Australia resumes funding for UNRWA, pledges more Gaza aid

Australia resumes funding for UNRWA, pledges more Gaza aid
Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said her country will restore funding to UNRWA, weeks after agency lost hundreds of millions of dollars in support following Israeli allegations that some of its Gaza-based staff participated in the Oct. 7 attack. (File/AP)
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Updated 15 March 2024
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Australia resumes funding for UNRWA, pledges more Gaza aid

Australia resumes funding for UNRWA, pledges more Gaza aid
  • Australia’s move follows Sweden, the European Commission and Canada in reinstating funding for UNRWA

SYDNEY: Australia will restore funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, weeks after the agency lost hundreds of millions of dollars in support following Israeli allegations that some of its Gaza-based staff participated in the Oct. 7 attack.
The Australian government also pledged Friday to increase aid for the besieged enclave, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressing horror at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Australia’s move follows Sweden, the European Commission and Canada in reinstating funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which had seen its international funding frozen while the allegations were investigated.
“The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organization,” Wong told reporters Friday in Adelaide while she announced the aid package.
“(We have) been working with a group of donor countries and with UNRWA on the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA’s operations, rebuilding confidence, and so importantly, ensuring aid flows to Gazans in desperate need.”
Australia, alongside 15 international partners, froze funding to UNRWA in January, leaving the agency — which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza and is the main supplier of food, water and shelter there — on the brink of financial collapse.
A small number of the agency’s staff were fired following the accusations.
Israel has claimed that 450 UNRWA employees were members of militant groups in Gaza, though it has provided no evidence.
Wong also pledged an additional 4 million Australian dollars ($2.6 million) to UNICEF to provide urgent services in Gaza, and a C17 Globemaster plane will also deliver defense force parachutes to help with the US led airdropping of humanitarian supplies into the enclave, which is on the brink of famine, according to the UN.
The US is also scrambling to open a new humanitarian aid corridor by building a floating dock off the coast of Gaza so aid can flow by sea.
Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and around 250 taken hostage, sparked Israel’s retaliatory invasion of Gaza that has killed more than 31,000, according to local health officials, left much of the enclave in ruins and displaced some 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.


’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
Updated 49 min 54 sec ago
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’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
  • The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange

LONDON: Julian Assange’s wife Stella on Tuesday thanked campaigners for their support as the WikiLeaks founder was released after five years in British custody.
“Julian is free!!!!” she wrote on the social media platform X following confirmation that he had left Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.
“Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who had backed the global push for his release, she added.
Stella Assange met the Australian publisher while he was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

A filing from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands describes a plea deal regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in this image obtained by Reuters on June 24, 2024. (REUTERS)

Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been due back in court in London next month after winning an appeal against extradition.
But WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there.
“He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”
The media freedom group said sustained campaigning, from grassroots supporters to political leaders and the United Nations, “created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice,” leading to a deal.
The organization said the deal “has not yet been formally finalized.”
Assange was initially detained for skipping bail in relation to the Swedish case and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court.
He will now be reunited with his wife, whom he married at a ceremony in the prison, and their two young children, it added.
“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the statement read.
“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.
“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”
 

 


Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike
Updated 8 sec ago
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Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

NAIROBI: Kenya braced for a nationwide strike Tuesday in response to a call by youth protesters for a countrywide shutdown, as opposition to the government’s proposed tax hikes gathers momentum.
The mainly Gen-Z-led demonstrations have taken President William Ruto’s government by surprise, with the Kenyan leader saying over the weekend that he was ready to speak with the protesters.
Discontent over the already high cost of living spiralled into nationwide rallies last week, sparked by the Ruto administration’s proposed tax hikes in the annual finance bill, which parliament must vote on by June 30.
The protests were mostly peaceful, as Ruto noted Sunday in his first public comments on the demonstrations. But the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) watchdog and rights groups said that two people had died following Thursday’s rallies.
Protest organizers called for the police to be held accountable and reiterated their demands for the finance bill to be scrapped in its entirety.
“We’re past the talking stage and won’t be silenced. We demand an end to police violence, respect for our constitutional rights, and the freedom to speak up without fear of arrest or harm,” Hanifa Adan told AFP Sunday.
Several organizations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were wounded in the protests in Nairobi.
“The country stands at a crossroads,” Amnesty’s Kenya chapter said in a statement Monday.
“Despite mass arrests and injuries, the protests have continued to grow, emphasising the public’s widespread discontent.”
Amnesty added that the movement leaves government and police at a “critical juncture, where the escalation of force could lead to more fatalities and legal repercussions.”
Rights watchdogs have accused the authorities of abducting protesters in violation of the law.
“These abductions are intended to intimidate protesters planning to attend future peaceful demonstrations aimed at pressuring MPs to reject the bill,” the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said Monday.
“These abductions, mostly occurring at night, are conducted by police officers in civilian clothes and unmarked cars,” KHRC added, calling for the “unconditional release of all abductees.”
The police have not responded to requests from AFP for comment on the allegations.
In addition to a strong social media campaign and street rallies, the protesters have deployed unconventional tactics, including asking bars to stop playing music at midnight on the weekend as partygoers burst into chants saying: “Ruto must go” and “Reject finance bill.”
Small numbers of Kenyans also protested at the weekend at several embassies abroad, including in Washington and Paris, according to TV images, organizers and social media.
The protests have also drawn support from some Anglican and Catholic church leaders.
During Sunday mass, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops chairman Archbishop Maurice Muhatia urged the government to take the matter seriously, “and not be in denial.”
The cash-strapped government agreed last week to roll back several tax increases.
But Ruto’s administration still intends to raise some taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.
Kenya has a huge debt mountain whose servicing costs have ballooned because of a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, making interest payments on foreign-currency loans more expensive.
The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with well-paid jobs remaining out of reach for many young people.
After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.56 billion).
The government now intends to target an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.
Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 52 million people live in poverty.


Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears
Updated 25 June 2024
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Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

LISBON: Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a front-runner to become the next president of the European Council, said on Monday he was optimistic ahead of the bloc’s summit this week during which a decision on the top job is expected to be made.

Costa, 62, stepped down as Portugal’s Socialist premier last November over an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of several large investment projects.

He has denied wrongdoing, was never charged with a crime and is the favorite to succeed Belgium’s Charles Michel as the person who chairs summits of the 27 EU national leaders at which the bloc’s political agenda is set.

“I hope the European Council quickly reaches a decision and approves the names it has to approve and rejects the names it has to reject,” Costa told reporters.

Last week, EU leaders ended a discussion on who should take the bloc’s top jobs for the next five years without agreement, aiming instead for a decision at a summit taking place later this week on June 27-28.

Asked whether he was feeling positive as the summit neared, Costa, who governed Portugal for eight years from the end of 2015, said he was “always optimistic.”

Portugal’s center-right government, which ascended to power in March after a general election, said that Costa, whose ambition for a top European position has been an open secret for years, has its “unequivocal support.”

Prime Minister Luis Montenegro said Costa’s nomination would meet all requirements. Costa also has the blessing of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and is one of the center-left candidates who generates the least opposition from the far-right.


Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm
Updated 25 June 2024
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Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

CANBERRA: A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has spread to an eighth poultry farm near Melbourne, the government of Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday, taking the total number of infected facilities in the country to 10.

Australia is dealing with three parallel outbreaks of bird flu, two near Melbourne and one near Sydney. Each involves a different strain of the virus, none of which is the H5N1 type that has spread through bird and mammal populations and even to humans around the world.

Victorian authorities said the new infection was within a quarantine zone already set up around affected farms and was therefore not unexpected.

The flu has mostly hit egg farms. Around 1.5 million birds have been or will be killed to control the spread of the virus. There is so far no shortage of eggs in stores.

Bird flu spreads to farmed animals from wild birds. The 2024 infections are the tenth outbreak in Australia since 1976. Each was contained and eradicated, according to the government.


Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer
Updated 25 June 2024
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Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer
  • “This senseless violence just has to stop,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who called it a blessing that no one died while also asking for help in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals

WASHINGTON: The first weekend of summer brought a tragic yet familiar pattern for American cities wracked by gun violence as mass shootings left dozens dead or wounded at a party in Alabama, an entertainment district in Ohio and a grocery store in Arkansas.
It was the second straight weekend that saw an outbreak of mass shootings across the US, prompting mayors in places marred by the violence to plead for help.
In Michigan, a deputy was fatally shot while pursuing a suspected stolen vehicle in what the county sheriff described as an ambush. A Philadelphia police officer was critically wounded Saturday after pulling over a car with four people.
Police in Montgomery, Alabama, said hundreds of rounds were fired at a crowded party early Sunday, leaving nine people wounded. Interim Police Chief John Hall said investigators recovered more than 350 different spent shell casings.
“This senseless violence just has to stop,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who called it a blessing that no one died while also asking for help in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
One reason for so many shootings with multiple victims is the increased use of modified guns that can spray hundreds of shots, said Jillian Snider, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“That’s why you’re seeing more victims that are not even involved in the initial confrontation,” she said.
Gunfire broke out early Sunday on the main street of a popular restaurant and entertainment district near downtown Columbus, Ohio.
Ten people were injured, one in critical condition, leading the city’s mayor to call for more action from state and federal governments to keep guns off the streets and for parents to watch their children. Mayor Andrew Ginther said the gun violence “is outrageous, it’s unacceptable, and it must stop.”
FBI statistics show overall violent crime in the US has dropped after a pandemic-era spike but it might not feel that way to most people in the wake of these recent shootings, said University of Miami criminologist Alex Piquero.
Summertime always brings a rise in violence because school is out, there are more social gatherings and warmer temperatures can cause tempers to flare, he said. “That creates that kind of opportune structure for violence to occur,” Piquero said.
Several of the shootings this past weekend happened at large parties. Police in Dayton, Ohio, said a 22-year-old woman was killed and six people were injured early Monday, after a drive-by shooting at a vacant house where a big crowd had gathered.
Six people were wounded early Sunday at a park in Rochester, New York, after police said at least one person started shooting into a crowd. Elsewhere early Sunday, one man was killed and five others were wounded early in a downtown St. Louis shooting that police believe began when a fight broke out between several women and men stepped in with firearms.
The weekend of mass shootings began Friday in the small city of Fordyce, Arkansas, where four people were killed and another 11 injured — including the alleged gunman. The gunfire sent shoppers and store employees ducking for cover. Among those killed was a 23-year-old new mom.