffed and shackled in a Hungarian courtroom where she faced trial

ROME: Italian anti-fascist activist Ilaria Salis returned to her parents’ house in the northern Italian city of Monza on Saturday evening, after being freed from house arrest in Budapest the day before.
“A nightmare is over,” her father Roberto Salis told journalists waiting for her at her home.
“Now we must ensure that this accusation for which Ilaria believes she is innocent is dropped,” he added.
Ilaria Salis was released after being elected as a new member of the European Parliament for the Italian Green and Left Alliance earlier this month.
The 39-year-old activist was elected during her time under house arrest in Hungary, where she is on trial and faces charges for allegedly assaulting far-right demonstrators.
European Parliament lawmakers enjoy substantial legal immunity from prosecution, even if the allegations relate to crimes committed prior to their election.
More than 170,000 voters in Italy wrote Salis’ name onto the ballot in a bid to bring her home from Hungary, where she has been detained for more than a year.
Salis became a hot-button political issue in Italy after images emerged of her handcuffed and shackled in a Hungarian courtroom where she faced trial.
The Italian activist was charged in Hungary with attempted murder after being part of a group of anti-fascists accused of assaulting individuals they believed were linked to the far-right Day of Honor last year.
The event, held annually on Feb. 11, sees far-right activists mark the failed attempt by Nazi and allied Hungarian soldiers to break out of Budapest during the Red Army’s siege in 1945.
The alleged victims of the attack reportedly didn’t complain to police.
Before the European Parliament election earlier this month, Salis’ father repeatedly voiced concerns over his daughter’s trial, saying she faced up to 24 years in jail. The Hungarian prosecutor had asked for a prison term of 11 years.


UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives

UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives
Updated 16 June 2024
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UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives

UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives
  • “Our research suggests that this election could be nothing short of electoral extinction for the Conservative Party,” Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said

LONDON: Three British opinion polls released late on Saturday presented a grim picture for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, and one pollster warned that the party faced “electoral extinction” in July 4’s election.
The polls come just over halfway through the election campaign, after a week in which both the Conservatives and Labour set out their manifestos, and shortly before voters begin to receive postal ballots.
Sunak surprised many in his own party by announcing an early election on May 22, against widespread expectations that he would wait until later in the year to allow more time for living standards to recover after the highest inflation in 40 years.
Market research company Savanta found 46 percent support for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, up 2 points on the previous poll five days earlier, while support for the Conservatives dropped 4 points to 21 percent. The poll was conducted from June 12 to June 14 for the Sunday Telegraph.
Labour’s 25-point lead was the largest since the premiership of Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, whose tax cut plans prompted investors to dump British government bonds, pushing up interest rates and forcing a Bank of England intervention.
“Our research suggests that this election could be nothing short of electoral extinction for the Conservative Party,” Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said.
A separate poll by Survation, published by the Sunday Times, predicted the Conservatives could end up with just 72 seats in the 650-member House of Commons — the lowest in their nearly 200-year history — while Labour would win 456 seats.
The poll was conducted from May 31 to June 13.
In percentage terms, the Survation poll had Labour on 40 percent and the Conservatives on 24 percent, while former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party — a right-wing challenger to the Conservatives — was on 12 percent.
A third poll, by Opinium for Sunday’s Observer and conducted from June 12 to June 14, also showed Labour on 40 percent, the Conservatives on 23 percent and Reform on 14 percent, with the two largest parties yielding ground to smaller rivals.