The Guardian 2024-06-11 09:04:17


UN security council endorses US-backed hostages-for-ceasefire Gaza deal

Only Russia abstains in vote on plan calling for hostage and prisoner swap in six-week ceasefire leading to wider deal

The UN security council has adopted a resolution calling for Hamas to agree to a three-phase hostage-for-ceasefire proposal outlined by Joe Biden, the first time the body has endorsed a comprehensive peace deal to end the Gaza war.

A Hamas statement said the group welcomed the resolution, though it was not immediately clear if that meant the leadership in Gaza accepted the ceasefire plan.

The position of the Israeli government is also ambiguous. It has officially accepted the peace plan but the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has sought to distance himself from it, and his coalition has shifted to the right since the proposal was put forward.

Fourteen council members voted for Monday’s resolution, none against, and only Russia abstained on the US-drafted resolution, which calls for an initial exchange of elderly, sick or women hostages for Palestinian detainees held by Israel in the course of an initial six-week ceasefire.

The ceasefire would evolve into a permanent end to hostilities and the release of all hostages in a second phase that would be negotiated by the two parties and US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators. A third phase would involve the launch of a major reconstruction effort.

The resolution calls on Hamas to accept the agreement and urges both parties “to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition”.

The US has been seeking UN endorsement for the proposal since it was unveiled by Biden on 31 May. It won the support of the Palestinian mission, with a clause saying that an initial six-week ceasefire would be extended as long as talks continued over a second phase.

The resolution said the US, Qatar and Egypt would “work to ensure negotiations keep going until all the agreements are reached and phase two is able to begin”.

A Palestinian presidential spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the Palestinian Authority leadership would accept any resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza which preserved Palestinian territorial integrity.

Palestinian support for the US resolution made it much harder diplomatically for Russia or China to veto it. Since the start of the Gaza war in October, the security council has struggled to find consensus against a backdrop of deep polarisation. It has agreed on humanitarian resolution involving temporary ceasefires but this is the first time it has embraced a comprehensive peace.

“Over the past eight months this council has often faced divisions and the world has taken notice with understandable frustration,” the US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said after the vote. “But there’s another side to this story because today we adopted a fourth resolution on this conflict.”

She declared: “Colleagues, today we voted for peace.”

The text stated that Israel had already accepted the ceasefire terms, though that claim is increasingly in question, as the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has made a string of sceptical comments on it, claiming that the US had only revealed parts of the plan, and insisting that any proposal for a lasting ceasefire without the complete destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capacity is a “non-starter”.

The resignation over the weekend of a centrist minister, Benny Gantz, has left Netanyahu even more dependent on far-right members of his coalition, who adamantly oppose the deal.

Hamas made positive comments when Biden first announced the deal, and said it welcomed the security council vote, but it has yet to give a formal response to the ceasefire proposal. The unusual show of relative unity by a deeply divided security council helps put pressure on both parties to strike an agreement, though both have shown themselves far more influenced by local constituencies and the personal interests of leaders, than by international public opinion.

Prospects for a hostage and ceasefire deal were significantly complicated by an Israeli raid in Gaza on Saturday to rescue four hostages, which killed 274 Palestinians.

One of the late changes made to the US draft resolution was designed to make it more palatable to Israel. It said the security council rejected any attempt to change the demographic or the geographical boundaries of Gaza, but it omits wording from the earlier version which specifically rejected the creation of a buffer zone around the coastal strip.

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Prospect of Israeli hostage deal recedes as far-right minister signals opposition

Bezalel Smotrich calls deal with Hamas ‘collective suicide’ as PM grapples with fallout from Benny Gantz resignation

The prospect of a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas appears to be rapidly receding after the far-right Israeli cabinet member Bezalel Smotrich – on whom Benjamin Netanyahu is now reliant after the resignations of more moderate ministers at the weekend – said he would oppose a deal.

Smotrich’s comments, during a Knesset committee meeting, came amid the fallout from the resignation of the former army chief of staff Benny Gantz from the war cabinet. Gantz quit on the same weekend that Israel rescued four Israeli hostages held in Gaza in an operation that Gaza’s health ministry said killed more than 270 Palestinians and injured hundreds more.

The departure of Gantz, the leader of the centre-right National Unity party, leaves Netanyahu with enough seats in his coalition but has made him even more reliant on the support of far-right allies including Smotrich, the finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, who have repeatedly threatened to walk away over any deal for a ceasefire in exchange for hostages.

Smotrich said Hamas was “demanding the release of hundreds of murderers [held by Israel] so that the hostages be freed” and called the deal that was being negotiated “collective suicide”, saying it would lead to the murder of Jews.

“When Hamas demands to end the war while it’s surviving in Gaza, it means that the group is arming itself, digging tunnels, buying rockets and that many Jews could be murdered and taken hostage on another October 7,” Smotrich said.

His comments underlined Netanyahu’s shrinking room for political manoeuvre barely 24 hours after the celebratory headlines in the Israeli media over the hostages’ rescue.

Netanyahu revelled in the operation’s success, meeting each of the hostages as cameras rolled. Recent opinion polls had already shown him making some progress in rehabilitating his image, and the rescue operation will help.

Analysts and commentators were quick to say that the possibility of replicating such an operation for the remaining 120 hostages, at least 40 of whom are believed to be dead, were slim as captives would be guarded more closely, making a negotiated deal even more crucial.

Netanyahu appears to be moving to consolidate his grip on the government amid reports he is considering scrapping the emergency war cabinet in which Gantz served.

Gantz was well thought of by some western diplomats, not least in the US, where he was perceived by the Biden administration as a voice of reason. The US is also concerned about the rising influence of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

In further signs of tensions within the coalition, the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, announced he planned to defy Netanyahu and oppose a controversial bill to draft a small number of ultra-Orthodox men into the military.

Columnists in the Israeli press have poured cold water on the notion that the hostage rescue operation removes the necessity for a hostage deal.

“If anyone believes [it] absolves the government of the need to strike a deal, they are living a fantasy,” Nahum Barnea wrote in the widely read Yediot Aharonot newspaper. “There are people out there who need to be saved, and the sooner the better.”

The Israeli army’s spokesperson, R Adm Daniel Hagari, acknowledged the limits of military force. “What will bring most of the hostages back home alive is a deal,” he told reporters.

That view was echoed by the uncle of one of the four rescued hostages, Almog Meir Jan, who was kidnapped during the Nova music festival.

“First we thank the IDF, the special forces, the decision-makers who took the decision to rescue them,” Aviram Meir said, adding that his nephew had been held in several different locations.

“Second, we have another 120 hostages that have to come home. I believe most of them won’t come home in a special operation and we need a deal to bring them home: the dead for burying and the living for recovery. And I think the struggle will continue, and personally, I will be there. Even though Almog came back, personally, I will continue.”

Describing his nephew’s ordeal, he said: “He was fortunate he was with the other two hostages, Shlomi Ziv and Andrey Kozlov, and they kept each other busy. They studied together languages, and all of them learned Arabic.

“Almog saw a rally of the families’ forum in Tel Aviv with his pictures so he knew that nobody had forgotten him. They took care of one another. They are now a team. They are very close now.”

