Irish, Czechs cast EU votes with immigration front of mind

Irish and Czech voters picked up the baton in the EU’s marathon elections Friday, some driven by concerns about migration and others bent on countering the anti-immigrant far right. (AFP/File Photo)
Irish and Czech voters picked up the baton in the EU’s marathon elections Friday, some driven by concerns about migration and others bent on countering the anti-immigrant far right. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 07 June 2024
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Irish, Czechs cast EU votes with immigration front of mind

Irish, Czechs cast EU votes with immigration front of mind
  • Both countries voting in advance of Sunday’s main election day

BRUSSELS: Irish and Czech voters picked up the baton in the EU’s marathon elections Friday, some driven by concerns about migration and others bent on countering the anti-immigrant far right.
Both countries were voting in advance of Sunday’s main election day when most of the European Union’s 27 nations — including powerhouses Germany and France — will vote to elect the bloc’s next parliament.
Surveys point to election gains for anti-immigrant populists across the EU, and day one on Thursday saw a strong showing, though no knockout blow, for the Dutch far right.
Ireland’s 37-year-old prime minister Simon Harris voted near his home in Delgany, a village south of Dublin, before hitting the road to canvass for both local and EU elections.
Keith O’Reilly, a 41 year-old IT worker, said that he admired Harris’s “energy” but that his vote would not be going to the premier’s center-right Fine Gael.
“They’re getting so many things wrong, the migration issue for one thing,” he told AFP.
With around 20 percent of Ireland’s population born outside the country and record levels of asylum seekers, many candidates are running on an anti-immigration platform — one of the reasons that drove Trevor Gardiner to vote.
“The rise of the far right jumping on immigration is really, really scary for us,” said the 42-year-old finance worker, “because it’s happening not just in mainland Europe but here in Ireland too.”
Emily, a 21-year-old first-time voter who declined to give her full name, likewise said she “worried” about the far right’s rise.
“I think the others need to get their act together,” she said. “It’s incredible the type of anti-immigrant rhetoric that has become normalized here.”
The EU vote comes at a time of geopolitical upheaval almost two and a half years into Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The far right is looking to tap into grievances among the bloc’s 370 million eligible voters, fatigued by a succession of crises from the Covid pandemic to the fallout of Moscow’s invasion.
The contest in the Netherlands was seen as a bellwether for its strength — and exit polls showed gains for the Freedom Party (PVV) of firebrand Geert Wilders, in second place.
But the Dutch result was tighter than expected, with a Green-left alliance set for first place, and could spell hope for centrists battling to maintain their majority.
That was the early assessment of Eurasia Group’s managing director Mujtaba Rahman, who predicted “the center will largely hold” even if the far right takes a quarter of the EU’s 720 parliament seats.
“There’ll be lots of noise over next few days about the far right surge in EU. The reality is more boring,” Rahman wrote on X.
The other country voting Friday was the Czech Republic, where politicians face widespread apathy to the EU vote: the country had the second-lowest turnout last time around in 2019, at 28.72 percent.
Polls put the centrist ANO movement of billionaire former prime minister Andrej Babis in the lead.
At an elementary school in southern Prague, voters cast their ballots while children played nearby, many relishing the opportunity to stop and chat with neighbors.
Marek Cerveny, a 45-year-old teacher and tour guide who voted accompanied by his daughter, said he “definitely” saw EU decisions “reflected in our lives“: “What we can buy, how easily we can travel, how well we can live here.”
Others like Vera Zazvorkova, a 72-year-old economist, said she was voting for change, wanting fewer EU rules on the environment and tougher curbs on migration.
“The ‘Green Deal’ should change, that is, it should be restricted a lot, and the immigration policy should change too,” she said.
The prospect of a rightward lurch has rattled the parliament’s main groupings, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and the leftist Socialists and Democrats.
They still look set to be the two biggest blocs but current European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, of the EPP, may need support from part of the far right to secure a second term.
With an eye on the horse-trading that may be needed, von der Leyen has been courting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who heads the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party.
Over the weekend, scrutiny will shift to the EU’s bigger economies as they open polling stations.
Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is predicted to come out on top in France, as is Meloni’s party in Italy — which votes Saturday — and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s far-right Fidesz.
In Germany, the extreme-right AfD is polling second, behind the opposition conservatives.


