The Guardian 2024-07-05 12:13:49


Biden says he ‘screwed up’ but vows to continue as polls show six-point lead for Trump

President gives interviews with stations in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as report says he plans to cut back on events after 8pm

Joe Biden has told a radio show he “screwed up” and made a “mistake” in last week’s debate against Donald Trump, but vowed to stay in the election race, even as a series of polls show him now trailing the ex-president by about six points.

In two interviews conducted Wednesday and aired Thursday with local radio stations in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where he will also hold events this weekend, the president urged voters to judge him on his time in the White House.

“I had a bad night,” Biden told Milwaukee radio host Earl Ingram. “And the fact of the matter is that I screwed up. I made a mistake. That’s 90 minutes on stage – look at what I’ve done in three and a half years.”

To Ingram’s largely Black audience, Biden pointed to achievements during his presidency that increased representation.

“I picked a Black woman to be my vice-president. I’ve appointed the first Black woman to be a supreme court justice,” Biden said. “I’ve appointed more Black judges, more Black women judges, than every other president in American history combined.”

Biden also attacked Trump for comments the former president made about Black workers during their TV debate a week ago, when Trump said migrant workers could be taking as many as 20m Black jobs.

“He’s done terrible things in the community, and he has about as much interest and concern for Black, minority communities as the man on the moon does,” Biden said.

The interviews are part of a blitz of public appearances over the next few days that the president himself reportedly told a key ally were critical for whether he could successfully make a case for his re-election to the public, following a debate performance in which he appeared at times to lose his train of thought or blank out entirely.

Although he secured the continuing support of Democratic governors in a meeting on Wednesday evening, the New York Times also cited two people in that meeting who said Biden admitted to the governors he had been feeling the effects of fatigue, needed to work less and get more sleep, and was aiming to reduce his number of engagements after 8pm. Hawaii’s governor, Josh Green, is reported to have asked Biden about his health. “It’s just my brain,” Biden said, in what some heard as a joke but at least one person found odd.

As well as the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania rallies, Biden will also give an another interview on Friday to ABC News, then to Good Morning America over the weekend.

Clips of the ABC interview were originally scheduled to be aired on Friday night in the news time slot, with the full interview in two parts on Sunday and Monday, but the network announced on Thursday that it would now run the interview in its entirety on Friday.

On Thursday, the White House told CNN that Biden had been examined by his doctor after the debate, during which he reportedly had a cold. The statement appeared to contradict the press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s assertion a day earlier that Biden had had no medical exams since his February physical.

The White House spokesman Andrew Bates told CNN “the president was seen to check on his cold and was recovering well”.

A gathering number of opinion polls conducted after the debate appear to show that his worrying performance, including an inability to successfully argue against Trump’s stream of unchecked lies, has hurt Biden with voters.

According to a Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday, on Trump has opened a six-point lead nationally, at 48% to 42%, with 80% of respondents saying the president is too old to run for a second term – an increase of seven points since February.

It also found that Biden is viewed favorably by 34% of voters, and unfavorably by 63%. Less than 40% approved of his handling of the economy, immigration or his time in office overall.

Another poll, from the New York Times/Siena, released on Wednesday also showed a six-point advantage to Trump, up from three a week earlier. Among registered voters, Trump led by eight points.

According to the Journal poll, one-third of respondents, including 31% of independents – a key bloc of US voters on whom the election may turn – said the debate made them more likely to vote for Trump, while just 10% said Biden.

A similar percentage of Democrats and Republicans – roughly three-quarters – said they considered Biden too old to run. Two-thirds of Democrats said they would replace Biden with another candidate.

Meanwhile, a Fourth of July campaign message from the president also attacked the recent supreme court ruling that presidents are immune from criminal prosecution for an acts deemed “official”, saying it paved the way for the presidency to become a de facto monarchy.

“Our nation waged a war based on the revolutionary idea that everyday people ought to govern themselves,” Biden said in the message, quoting the US constitutional principle “that we will swear fealty to no king” and that everyone is equal under the law – a founding principle that Biden said “conservatives on the court have decided presidents are free to break”.

Speculation has been intensifying about whether more elected Democrats will call for Biden to step aside: only two congressmen have so far done so. Potential replacement candidates, including Kamala Harris, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and California governor Gavin Newsom, have strongly stated their support for Biden’s re-election.

In a call to campaign workers on Wednesday, he is reported to have said: “I’m the nominee of the Democratic party. No one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving.” In a fundraising email after the call, Biden said: “Let me say this as clearly and simply as I can: I’m running.”

Trump had been running a roughly two-point lead in the polls earlier in the year, though his lead appeared to narrow and the candidates seemed to be running neck-and-neck before the debate.

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Disney heir joins other Democrat backers to pause donations until Joe Biden steps aside

Abigail Disney says choice to suspend donations is based on ‘realism, not disrespect’, and suggests Kamala Harris as an alternative

In the minutes after Joe Biden and Donald Trump stepped on to the stage for the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign, the grand narrative of this election year shifted off its axis and, in the words of CNN’s veteran broadcaster John King, “a deep, wide and aggressive” panic set in among Democrats.

A week on, and Biden has said he isn’t going anywhere, but a trickle of major Democratic donors speaking out against the president has grown into a stream.

On Thursday, Abigail Disney – the heir to the Disney family fortune and a major party donor – announced she would withhold donations unless Biden dropped out of the race.

“This is realism, not disrespect,” Disney told CNBC, adding “if Biden does not step down the Democrats will lose. Of that I am absolutely certain. The consequences for the loss will be genuinely dire.”