Almog Meir Jan was held for at least some of the time by Abdallah Aljamal, who appears to have worked as a Palestinian journalist and as a spokesperson for Hamas’s labour ministry and was killed with several other family members during the raid. He had contributed a comment article in 2019 to Al Jazeera.

Linked to the political moves in Israel is how Hamas will interpret recent events, including the hostage rescue mission. Some have speculated that the raid and the high number of casualties may be a blow for the morale of Hamas fighters, while others have suggested Hamas leaders may be more interested in the splits in Israel’s political establishment.

With one senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, on Monday urging the US to put pressure on Israel to end the war, it seems likely that Hamas will redouble its demands for international guarantees on an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza rather than be persuaded to accept an interim ceasefire.

“We call upon the US administration to put pressure on the occupation to stop the war on Gaza and the Hamas movement is ready to deal positively with any initiative that secures an end to the war,” Zuhri said.

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Two boys, 12, found guilty of Shawn Seesahai murder in Wolverhampton

Pair become two of youngest convicted murderers in UK after machete attack on 19-year-old in park

Two 12-year-old boys have been found guilty of the murder of Shawn Seesahai, 19, who was killed in an apparently unprovoked machete attack in a Wolverhampton park in November.

The pair, who cannot be named because of their age, have become two of the youngest convicted murderers in the UK after jurors unanimously found them guilty on Monday.

They are believed to be the youngest defendants convicted of murder in Britain since Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both 11, were found guilty in 1993 of killing two-year-old James Bulger.

Seesahai was not known to the defendants, who claimed he antagonised them by asking them to move off a bench. One of the boys used a machete to slash at his legs and stab him through the heart, while the other reportedly punched and stamped on his head.

In an interview released after the verdicts, Seesahai’s father, Suresh Seesahai, said he felt sorry for the parents of the killers and only hoped justice had been served for his son. “This world is a different world, kids are dangerous now. If we don’t pay attention to them this will keep happening,” he said.

The court heard that Seesahai sustained injuries to his back and legs, a fractured skull and a 23cm-deep machete wound that cut through his right lung, into his heart and nearly came out of his chest.

One of the boys admitted possessing the machete used to kill Seesahai but blamed his co-defendant for stabbing the victim. Both boys denied murder and they blamed each other for the fatal injuries.

The jury was told that Seesahai and his friends “had offered no violence, nor done anything to offend” the two defendants, who had been roaming the streets with a large machete before the attack took place.

The prosecutor, Michelle Heeley KC, said: “The two boys engaged in a joint attack upon a man who had done nothing wrong, a man with no weapon, who was utterly defenceless on the ground. We say that these two boys were acting together and meant to kill Mr Seesahai; at the very least they intended to cause really serious harm. As a result of their actions, Shawn Seesahai died at the scene.”

Seesahai, originally from Anguilla in the Caribbean, was living in Handsworth in Birmingham at the time of the attack, having travelled to the UK to receive treatment for cataracts. The court heard he went to Wolverhampton on 13 November last year with friends and they were spending time on Stowlawn playing fields in the east of the city.

The two defendants were nearby, along with a female friend, and were “roaming the streets” and passing the machete between each other, the court heard. Giving evidence, one boy said Seesahai had come over to them and told them to move, before placing him in a headlock. This had triggered his friend to produce the machete, he said.

The victim’s friend told the trial he was forced to run for his life but Seesahai stumbled as he tried to flee and fell to the ground, where he was stabbed.

Giving evidence a couple of days later, the other boy denied wielding the machete and said he had been “nowhere near” the victim when he was stabbed.

One of the boys said they ran away from the scene and were given a lift home by his grandmother. At home, he used bleach to clean the machete, which he had bought for £40 from “a friend of a friend”, and hid it under his bed, he said. He was found to have 11 areas of blood staining on his clothing, while the other defendant had a small area of blood staining on his right trainer.

Jurors heard that one of the defendants had posed, wearing a mask, for a picture with the weapon hours before the killing. The boys told the court they both played video games in the hours after the attack and did not know Seesahai had died until the following day.

Phone evidence showed the boys had searched online for news articles about the attack, and one of them had searched “how many criminal records can you have to leave the country” a day after the murder.

Special arrangements were put in place for the trial due to the boys’ young age. Rather than sitting in the dock, they sat within the main courtroom alongside a family member and intermediaries who helped to explain the proceedings. Court sitting hours were reduced, with each session no longer than 40 minutes, while barristers and court staff did not wear wigs or gowns.

Jonathan Roe, the senior crown prosecutor for CPS West Midlands, said: “This was a horrifying and random act of brutality, perpetrated by two 12-year-olds who should not have been spending their time arming themselves with a machete and preparing to take a life. Shawn suffered traumatic injuries after being ruthlessly targeted by defendants who had a fixation with violence and were roaming the streets looking for a potential victim.”

The boys are expected to be sentenced on a date to be fixed in July.

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Murder of Shawn Seesahai by 12-year-olds in park shocked police

Two boys found guilty of killing in Wolverhampton are UK’s youngest convicted murderers for more than 30 years

Surrounded by quiet residential streets and the grounds of a primary school, Stowlawn playing fields in Wolverhampton are normally a place where teenagers kick a football around and children pass through as they walk home from school.

When Shawn Seesahai came across two 12-year-old boys hanging out in the park with a friend, he would not have expected one of them to be carrying a deadly weapon, or that minutes later they would use that weapon to kill him in a brutal, random attack.

Exactly what happened between Seesahai first coming into contact with the boys and them stabbing him with a machete was highly contested during the trial. The prosecution said Seesahai, 19, “had offered no violence, nor done anything to offend” the two boys before he was killed. He was a stranger to them, stumbled across them by chance and became a victim of their obsession with the weapon with which they had been posing for photos hours earlier.

Derron Harrigan, Seesahai’s friend, who was with him on the evening of the murder, said they were threatened by the boys while they were sat on a bench discussing their plans for Christmas.

He said one of the boys “shoulder-barged” Seesahai, before reaching for the blade and shouting “run bro”. “The dude took it out of its sheath,” he told the court. “We started to run but Shawn tripped. I was running for my life – I couldn’t stay there and watch.”

Giving evidence in court, the two boys claimed Seesahai had asked them to move off the bench. One said he had been put in a headlock by Seesahai, and his friend had used the weapon to threaten him.

Rachel Brand KC, representing the youth who admitted owning the machete, suggested the incident had been “sparked” after the defendants were aggressively asked to move. She said it may have been a “sudden and unexpected fatal stabbing” by a boy who “panicked or lost his head”.

Regardless of the exact sequence of events that triggered the stabbing, the fact that two boys so young were responsible for the violence has shocked those involved in the case. “In my career, I have not come across children as young as 12 carrying and using a machete in the manner which has been described in court,” said DI Damian Forrest from West Midlands police, the senior investigating officer in the case.

“I have been a police officer for 20 years and this isn’t the first time I’ve been out to a young man who has lost his life in a really violent way, but to then find out that two 12-year-olds were responsible was shocking and made us all on the investigation team stop and pause and think about things.”