French PM eyes rebuilding political force after party backing

French PM eyes rebuilding political force after party backing
Updated 13 July 2024
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French PM eyes rebuilding political force after party backing

French PM eyes rebuilding political force after party backing
  • Sunday’s election runoff left the National Assembly without any overall majority, but a broad alliance — called New Popular Front of Socialists, Communists, Greens & the hard-left France Unbowed won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber

PARIS: France’s prime minister on Saturday was elected leader of his party’s National Assembly lawmakers as politicians from all sides jockeyed for position to form the next government.
Gabriel Attal was the only candidate in the vote by the Renaissance party parliamentary group, which he plans to use as the base from which to rebuild the political force that got roundly beaten in a snap election called by President Emmanuel Macron.
Of the 98 Renaissance deputies registered to vote, 84 backed Attal, who will start in his role next week.
As Attal and other ministers eye a future outside government, deep cracks have appeared between the 35-year-old premier and his former mentor Macron.
Macron did not get any mention in Attal’s message to Renaissance deputies outlining his leadership bid, with observers saying that the prime minister blames the president for calling the vote, which he said took the party to the brink of “extinction.”
Sunday’s election runoff left the National Assembly without any overall majority, but a broad alliance — called New Popular Front of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber.
Macron’s allies came second with 164 seats and the far-right National Rally third at 143.
According to the constitution, Macron will appoint the next prime minister, who must be able to survive a confidence motion in parliament.
This appointment could come as early as next week when the new National Assembly session opens, but Macron could ask Attal to stay on while Paris hosts the Olympic Games starting July 26.

 

 


Two dead in Russian ‘double tap’ attack on town near Ukraine’s Kharkiv

Two dead in Russian ‘double tap’ attack on town near Ukraine’s Kharkiv
Updated 13 July 2024
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Two dead in Russian ‘double tap’ attack on town near Ukraine’s Kharkiv

Two dead in Russian ‘double tap’ attack on town near Ukraine’s Kharkiv
  • Prosecutors said the mid-afternoon missile attack targeted the railway station in Budy, southwest of Kharkiv
  • After rescue teams arrived, a second missile hit the area, injuring 23 people

KYIV: Russian forces launched a “double tap” missile attack on Saturday on a small town near Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, killing two people, an emergency services official and a police officer, officials said.
Officials also reported two dead in Russian attacks on the Donetsk region to the southeast.
Prosecutors said the mid-afternoon missile attack targeted the railway station in Budy, southwest of Kharkiv. After rescue teams arrived, a second missile hit the area.
They said 23 people were injured in the incidents.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said the head of the Kharkiv district emergency services was killed, along with a police officer from a rapid reaction unit. Among the injured were three emergency workers, a policeman and about 20 civilians.
Reuters could not verify independently the accounts and Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians. But Russian forces have used the “double tap” tactic to devastating effect.
Kharkiv remained out of Russian hands in the initial advance of the Kremlin’s forces after the February 2022 invasion.
The city and surrounding area have since come under constant attack, though Ukrainian officials say the frequency has diminished since US supplies of weaponry to Ukraine resumed after a break of several months.
Donetsk regional governor Vadym Filashkin said an attack by multiple rocket launchers hit a multi-story apartment building in Chasiv Yar — a town targeted by Russian forces as a key staging point in moving forward through Ukraine’s east.
And a guided bomb killed one person near the town of Kurakhove, where some of the heaviest fighting is taking place along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front.


Peaceful pre-Olympic protest in Paris honors fallen Ukrainian athletes

Peaceful pre-Olympic protest in Paris honors fallen Ukrainian athletes
Updated 13 July 2024
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Peaceful pre-Olympic protest in Paris honors fallen Ukrainian athletes

Peaceful pre-Olympic protest in Paris honors fallen Ukrainian athletes
  • Several hundred athletes plus coaches and other people closely involved in professional and amateur sports in Ukraine have been killed
  • Volodymyr Kogutyak, vice president of the French Ukrainian association, said: “Some were killed fighting in the Ukrainian armed forces”

