The House passes billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel after months of struggle

Update The House passes billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel after months of struggle
The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities. (AP)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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The House passes billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel after months of struggle

The House passes billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel after months of struggle
  • With overwhelming support, the House approved the Ukraine portion, a $61 billion aid package, in a strong showing of American backing
  • The $26 billion package aiding Israel and providing humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza also easily cleared

WASHINGTON: The House is pushing swiftly through a series of votes in a rare Saturday session to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies, Democrats and Republicans joining together after a grueling monthslong fight over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.
With overwhelming support, the House approved the Ukraine portion, a $61 billion aid package, in a strong showing of American backing as lawmakers race to deliver a fresh round of US support to the war-torn ally. Some lawmakers cheered, waiving blue-and-yellow flags of Ukraine.
The $26 billion package aiding Israel and providing humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza also easily cleared. Each segment of the aid package faced an up-or-down vote. A national security bill that includes a provision forcing sale of the popular platform TikTok was quickly approved, as was another supporting Indo-Pacific allies.
The unusual process is allowing unique coalitions to form around the bills, pushing them forward. The whole package will go to the Senate, where passage in the coming days is nearly assured. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.
“The eyes of the world are upon us, and history will judge what we do here and now,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The weekend scene presented a striking display of congressional action after months of dysfunction and stalemate fueled by Republicans, who hold the majority but are deeply split over foreign aid, particularly for Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion. Speaker Mike Johnson, putting his job on the line, is relying on Democratic support to ensure the military and humanitarian package is approved, and help flows to the US allies.
The morning opened with a somber and serious debate and unusual sense of purpose, Republican and Democratic leaders united to urge swift passage that would ensure the United States supports its allies and remains a leader on the world stage. The House’s visitor galleries crowded with onlookers.
“Sometimes when you are living history, as we are today, you don’t understand the significance of the actions of the votes that we make on this House floor, of the effect that it will have down the road,” said New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is a historic moment.”
Passage through the House would clear away the biggest hurdle to Biden’s funding request, first made in October as Ukraine’s military supplies began to run low. The GOP-controlled House, skeptical of US support for Ukraine, struggled for months over what to do, first demanding that any assistance be tied to policy changes at the US-Mexico order, only to immediately reject a bipartisan Senate offer along those very lines.
Reaching an endgame has been an excruciating lift for Johnson that has tested both his resolve and his support among Republicans, with a small but growing number now openly urging his removal from the speaker’s office. Yet congressional leaders cast the votes as a turning point in history — an urgent sacrifice as US allies are beleaguered by wars and threats from continental Europe to the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific.
“The only thing that has kept terrorists and tyrants at bay is the perception of a strong America, that we would stand strong,” Johnson said this week. “This is a very important message that we are going to send the world.”
Opponents, particularly the hard-right Republicans from Johnson’s majority, argued that the US should focus on the home front, addressing domestic border security and the nation’s rising debt load, and they warned against spending more money, which largely flows to American defense manufacturers, to produce weaponry used overseas.
Still, Congress has seen a stream of world leaders visit in recent months, from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, all but pleading with lawmakers to approve the aid. Globally, the delay left many questioning America’s commitment to its allies.
At stake has also been one of Biden’s top foreign policy priorities — halting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance in Europe. After engaging in quiet talks with Johnson, the president quickly endorsed Johnson’s plan this week, paving the way for Democrats to give their rare support to clear the procedural hurdles needed for a final vote.
“We have a responsibility, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans to defend democracy wherever it is at risk,” the House Democratic leader, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, said during the debate.
While aid for Ukraine will likely win a majority in both parties, a significant number of progressive Democrats are expected to vote against the bill aiding Israel as they demand an end to the bombardment of Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians.
At the same time, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has loomed large over the fight, weighing in from afar via social media statements and direct phone calls with lawmakers as he tilts the GOP to a more isolationist stance with his “America First” brand of politics.
Ukraine’s defense once enjoyed robust, bipartisan support in Congress, but as the war enters its third year, a bulk of Republicans oppose further aid. Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., offered an amendment to zero out the money, but it was rejected.
At one point, Trump’s opposition essentially doomed the bipartisan Senate proposal on border security. This past week, Trump also issued a social media post that questioned why European nations were not giving more money to Ukraine, though he spared Johnson from criticism and said Ukraine’s survival was important.
Still, the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus has derided the legislation as the “America Last” foreign wars package and urged lawmakers to defy Republican leadership and oppose it because the bills do not include border security measures.
Johnson’s hold on the speaker’s gavel has also grown more tenuous in recent days as three Republicans, led by Greene, supported a “motion to vacate” that can lead to a vote on removing the speaker. Egged on by far-right personalities, she is also being joined by a growing number of lawmakers including Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, who is urging Johnson to voluntarily step aside, and Paul Gosar, R-Arizona
The speaker’s office has been working furiously to drum up support for the bill, as well as for Johnson, R-Louisiana
The package includes several Republican priorities that Democrats endorse, or at least are willing to accept. Those include proposals that allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and legislation to require the China-based owner of the popular video app TikTok to sell its stake within a year or face a ban in the United States.
Still, the all-out push to get the bills through Congress is a reflection not only of politics, but realities on the ground in Ukraine. Top lawmakers on national security committees, who are privy to classified briefings, have grown gravely concerned about the situation in recent weeks. Russia has increasingly used satellite-guided gliding bombs — which allow planes to drop them from a safe distance — to pummel Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.