Throughout the trial, both boys wore a shirt and tie as they sat flanked by intermediaries who helped explain court proceedings to them – while they used fidget aids to help calm their nerves.

It was a sharp reminder of how young they are, and how dangerous weapons are falling into increasingly younger hands. The youth who owned the 42.5cm-long black-bladed machete refused to name the person he bought it from for £40. He was reported to be obsessed with knives and nonchalant about the stabbing, telling friends in one message: “It is what it is.”

He carried it around concealed in his trouser leg and sent photos of him masked and holding it to friends because he “thought it was cool”, he told the court.

Neither boy had any previous convictions, cautions or reprimands. After a random encounter in a Wolverhampton park, they have now become the UK’s youngest convicted murderers since Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were found guilty of James Bulger’s murder in 1993.

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French parties hold emergency talks with possible allies for snap election

Country braces for ‘most consequential’ poll in decades after decision by Macron in response to far-right surge in EU vote

Political parties in France held emergency talks to sound out potential allies on Monday as the country braced for its most consequential legislative election in decades, called by Emmanuel Macron after being roundly defeated by the far right in the European parliamentary elections.

The National Rally (RN) won about 32% of the vote on Sunday, more than double the 15% or so scored by the president’s allies, according to exit polls. The Socialists on 14% came within a whisker of the Macron group.

Macron’s Renaissance party has 169 deputies in the national assembly and the RN 88.

The unexpected and risky decision to hold an election so soon could hand major political power to the far right after years on the sidelines and neuter Macron’s presidency three years before it ends. If the far-right party wins an outright majority, the president would in effect lose control over most French domestic policy.

“This will be the most consequential parliamentary election for France and for the French in the history of the Fifth Republic,” the finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, told RTL radio. “We must fight for France and for the French. We have three weeks to campaign and convince the French.”

Emmanuel Pellerin, a Renaissance party MP, said he and his colleagues were “still in shock”, adding: “Everything points to the RN winning a relative or absolute majority. But that forces the French to think about what is at stake.”

The legislative vote will take place on 30 June, less than a month before the start of the Paris Olympics, with a second round on 7 July. The results are likely to depend on how committed leftwing and centre-right voters are to keeping the far right away from power.

The president’s move caught some far-right leaders off guard. “We didn’t think it would be immediately after the European elections, even if we wanted it to be,” the RN deputy chair, Sébastien Chenu, said on RTL Radio. “Elections are rarely a gift and in this context they aren’t.”

He called for rightwing lawmakers from outside the RN to swell its ranks in its battle to beat Macron, and said the party’s telegenic president, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, would be its candidate for prime minister.

Bardella’s mentor, Marine Le Pen, who was runner-up in the last two presidential elections, has remained party leader in parliament and is largely expected to run again in 2027.

Bardella, Le Pen and Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal – who headed the list of the far-right Reconquête party in the EU elections – met at RN’s headquarters on Monday afternoon to discuss a possible electoral coalition.

Early on Monday evening, Bardella said Marechal had “a constructive approach towards the RN” and said he hoped to forge as large a majority as possible. He said: “I’m perfectly prepared to talk to people who share the ambition of bringing some of our ideas to power.”

The leaders of the very divided French left – the hard-left LFI (France Unbowed), Communists, Socialists and Greens – also held emergency talks after Macron’s announcement.

“We don’t have time to procrastinate,” LFI’s Manon Aubry told reporters. “The objective is to be able to meet again, to build the future and above all to go and win.”

Analysts have said an outright far-right majority is unlikely, partly because voters often use European elections as a low-cost way of delivering a kick to the incumbent government, and things may well turn out differently in a parliamentary election.

Macron’s gamble is being seen as an attempt to make the best of his weak position by reclaiming the initiative and forcing the RN into election mode faster than it would have liked. The president will be aiming to rally centrist and leftist voters at a time when there is widespread shock after a far-right surge across the continent.

A source close to Macron said the president was “going for the win”, adding that the idea was to mobilise the voters who had stayed away on Sunday. “There’s audacity in this decision, risk-taking, which has always been part of our political DNA,” the source said.

But another source close to Macron said: “I knew this option was on the table, but when it becomes reality it’s something else … I didn’t sleep last night.”

Announcing his decision on Sunday night, Macron said he could not pretend nothing had happened in the European elections. “I have decided to give you the choice … therefore I will dissolve the national assembly tonight,” he said. The president acknowledged that the decision was “serious and heavy” but called it “an act of confidence”.

He said he had confidence in “the capacity of the French people to make the best choice for themselves and for future generations”, adding: “This is an essential time for clarification. I have heard your message, your concerns, and I will not leave them unanswered … France needs a clear majority to act in serenity and harmony.”

Not everyone was convinced by the move. Yaël Braun-Pivet, a senior figure within Macron’s party who serves as the speaker of the lower house, appeared to express some doubt on Monday morning, indicating that forming a coalition with other parties in the French parliament could have been a better path.

“The president believed that this path did not exist … I take note of the decision,” she told France 2 TV.

Raphaël Glucksmann, who headed the Socialist party’s list, said Macron had “given in” to Bardella. “This is a very dangerous game to play with democracy and the institutions. I am flabbergasted.”

Another critic, Valérie Pécresse, a senior figure in the conservative Les Républicains party, said: “Dissolving without giving anyone time to organise and without any campaign is playing Russian roulette with the country’s destiny.”

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said the decision to send France to the polls just weeks before the capital hosts the Olympic Games at the end of July was “extremely troubling”.

But the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, attempted to play down such concerns, saying the elections were “a democratic process that won’t disrupt the Games”.

He added: “France is used to holding elections and they will do it once again. There will be a new parliament, a new government, and everybody will support the Olympic Games.”

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Ursula von der Leyen in pole position as she tries to build majority to keep job

Macron’s bombshell adds uncertainty to the race to be European Commission president, and the incumbent will need to look left or right for support

Ursula von der Leyen has begun trying to craft a majority for a second term as European Commission president, after major gains for the far right that are likely to mean a less stable European parliament.

Von der Leyen, a German Christian Democrat, was jubilant after her European People’s party (EPP) secured 186 of the 720 seats in the European elections, maintaining its 25-year hold as the largest group and leaving her a narrow path to a second term.

But she has been presented with a wild card: Emmanuel Macron’s bombshell decision to call snap elections after his Renaissance party came a dismal second to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in France.

Von der Leyen, the first woman to lead the commission, was the EPP’s lead candidate and remains in pole position. With the added uncertainty of French elections in the mix, she has to clear two hurdles. First she needs the backing of a qualified majority of EU leaders, then an absolute majority – 361 votes – in the new European parliament.

EU leaders are expected to take a decision on her appointment as part of a package of top jobs at a two-day summit starting on 27 June, just before the first round of French parliamentary elections on 30 June.

Brussels insiders pride themselves on not allowing such decisions to be delayed by elections, as there is always a vote around the corner in the 27-country union. One EU diplomat said von der Leyen “was and still is the presumptive second-term commission president” and there was no reason to expect a delay. “Macron can do what he wants with national elections but he shouldn’t expect all of us to grind to a halt to watch him do it,” they said.

