UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters
Britain’’s Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak speaks with Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby during a Sky News election event in Grimsby, northeast England, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer were grilled by voters at a televised event on Wednesday, with both challenged over past decisions, pledges and how they would fund policies if they won a July 4 election.

At their last meeting in television studios before the poll, the two men took turns to face an interviewer and then an audience, whose questions and responses underscored the everyday struggles of many in Britain and the mistrust of politicians.

With just over three weeks until an election opinion polls suggest Labour will easily win, Sunak was booed and heckled over doctors’ strikes, migration and his policy to introduce national service for young people.

Starmer was taken to task for what one audience member said was his avoidance of answering questions, and over his previous support of his predecessor, left-wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn.

A poll taken after the event in the northern English town of Grimsby said 64 percent believed Starmer had won the event on Sky News.

Starmer told the audience that he would start implementing his policies from ‘day one’ if he won the election but shied away from answering whether he was being honest when in 2019 he said his left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, should become prime minister.

“I want to get the place when I can roll up my sleeves and work with you ... to say the government is on your side,” Starmer said to applause. “That will be a massive difference to the last 14 years.”

SUNAK BOOED

Sunak was challenged over some of his policies, which audience members said had yet to solve their inability to get dentist appointments, reduce waiting lists in the National Health Service or stop the arrival of migrants in small boats.

“I know we’ve been through a tough time, of course we have... its been tough for all of you here tonight, all of you watching, but I do believe we have turned a corner and we’ve got a clear plan for the future,” he said.

“I am going to keep fighting hard until the last day of this election.”

The event came a day after Sunak unveiled 17 billion pounds of tax cuts in his governing party’s manifesto, trying to convince voters’ that he had a plan to make them better off while Labour’s policies are vague and ill-thought through.

He said again on Wednesday that a vote for Starmer was akin to writing him a blank cheque, repeating the contested accusation that a Labour government would increase taxes by more than 2,000 pounds. Starmer denied that was the case.

On Thursday, Labour will be try to set the story straight with its own manifesto, a document which sets out the policies the party will pursue in government, an agenda Starmer said would put wealth creation and economic growth at its heart.

Labour has repeatedly said it will stick to strict spending rules — a line Labour, traditionally seen as the party of tax and spend, has adopted not only to try to show it has changed since being led by Corbyn but also to challenge Conservative attacks that it will increase taxes.

But it was Corbyn who came back to haunt Starmer on Wednesday, when he was asked whether he believed what he said when in 2019 he said the veteran leftist would make a good prime minister and when he made 10 left-wing pledges to become Labour leader a year later, several of which he has since dropped.

“Have I changed my position on those pledges, yes I have,” said Starmer. “I think this party should always put the country first.”


Nine arrests during London protest against Israel arms exports

Police officers remove ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ demonstrators in London.
Police officers remove ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ demonstrators in London.
Updated 57 min 13 sec ago
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Nine arrests during London protest against Israel arms exports

Police officers remove ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ demonstrators in London.
  • Last week new Foreign Minister David Lammy said a blanket ban on arms exports to Israel would not be right
  • London’s Metropolitan Police said protesters arrived outside Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and blocked pedestrian and vehicle access

LONDON: British police on Wednesday arrested nine people during a protest against arms exports to Israel that briefly blocked the street outside the foreign ministry, highlighting pressure on the new Labour government over its stance on the Gaza war.
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Britain have been campaigning for a government ban on arms sales to Israel following its offensive on Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack.
Last week new Foreign Minister David Lammy, who has said he wants a balanced position on Israel and Gaza, said a blanket ban on arms exports to Israel would not be right, but he would follow a quasi-judicial process in assessing whether sales of offensive weapons that could be used in Gaza could proceed.
London’s Metropolitan Police said protesters arrived outside Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and blocked pedestrian and vehicle access. Police then said the protest could only continue if it left the central arch of the street clear.
“When the group failed to comply with the conditions, officers intervened and made nine arrests, quickly restoring access,” a Met Police spokesperson said.
While in opposition, Lammy earlier this year said the government should suspend the sale of UK arms if there were a clear risk they might be used in a serious breach of humanitarian law.
Now in government, he said last week he requested on his first day in office an assessment of the legal situation and that he hoped to be able to communicate any decisions with “full accountability and transparency.”
Labour was elected with a huge majority earlier this month, but lost some seats to pro-Gaza candidates.
Campaign group Workers for a Free Palestine, which organized the protest, said that was a sign the government should take a stronger stance on restricting arms sales, and called on Lammy to “practice what he preached in opposition.”
While the previous Conservative government was a strong supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself following the Oct. 7 attack, Reuters found that the value of Britain’s approvals of new arms licenses dropped sharply after the start of the war.