Argentine president begins unusual visit to Spain, snubbing officials and courting the far-right

Argentine president begins unusual visit to Spain, snubbing officials and courting the far-right
Updated 18 May 2024
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Argentine president begins unusual visit to Spain, snubbing officials and courting the far-right

Argentine president begins unusual visit to Spain, snubbing officials and courting the far-right
  • The brash President Javier Milei has no plans to meet Spain's PM — nor any other government official
  • He will instead attend a far-right summit Sunday hosted by Sánchez’s fiercest political opponent, the Vox party

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Even before kicking off a three-day visit to Madrid on Friday, Argentina’s libertarian President Javier Milei stirred controversy, accusing the socialist government of bringing “poverty and death” to Spain and weighing in on corruption allegations against the prime minister’s wife.

In such circumstances, a typical visiting head of state may strive to mend fences with diplomacy.
Not Milei. The brash economist has no plans to meet Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during his three days in the Spanish capital — nor the Spanish king, nor any other government official. Instead, he’ll attend a far-right summit Sunday hosted by Sánchez’s fiercest political opponent, the Vox party.
The unorthodox visit was business as usual for Milei, a darling of the global far right who has bonded with tech billionaire Elon Musk and praised former US President Donald Trump. Earlier this year on a trip to the United States, Milei steered clear of the White House and took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, where he railed against abortion and socialism and shared a bear hug with Trump.
Milei presented his 2022 book, “The Way of the Libertarian,” in Madrid Friday at a literary event organized by La Razón, a conservative Spanish newspaper.
The book — withdrawn from circulation in Spain earlier this month because the back-flap biography erroneously said Milei had earned a doctorate — traces his meteoric rise in politics from eccentric TV personality to national lawmaker and outlines his radical free-market economic ideas.
To thunderous applause, Milei condemned socialism as “an intellectual fraud and a horror in human terms.”
“The good thing is that the spotlight is shining on us everywhere and we are making the reds (leftists) uncomfortable all over the world,” Milei said.
He took the opportunity to promote the results of his harsh austerity campaign in Argentina, celebrating a decline in monthly inflation in April though making no mention of the Buenos Aires subway fares that more than tripled overnight.
Repeating a campaign pledge to eliminate Argentina’s central bank — without giving further details — Milei promised to make Argentina “the country with the most economic freedom in the world.”
At the event Milei gave a huge hug to his ideological ally Santiago Abascal, the leader of the hard-right Vox party and the only politician with whom Milei has actual plans to meet in Madrid.
The Vox summit Sunday seeks to bring together far-right figures from across Europe in a bid to rally the party’s base ahead of European parliamentary elections in June. Milei described his attendance a “moral imperative.” He also has plans to meet Spanish business executives Saturday.
Tensions between Milei and Sánchez have simmered since the moment the Spanish prime minister declined to congratulate the libertarian economist on his shock election victory last November.
But hostility exploded earlier this month when one of Sánchez’s ministers suggested Milei had taken narcotics. The Argentine presidency responded with an unusually harsh official statement accusing Sánchez’s government of “endangering the middle class with its socialist policies that bring nothing but poverty and death.”
The lengthy government statement also accused Sánchez of having “more important problems to deal with, such as the corruption accusations against his wife.”
The allegations of influence peddling and corruption brought by a right-wing group against Sánchez’s wife, Begoña Gómez, had prompted Sánchez, one of Europe’s longest serving Socialist leaders, to consider stepping down.
 