Célia Belin, the head of the Paris office at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the impact of the French elections on the EU jobs talks could depend on Macron’s popularity at home. If opinion polls showed Macron far behind National Rally, “the legitimacy for him to appoint von der Leyen is much smaller”, she said, but if the polls showed a better, or less bad, result for him, “he might feel emboldened to just decide earlier”.

Either way, Macron will discuss von der Leyen’s future with Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Puglia at the end of the week (13-15 June). As head of the commission, von der Leyen is also expected in Italy, as is the European Council president, Charles Michel, tasked with being an honest broker in the jobs negotiations. These five will join other EU leaders for an informal dinner in Brussels next Monday to widen the discussions, before the summit at the end of the month.

Beyond pitching to EU leaders, von der Leyen arguably has an even more pressing task: persuading the incoming European parliament to back her. On Monday she reiterated that she would turn to Europe’s “main political families” to form her majority, referring to her own EPP, the Socialists and Democrats in second place with 135 seats, and the centrist Renew group with 79 seats, according to provisional results on Monday afternoon.

These three groups hold 400 of the 720 seats but that slim majority is not enough. In the large, ideologically messy European parliament of political families, about 10-15% of MEPs regularly fail to toe the party line. In 2019 von der Leyen was elected with only nine votes to spare, despite a paper majority of 65 for the groups supporting her.

That means she has to look right or left to secure her re-election, either to the hard-right Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), who surged to win 73 seats, or the Greens, who were knocked down to 53 seats.

While von der Leyen has clearly ruled out working with “Putin’s proxies” on the far right, she has avoided saying whether she favours a deal with “constructive” Eurosceptics in the ECR, led by Meloni.

Speaking to CDU activists in Berlin on Monday, von der Leyen reiterated that her goal was to work with parties that are “pro-European, pro-Ukraine and for the rule of law”, a designation that for her apparently includes Meloni’s hard-right Brothers of Italy.

Unlike Macron and Scholz, Meloni has emerged even stronger from the European elections, with her party beating forecasts by winning almost 29% of the Italian vote, roughly five times its vote share in 2019.

Hosting the G7 summit in Puglia this week, Meloni is now viewed as somewhat of a beacon of stability in a continent shaken by significant far-right gains in key countries such as France and Germany.

It is an unusual position for Italy, famous for its turbulent, short-lived governments, while establishing Meloni as a “kingmaker” in the European parliament.

The Italian leader on Monday said it was “too early” to answer whether she favoured a second mandate for von der Leyen. But choosing Meloni would put von der Leyen at risk of losing allies in the centre: the Socialists have insisted they will not support von der Leyen if she makes a deal with the ECR.

The commission president could instead look left, turning to the pro-European Greens, who slipped to sixth place behind Meloni’s ECR and the far right.

The Greens voted against her in 2019 but supported her Green deal. “We will never put the bar so high that it is unreachable,” said the outgoing MEP Philippe Lamberts, who has a good personal relationship with von der Leyen. “What will be front and centre for us will be the widening, the deepening of the European Green Deal and the strengthening of European democracy. We will need to see commitments in order for us to support her.”

Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU law at HEC Paris business school, thinks the appointment of commission president will be delayed until the autumn, not only because of France’s snap elections but due to uncertainty over the next EU programme and the coalition behind it. “Nobody has a clearcut idea what these elections mean and how they can be translated into the next political cycle,” Alemanno said.

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Fears for Green Deal as number of MEPs from climate-denying parties set to rise

Far-right gains unlikely to unravel deal but may dampen support for bringing EU in line with 1.5C, say analysts

The new European parliament is on course to have more politicians from parties that deny climate science and fewer from parties that want to cut pollution faster.

The results of the four-day election, which are still being finalised, show sizeable gains for far-right parties and a drop in support for the Greens that has cost them about a quarter of their seats. It has raised fears that the EU is about to put the brakes on climate ambitions that have helped set pollution-cutting standards globally.

Sven Harmeling, the head of climate policy at the European branch of the campaign group Climate Action Network, said many of the far-right groups that won seats could be characterised as climate deniers that were not up to the task of solving the climate and energy crises. “However, European climate policy cannot be rolled back easily,” he said.

After the last elections, in 2019, the EU pledged to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by cutting pollution and protecting nature. Under the leadership of the centre-right commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and with the support of other centrist factions, it passed a raft of measures known as the Green Deal, most of which ultimately made it over the finish line after being watered down by politicians and member states.

The European far right, while deeply divided over cutting its ties to its fascist roots, has mostly stood together in its opposition to the Green Deal. But its members have treated climate policy as a side issue – one that scores easy wins in culture wars but that is not worth pushing in election campaigns based on immigration, identity and the economy. Their supporters generally accept the science of climate change and vote based on their other policy positions.

Analysts say far-right gains are unlikely to unravel Green Deal policies put in place over the past five years but may dampen support for bringing the continent’s policies in line with what scientists say is needed to stop the planet from heating by 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels.

Vincent Hurkens, the lead on EU politics at the climate thinktank E3G, said: “Despite a lot of the attention going to the far-right gains, a vast majority of Europeans still voted for parties in the political centre. It is up to the centre right, liberals and social democrats [to decide] how much power and influence they allow the far right, and their ideas, to have on the future of the European Green Deal. Choices by these political families in the upcoming weeks will be decisive for Europe’s capacity to act against dramatic impacts and risks of climate change.”

The policies that have attracted the most ire from the right are those that affect voters directly – from phasing out combustion engine cars to in effect banning new gas boilers – and those that increase short-term costs for farmers. The centre-right European People’s party, which is projected to have increased its seats, had already begun to backtrack on support for some Green Deal measures in the outgoing parliament.

The next commission president is likely to be under even less pressure from the Greens, who are projected to have shed 20 of their 72 seats. The party took big losses in Germany and France but had small wins in the Nordic EU countries. Among the under-30s in Germany – traditionally seen as champions of climate action – exit polls showed the Greens shedding votes as the far right and newer parties gained them, a shift that could sound alarm bells for progressive parties that rely on younger voters in other countries holding elections this year.

Jessica Haak, a political scientist at Hamburg University, said there was no single explanation for Green losses but that a shift in the perceived importance of the climate crisis partly explained the trend in western Europe.

“In previous European parliamentary elections, climate protests had pushed environmental concerns to the forefront of the political agenda across most of the EU,” she said. “Although voters in some western European countries still consider climate issues important, they prioritised economic concerns, migration and war.”

Big battles remain over existing climate policy proposals. The EU plans to set a legally binding emissions target for 2040 under the next commission, while European environment ministers will vote on Monday on the fate of a proposed law to protect nature that has faced a huge backlash from farming lobbies.

European leaders are also still struggling to respond to the vast subsidies pouring into green industries in big economies such as the US and China.

Matthias Buck, the Europe director at the climate thinktank Agora Energiewende, said the election underlined the importance of affordable energy, security, safe jobs and competitiveness. He said responding to this would mean speeding up investments in clean energy and developing a robust industrial strategy that provided certainty to companies investing in a climate-neutral future.

“The past five years have firmly established the Green Deal as the EU’s growth strategy on its path to climate neutrality,” Buck said. “The main task for the next five years is to make sure that citizens and businesses fully benefit from the transition.”