PARIS: In a powerful tribute to the hundreds of Ukrainian athletes who have perished since the Russian invasion of their homeland, the Union of Ukrainians of France led a peaceful march of several hundred people in Paris on Saturday.
The demonstration, held in the run-up to this month’s Olympic Games, aimed to honor these fallen sports heroes and highlight the ongoing impact of the conflict on Ukraine’s athletic community.
Several hundred athletes — including some who competed at elite levels — plus coaches and other people closely involved in professional and amateur sports in Ukraine have been killed in the full-scale invasion since 2022, some while fighting as soldiers on the front lines.
The human losses, the ongoing war, and the widespread destruction of sports facilities threaten to erode Ukraine’s edge, both at the Paris Games that open July 26 and in the future, as a powerhouse of Olympic sport after the breakup of the former Soviet Union.
“What is tragic today is that we have hundreds of Ukrainian athletes who will unfortunately not have the chance to come to the Olympic Games in Paris because the Russian Federation senselessly killed them,” said Volodymyr Kogutyak, vice president of the French Ukrainian association. “Some were killed fighting in the Ukrainian armed forces, but many others were simply killed as civilians.”
Among those being remembered is Maksym Halinichev, a promising boxer who won a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in 2018 and was the junior European champion in 2017. Halinichev joined the Ukrainian army and was killed at the front in March 2023 at the age of 22. Other notable athletes include Ivan Bidnyak and Yehor Kikhitov, both pistol shooters and members of the Ukrainian national team. Bidnyak won a silver medal at the European Championships in Osijek in 2013.
Also commemorated is Stanislav Hulenkov, a 22-year-old judoka, whose body was only identified 10 months after his death, and Oleksandr Peleshenko, a weightlifter who represented Ukraine at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Anastasiia Ihnatenko, an acrobatic gymnastics coach, died in a Russian missile strike along with her husband and their 18-month-old son.
The event drew scores of participants, including Ukrainians, French citizens, and people from various other backgrounds, all united in their grief and determination to honor the athletes’ memories. Participants wore T-shirts displaying the names of the deceased athletes, and a minute of silence was observed, followed by speeches from organizers.
“These athletes were killed at a time when they could have been training to be chosen for the Olympic Games. That is significant. Russia did not give them the choice to train and go to Paris. That is the sad part,” Kogutyak emphasized.
Ukraine’s haul of 11 medals at the 2016 Rio Games was its smallest as an independent nation and it tumbled to a low of 22nd in the country rankings. Ukraine recovered to 16th at the pandemic-delayed Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, but just one of its 19 medals was gold — another new low.
The peaceful protest also served a political purpose, aiming to send a clear message regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the upcoming Paris Games. “The protest is to loudly and clearly state that the Belarusian and Russian athletes, regardless of what flag or colors they come to Paris under, are not welcome,” Kogutyak declared.
He further noted his sadness that some of those Russian athletes had been decorated by various ministries and had met President Vladimir Putin.
The human toll of the ongoing war, coupled with the widespread destruction of sports facilities in Ukraine, poses a severe threat to the country’s future in Olympic sports. The loss of these athletes robs the nation of its current talents and jeopardizes its sporting future.
It is still unclear how many Russian athletes will compete at the Olympics being held from July 26-Aug. 11. The IOC already barred them from taking part in the opening ceremony of boats sailing along the River Seine.


Russia can counter US missile deployments in Europe, Kremlin says

Russia can counter US missile deployments in Europe, Kremlin says
Updated 13 July 2024
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Russia can counter US missile deployments in Europe, Kremlin says

Russia can counter US missile deployments in Europe, Kremlin says
  • Peskov noted that throughout the Cold War, American missiles based in Europe were aimed at Russia

MOSCOW: European countries would be putting themselves at risk if they accept deployments of long-range US missiles, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a video published on Saturday.
Asked by Russian state TV reporter Pavel Zarubin about the possibility of the United States deploying hypersonic missiles to Europe, Peskov said: “We have enough potential to deter these missiles. But the capitals of these (European) states are potential victims.”
Peskov noted that throughout the Cold War, American missiles based in Europe were aimed at Russia, with Russian missiles aimed at Europe in return, making the continent’s countries the chief victim of any potential conflict.
He said: “Europe is now coming apart at the seams. This is not the best time for Europe. Therefore, in one way or another, history will repeat itself.”


Swiss prosecutors say probing suspected Russian agent

Swiss prosecutors say probing suspected Russian agent
Updated 13 July 2024
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Swiss prosecutors say probing suspected Russian agent

Swiss prosecutors say probing suspected Russian agent
  • The man had been accredited as a diplomat in Bern, who had been under surveillance by Swiss intelligence
  • After facing accusations of spying with the aim of procuring dangerous material, he had discretely left Switzerland

GENEVA: Swiss prosecutors said Saturday they were investigating a Russian diplomat and suspected agent alongside two others reported to have tried to procure weapons and other potentially dangerous material.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said it had been conducting an investigation into the two accused people without diplomatic immunity, suspected of violating laws including Switzerland’s War Material Act and Embargo Act.
It confirmed to AFP that its request to Switzerland’s Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) for authorization to also look into the third man in the case had been granted.
“A national arrest warrant” had been issued, it said.
The Tages-Anzeiger daily reported that the man had been accredited as a diplomat in Bern, who had been under surveillance by Swiss intelligence.
After facing accusations of spying with the aim of procuring dangerous material, he had discretely left Switzerland, the paper said.
After the Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that the man’s diplomatic immunity was lifted when he left the country, and following searches of “several houses,” “the FDJP has now granted ... authorization to prosecute,” the OAG said.
It added that the accused enjoyed the presumption of innocence.
The case comes amid concern over swelling numbers of Russian spies in Switzerland since Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Swiss lawmakers in May demanded that the government take a harsher stance on Russian spies operating in the country — a center of international activity considered a hub for espionage.
That came after Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) warned last year that the country was among European nations with the highest number of Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover.
FIS chief Christian Dussey suggested then that around a third of the some 220 people accredited as diplomatic or other staff at the Russian mission in Geneva were intelligence service operatives.