Global hunger crisis set back 15 years, UN report reveals 

Global hunger crisis set back 15 years, UN report reveals 
Updated 52 min 9 sec ago
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Global hunger crisis set back 15 years, UN report reveals 

Global hunger crisis set back 15 years, UN report reveals 
  • FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu: Transforming agrifood systems is more critical than ever as we face the urgency of achieving the SDGs within six short years
  • Qu Dongyu: FAO remains committed to supporting countries in their efforts to eradicate hunger and ensure food security for all

RIYADH: The 2024 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, or SOFI, report, jointly published on Wednesday by five UN agencies under the theme “Financing to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition,” highlighted the deepening global food crisis. 

The heads of the five UN agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, and UNICEF — emphasized the urgent need for increased and more efficient financing to address these complex challenges. They called for transformative measures in agrifood systems, equitable access to resources, and enhanced international cooperation to mitigate the impacts of food insecurity and malnutrition.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said: “Transforming agrifood systems is more critical than ever as we face the urgency of achieving the SDGs within six short years. FAO remains committed to supporting countries in their efforts to eradicate hunger and ensure food security for all. 

“We will work together with all partners and with all approaches, including the G20 Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty, to accelerate the needed change. Together, we must innovate and collaborate to build more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agrifood systems that can better withstand future challenges for a better world,” Qu added.

The report, unveiled during the G20 Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty Task Force Ministerial Meeting in Brazil, underscored that the international community is falling significantly short of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2, zero hunger, by 2030. Highlighting a setback of 15 years in progress, the report compares current undernourishment levels to those last seen in 2008-2009.

In 2023, approximately 733 million people worldwide faced hunger, marking a continuation of the high levels observed over the past three years. This equates to one in 11 people globally, with the situation particularly dire in Africa, where one in five individuals grappled with food insecurity.

While there have been some gains in specific areas such as reducing stunting and promoting exclusive breastfeeding, the overall number of undernourished people is at a constant, ranging between 713 and 757 million in 2023. Regional disparities persist, with hunger increasing in Western Asia, the Caribbean, and several African subregions, while remaining stable in Asia and showing improvement in Latin America.

The report’s projections for 2030 suggest that around 582 million people will continue to suffer from chronic undernourishment, half of them in Africa. This mirrors levels observed in 2015 when the SDGs were adopted, indicating a plateau in progress.

Beyond hunger, the report highlights broader challenges in food security and nutrition. In 2023, 2.33 billion people faced moderate or severe food insecurity, worsened by various factors such as economic decline and climate change. 

The affordability of healthy diets is also a critical issue, particularly in low-income countries where over 71 percent of the population cannot afford adequate nutrition.

Despite gains in exclusive breastfeeding rates and reductions in child stunting, the world is still faced with many challenges. Rates of wasting among children and adult obesity are concerningly high, states the report, and indicate a double burden of malnutrition affecting global populations.

“The fastest route out of hunger and poverty is proven to be through investments in agriculture in rural areas. But the global and financial landscape has become far more complex since the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015,” said IFAD President Alvaro Lario. 

“Ending hunger and malnutrition demands that we invest more — and more smartly. We must bring new money into the system from the private sector and recapture the pandemic-era appetite for ambitious global financial reform that gets cheaper financing to the countries who need it most,’’ Lario added.

The report urges unified global action to achieve SDGs by 2030 by adopting and prioritizing innovative solutions and substantial investments to ensure that all people have access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food.

The SOFI report is an annual assessment providing insights into global progress toward ending hunger, improving food security, and advancing nutrition under the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its findings are intended to guide policymakers, international organizations, and the public in addressing these pressing global challenges.