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New Zealand Opera to provide braille surtitles for live performances

Vision-impaired operagoers now able to follow lyrics or scripts without interference of audio descriptions

New Zealand’s blind and low-vision opera fans will be the first in the world to have access to braille surtitles, designed to enrich their experience of a live performance without the interference of audio descriptions.

Opera companies around the world regularly use surtitles – where lyrics or scripts are translated into other languages and published on screens during a live performance – to give audiences a deeper understanding of what is being said or sung on stage, in real time.

Until now, the primary option for vision-impaired operagoers to understand the opera text has been through audio descriptions, which can interfere with the music.

NZ Opera’s general director, Brad Cohen, developed the technology alongside his company contexts.live. It sends braille surtitles to a user’s personal braille-reading machine at the same time as the sighted audience is reading the translations on screen.

Cohen believes the technology is a world first and could change the way vision-impaired operagoers connect with a performance.

“Blind and low-vision patrons have always been at a disadvantage – they haven’t had the same experiences as the rest of the room was having,” Cohen said. “For us this is a really important step in levelling the playing field, giving them the same experience and same text as the rest of the audience is seeing.”

Users of the technology access the text through a webpage on their phone, which then sends the words, line by line, to the braille reader.

“The beauty of the technology we built is that it has lots of outputs, they are all live-synchronised to what is going on on stage,” Cohen said.

That means a sighted person can read it on the opera screen, a low-vision person can read it in large text on their device and at the same time a blind person could be either listening to it or reading it in braille.

Cohen hopes the technology will be adopted by others in the live performance realm. “We would love opera companies to take it but we see huge potential for conferences or anything where there is an existing script.”

After a successful first opera trial during the Auckland season of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, the technology will now become a permanent option for NZ Opera’s performances.

Paul Brown, a blind opera fan and co-director of the company Audio Described Aotearoa, assisted Cohen with the technology and was part of the trial last week. He said the technology was “life changing”.

“It’s a recognition of braille as the primary literacy method for a group of people, but secondly, it means we are getting the surtitles the whole audience are seeing,” Brown said.

The latter was particularly important for Le Comte Ory because it had been translated into New Zealand slang, he said, adding that listening to opera without an audio description and still being able to understand the text added “another layer” to the performance.

“I know the audience was laughing at the surtitles because they were so idiosyncratic – to know what they were laughing at, you had to have access to the surtitles.”

He said the potential for the technology was exciting. “People around the world who are braille enthusiasts are really thinking about what this could be used for and what it could open up – potentially it’s a lot.”

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New Zealand Opera to provide braille surtitles for live performances

Vision-impaired operagoers now able to follow lyrics or scripts without interference of audio descriptions

New Zealand’s blind and low-vision opera fans will be the first in the world to have access to braille surtitles, designed to enrich their experience of a live performance without the interference of audio descriptions.

Opera companies around the world regularly use surtitles – where lyrics or scripts are translated into other languages and published on screens during a live performance – to give audiences a deeper understanding of what is being said or sung on stage, in real time.

Until now, the primary option for vision-impaired operagoers to understand the opera text has been through audio descriptions, which can interfere with the music.

NZ Opera’s general director, Brad Cohen, developed the technology alongside his company contexts.live. It sends braille surtitles to a user’s personal braille-reading machine at the same time as the sighted audience is reading the translations on screen.

Cohen believes the technology is a world first and could change the way vision-impaired operagoers connect with a performance.

“Blind and low-vision patrons have always been at a disadvantage – they haven’t had the same experiences as the rest of the room was having,” Cohen said. “For us this is a really important step in levelling the playing field, giving them the same experience and same text as the rest of the audience is seeing.”

Users of the technology access the text through a webpage on their phone, which then sends the words, line by line, to the braille reader.

“The beauty of the technology we built is that it has lots of outputs, they are all live-synchronised to what is going on on stage,” Cohen said.

That means a sighted person can read it on the opera screen, a low-vision person can read it in large text on their device and at the same time a blind person could be either listening to it or reading it in braille.

Cohen hopes the technology will be adopted by others in the live performance realm. “We would love opera companies to take it but we see huge potential for conferences or anything where there is an existing script.”

After a successful first opera trial during the Auckland season of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, the technology will now become a permanent option for NZ Opera’s performances.

Paul Brown, a blind opera fan and co-director of the company Audio Described Aotearoa, assisted Cohen with the technology and was part of the trial last week. He said the technology was “life changing”.

“It’s a recognition of braille as the primary literacy method for a group of people, but secondly, it means we are getting the surtitles the whole audience are seeing,” Brown said.

The latter was particularly important for Le Comte Ory because it had been translated into New Zealand slang, he said, adding that listening to opera without an audio description and still being able to understand the text added “another layer” to the performance.

“I know the audience was laughing at the surtitles because they were so idiosyncratic – to know what they were laughing at, you had to have access to the surtitles.”

He said the potential for the technology was exciting. “People around the world who are braille enthusiasts are really thinking about what this could be used for and what it could open up – potentially it’s a lot.”

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  • Blindness and visual impairment
  • Opera
  • Theatre
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  • Disability
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Ukraine war briefing: Zelenskiy’s army of drones gets its own commander

Ukrainians claim hits on air defences in occupied Crimea; US, Poland and allies launch taskforce to counter Russian disinformation. What we know on day 839

  • Ukraine announced the appointment of Vadym Sukharevskyi as commander of drone forces, a newly created post. Sukharevskyi was already a deputy commander of the armed forces with responsibility for drones. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, decreed in February the creation of a separate branch of the armed forces devoted to drones and the order was endorsed last week by the government.

  • Ukraine’s military said it damaged three surface-to-air defence systems in Russian-occupied Crimea over Monday night. Missiles struck an S400 system in Dzhankoi and two S300 systems near Yevpatoriya and Chornomorske, resulting in “significant losses” for Russian air defences, Ukraine’s general staff said.

  • The Ukrainians claimed responsibility for an attack on the Novoshakhtinsk refinery in southern Russia on 5 June. “According to intelligence reports, as a result of the strike, the invaders lost 1.5m metric tonnes of oil and petroleum products, which amounts to about $540m,” said a statement issued by the Ukrainian military’s general staff. The Rostov governor, Vasily Golubev, told Interfax news agency that operations at Novoshakhtinsk suffered “significant disruptions” after a fire following a drone attack.

  • Ukraine may keep some of the F-16 fighter jets it is set to receive from its western allies at foreign bases to protect them from Russian strikes, said Serhii Holubtsov, head of aviation within Ukraine’s air force.

  • The US and Poland on Monday launched a multinational group based in Warsaw to counter Russian disinformation on the war in Ukraine. James Rubin, US special envoy, said the Ukraine Communications Group would involve around a dozen western representatives working to “promote accurate reporting of Russia’s full-scale invasion, amplify Ukrainian voices and expose Kremlin information manipulation”.

