Ex-leader Jacob Zuma’s party says it will join opposition in South Africa’s parliament

uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party leader and South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma (C) gives a press conference in Johannesburg on June 16, 2024, two days after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected for a second term after his humbled ANC cobbled together an unprecedented coalition government. (AFP)
uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party leader and South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma (C) gives a press conference in Johannesburg on June 16, 2024, two days after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected for a second term after his humbled ANC cobbled together an unprecedented coalition government. (AFP)
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Ex-leader Jacob Zuma’s party says it will join opposition in South Africa’s parliament

Ex-leader Jacob Zuma’s party says it will join opposition in South Africa’s parliament
  • ANC and largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in a coalition

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party will join an alliance of smaller opposition parties in parliament in a bid to take on the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance-led coalition government, it said on Sunday.
The ANC and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in a coalition it called “government of national unity,” a step change after 30 years of ANC rule.
Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government.
Former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe party came in a surprisingly strong third in the May 29 election which saw the ANC lose its majority. MK won 14.6 percent of the vote which translated into 58 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly.
However, MK lawmakers boycotted the first sitting of the National Assembly on Friday after filing a complaint at the country’s top court alleging vote-rigging, which the court dismissed as without merit.
Spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndhlela told reporters that the MK party will join the alliance called the “Progressive Caucus,” which includes the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the center-left United Democratic Movement.
This alliance commands close to 30 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, Ndhlela said, sitting next to Zuma and the leaders of a number of small parties.
“This united effort is necessary because the 2024 election has also resulted in the consolidation of right-wing and reactionary forces who are opposed to economic freedom, radical economic transformation, racial equality and land repossession,” he said.
Ndhlela said that MK had decided to take up its seats in the National Assembly after receiving legal advice and that it would continue to raise its allegations of a rigged elections in parliament and in courts.


North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media

North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media
Updated 5 sec ago
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North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media

North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media

MOSCOW: A North Korean official visiting Russia whose name matches that of a man cited by the secretive state’s media as the leader of a military training contingent has drowned while swimming in a pond outside Moscow, Russian media have reported.
The BAZA news outlet, which often publishes information from sources in the security services and law enforcement, said that the official, Kim Geum Chol, died on July 11 in a public swimming pond in Zelenograd, a city some 37 km (23 miles) northwest of Moscow.
North Korea’s state KCNA news agency reported earlier this month that a North Korean elite military training delegation had departed by plane to Russia on July 8, the first military exchange between the two countries since their leaders signed a pact pledging closer military cooperation.
KCNA said that Kim Geum Chol, whom it described as the president of the Kim Il Sung Military University, was leading the delegation. The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, attended the military academy after studying in Switzerland while being groomed as North Korea’s third leader.
The North Korean embassy in Moscow on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a Reuters request to confirm Kim’s death and identity. Moscow police, who have not commented on the incident publicly, were checking the circumstances of what happened, the SHOT Telegram channel reported separately.
Both BAZA and SHOT described the dead man as having been on an official visit and as having stayed at the North Korean embassy in Moscow. Neither made mention of any military education links, saying only that he had worked in the agriculture sector.
BAZA said Kim had traveled, accompanied by an interpreter, to the Bolshoi Gorodskoi (Big City) pond in Zelenograd to cool off from the scorching summer heat.
Baza and SHOT said the interpreter had lost sight of Kim after he went swimming and contacted the police. His body was found the next day floating in the pond. Both outlets gave his age as 64. The incident comes as Pyongyang and Moscow have traded a record number of high-level visits in the past year, culminating in President Vladimir Putin’s first trip to North Korea in 24 years.
The two countries’ military ties concern officials in Seoul and Washington, who say there is evidence of weapons shipments by the North to Russia for use against Ukraine.
Pyongyang and Moscow deny such transactions.


Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return

Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return
Updated 21 sec ago
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Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return

Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return
  • Stocks of Germany’s armed forces, already run down by decades of underinvestment, have been further depleted by arms supplies to Kyiv

BERLIN: Germany will halve military aid for Ukraine next year, even with the possibility that Republican candidate Donald Trump could return to the White House and curb support for Kyiv.
German aid to Ukraine will be cut to 4 billion euros ($4.35 billion) in 2025 from around 8 billion euros in 2024, according to a draft of the 2025 budget.
Germany hopes Ukraine will be able to meet the bulk of its military needs with the $50 billion in loans from the proceeds of frozen Russian assets agreed by the Group of Seven, and that funds earmarked for armaments will not be fully used.
Washington pushed to “front load” the loans to give Ukraine a big lump sum now.
Officials say EU leaders agreed to the idea in part because it reduces the chance of Ukraine being short of funds if Trump returns to the White House.
Alarm bells rang across Europe this week after Trump picked Senator J.D. Vance, who opposes military aid for Ukraine and warned Europe will have to rely less on the United States to defend the continent, as his candidate for vice president.
Trump sparked fierce criticism from Western officials for suggesting he would not protect countries that failed to meet the transatlantic military alliance’s defense spending targets and would even encourage Russia to attack them.
Germany has faced criticism for repeatedly missing a NATO target of spending 2 percent of its economic output on defense.
DEPLETED MILITARY STOCKS
The stocks of Germany’s armed forces, already run down by decades of underinvestment, have been further depleted by arms supplies to Kyiv.
So far, Berlin has donated three Patriot air defense units to Kyiv, more than any other country, bringing down the number of Patriot systems in Germany to nine.
Germany’s fractious coalition of left-leaning Social Democrats, pro-business liberals and ecologist Greens has struggled to comply with NATO’s spending target due to self-imposed rules that limit the amount of state borrowing they can take on.
Although military aid to Ukraine will be cut, Germany will comply with the NATO target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense in 2025, with a total of 75.3 billion euros.
Days after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a “Zeitenwende” – German for historic turning point — with a 100 billion euro special fund to bring the military up to speed.
From this special fund, there will be 22.0 billion euros more for defense, plus 53.3 billion euros in the regular budget, still less than that sought by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.
The budget for 2025 comes with the mid-term financial planning until 2028, the year when the armed forces’ special fund to meet NATO’s minimum spending goals is due to run out and 80 billion will be needed for defense, as noted in the financial plan.
In 2028, there is a gap of 39 billion euros in the regular budget, of which 28 billion euros are needed to comply with the NATO target without the special fund, sources from the finance ministry said.
Decisions on how the hole will be plugged are not likely to be taken until after the 2025 election.
“The 80 billion euros that have been put on display for 2028 simply do not exist,” said Ingo Gaedechens, member of the parliament’s budget committee from the conservative opposition party CDU.
“The coalition is not even trying to cover this up but are openly admitting it.”


Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China

Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China
Updated 17 July 2024
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Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China

Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China
  • Former US president: ‘You know, we’re no different than an insurance company. Taiwan doesn’t give us anything’
  • While Washington does not diplomatically recognize the island, it is a key partner and major weapons provider to Taipei

TAIPEI: Taiwan “should pay” the United States for defense, US presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a wide-ranging interview that has cast doubt on the relationship between Washington and Taipei should he be re-elected in November.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek published on Tuesday, the former president was asked if he would defend self-ruled Taiwan from China, which claims the island as part of its territory.
“I know the people very well, respect them greatly. They did take about 100 percent of our chip business. I think, Taiwan should pay us for defense,” he said, according to a transcript released by Bloomberg.
“You know, we’re no different than an insurance company. Taiwan doesn’t give us anything.”
While Washington does not diplomatically recognize the island, it is a key partner and major weapons provider to Taipei, and recently passed a multi-billion-dollar military aid package aimed at countering Beijing in the region.
Taiwan is also a major powerhouse in the crucial semiconductor industry, producing the majority of the advanced microchips needed to power the global economy.
A leader in the field is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which has been a key beneficiary of Washington’s Chips and Science Act — passed in 2022 to attract companies to invest in building chip factories on American soil.
Thanks to the law, TSMC is building two plants in the United States and announced plans for a third in April, bringing its total investment up to $65 billion.
Trump lamented in the interview that Washington was “giving them billions of dollars to build new chips in our country, and then they’re going to take that too.”
“I don’t think we’re any different from an insurance policy. Why? Why are we doing this? They took almost 100 percent of our chip industry, I give them credit,” he said.
Acknowledging Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Taiwanese Premier Cho Jung-tai pointed out Taipei had steadily boosted its defense budget in recent years.
“We are willing to take on more responsibility; we are defending ourselves and ensuring our security,” he told reporters during a press briefing.
“We are also clear that Taiwan-US relations have been very strong in recent years. Maintaining peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait and Indo-Pacific region is our common responsibility and goal.”
China has said it will never renounce the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has also ramped up rhetoric about “unification” being “inevitable.”