10 migrants drown in rushing river crossing Darien Gap in Panama

10 migrants drown in rushing river crossing Darien Gap in Panama
Updated 24 July 2024
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10 migrants drown in rushing river crossing Darien Gap in Panama

10 migrants drown in rushing river crossing Darien Gap in Panama
  • The National Border Service said in a statement that the victims were swept away by the strong current
  • Their bodies were later seen near the Indigenous community of Carreto

PANAMA CITY: Ten migrants drowned trying to cross a rushing river in Panama’s Darien Gap that borders Colombia, Panamanian authorities said Wednesday.
The National Border Service said in a statement that the victims were swept away by the strong current and their bodies were later seen near the Indigenous community of Carreto.
An agency official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case said on condition of anonymity that the drownings were believed to have occurred on July 16, but the area was so remote that they were only now able to release the information.
The prosecutor’s office was investigating details, including the victims’ nationalities, the official said. More than half of the migrants crossing the Darien come from Venezuela.
More than 500,000 migrants made the treacherous crossing through the jungle-clad border in a record-setting 2023. So far this year, more than 212,000 have entered Panama through the Darien.
It is the rainy season in Panama, making the numerous rivers that migrants have to cross more dangerous.
New Panamanian President José Raúl Mulino has pledged to stop migration through the Darien with assistance from the US government.


‘Competent, experienced’ Harris could win US election: Scholz

‘Competent, experienced’ Harris could win US election: Scholz
Updated 24 July 2024
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‘Competent, experienced’ Harris could win US election: Scholz

‘Competent, experienced’ Harris could win US election: Scholz
  • Scholz told reporters at his annual summer press conference in Berlin that “I think it’s entirely possible that Kamala Harris wins the election but it will be American voters who decide“
  • He said his own exchanges with Harris had been “conversations where she put forward her views authentically“

BERLIN: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that it was “entirely possible” that US Vice President Kamala Harris will win November’s presidential election, describing her as “competent and experienced.”
Following 81-year-old President Joe Biden’s stunning decision to exit the race for the White House on Sunday, Harris has emerged as the virtually unchallenged frontrunner for the nomination of their Democratic party.
Scholz told reporters at his annual summer press conference in Berlin that “I think it’s entirely possible that Kamala Harris wins the election but it will be American voters who decide.”
Scholz said that Harris was “a competent and experienced politician who knows exactly what she’s doing.”
He said his own exchanges with Harris had been “conversations where she put forward her views authentically” and was not simply “saying something prepared beforehand.”
He added that Harris had “clear ideas about the role of her country in the world and the challenges that confront us.”
The US presidential race is being keenly watched by Washington’s allies in Europe, particularly due to the possibility of victory for the combative and often isolationist Donald Trump.
“What happens there is of the greatest importance for all countries in the world and of course especially for the close allies of the US in Germany and in Europe,” Scholz said.
He made clear that the relationship “cannot depend on who the president is,” saying it was his job to work with whichever administration was elected.


1,000 tourists evacuated after fire in southern Italy

1,000 tourists evacuated after fire in southern Italy
Updated 24 July 2024
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1,000 tourists evacuated after fire in southern Italy

1,000 tourists evacuated after fire in southern Italy
  • Three Canadair water bombers and a helicopter were deployed to try to contain the blaze
  • According to reports, tourists from a complex near the bay of San Felice are among those moved

ROME: Around 1,000 tourists were evacuated on Wednesday after a wildfire broke out in the southern Italian region of Puglia, firefighters said.
Three Canadair water bombers and a helicopter were deployed to try to contain the blaze in a wooded coastal area in the Gargano sub-region.
“The fire is being tackled from the land and from the air,” a fire service spokesman told AFP, confirming that around 1,000 tourists had been evacuated.
According to reports, tourists from a complex near the bay of San Felice are among those moved.
Puglia attracts tourists from around the world with its clear waters, white sandy beaches and distinctive architecture.
The area hit by the fire is dominated by the Gargano National Park.
“The situation is critical,” the mayor of nearby Vieste, Giuseppe Nobiletti, had earlier told reporters, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
He expressed concern that the winds were pushing the flames toward the tourist complex.
After weeks of hot weather, fires have broken out almost daily across Italy, particularly in the south and on the islands.
Two firefighters died last week fighting a blaze near Matera in Basilicata, a region that neighbors Puglia.