  • Nearly 90 countries and organisations, half from Europe, have confirmed attending the Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace summit over the weekend despite Russia’s refusal to participate in the conference, Switzerland’s president said.
    Viola Amherd told reporters in the Swiss capital that the summit, on Saturday and Sunday, will aim to chart a path toward possible peace nearly 28 months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

  • Zelenskiy arrived in Germany for a conference on Ukraine’s postwar recovery and talks with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Zelenskiy said measures concerning Ukraine’s energy sector, damaged by Russian air attacks, would be the priority, as well as continued military support, including air defences and joint manufacture of munitions, and the coordination of positions ahead of the “peace summit” to be hosted by Switzerland later in the week.

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Judge in Trump’s classified documents trial expunges indictment paragraph

Aileen Cannon ruled ex-president would not be charged for waving classified papers as that conduct was not on trial

The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s prosecution on charges of retaining classified documents agreed on Monday to expunge from the indictment a paragraph about an episode where the former president waved around a classified document at his Bedminster club in New Jersey.

The US district judge Aileen Cannon ruled she would strike the paragraph because Trump was not charged with a crime for the conduct it described and would be unfairly prejudicial if a jury later saw it at trial.

Cannon’s ruling is notable because it could indicate how she will rule on future motions by Trump to suppress evidence as he attempts to limit the scope of the evidence prosecutors can introduce against him – and thereby dramatically undercut the case.

The move to strike the paragraph was unusual, legal experts said.

Cannon ruled that the passage should be expunged relying in part on a federal rule that says evidence of “other crimes” cannot be used against a defendant to suggest bad character, without addressing the second part of that rule that allows it in the case that it shows proof of motive.

The prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, had argued that they included the passage precisely because it was allowed under the second part of the rule but Cannon took issue with the fact that Trump had not been charged for the conduct it described.

The passage in question – paragraph 36 – uses vague terms but describes Trump in 2021 waving around a classified map of Afghanistan while criticizing the US withdrawal to his now 2024 presidential campaign chief Susie Wiles, according to sources familiar with the matter.

“In August or September 2021, when he was no longer president, Tump met in his office at The Bedminster Club with a representative of his political action committee (the ‘PAC Representative’). During the meeting, Trump commented that an ongoing military operation was not going well,” the paragraph said.

“Trump showed the PAC Representative a classified map of Country B and told the PAC Representative that he should not be showing the map to the PAC Representative and to not get too close. The PAC Representative did not have a security clearance or any need-to-know classified information about the military operation.”

The move by Cannon came in a broader 14-page decision, where she denied Trump’s request to have the obstruction counts dismissed.

For the most part, Cannon wrote that she was rejecting Trump’s motion because his complaints were factual matters that should be raised as part of his defense arguments at trial and could not form the basis to dismiss an indictment, as opposed to matters of law, which can be adjudicated pre-trial.

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‘Heartbreaking’: fire destroys historic Toronto church and rare paintings

Destroyed artefacts in St Anne’s Anglican church include unique paintings by Group of Seven art collective

An early morning fire at a Toronto church has destroyed both a historic site and rare paintings by an acclaimed group of Canadian artists, leaving the city reeling from a “heartbreaking” loss.

Fire crews responded on Sunday to a blaze engulfing St Anne’s Anglican church, a national historic site in the city’s Little Portugal neighbourhood.

“The building is completely destroyed right now, as are all the artefacts inside,” Jim Jessop, deputy fire chief, told reporters, adding it was “way too early” to determine the cause of the fire.

For those close to the church, the blaze represented an “extraordinary” cultural loss.

“While this is incredibly devastating for my congregation, it’s devastating for this community,” Don Beyers, a priest at St Anne’s, told reporters. “I cannot express enough how far-reaching this church fire is going to be.”

Among the vibrant art on the walls of the church were nearly 20 works depicting Jesus’s life painted by members of the Group of Seven, an acclaimed Canadian art collective that reached its creative zenith in the 1920s.

The group is credited with dramatically reshaping how Canadians understood and perceived the vast wilds of the country. In recent decades, work by the members has become among the most highly sought-after art in the country.

In 2016, a mountain scene by member Lawren Harris sold at auction for more than C$11m (US$8m). While the group stands atop lists of Canada’s most famous painters, the legacy of the Group of Seven has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, including how it excluded equally talented painters who were women.

The works lost in the fire were by JEH MacDonald, Fred Varley and Franklin Carmichael, who depicted Old Testament prophets, the Nativity and the Crucifixion.

“The elaborate interior mural decorations, designed by JEH MacDonald, cover the walls and ceiling of the apse, the main arches, the pendentives and the central dome,” Parks Canada says on its website. “The cycle combines narrative scenes, written texts, as well as decorative plasterwork and detailing accentuating the architectural lines of the building.”

Beyers said the 18 murals were exceedingly rare.

“This is the only church that featured artwork by members of the Group of Seven, and I’m sorry to say, but that’s been lost from what I can see,” he said.

The church, inspired in part by the Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, was completed in 1908, eventually designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996. The Byzantine design marked a departure from the conventional look of Anglican churches and the only of its kind in Canada.

As the building smouldered on Sunday, local politicians gathered to mourn a cornerstone of the community.

“It’s something that we cannot replace in Canada, and in the world, but this is much more than just a building,” said city councillor Alejandra Bravo. “This is a place that has provided support, home, love, brought people from the community together, served needs of people who needed it and provided the spiritual support that people so desperately needed in times where they’ve also fallen on hard times.”

According to reporting by CBC News, 33 churches across the country have been destroyed by fire over the last two and a half years, with many ruled to be arson.

Fire officials say no one was inside the church at the time of the fire and there were no reports of injuries. Police have set up an online portal for members of the public to submit photos or video footage as investigators try to determine the cause of the blaze.

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‘Heartbreaking’: fire destroys historic Toronto church and rare paintings

Destroyed artefacts in St Anne’s Anglican church include unique paintings by Group of Seven art collective

An early morning fire at a Toronto church has destroyed both a historic site and rare paintings by an acclaimed group of Canadian artists, leaving the city reeling from a “heartbreaking” loss.

Fire crews responded on Sunday to a blaze engulfing St Anne’s Anglican church, a national historic site in the city’s Little Portugal neighbourhood.

“The building is completely destroyed right now, as are all the artefacts inside,” Jim Jessop, deputy fire chief, told reporters, adding it was “way too early” to determine the cause of the fire.

For those close to the church, the blaze represented an “extraordinary” cultural loss.

“While this is incredibly devastating for my congregation, it’s devastating for this community,” Don Beyers, a priest at St Anne’s, told reporters. “I cannot express enough how far-reaching this church fire is going to be.”

Among the vibrant art on the walls of the church were nearly 20 works depicting Jesus’s life painted by members of the Group of Seven, an acclaimed Canadian art collective that reached its creative zenith in the 1920s.

The group is credited with dramatically reshaping how Canadians understood and perceived the vast wilds of the country. In recent decades, work by the members has become among the most highly sought-after art in the country.

In 2016, a mountain scene by member Lawren Harris sold at auction for more than C$11m (US$8m). While the group stands atop lists of Canada’s most famous painters, the legacy of the Group of Seven has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, including how it excluded equally talented painters who were women.

The works lost in the fire were by JEH MacDonald, Fred Varley and Franklin Carmichael, who depicted Old Testament prophets, the Nativity and the Crucifixion.