European Commission didn’t provide enough information about COVID-19 vaccine deals, EU court says

European Commission didn’t provide enough information about COVID-19 vaccine deals, EU court says
Updated 17 July 2024
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European Commission didn’t provide enough information about COVID-19 vaccine deals, EU court says

European Commission didn’t provide enough information about COVID-19 vaccine deals, EU court says
  • According to the court, the procurement of vaccines on behalf of all 27 member states allowed the bloc to quickly gather 2.7 billion euros

BRUSSELS: The European Commission did not allow the public enough access to information about COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreements it secured with pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic, the EU general court said Wednesday.
The decision came a day ahead of a vote at the European Parliament at which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is seeking reelection.
A group of EU lawmakers had taken legal action after the Commission refused to grant them complete access to COVID-19 vaccine contracts secured between the EU’s executive arm and manufacturers.
The pandemic shed light on the issue of transparency surrounding the negotiations for vaccines between the EU and big pharmaceutical groups. The EU Commission was mandated by member countries to organize the joint procurement of vaccines during the pandemic and led negotiations with manufacturers.
According to the court, the procurement of vaccines on behalf of all 27 member states allowed the bloc to quickly gather 2.7 billion euros ($2.95 billion) to place an order for more than a billion doses of vaccines.
In 2021, some members of the European Parliament asked for the full details of the agreements, but the Commission only agreed to provide partial access to certain contracts and documents, which were placed online in redacted versions. It also refused to say how much it paid for the billions of doses it secured, arguing that contracts were protected for confidentiality reasons.
In a statement, the court said that “the Commission did not take sufficient account of all the relevant circumstances in order to weigh up correctly the interests at issue.”
Two years ago, the EU’s ombudsman said in a separate case that the Commission was responsible for “maladministration” for mishandling a request for access to text messages between its president and the CEO of pharmaceutical company Pfizer regarding COVID-19 vaccine purchases.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly recommended that the European Commission “do a more extensive search for the relevant messages” relating to such purchases after a story published by the New York Times revealed that von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had exchanged text messages and calls about vaccine procurements for EU countries.
A journalist then asked the Commission for access to the text messages and other documents, but the executive branch did not provide any texts, saying no record of such messages had been kept. Commission officials had argued that text messages are ephemeral and don’t contain important information to justify their inclusion in a document management system.


Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump

Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump
Updated 17 July 2024
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Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump

Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump
  • Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Iran ‘strongly rejects any involvement in the recent armed attack against Trump’

TEHRAN: Iran on Wednesday rejected what it called “malicious” accusations by US media implicating it in a plot to kill former US president Donald Trump.
CNN reported Tuesday that US authorities received intelligence from a “human source” weeks ago on an alleged Iranian plot against the former president, prompting his protection to be boosted. Other US outlets also reported the alleged plot.
CNN said the alleged plot was not linked to Saturday’s shooting at a Trump campaign rally in Pennsylvania, in which the former president was wounded and a supporter killed.
The US National Security Council said it had been “tracking Iranian threats against former Trump administration officials for years” after Tehran threatened revenge for the 2020 killing of Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in neighboring Iraq.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations called the accusations “unsubstantiated and malicious.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Iran “strongly rejects any involvement in the recent armed attack against Trump.”
He added however that Iran remains “determined to prosecute Trump over his direct role in the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani.”
Soleimani headed the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, overseeing Iranian military operations across the Middle East.
Trump ordered his killing in a drone strike just outside Baghdad airport.