In her statement, Disney said vice-president Kamala Harris could be an alternative candidate to beat Trump. “If Democrats would tolerate any of her perceived shortcomings even one tenth as much as they have tolerated Biden’s … we can win this election by a lot,” she said.

For now, Disney represents a minority of donors, but within Biden’s campaign, a clear and concerted effort to tamp down panic among campaign funders is under way.

On Monday, the campaign held a hastily scheduled call with hundreds of top Democratic donors, according to the Reuters news agency. On the call, Biden’s team reportedly promised to make the president more visible at town halls and through interviews to reassure the public.

Despite their reassurances, the campaign was reportedly forced to field “pointed” questions from donors, including “can the president make it through a campaign and another term?”

According to Reuters and the Associated Press, another call with about 40 top donors over the weekend turned tense after Biden’s campaign manager was asked whether the campaign would offer a refund if Biden doesn’t run.

In the days that followed, one major fundraiser for the Biden campaign said some donors were learning fast how little influence they had in this situation. “There are a lot of people who think they are more important than they actually are,” the fundraiser said.

Some donors have taken the same path as Disney; to halt funding unless the Democratic candidate changes.

Screenwriter Damon Lindelof who has been a significant contributor to the party proposed on Wednesday a “DEMbargo”, withholding funding until Biden stands aside.

“When a country is not behaving how we want them to, we apply harsh economic sanctions. It’s a give and take – short term hurt for long term healing,” Lindelof wrote in Deadline.

According to CNBC, philanthropist Gideon Stein will pause almost all of a planned $3m in planned donations. “Virtually every major donor I’ve talked to believes that we need a new candidate in order to defeat Donald Trump,” Stein said.

On Wednesday, Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix and a Democratic party megadonor, joined calls for Biden to take himself out of the presidential race.

Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, have been prolific supporters of the Democratic party, donating more than $20m in recent years, including roughly $1.5m to Biden during his 2020 campaign, according to the New York Times.

The Biden campaign is eager to show its fundraising strength is holding up after the debate and have highlighted record “grassroots” fundraising in the days that followed the event. The day of the debate and the Friday after were best days for fundraising from small-dollar donors to date, with more than $27m raised across both days.

But Biden’s standing in opinion polls has taken a hit, with 59% of Democrats responding to a Reuters/Ipsos poll saying that the president of their own party was too old to work in government and 32% saying he should give up his reelection bid.

Biden held a $100m funding advantage over Trump just a few months ago, but his campaign and the Democratic National Committee entered June with $212m in the bank, compared with $235m for the Trump operation and the Republican National Committee.

However, analysts predict that if Biden can continue to attract donations in the weeks leading up to the Democratic convention, he will be able to offer party strategist and fellow congressional colleagues a reason to stay on as the candidate.

Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and an influential donor, has continued to throw his weight behind Biden, telling his donor network in an email that he felt it was counterproductive to be “musing on Biden’s flaws” and that they should be “organising around Trump’s flaws”.

Reuters contributed to this report

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Trump calls Biden ‘broken-down’ and claims he quit 2024 race in leaked video

Clip obtained by Daily Beast shows ex-president sitting in golf cart, holding cash, as he discusses presidential debate

“A broken-down pile of crap” on the verge of “quitting the race” was Donald Trump’s summation of Joe Biden in a surreptitiously filmed video leaked on Wednesday.

The clip, obtained by the Daily Beast, shows the 78-year-old former president sitting in a golf cart, holding a pile of cash, and with son Barron alongside, as he offers an analysis of the 2024 presidential campaign.

Trump asked a group off-camera: “How did I do with the debate the other night?” before predicting that Biden would not seek re-election.

“He just quit, you know – he’s quitting the race”, Trump said. “I got him out of the – and that means we have Kamala.”

The White House and most Democrats maintain Biden will remain the party nominee, though voter polls suggest that he has slipped six points behind Trump and that the vice-president, Kamala Harris, could be a stronger Democrat candidate in November.

“I think she’s gonna be better” as an opponent, Trump continued in the video, but added: “She’s so bad. She’s so pathetic” and appeared to say: “She’s so fucking bad.”

Biden’s campaign has denied he is stepping down. “Absolutely not,” said the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, on Wednesday. Several Democratic governors repeated the phrase “in it to win it” after meeting with Biden.

The Trump campaign has not commented directly on the video but on Wednesday predicted the “total collapse” of the Democratic party following Biden’s poor debate performance and mounting calls for him to step aside.

The Biden-Harris campaign responded to the video in a statement: “The American people have already seen low after low from Donald Trump,” it said, described the video as a “new rock bottom” for him.

The clip was leaked hours after the Trump campaign released its first attack ads against Harris, who is the most likely candidate to replace Biden if he decides to quit the race.

Leaked video and audio clips have previously been a source of embarrassment for Trump, including in 2016 with the notorious Access Hollywood tape in which he described women in vulgar terms and bragged about sexually harassing them.

In the latest video Trump expressed disdain for Biden’s ability to deal with foreign adversaries, including Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and China’s president, Xi Jinping.

“Can you imagine that guy dealing with Putin?” Trump asked. “And the president of China – who’s a fierce person. He’s a fierce man, very tough guy. And they see him.”

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Governors admit worries but rally behind Biden after meeting: ‘We have his back’

President meets with Democratic governors for ‘candid’ talks as he seeks to reassure his party and the public

A group of leading Democratic governors offered words of support for Joe Biden on Wednesday as pressure mounted on the president to leave the race.