“The elaborate interior mural decorations, designed by JEH MacDonald, cover the walls and ceiling of the apse, the main arches, the pendentives and the central dome,” Parks Canada says on its website. “The cycle combines narrative scenes, written texts, as well as decorative plasterwork and detailing accentuating the architectural lines of the building.”

Beyers said the 18 murals were exceedingly rare.

“This is the only church that featured artwork by members of the Group of Seven, and I’m sorry to say, but that’s been lost from what I can see,” he said.

The church, inspired in part by the Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, was completed in 1908, eventually designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996. The Byzantine design marked a departure from the conventional look of Anglican churches and the only of its kind in Canada.

As the building smouldered on Sunday, local politicians gathered to mourn a cornerstone of the community.

“It’s something that we cannot replace in Canada, and in the world, but this is much more than just a building,” said city councillor Alejandra Bravo. “This is a place that has provided support, home, love, brought people from the community together, served needs of people who needed it and provided the spiritual support that people so desperately needed in times where they’ve also fallen on hard times.”

According to reporting by CBC News, 33 churches across the country have been destroyed by fire over the last two and a half years, with many ruled to be arson.

Fire officials say no one was inside the church at the time of the fire and there were no reports of injuries. Police have set up an online portal for members of the public to submit photos or video footage as investigators try to determine the cause of the blaze.

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Apple brings ChatGPT to Siri as it debuts ‘Apple Intelligence’ at WWDC 2024

New features and deal with OpenAI presented at conference marks change in focus for tech giant, which is under pressure to catch up with rival firms’ AI push

Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, announced a series of generative artificial intelligence products and services on Monday during his keynote speech at the company’s annual developer conference, WWDC, including a deal with ChatGPT-maker OpenAI.

The new tools mark a major shift toward AI for Apple, which has seen slowing global sales over the past year and integrated fewer AI features into its consumer-facing products than competitors.

“It has to understand you and be grounded in your personal context like your routine, your relationships, your communications and more. It’s beyond artificial intelligence. It’s personal intelligence,” said Cook. “Introducing Apple Intelligence.”

Apple’s new artificial intelligence system involves a range of generative AI tools aimed at creating an automated, personalized experience on its devices. The demonstration showed Apple’s AI would be integrated throughout the operating systems on its laptops, iPads and iPhones, as well as be able to pull information from and take action within apps.

The company also confirmed its much-anticipated partnership with OpenAI during the keynote, announcing that Apple would integrate ChatGPT technology into responses from Siri, its AI assistant.

One of Apple’s biggest updates was a new version of its Siri, which executives promised would feature a “more natural, more contextually relevant and more personal” experience. The new Siri is able to function as an AI chatbot and receive written instructions, and also has the ability to take actions within apps based on voice prompts. Apple promised that Siri would be able to look through your emails, texts and photos to find specific information based on relevant context. Apple demonstrated that its AI could, for instance, pick out the word “daughter” from an email and connect it to the matching phone contact. Throughout the demonstration, executives emphasized measures Apple had taken to protect users’ privacy when using company’s AI, such as a dedicated set of servers that would power the features but not store users’ personal information or on-device responses.

Apple Intelligence also has the ability to summarize notifications, emails and texts. A group chat that involves figuring out trip planning could be shortened to a single message that conveys who booked a hotel and when to arrive, according to the demo. A new image generation tool, meanwhile, allows users to create unique emoji reactions, while its Image Playground feature can create more complex visuals in several different styles.

The company also announced an updated operating system for its Vision Pro headset. The virtual reality device, which has only been available in the US since its release in February, will become available in China, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom in the next two months.

Apple said it would adopt Rich Communication Services to improve messaging between iPhones and other smartphones as well as expanding customization options for iMessage. Phones running Google’s Android operating system have long employed the messaging protocol. More incremental updates included a redesigned photos app, hiking maps in Apple Maps, tweaks to the Wallet app, customization options for texting, and texting via satellite in locations without cell tower connections.

While the boom in generative AI in recent years has led tech giants such as Google to revamp their core services, Apple had until now held off from incorporating the technology into its flagship products. The company’s lack of generative AI tools has been a consistent source of consternation among analysts and investors over the previous year as they expressed concern that Apple seemed to be playing catch-up in the AI race.

As pressure grew on Apple to provide some form of new AI offering, the company began discussing partnerships and eyeing ways of updating tools like Siri, its voice assistant that debuted in 2011. After Cook promised shareholders last month that Apple was making “significant investments” into artificial intelligence, Bloomberg reported that the company was finalizing a deal with OpenAI to integrate the startup’s technology into its devices.

Apple’s stock has rallied in recent months as investors waited to see what the company would unveil. Apple has struggled this year with weakening global demand for its iPhone, reporting another overall drop in revenue during an earnings call last month. An antitrust lawsuit in the US, a canceled electric vehicle project and a lack of public fanfare for the expensive Vision Pro have additionally dogged the company.

Other tech firms have meanwhile seen their stock market value rise as they emphasized investments into artificial intelligence, with Apple’s rival Microsoft beating analyst’s expectations this year as its revenue and share price grew. The AI chipmaker Nvidia hit a $3tn stock market valuation last week, overtaking Apple to become the world’s second most valuable public company.

Although Apple has been reluctant to debut a marquee AI product, it has been quietly building up its artificial intelligence capabilities and investments for years. It has acquired several AI startups, reallocated employees to work on artificial intelligence and is setting up an AI research lab in Zurich.

Apple’s hesitancy to enter the AI game may have been influenced by a desire to maintain its privacy-focused brand. Because AI relies on collecting large amounts of data to train language learning models, the company’s partnership with OpenAI raised privacy concerns with some critics – including Elon Musk, who stated Apple devices will be “banned from the premises” of his companies over privacy concerns if the ChatGPT integration launches.

However, in a press briefing following the event, Cook told reporters that Apple plans to usher in a “new standard for privacy in AI”. The company will release a paper the same day as the keynote highlighting how it will “apply this technology in a responsible way”, he added.

In an on-stage discussion, Craig Federighi, senior vice-president of software engineering at Apple, said the company built the majority of the “Apple intelligence” offerings with its own technology and proprietary foundational models. In other words, the ChatGPT partnership extends primarily to search function and enhanced writing tools, while the bulk of AI tools were created by Apple itself. Users will need to opt in explicitly before engaging with external AI models, like those offered by OpenAI.

“For artificial intelligence to be really useful, it has to be centered on you,” said Federighi. “[To make] that possible, it needs to be integrated into the experience all the time – it needs to be informed by context and knowledge of you. And if it’s going to do that, there’s a lot of responsibility to protect your privacy.”

Other privacy measures from Apple include a new hybrid cloud system called “private cloud compute”. The company said it aims to complete the majority of processing for AI tools on-device, but will provide additional privacy measures for more complex computing that requires the cloud.

Despite these assurances, the pressure on Apple to deliver AI-powered services means the company has had to make some “tough decisions” surrounding its “long-held focus on privacy and security”, said Ben Wood, chief analyst and CMO at CCS Insight.

