England’s soccer fortunes add sporting drama to UK election

England’s soccer fortunes add sporting drama to UK election
Sunak, himself a soccer fan, might be hoping for a boost to his struggling campaign if England do well.(AP)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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England’s soccer fortunes add sporting drama to UK election

England’s soccer fortunes add sporting drama to UK election

LONDON: Does British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak risk scoring an own goal by calling an election during the 2024 European Championship soccer tournament in July?
Sunak, himself a soccer fan, might be hoping for a boost to his struggling campaign if England do well, although whether there really is a link between sport and elections is disputed by experts.
Given the national team’s habit of morale-busting defeats in major tournaments, the chance of another hit to the English psyche appears just as likely a backdrop to the election.
On a positive note, however, England, runners-up three years ago, are among the favorites under manager Gareth Southgate with a team full of in-form attacking players including Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.
Sunak unexpectedly called a national election for July 4 when the European Championship in Germany will be entering its most exciting phase.
Voters will head to the polls four or five days after England’s first knockout match, assuming the team avoid the embarrassment of elimination in the group stage.
There is also a chance England will have been pitted against their hosts and old rivals Germany in that last-16 game, a prospect that will fill many fans with dread.
Scotland are competing in the tournament too, potentially offering relief to the ruling Scottish National Party which, like Sunak’s Conservatives, is floundering in opinion polls.
Political pundits have offered non-sporting explanations for Sunak’s decision to call an early election, including a fall in Britain’s once double-digit inflation to close to 2 percent and signs that his flagship plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda might not get off the ground.
The timing has raised eyebrows, however, for the unusual overlap of an election campaign with the summer sporting calendar.
That has raised memories of one of the most painful of England’s defeats.
In June 1970, a 3-2 loss to West Germany in a World Cup quarter-final was followed four days later by a shock election defeat for incumbent Prime Minister Harold Wilson, triggering debate about the impact of the match.
Much has been written since about a possible link between sport and elections.
A 2010 paper by academics at Stanford and Loyola Marymount University in the United States said wins for local college American football teams earned political incumbents an extra 1.61 percentage points of support in subsequent Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections.
Others have found no clear connection.
Stefan Mueller and Liam Kneafsey, at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, mapped Irish election outcomes over decades with Gaelic football and hurling match results and found no correlation with support for incumbents or ruling party politicians.
Kneafsey said there were signs that some kind of influence on voters did occur.
“Whether they actually switch their votes, that’s probably a higher bar to clear and certainly the results there are inconclusive,” he said.
While that debate continues, it is clear that politics do weigh on the minds of soccer fans.
At a Euro 2016 match, three days after Britain’s shock Brexit referendum decision, many England fans joined in a crude chant directed at the European Union which ended with the words: “We all voted out.” England were beaten 2-1 by underdogs Iceland and were knocked out of the competition.
Another risk for Sunak is that sports fans resent his scheduling of the election at a time when not only Euro 2024 is taking place — from June 14-July 14 — but also the Wimbledon tennis championships which run from July 1-14.
Campaigning will also overlap with cricket’s T20 World Cup involving England and Scotland from June 2-29.
Some academics will be happy, however, as they will be able to do more research into the links between sport and voting patterns.
“We could actually do with politicians having more elections during this time to definitively test this,” Kneafsey said.


US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons
Updated 11 sec ago
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US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons
  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.
 

 


Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest
Updated 12 min 15 sec ago
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Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest
  • Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months
  • Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have formally dismissed a deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and accused by Kremlin critics of living a lavish lifestyle, Russian media reported Thursday. A court ordered that his pre-trial detention be extended for three more months.
Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months. He was a close associate of Sergei Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin replaced as defense minister last month.
Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe. His lawyers said he maintains his innocence. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Thursday extended his detention pending investigation and trial until at least Sept. 23. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Russian media, citing an online registry of government officials, said Thursday that Ivanov was dismissed from his post. His lawyer Denis Baluyev confirmed the dismissal in comments to Russian business news site RBK. It wasn’t immediately clear from the reports when exactly Ivanov was fired.
Other top military officials arrested in recent months include deputy chief of the Russian military general staff Lt. Gen. Vadim Shamarin; Gen. Ivan Popov, a former top commander in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate. All three have been accused of bribery.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Ivanov’s arrest came nearly a month after Putin called on the Federal Security Service to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.
Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war. Ivanov has been sanctioned by both the United States and European Union.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate.
The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.


Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea
Updated 51 min 53 sec ago
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Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea
  • The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year

MILAN: The Italian coast guard on Thursday recovered 12 more bodies from a weekend shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 20 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, including women and children, were being transferred to a port in Calabria. Two more coast guard ships were on their way to join the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight Sunday about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.


Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system
Updated 51 min 43 sec ago
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Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system
  • “Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said
  • Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Thursday a set of measures to protect Ukraine’s energy system, including protection for plants coming under Russian fire and the development of alternative renewable energy sources.
“Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Russia pounded Ukraine’s energy system in the first winter of the war, launched in February 2022, and renewed its assault on energy targets last March as Ukraine was running low on stocks of Western air defense missiles.
Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March, according to official accounts.
Attacks overnight on Thursday hit four regions and cut power to more than 218,000 consumers, the Energy Ministry said.
Zelensky outlined plans to minimize the effects of such attacks, including a program of developing solar energy and energy storage facilities and a schedule for critical infrastructure sites to come up with alternative energy sources.
The work, he said, must be completed before winter and the increased energy demand associated with the change in seasons.
Zelensky said the government would “continue to work on creating new energy generation and new decentralized energy capacities.” Also planned was “the construction of new balanced and manoeuvrable capacities for energy.”
“This process is quite challenging in wartime conditions, but we must implement it just as we have already implemented many difficulty projects,” he said.
And work was proceeding, Zelensky said, on measures to protect existing energy sites.
Russia says energy infrastructure is a legitimate military target and denies targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.


Somalia government asks African peacekeepers to slow withdrawal

A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 20 June 2024
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Somalia government asks African peacekeepers to slow withdrawal

A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
  • Warning on potential security vacuum
  • US, EU concerned about long-term financing

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s government is seeking to slow the withdrawal of African peacekeepers and warning of a potential security vacuum, documents seen by Reuters show, with neighboring countries fretting that resurgent Al-Shabab extremists could seize power.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping force, is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a smaller new force is expected to replace it.
However, in a letter last month to the acting chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council, the government asked to delay until September the withdrawal of half the 4,000 troops due to leave by the end of June. The letter has not been reported before.

BACKGROUND

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia — a peacekeeping force — is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a smaller new force is expected to replace it.