The governors, including Tim Walz of Minnesota, Wes Moore of Maryland, Gavin Newsom of California and Kathy Hochul of New York, held a closed-door meeting with Biden in Washington as he sought to reassure his party – and the public – that he is up to the job after a shaky debate performance.

Biden met for more than an hour at the White House in person and virtually with more than 20 governors from his party. The governors told reporters afterward that the conversation was “candid” and said they expressed concerns about Biden’s debate performance last week. They reiterated that defeating Donald Trump in November was the priority, but said they were still standing behind Biden and did not join other Democrats who have been urging him to withdraw his candidacy.

“We, like many Americans, are worried,” Walz of Minnesota said. “We are all looking for the path to win – all the governors agree with that. President Biden agrees with that. He has had our backs through Covid … the governors have his back. We’re working together just to make very, very clear that a path to victory in November is the No 1 priority and that’s the No 1 priority of the president … The feedback was good. The conversation was honest.”

“The president is our nominee. The president is our party leader,” added Moore of Maryland. He said Biden “was very clear that he’s in this to win it”.

“We were honest about the feedback we’re getting … and the concerns we’re hearing from people,” Moore said. “We’re going to have his back … the results we’ve been able to see under this administration have been undeniable.”

The meeting capped a tumultuous day for Biden as members of his own party, and a major democratic donor, urged him to step aside amid questions over his fitness for office. Two Democratic lawmakers have called on Biden to exit the race, and a third Congressman said he had “grave concerns” about Biden’s ability to beat Trump. The White House, meanwhile, was forced to deny reports that Biden is weighing whether his candidacy is still viable.

Biden, for his part, has forcefully insisted that he is staying in the race.

“Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can, as simply and straightforward as I can: I am running … no one’s pushing me out,” Biden said on a call with staffers from his re-election campaign. “I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end and we’re going to win.”

Kamala Harris has also stood by his side, despite some insiders reportedly rallying around her as a possible replacement. “We will not back down. We will follow our president’s lead,” the vice-president reportedly told staffers on Wednesday.

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer also threw her support behind Biden. “He is in it to win it and I support him,” she said on Twitter/X after the meeting.

Whitmer is one of several Democratic governors who have been cited as possible replacements if Biden were to withdraw his candidacy. Gavin Newsom, whose name has also been floated, flew in for the governors’ meeting on Wednesday, saying afterwards: “I heard three words from the president tonight – he’s all in. And so am I.”

Newsom has been a top surrogate for Biden’s re-election campaign, but has also garnered increasing buzz as a potential replacement if Biden were to withdraw. He was swarmed by reporters after the debate ended last week, some asking him if he’d replace Biden.

A Siena College/New York Times poll released Wednesday suggested Trump’s lead had increased since the debate, with him winning 49% of likely voters compared to 43% for Biden. Only 48% of Democrats in the poll said Biden should remain the nominee. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published Tuesday said that former first lady Michelle Obama is the only hypothetical candidate to definitively defeat Trump, but she has previously said she’s not running. That poll had Biden and Trump tied.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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India PM Modi to meet Putin in first trip to Russia since Ukraine war began

Trip scheduled for Monday, with Delhi a key trading partner for Putin since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine

Narendra Modi will visit Russia on 8 and 9 July and hold talks with President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has said, in the Indian prime minister’s first trip to the country since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Modi and Putin will discuss “prospects for further development of traditionally friendly Russian-Indian relations, as well as relevant issues on the international and regional agenda,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

The visit was first announced by Russian officials last month, but the dates had not been previously disclosed.

Russia has had strong ties with India since the cold war, and Delhi’s importance as a key trading partner for Moscow has grown since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. India and China have become key buyers of Russian oil following sanctions imposed by the US and its allies that shut most western markets for Russian exports.

Under Modi’s leadership, India has avoided condemning Russia’s action in Ukraine while emphasising the need for a peaceful settlement.

The partnership between Moscow and Delhi has become fraught, however, since Russia started developing closer ties with India’s main rival, China, because of the hostilities in Ukraine.

Modi on Thursday skipped the summit of a security grouping created by Moscow and Beijing to counter western alliances.

Modi sent his foreign minister to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at its annual meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana. The meeting is being attended by Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Indian media reports speculated that the recently re-elected Modi was busy with the parliamentary session last week.

Modi last visited Russia in 2019 for an economic forum in the far eastern port of Vladivostok. He last travelled to Moscow in 2015. Putin last met with Modi in September 2022 at a summit of the SCO in Uzbekistan. In 2021, Putin also travelled to Delhi and held talks with the Indian leader.

Tensions between Beijing and Delhi have continued since a confrontation in June 2020 along the disputed China-India border in which rival troops fought with rocks, clubs and fists. At least 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers were killed.

In the early 1990s, the Soviet Union was the source of about 70% of Indian army weapons, 80% of its air force systems and 85% of its navy platforms.

India bought its first aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, from Russia in 2004. It had served in the former Soviet Union and later in the Russian navy.

With the Russian supply line hit by the fighting in Ukraine, India has been reducing its dependency on Russian arms and diversifying its defence procurements, buying more from the US, Israel, France and Italy.

With Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

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US calls new Hamas ceasefire proposal for Gaza a ‘breakthrough’

White House says proposal is in line with deal outlined by Joe Biden in late May, but work is still to be done

The White House has described the latest Hamas ceasefire proposal for Gaza as a “breakthrough” establishing a framework for a possible hostage deal, but warned that difficult negotiations remained over the implementation of the agreement.