“Implementing a cloud-based AI solution is a fascinating tension which sees Apple arriving at the same conclusion as rivals such as Google – that it is not possible to fully run today’s AI features on-device, and those elements must be outsourced to the cloud,” he said. “Apple will try to play up its security credentials, but this marks a shift in approach nonetheless.”

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Aircraft carrying Malawi’s vice-president goes missing

President appeals for international help to find aircraft carrying Saulos Chilima and nine others that ‘went off the radar’ after leaving capital Lilongwe

Malawi’s president has appealed for international help to find the aircraft carrying his vice-president, Saulos Chilima, and nine others after it went missing on Monday.

Dr Lazarus Chakwera used a national address from Kamuzu Palace to request assistance from the US, Israel, UK and other development partners as well as neighbouring countries after the defence force aircraft “went off the radar” when it left the capital Lilongwe at 9.17am local time.

It failed to land in Mzuzu, almost 300km (185 miles) north, at its scheduled time of 10.02am.

The president urged prayers for the passengers and said he hoped to find survivors, directing that the search by the Malawian Defense Force must continue through the night.

“All efforts by aviation authorities to make contact with the aircraft since it went off the radar have failed thus far,” said an earlier statement from the president’s office. The statement did not specify the type of aircraft.

The president has cancelled a planned visit to the Bahamas.

Chilima, 51, had been due to attend the funeral of Ralph Kasambara, a former minister of justice and attorney general, in the village of Chijere, east of Mzuzu. Kasambara, 55, was found dead after suffering heart failure last Friday, according to a government Facebook post.

Malawi is experiencing heavy rains in some parts of the country, especially the north.

Chilima has been the southern African country’s vice-president since 2014. He previously led the mobile network Airtel Malawi, as well as working at Unilever, Coca-Cola and Carlsberg, according to his profile on the government’s website.

Chilima is married and has two children. He received a PhD in knowledge management from the University of Bolton, according to the government website.

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Michael Mosley almost certainly died of natural causes, inquest finds

Initial investigation says there were no injuries to suggest a crime after body discovered on Greek island of Symi

An initial inquest has determined that the TV presenter Michael Mosley, whose body was found on the Greek island of Symi, almost certainly died of natural causes.

A coroner in Rhodes on Monday ruled out foul play, saying there were no injuries to suggest the 67-year-old, who was discovered five days after disappearing during a walk, had fallen victim to a crime.

“It has emerged there are no injuries that can be linked to a criminal act,” reported Greece’s public broadcaster, ERT.

A forensic scientist, Panayiotis Kotretsis, ordered further toxicological and histological tests in the hope of being able to pinpoint the precise cause of death. The results are not expected for several months.

Mosley’s body was transferred on a Hellenic coastguard vessel to Rhodes within hours of being found close to a beach bar an estimated nine miles (15km) away from the spot where he had said goodbye to his wife, Clare Bailey, and the friends the couple were visiting on the island.

Monday’s postmortem reflected growing consensus among Greek officials that Mosley probably died of exhaustion after taking a wrong turn and climbing through the rocky hills of Symi, a landscape as unforgiving as it is rugged.

The day Mosley set out on his walk the local temperature exceeded 37C (98.6F) – prompting an alert by the meteorological service – with the searing heat being at least 10C higher on the rocky promontory he traversed.

A Greek police spokesperson and the island’s mayor said the position in which the Briton was found – face up with his left hand placed over his chest – in addition to the lack of injuries played a decisive role in the coroner’s conclusion.

“He wasn’t found face down, he was found face up which suggests he may have felt dizzy or simply unwell and laid down,” said Symi’s mayor, Lefteris Papakaloudoukas. “I think that says a lot.”

CCTV footage now in the possession of Greek police but not seen so far by any media outlets also supported the growing consensus that Mosley was exhausted by the time he neared the beach bar about two hours after he set off from St Nikolas beach to Symi’s port town where the couple were being hosted.

He and Bailey, who paid tribute to her “wonderful, funny, kind and brilliant husband”, had arrived on holiday the day before.

Mosely’s body is expected to be returned to the UK this week escorted by his wife and their four children, who accompanied their mother to Rhodes.

Mosley rose to fame on British TV popularising intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet. His disappearance triggered one of the biggest search and rescue missions in Greece in living memory with police, firefighters, volunteers helicopters, drones and a sniffer dog taking part.

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Canadian drug advocacy group founders charged with trafficking

Vancouver’s volunteer-led ‘compassion club’ offered users pure drugs like heroin and cocaine to prevent overdose deaths

Two founders of a drug advocacy group who sold cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin in defiance of Canada’s federal government have been charged with trafficking-related offences.

Police in Vancouver said charges of possession for the purposes of trafficking were approved on 31 May against 28-year-old Jeremy Kalicum and 33-year-old Eris Nyx, co-founders of the Drug User Liberation Front. Kalicum and Nyx were arrested in October, but were only charged recently, and are due to appear in court on 2 July.

In 2022, DULF made headlines after the volunteer-led group announced it would offer pure cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to users as part of a “compassion club” to prevent overdose deaths.

If you label people’s drugs such that they clearly indicate what a person is putting into their body, people won’t be overdosing,” Nyx told the Guardian at the time. “No one takes more than they intend to take.”

The group applied for an exemption to Canada’s​​ Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so they could procure and sell drugs. With few options to legally purchase pharmaceutical-grade narcotics, the pair told Canada’s public health agency they would need to source the drugs through the dark web.

But that admission led Health Canada to reject their request.

Despite the legal setback, the activists carried on selling pure drugs at cost price from their store in Vancouver’s downtown east side in open defiance of the law. Nyx and Kalicum were eventually arrested in October, following a raid by police.

In March, the pair challenged Health Canada’s decision not to approve the exemption, arguing the decision leaves people who use drugs “fully and directly exposed” to the toxicity crisis and violates two clauses of Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms: the right to life and a right to equal protection under the law. They also pointed to research that found under their model, non-fatal overdoses dropped 49%. Non-fatal overdoses that required naloxone, suggesting the presence of fentanyl, dropped 63%.

“We are surprised the crown made this decision before the federal court decides whether Health Canada’s denial of an exemption for the compassion club was constitutional,” lawyers for DULF said in a statement. “If the crown is serious about pursuing these charges, our clients will challenge the constitutionality of prohibiting a life-saving safer supply program in light of this devastating toxic drug crisis.”

The battle over the ability to sell drugs comes as Canada’s westernmost province is trapped in an unprecedented public health crisis, which has torn apart families and left nearly 14,000 people dead from tainted, unregulated narcotics. Last year was the worst on record: authorities in British Columbia recorded 2,539 suspected overdoses, the vast majority with fentanyl or fentanyl analogues in their body. Experts caution that fatalities from tainted drugs will not be solved without addressing an increasingly adulterated drug supply.

Last year, British Columbia began a closely watched pilot project, decriminalizing, but not legalizing, the possession for small amounts of illicit drugs.

Politicians have recently used British Columbia’s experimentation in drug decriminalization as a political wedge issue, with Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre calling Vancouver’s downtown east side “hell on earth”.

In April, British Columbia walked back key elements of its drug decriminalization efforts amid mounting public pushback.

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