Senegal’s new president welcomes challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger

Senegal’s new president welcomes challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger
Updated 18 May 2024
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Senegal’s new president welcomes challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger

Senegal’s new president welcomes challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger
  • Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo sought Bassirou Diomaye Faye's help during their meeting in Accra on Friday
  • Faye said that he hoped to convince the countries to “come back and share our common democratic values and what we stand for”

ACCRA: Ghana’s president Friday urged his visiting Senegalese counterpart to use his goodwill within the Economic Community of West African States to help resolve disputes with Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

President Bassirou Diomaye Faye arrived in the capital Accra early in the morning after visiting Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in January 2024 announced they were leaving ECOWAS after they were suspended by the group over military coups in all three nations.
“We are lucky to have a new leader in place because I think he is also going to help us to try and resolve the big problem that we have in the ECOWAS community,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said after meeting Faye.
“President Faye is very committed to seeing what he and the rest of us can do to reach out and revive the dialogue.”
Speaking to reporters after bilateral talks, Akufo-Addo said Faye had demonstrated commitment to ECOWAS efforts to bring the three countries to the table for further talks and back to the bloc.
Faye, 44, won a resounding victory as an anti-establishment candidate promising major reforms to become Senegal’s youngest-ever president.
His election has been seen as an inspiration for change in contrast to some of the continent’s aging leaders who have been in power for years and to other countries now run by military governments.
He welcomed the challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
ECOWAS “is going through difficult times but we are going to do all we can to consolidate the gains made in integration, in a spirit of common, fraternal solidarity,” Faye told reporters.
Unity was “primordial” in the region, he added.
Earlier in Nigeria, Faye said that alongside Nigeria, which currently chairs ECOWAS, he hoped to convince the countries to “come back and share our common democratic values and what we stand for.”
 


Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s attacker jailed for 30 years

Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s attacker jailed for 30 years
Updated 18 May 2024
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Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s attacker jailed for 30 years

Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s attacker jailed for 30 years

SAN FRANCISCO: A man who attacked the elderly husband of former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison.
David DePape was convicted last year of breaking into the couple’s San Francisco home and bludgeoning Paul Pelosi in a horrifying attack captured on police bodycam.
At the time of the October 2022 assault, Democrat Nancy Pelosi was second in line to the presidency and a regular target of outlandish far-right conspiracy theories.
Jurors in his trial last year heard how DePape — a Canadian former nudist activist who supported himself with occasional carpentry work — had initially planned to target Nancy Pelosi, planning to smash her kneecaps if she did not admit to her party’s “lies.”
On arriving at their home armed with rope, gloves and duct tape, DePape instead encountered her then-82-year-old husband, and kept asking, “Where’s Nancy?“
During what DePape told officers was a “pretty amicable” conversation with Paul Pelosi, the husband managed to call for help from law enforcement officers.
Moments later when police arrived DePape hit Pelosi with a hammer before officers rushed at him and took the weapon away.
Pelosi was knocked unconscious and had his skull fractured. He spent almost a week in a hospital, where he underwent surgery.
Nancy Pelosi was not at home the night of the attack.
Prosecutors had asked the federal court in San Francisco to sentence DePape to 40 years in prison.
In the lead up to Friday’s sentencing, Nancy Pelosi had asked the judge to impose a “very long” sentence for an attack that “has had a devastating effect on three generations of our family.”
“Even now, eighteen months after the home invasion and assault, the signs of blood and break-in are impossible to avoid.
“Our home remains a heartbreaking crime scene,” she wrote, according to court documents cited by the San Francisco Chronicle.
On Friday her office said the family was proud of Paul Pelosi “and his tremendous courage in saving his own life on the night of the attack and in testifying in this case.”
DePape had pleaded not guilty to charges that included assault on a family member of a US official, and attempted kidnapping of a US official.
While not denying the attack, his defense rested on contesting federal prosecutors’ claims that he had targeted Nancy Pelosi in her official capacity.
Instead, his lawyers argued that DePape was driven to target a number of prominent liberal figures, due to his exposure to a web of obscure conspiracy theories.
In social media posts, DePape shared QAnon theories and false claims that the last US election was stolen.
The trial heard how DePape did not intend to stop his supposed anti-corruption crusade with Pelosi, and had drawn up a list of other targets including a feminist academic whom he accused of turning US schools into “pedophile molestation factories.”
Other personalities the defendant admitted wanting to attack included California Governor Gavin Newsom, President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and actor Tom Hanks.
Jurors took less than 10 hours to reject DePape’s explanation of the attack, which took place just a few days before the US midterm elections.
The attack itself became politicized in the weeks after it occurred, with some members of the Republican Party mocking the incident and suggesting lurid and unsubstantiated explanations for why there was a man in Pelosi’s house late at night.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that DePape’s sentence should serve as a warning that attacks on political figures and their families were unacceptable.
“In a democracy, people vote, argue, and debate to achieve the policy outcome they desire,” he said.
“But the promise of democracy is that people will not employ violence to affect that outcome.
“The Justice Department will aggressively prosecute those who target public servants and their families with violence.”