A senior US official said the Biden administration received the latest Hamas offer “a couple of days ago” and had been studying it ahead of a 30-minute telephone call between Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

“The conversation was detailed, going through the text of the agreement, constructive and encouraging, while also clear-eyed about the work ahead [and] the steps that must be put in place to finalise this deal and then begin the implementation,” the US official said of the call.

Netanyahu was due to convene a meeting of his security cabinet on Thursday evening to discuss the Hamas proposal, and is dispatching a negotiating team to the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators in the coming days.

Israeli officials said the delegation would be led, as usual, by David Barnea, the head of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad.

The White House predicted that the Doha talks could convene as early as Friday. It said the Hamas proposal was in line with the three-stage peace deal that Biden outlined on 31 May, which has formally been accepted by the Israeli government and endorsed by the UN security council.

US officials had said an earlier Hamas response contained elements that were negotiable but some that were not. The White House reaction to Hamas’s new response was much more positive.

“I think the framework is now in place and we have to work out the implementation steps,” a senior US official said. “What we got back from Hamas was a pretty significant adjustment to what had been their position, and that is encouraging. We have heard the same from the Israelis.”

The official stressed that the agreement was not yet final, however. “This does not mean this deal is going to be closed in a period of days. There’s significant work to be done on some of the implementation steps,” they said.

The main obstacle in negotiations until this week had been widely differing views on how the agreement would move from its first phase to its second.

The first phase involves the release by Hamas of elderly, sick and female hostages during a six-week truce, an Israeli withdrawal from Gazan cities, and the release of Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

The second phase would involve the release of all remaining hostages as well as the bodies of those who have died, a permanent end to hostilities and a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Phase three would mark the start of Gaza’s reconstruction.

The transition from the first to the second phase was to be negotiated during the first six-week truce, and the ceasefire would continue as long as good-faith negotiations continued, but Hamas wanted stronger guarantees over the path to a permanent ceasefire.

Netanyahu had publicly cast doubt on whether that would happen, vowing to complete the destruction of the militia, which has run Gaza for nearly two decades and which launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

“Some of the key issues on the transition from phase one to phase two have really been a stumbling block. I think we’ve had a breakthrough in that area,” the senior US official said, without giving details of the text presented by Hamas.

“Between phase one and phase two … you have to have conditions and arrangements in place. I think that is something that is obvious, but it’s something that Hamas has resisted,” they said, adding that Hamas had dropped its resistance to the imposition of conditions before reaching a permanent ceasefire.

The senior US official said many implementation issues to be negotiated in Doha involved “some sequencing and then a release of detainees”.

“I have to say, given the recent developments, we do believe there’s a pretty significant opening here, and we welcome the prime minister’s readiness to try to seize that opening by empowering his negotiating team to engage directly in Doha over the coming days,” the official said.

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Hezbollah says it has fired 200 rockets into Israel after killing of commander

Barrage from Lebanon one of group’s largest yet, as Israel discusses Hamas proposals for possible Gaza ceasefire

Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it has fired 200 rockets into Israel in one of its largest barrages yet, as Benjamin Netanyahu told the US that Israel will send a delegation to resume stalled negotiations with Hamas on a possible hostage release deal.

Israel confirmed the Iran-backed militant group had fired “numerous projectiles and suspicious aerial targets” from Lebanon on Thursday towards the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and more than 15 drones into Israeli territory, many of which it said were intercepted. An Israeli military spokesperson said there were no casualties reported.

Hezbollah said the barrage was in retaliation for a strike that killed one of its top commanders. It followed at least two attacks on Wednesday in response to what the group called “the assassination” of the commander Mohammed Nasser.

The militant group said it launched 100 Katyusha rockets at an Israeli military base in Golan and its Iranian-made Falaq missiles at another base in the town of Kiryat Shmona near the Israel-Lebanon border.

Nasser, killed by an airstrike near the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, was one of the most senior Hezbollah commanders to die in the conflict, two security sources in Lebanon said. According to sources in Lebanon, he “was of great importance to Hezbollah”, which said he took part in battles in conflicts in Syria and Iraq from 2011 until 2016 and “fought in the group’s last war with Israel in 2006”.

US and French diplomats are working fervently to avert the escalation of tensions into a full-scale conflict, a scenario they worry may have ripple effects throughout the entire region.

Initial diplomatic attempts by Washington to maintain calm along the Lebanon-Israel border were conducted independently of the conflict in Gaza.

Hezbollah has declared its attacks on Israel to be in support of Hamas and indicated its willingness to halt its assaults if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza.

Israeli authorities, on the other hand, have said military action in Lebanon remains a potential course of action should diplomatic efforts prove unsuccessful.

Thursday’s attack came as Netanyahu prepared to convene a meeting of his security cabinet later in the day to discuss proposals from Hamas about a possible ceasefire deal in Gaza to pause the nearly nine-month war, a source in the Israeli prime minister’s office told Reuters.

Before the meeting, Netanyahu would have consultations with his ceasefire negotiations team, the source added.

Netanyahu told the US president, Biden, on Thursday that he had decided to send a delegation to resume stalled negotiations on a hostage release deal with Hamas, the two country’s administrations said.

In a phone call between the two leaders, Netanyahu repeated his position that Israel would end its nearly nine-month war in Gaza only when all its objectives had been achieved, his office said in a statement.

Israel received Hamas’s response on Wednesday to a proposal made public at the end of May by Biden that would include the release of about 120 hostages held in Gaza and a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory.