The government had previously recommended, in a joint assessment with the AU in March, reviewed by Reuters, that the overall withdrawal timeline be adjusted “based on the actual readiness and capabilities” of Somali forces.
The joint assessment, mandated by the UN Security Council, warned that a “hasty drawdown of ATMIS personnel will contribute to a security vacuum.”
“I’ve never been more concerned about the direction of my home country,” said Mursal Khalif, an independent member of the defense committee in parliament.
The EU and US, the top funders of the AU force in Somalia, have sought to reduce the peacekeeping operation due to concerns about long-term financing and sustainability, four diplomatic sources and a senior Ugandan official said.
Three of the diplomatic sources said that negotiations about a new force have proven complicated, with the AU initially pushing for a more robust mandate than Somalia wanted. A heated political dispute could lead Ethiopia to pull out some of the most battle-hardened troops.
Somalia’s presidency and prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Mohammed El-Amine Souef, AU special representative to Somalia and head of ATMIS, said there was no definitive timeline for concluding negotiations but that all parties were committed to an agreement that helps achieve sustainable peace and security.
“The AU and Somalia’s government have emphasized the importance of a conditions-based drawdown to prevent any security vacuum,” he said.
The Peace and Security Council was due to discuss the drawdown and follow-up mission.
With 5,000 of around 18,500 troops leaving last year, the government has projected confidence as the drawdown proceeds.
It has said the new force should not exceed 10,000 and should be limited to tasks like securing major population centers.
The call for a smaller force likely reflects views of nationalists who oppose a heavy foreign presence in Somalia, said Rashid Abdi, an analyst with Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank focused on the Horn of Africa.
Uganda and Kenya, which contributed troops to the departing mission, are also worried.
Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda’s state minister of foreign affairs, said that despite intensive training efforts, Somali troops could not sustain a long-term military confrontation.
“We do not want to get into a situation where we are fleeing, the kind of thing that we saw in Afghanistan,” he told Reuters.
Oryem said Kenya accepted the drawdown requested by the US and EU but that countries’ concerns with forces in Somalia should be heard.
Kenyan President William Ruto said in Washington last month that a withdrawal that did not account for conditions on the ground would mean “the terrorists will take over Somalia.”
In response to questions, an EU spokesperson said it was focused on building domestic security capacities and supported, in principle, a Somali government proposal for a new mission with a reduced size and scope.
A US State Department spokesperson said the force should be large enough to prevent a security vacuum.
The spokesperson said that Washington has supported all requests submitted by the AU to the UN Security Council to modify the drawdown timeline.
In response to a question about Ethiopian forces, the spokesperson said it was critical to avoid security gaps or unnecessary expenses “incurred by swapping out existing troop contributors.”
Two years ago, an army offensive in central Somalia initially seized large swathes of territory from Al-Shabab. In August, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed declared his intention to “eliminate” the powerful Al-Qaeda offshoot within five months.
But just a few days later, Al-Shabab counter-attacked, retaking the town of Cowsweyne.
They killed scores of soldiers and beheaded several civilians accused of supporting the army, according to a soldier, an allied militiaman, and a resident.
“This broke the hearts of Somalis but gave courage to Al-Shabab,” Ahmed Abdulle, the militiaman from a clan in central Somalia, said in an interview in April.
The Somali government has never publicly provided a death toll for the Cowsweyne battle and didn’t respond to a request for a toll for this story.
“There were enough troops in Cowsweyne, over a battalion, but they were not organized well,” said a soldier named Issa, who fought in the battle there last August.
Issa said car bombs had blasted through the gates of the Cowsweyne army camp on the day of the attack, citing a shortage of defensive outposts to protect bases from such attacks.
Ten soldiers, militiamen from local clans, and residents in areas targeted by the military campaign reported that there had been no army operations in the past two months following additional battlefield setbacks.
Reuters could not independently establish the extent of the territorial losses to Al-Shabab.
On X this week, Somalia’s National Security Adviser said that the army had held most of its gains.
The peacekeepers’ withdrawal could make it more difficult to hold territory.
While analysts estimate Somalia’s army to be around 32,000 soldiers, the government acknowledged, in the assessment with the AU, a shortage of some 11,000 trained personnel due to “high operational tempo” and “attrition.”
The government has said its soldiers can confront Al-Shabab with limited external support.
Somalia has defied gloomy predictions and expanded its security forces in recent years.
Residents of the seaside capital Mogadishu — whose ubiquitous blast walls testify to the threat of Shabab suicide bombers and mortars — say security has improved.
Once-quiet streets bustle with traffic, and upscale restaurants and supermarkets are opening.
An assessment published in April by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy said an Afghanistan-like collapse was unlikely, helped by ongoing external support.
The US, for instance, has about 450 troops in Somalia to train and advise local forces and conduct regular drone attacks against suspected militants.
But the assessment’s author, Paul D. Williams, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said the militants’ estimated 7,000-12,000 fighters would be “slightly militarily stronger” than Somali forces because of superior cohesion and force employment.
Foreign resources have underwritten Somalia’s security since Ethiopia invaded in 2006, toppling an extremist-led administration but galvanizing an insurgency that has since killed tens of thousands of people.
According to a study by Brown University, the US has spent more than $2.5 billion on counterterrorism assistance since 2007. That number does not include undisclosed military and intelligence spending on activities like drone strikes and deployments of American ground troops.
The EU says it has provided about $2.8 billion to ATMIS and its predecessor since 2007.
Middle Eastern countries also provide security assistance.
But resources are under strain. Four diplomatic sources said that the EU, which pays for most of ATMIS’s roughly $100 million annual budget, is shifting toward bilateral support to reduce its overall contributions in the medium term.
Two diplomats interviewed by Reuters said the US and EU want to scale back peacekeeping operations because of competing spending priorities, including Ukraine and Gaza, and a sense Somalia should take responsibility for its security.
The four diplomatic sources said that some European countries would like to see the new mission financed through assessed contributions of UN member states, which would increase the financial burden on the US and China.
The State Department spokesperson said that the US did not believe such a system could be implemented by next year but that there was strong international consensus to support the follow-on mission.
The EU did not address questions about the financing of the replacement mission
Financing for the new mission can only be formally addressed once Somalia and the AU agree on a proposed size and mandate.