Burkina loyalists rally after gunfire near presidency

Burkina loyalists rally after gunfire near presidency
Updated 18 May 2024
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Burkina loyalists rally after gunfire near presidency

Burkina loyalists rally after gunfire near presidency
  • Burkina Faso news agency AIB reported that an individual had tried to attack a guard at the palace but there were no injuries or damage
  • Junta leader Traore seized power in a coup on September 30, 2022, deposing a military regime that earlier ousted the elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso: Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Burkina Faso’s capital Friday in support of the country’s military rulers after gunfire was reported near the presidency, AFP reporters said.
Demonstrators gathered at a roundabout in central Ouagadougou, vowing to protect the rule of President Ibrahim Traore.
Earlier in the afternoon, “there were shots fired near the presidential palace,” said one demonstrator, Moussa Sawadogo.
“We do not know what is going on but we are there to stop anything from happening.”
Burkina Faso news agency AIB reported that an individual had tried to attack a guard at the palace but there were no injuries or damage.
Security forces closed off access to the area around the palace, AFP reporters saw.
The landlocked West African nation has been run by a military regime since mutinying soldiers deposed elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore in 2022.
Junta leader Traore then seized power in another coup on September 30, 2022.
He established a transitional government and legislative assembly for 21 months, a period set to expire on July 1.
National consultations on the next steps in the transition to civilian rule are scheduled for May 25 to 26.
Since 2015, Burkina’s forces have been struggling to combat jihadist insurgencies that have killed thousands of people and forced around two million from their homes — violence that the army’s leaders used to justify their coups.


Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia

Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia
Updated 18 May 2024
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Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia

Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia
  • Zelensky said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron who made the appeal told him Russian President Putin cannot be trusted
  • Putin earlier on Friday also suggested that Moscow would not support the idea of a truce during the games in Paris this summer

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an interview with AFP on Friday rejected a French call for an Olympic truce this summer, saying it could just help Russia move its troops and equipment.

In an interview with AFP on Friday, Zelensky said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron who made the appeal and told him: “Let’s be honest... Emmanuel, I don’t believe it.”
“Who can guarantee that Russia will not use this time to bring its forces to our territory?” Zelensky said, adding: “First of all, we don’t trust Putin.”
“We are against any truce that plays into the hands of the enemy,” he said.
“If it’s a truce, an Olympic truce for the duration of the Olympics, a land truce, they will have an advantage,” he said, explaining that there was “a risk that they will bring heavy equipment to our territory and no one will be able to stop them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Friday also suggested that Moscow would not support the idea of a truce during the games in Paris this summer.
Asked during a visit to China whether he backed Macron’s idea, Putin said: “I think these Olympic principles, including the ‘Olympic truce’ are very right.”
But he added: “Today’s international sporting officials are themselves disobeying the principles of the Olympic charter.”
He accused sports bodies of “not allowing our athletes to perform at the games with our banner, flag and our national music, our anthem.”
“They are committing violations against us and demand fulfilment from us. Dear friends: we won’t get far that way. No one has ever come to an agreement that way,” Putin said.
Macron had restated on Friday his idea of “an Olympic truce so that Russia ceases its current operations” in Ukraine.
Macron also thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping last week for backing the idea of a truce in all conflicts, including Ukraine, during the Paris Olympics.

Only 25 percent of needed air defense
Zelensky also said his country needed over a hundred aircraft to counter Russian air power and said Ukraine only had a quarter of the air defenses it needs.
His country has faced a surge of devastating attacks as the war stretches into its third year, leading Kyiv to double down on pleas to strengthen its depleted air defenses.
“Today we have about 25 percent of what we need to defend Ukraine. I’m talking about air defense,” Zelensky said.
Russia currently holds an advantage in the air, which limits Ukraine’s ability to protect cities and hold the front line.
To combat sustained aerial and ground assaults, Ukrainian officials have called for more support.
“So that Russia does not have air superiority, our fleet should have 120 to 130 modern aircraft... to defend the sky against three hundred (Russian) aircraft,” Zelensky said.
He also said the fighter jets were needed “to have parity” with Russia.
His comments came just weeks after the US Congress finally approved a $61-billion financial aid package for Ukraine following months of political wrangling.
Zelensky called for some of the assistance to be delivered.
“Can we have three (billion) to get two (Patriot) systems in Kharkiv region, and no bombs will fall on the heads of the military,” he said.