A Palestinian official close to the mediation effort told Reuters that Hamas had shown flexibility over some clauses, which would allow a framework agreement to be reached should Israel approve.

Hamas has said any deal must end the and bring about a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while Israel maintains it will accept only temporary pauses in the fighting until Hamas is eradicated.

The strategy involves the step-by-step liberation of Israeli captives in Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli troops during the initial two stages, alongside the release of Palestinian detainees. The third phase focuses on the rebuilding of the conflict-ravaged region and the repatriation of the deceased hostages’ remains.

‘’We hope that this is the end of the war, we are exhausted and we can’t stand more setbacks and disappointments,” said Youssef, a displaced person in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. “Every hour into this war, more people die, and more houses get destroyed, so enough is enough. I say this to my leaders, to Israel and the world.”

On Thursday, tens of thousands of Palestinians continued to search for refuge after being ordered to evacuate, a directive that also encompassed the border city of Rafah.

The United Nations deemed this mandate as the most extensive since 1.1 million individuals were instructed to depart the northern region of Gaza in October.

The war began on 7 October when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people.

The military offensive launched by Israel in response has so far killed 38,011 Palestinians and injured 87,445, mostly women and children, the Gaza health ministry said on Thursday.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Israel has approved ‘largest West Bank land grab in 30 years’, watchdog says

Peace Now says approval of more than 12 sq km is biggest since peace process began in 1993

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Israel has approved the largest seizure of land in the occupied West Bank in more than three decades, according to a report released by an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog, a move that will exacerbate the escalating tensions surrounding the conflict in Gaza.

Peace Now said authorities recently approved the appropriation of 12.7 sq km (nearly 5 sq miles) of land in the Jordan valley, indicating it was “the largest single appropriation approved since the 1993 Oslo accords”, referring to the start of the peace process.

Settlement monitors say the recent land acquisition links Israeli settlements along a crucial corridor adjacent to Jordan, a development they say threatens the formation of a future Palestinian state.

Israel occupied the West Bank, capturing it from Jordan, in the six-day war of 1967. Since then, successive governments have made efforts to permanently cement Israeli control over the land, in part by declaring large swathes as “state lands”, which prevents private Palestinian ownership.

The recent land seizure, which was approved late last month but only publicised on Wednesday, comes after the seizure of 8 sq km of land in the West Bank in March and 2.6 sq km in February.

Peace Now says the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, “are determined to fight against the entire world and against the interests of the people of Israel for the benefit of a handful of settlers”.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that this conflict cannot be resolved without a political settlement that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” the group added. “Still, the Israeli government chooses to actually make it difficult.”

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric called it “a step in the wrong direction,” adding that “the direction we want to be heading is to find a negotiated two-state solution”.

In a leaked recording captured by Peace Now, Smotrich, during a conference for his National Religious Party-Religious Zionism, disclosed that the land confiscations in 2024 surpassed previous years’ averages by approximately tenfold.

“This thing is mega-strategic and we are investing a lot in it,” Smotrich said. “This is something that will change the map dramatically.”

In May 2023, Smotrich, who said his “life’s mission is to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state”, had instructed Israeli government ministries to prepare for 500,000 more Israeli settlers to move into the occupied West Bank.

On 20 June, the Guardian revealed how the Israeli military has quietly handed over significant legal powers in the West Bank to pro-settler civil servants working for Smotrich.

An order posted by the Israel Defense Forces on its website on 29 May transfers responsibility for dozens of bylaws at the Civil Administration – the Israeli body governing in the West Bank – from the military to officials led by Smotrich at the defence ministry.

Since 7 October, settlers have stepped up beatings and attacks, forcing Palestinians to flee to nearby towns, and there has been an increase in army home demolitions.

Late in June, Israeli soldiers have destroyed 11 homes and other structures in Umm al-Kheir, a village in the occupied West Bank, leaving 50 people homeless, while early in July they fired live ammunition and teargas at six Palestinian villagers, including four women and a five-year-old girl.

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Iranians head out to vote in second round of presidential election

An expected low turnout reflects growing opposition to the Islamic Republic, critics say

Iranians vote today in the run-off round of a presidential election offering a choice between a veteran hardliner and a reformist who has backed pragmatic cooperation with the west – but against the backdrop of an expected low turnout that critics say reflects opposition to the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s two identities were on display in the final rallies of the campaign as the two presidential candidates offered contrasting visions of their country’s prospects, focused on whether sanctions have trapped Iran or are just a broken western lever that can no longer inflict damage to the economy.

The contest has become distilled into an increasingly sharp choice: on the one hand Saeed Jalili, for two decades close to the centres of power and the 85-year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and on the other Masoud Pezeshkian – a reformist outsider with a subtle appeal.

Jalili says Iran has bypassed sanctions. Pezeshkian and his effective running mate, the former foreign minister Javad Zarif, claim that sanctions mean Iran has been bypassed.

Jalili’s campaign used the giant Imam Khomeini Mosalla mosque for its final event – a slick hi-tech cinematic mass rally. From the atmosphere it would have been hard to have known that in the first round of the elections a week ago only 39% voted and Jalili had been beaten into second place with 1m fewer votes than Pezeshkian.

Videos of the Jalili campaign broadcast on six giant screens gave the impression of a leader that is being mobbed and praised wherever he goes, while mini-drones ran along lines in the ornate roof transmitting footage of the crowd’s enthusiasm as celebrities sang in Jalili’s praise, including a female actor who argued the hijab empowers women.

Traditional songs were sung and slogans chanted in praise for Qassem Suleimani, the former leader of the Revolutionary Guards Quds force killed in Iraq by the Americans. The crowd waved the flashlights on their phones when told Jalili was on his way and by the time there was a first glimpse on one of the screens of a shock of Jalili’s white hair, the volume of cheering meant it took at least five minutes between him being hoisted by his bodyguards on stage and the opening lines of his speech.

He said in his address that the election result would not affect Iran for just four years but possibly for 40, portraying his rival as a man that had no confidence in his own nation and repeatedly attacking Pezeshkian’s claim that the country is trapped in a cage.

“The nation does not see its country as a cage but like Martyr Suleimani it sees the country as a sanctuary.

“The enemy knows that this nation is a civilisation maker and that it gets what it wants and can become a model for the world. The enemy admits Iran is the most powerful country in the region and if hundreds of rockets are fired at Israel, the enemy dare not respond.”

Pezeshkian’s rally later that evening in the open air Haidarnia stadium was perhaps half the size – a younger wealthier crowd arriving independently on foot and willing to tell the heavy police presence they did not want the “morality police” around here. Women and men mixed together in the stands and on the pitch, and hardly a single chador was in sight, even if most women wore the hijab.

A heart surgeon with a record of opposition to the suppression of the women, life, freedom! protests after the death of Mahsa Amini, Pezeshkian knows he is entering a minefield if he is elected. He has staked a huge amount on his personal integrity to try to convince abstainers it is worth voting and that as president he can effect change. He knows voters’ experience of eight years of Hassan Rouhani, an earlier reformist, was of a president seemingly powerless in the face of the so-called shadow government.

“If I try my best and if for any reason I cannot fulfil my commitments I will withdraw and ask people to withdraw their votes and I will no longer take part in politics,” Pezeshkian pledged.

His supporters have argued on social media that abstention will only lead to worse censorship online, more girls being beaten, more professors fired and more migration of young people. “Those who think they send a message by not voting are making a mistake. If your message was meant to be heard by the authorities it would have been heard by now,” one said.

Dr Ebrahim Mottaghi, the head of the faculty of law and political sciences at Tehran University, said he believed Pezeshkian would win, with a small increase in turnout. “It is like a domino because more people realise after the first ballot in which Pezeshkian came first that he can win the presidency.”

Khamenei on Wednesday rejected the claims that a 39% turnout was an expression of opposition to the system. Mottaghi’s explanation was more subtle: that Iran was in a phase of transition. “Just as there is a gen Z in US and the UK, there is a new generation here that criticise everything, and cannot match themselves with the patterns of politics and authority here,” he said.

“They live like in the novel The Stranger by Albert Camus, alienated and indifferent to their fate. Gen Z in the US support Gaza because the authorities support Israel, but Gen Z here are indifferent to the killing and genocide of the Palestinians. Discourse is no longer through the mosque or family but instead through social networks. Instagram is banned in Iran but 90% of young people use it. It has restricted social coherence throughout the Middle East.

He argued many voters feel their vote makes no difference. “As in The Stranger, voters feel they have no power to choose so they become indifferent.”

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Iranians head out to vote in second round of presidential election

An expected low turnout reflects growing opposition to the Islamic Republic, critics say

Iranians vote today in the run-off round of a presidential election offering a choice between a veteran hardliner and a reformist who has backed pragmatic cooperation with the west – but against the backdrop of an expected low turnout that critics say reflects opposition to the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s two identities were on display in the final rallies of the campaign as the two presidential candidates offered contrasting visions of their country’s prospects, focused on whether sanctions have trapped Iran or are just a broken western lever that can no longer inflict damage to the economy.

The contest has become distilled into an increasingly sharp choice: on the one hand Saeed Jalili, for two decades close to the centres of power and the 85-year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and on the other Masoud Pezeshkian – a reformist outsider with a subtle appeal.

Jalili says Iran has bypassed sanctions. Pezeshkian and his effective running mate, the former foreign minister Javad Zarif, claim that sanctions mean Iran has been bypassed.

Jalili’s campaign used the giant Imam Khomeini Mosalla mosque for its final event – a slick hi-tech cinematic mass rally. From the atmosphere it would have been hard to have known that in the first round of the elections a week ago only 39% voted and Jalili had been beaten into second place with 1m fewer votes than Pezeshkian.

Videos of the Jalili campaign broadcast on six giant screens gave the impression of a leader that is being mobbed and praised wherever he goes, while mini-drones ran along lines in the ornate roof transmitting footage of the crowd’s enthusiasm as celebrities sang in Jalili’s praise, including a female actor who argued the hijab empowers women.

Traditional songs were sung and slogans chanted in praise for Qassem Suleimani, the former leader of the Revolutionary Guards Quds force killed in Iraq by the Americans. The crowd waved the flashlights on their phones when told Jalili was on his way and by the time there was a first glimpse on one of the screens of a shock of Jalili’s white hair, the volume of cheering meant it took at least five minutes between him being hoisted by his bodyguards on stage and the opening lines of his speech.

He said in his address that the election result would not affect Iran for just four years but possibly for 40, portraying his rival as a man that had no confidence in his own nation and repeatedly attacking Pezeshkian’s claim that the country is trapped in a cage.

“The nation does not see its country as a cage but like Martyr Suleimani it sees the country as a sanctuary.

“The enemy knows that this nation is a civilisation maker and that it gets what it wants and can become a model for the world. The enemy admits Iran is the most powerful country in the region and if hundreds of rockets are fired at Israel, the enemy dare not respond.”

Pezeshkian’s rally later that evening in the open air Haidarnia stadium was perhaps half the size – a younger wealthier crowd arriving independently on foot and willing to tell the heavy police presence they did not want the “morality police” around here. Women and men mixed together in the stands and on the pitch, and hardly a single chador was in sight, even if most women wore the hijab.

A heart surgeon with a record of opposition to the suppression of the women, life, freedom! protests after the death of Mahsa Amini, Pezeshkian knows he is entering a minefield if he is elected. He has staked a huge amount on his personal integrity to try to convince abstainers it is worth voting and that as president he can effect change. He knows voters’ experience of eight years of Hassan Rouhani, an earlier reformist, was of a president seemingly powerless in the face of the so-called shadow government.

“If I try my best and if for any reason I cannot fulfil my commitments I will withdraw and ask people to withdraw their votes and I will no longer take part in politics,” Pezeshkian pledged.

His supporters have argued on social media that abstention will only lead to worse censorship online, more girls being beaten, more professors fired and more migration of young people. “Those who think they send a message by not voting are making a mistake. If your message was meant to be heard by the authorities it would have been heard by now,” one said.

Dr Ebrahim Mottaghi, the head of the faculty of law and political sciences at Tehran University, said he believed Pezeshkian would win, with a small increase in turnout. “It is like a domino because more people realise after the first ballot in which Pezeshkian came first that he can win the presidency.”

Khamenei on Wednesday rejected the claims that a 39% turnout was an expression of opposition to the system. Mottaghi’s explanation was more subtle: that Iran was in a phase of transition. “Just as there is a gen Z in US and the UK, there is a new generation here that criticise everything, and cannot match themselves with the patterns of politics and authority here,” he said.

“They live like in the novel The Stranger by Albert Camus, alienated and indifferent to their fate. Gen Z in the US support Gaza because the authorities support Israel, but Gen Z here are indifferent to the killing and genocide of the Palestinians. Discourse is no longer through the mosque or family but instead through social networks. Instagram is banned in Iran but 90% of young people use it. It has restricted social coherence throughout the Middle East.

He argued many voters feel their vote makes no difference. “As in The Stranger, voters feel they have no power to choose so they become indifferent.”

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  • Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
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Kylian Mbappé laments ‘catastrophic’ French election vote for National Rally

  • French striker says runoff vote is ‘urgent situation’
  • ‘We can’t let France fall into the hands of these people’

Kylian Mbappé has branded the first-round results of France’s snap parliamentary election “catastrophic”, urging voters to turn out in force and fend off the threat of a National Rally-controlled government when polls open for the runoff vote on Sunday.

In the latest of several interventions by members of the France national football team, the influential captain Mbappé warned that the country must take its chance to ensure the far right, anti-immigration party is unable to seize power in what has become a tumultuous political battle.

“It’s an urgent situation,” he said when asked for his thoughts on a parlous state of affairs that saw National Rally win 33% of the popular vote in last weekend’s first round. “We cannot let our country fall into the hands of these people. It is pressing. We saw the results, it’s catastrophic. We really hope it’s going to change: that everyone is going to rally together, go and vote, and vote for the correct party.”

Mbappé emphasised the importance of voting “now, more than ever”. France’s players are currently in Germany for the European Championship but they have maintained close attention on events back home and, unlike their English counterparts, a number of them have felt comfortable commenting on political matters.

Speaking on Monday after their victory over Belgium, the defender Jules Koundé said he was “disappointed” with the level of support for a party that “seek to take away our freedom and take away the fact that we live together”. He stated that previous non-voters must be persuaded to the ballot box in order to ensure the extreme right do not gain an absolute majority.

Before the tournament began, the forwards Marcus Thuram and Ousmane Dembélé both made similar exhortations to those eligible to vote. Mbappé joined them, saying at the time that he is “against extreme views and against ideas that divide people”.

Those comments were criticised by, among others, the National Rally leader Jordan Bardella. Mbappé, who recently signed for the Champions League winners Real Madrid, is France’s star player and a figure whose voice holds considerable weight among the country’s youth.

France face Portugal in a quarter-final on Friday and it means Mbappé, who will again play in a mask after breaking his nose in the group stage, will face a former Real Madrid forward in Cristiano Ronaldo. It is widely held that this could be the moment Mbappé, who is 25, takes the baton of greatness from the 39-year-old Portugal legend. “He is one of a kind,” Mbappé said. “He has shaped football, inspired generations, scored goals. I can only sing his praises.”

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At least 89 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Mauritania, state news agency says

Dangerous Atlantic ocean route is gaining popularity because of increased vigilance by authorities in the Mediterranean

Nearly 90 migrants bound for Europe died and dozens more are missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania earlier this week, the state news agency and a local official said on Thursday,

“The Mauritanian coast guard recovered the bodies of 89 people aboard a large traditional fishing boat that capsized on Monday July 1 on the coast of the Atlantic ocean” about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the country’s south-west city of Ndiago, the state news agency said.

The agency quoted survivors saying the boat had set sail from the border of Senegal and Gambia with 170 passengers on board, bringing the number of missing to 72.

A senior local government official gave AFP similar information, on condition of anonymity.

The coastguard rescued nine people, including a five-year-old girl, the state news agency said.

The Atlantic route is particularly dangerous due to strong currents, with migrants travelling in overloaded, often unseaworthy, boats without enough drinking water.

However, it has grown in popularity due to increased vigilance in the Mediterranean.

The number of migrants landing at Spain’s Canary Islands in 2023 more than doubled in one year to a record 39,910, according to the Spanish government.

Off the coast of North Africa, Spain’s Canary Islands lie 100km away at their closest point. But many boats – often long wooden vessels known as pirogues – leave from much further away, setting sail from Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Gambia and Senegal.

More than 5,000 migrants died while trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, or the equivalent of 33 deaths per day, according to Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish charity.

That is the highest daily number of deaths since it began collating figures in 2007, and the vast majority were on the Atlantic route.

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Hurricane Beryl barrels through Cayman Islands after battering Jamaica

Category 3 storm with wind speeds of up to 120mph continues to wreak ‘utter devastation’ in Caribbean

  • Why Hurricane Beryl foretells a scary storm season

Hurricane Beryl is barrelling through the Cayman Islands after causing death and destruction in Jamaica.

The British overseas territory is bearing the brunt of the hurricane, which has been causing “utter devastation” in the Caribbean since Monday, when it almost destroyed parts of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Now a category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of up to 120mph (193km/h), Beryl has brought thunderstorms and gale forces winds to the Cayman Islands.

Earlier on Thursday, meteorologists said the hurricane was 50 miles south-west of Grand Cayman and moving away from the island. However, they issued strong reminders to stay sheltered until the all-clear was given.

On Wednesday, Beryl touched down in Jamaica, forcing airports to close and sending nearly 1,000 people into government-designated shelters.

The hurricane’s eyewall skirted Jamaica’s southern coast as a powerful category 4 storm, ripping off roofs, uprooting electric poles and trees and causing widespread flooding.

“It’s terrible. Everything’s gone. I’m in my house and scared,” said Amoy Wellington, a 51-year-old cashier who lives in Top Hill, a rural farming community in southern St Elizabeth parish. “It’s a disaster.”

According to the most recent reports, many people in the country are without water, and on Wednesday night, officials said 60% of the population was without electricity.

On Wednesday evening, there were reports of a man being washed away, and confirmation that a woman had died in the parish of Hanover after a tree toppled on her house, bringing the death toll to at least nine across the countries affected by the hurricane.

But officials in the multi-island countries of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have said the death toll could increase as they struggle to assess the damage on some islands.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro told state television three people had died, four were missing, and more than 8,000 homes had been damaged.

Mexico’s tourist centres of Cancún and the wider Yucatán peninsula lie in Beryl’s predicted path. Cancún’s airport was thronged with tourists hoping to catch the last flights out before the storm arrived. Workers filled bags with sand and boarded up doors and windows of businesses for protection.

Mexico’s defence ministry opened about 120 storm shelters and asked visitors to heed instructions on evacuation or other measures.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane and at its peak earlier this week was the earliest category 5 storm on record. The prime minister of SVG has decried a lack of political will in western Europe and the US to tackle the global climate crisis.

Scientists say human-caused climate breakdown has increased the occurrence of the most intense and destructive tropical storms, because warming oceans provide more energy and increase their strength.

As the storm charts its deadly course through the region, leaders are seeking support for what they describe as the “herculean effort to rebuild”.

The SVG prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, expressed his concern about accessing grants to rebuild, while his Grenadian counterpart, Dickon Mitchell, told reporters he was hoping to trigger his country’s catastrophic risk insurance policy.

Since Monday, individuals, groups, countries and regional and international organisations, including the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the UN, and the Commonwealth, have pledged support to the devastated islands.

On Thursday, the Royal Navy said it would deploy its warship HMS Trent to deliver aid, including bottled water, basic emergency supplies, and equipment to the Cayman Islands.

King Charles has asked to be kept closely informed of the developing situation, and it is understood he will be making a substantial donation to the disaster recovery and relief efforts.

In a message to the people of the Caribbean who had been affected by Beryl, he said: “My family and I have been profoundly saddened to learn of the dreadful destruction caused by Hurricane Beryl across the Caribbean. Above all, we send our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who have so cruelly lost their lives.

“I have seen the extraordinary spirit of resilience and solidarity that people across the Caribbean have shown in response to such destruction – a spirit which has been called upon too often – and so I also send my particular gratitude to the emergency services and volunteers who are supporting the rescue and recovery efforts.

“At this most difficult of times, please know that our most special thoughts and prayers are with all those whose lives, livelihoods and property have been so utterly devastated.”

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  • Coffee, eggs and white rice linked to higher levels of PFAS in human body
  • Hurricane Beryl barrels through Cayman Islands after battering Jamaica

Hurricane Beryl barrels through Cayman Islands after battering Jamaica

Category 3 storm with wind speeds of up to 120mph continues to wreak ‘utter devastation’ in Caribbean

  • Why Hurricane Beryl foretells a scary storm season

Hurricane Beryl is barrelling through the Cayman Islands after causing death and destruction in Jamaica.

The British overseas territory is bearing the brunt of the hurricane, which has been causing “utter devastation” in the Caribbean since Monday, when it almost destroyed parts of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Now a category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of up to 120mph (193km/h), Beryl has brought thunderstorms and gale forces winds to the Cayman Islands.

Earlier on Thursday, meteorologists said the hurricane was 50 miles south-west of Grand Cayman and moving away from the island. However, they issued strong reminders to stay sheltered until the all-clear was given.

On Wednesday, Beryl touched down in Jamaica, forcing airports to close and sending nearly 1,000 people into government-designated shelters.

The hurricane’s eyewall skirted Jamaica’s southern coast as a powerful category 4 storm, ripping off roofs, uprooting electric poles and trees and causing widespread flooding.

“It’s terrible. Everything’s gone. I’m in my house and scared,” said Amoy Wellington, a 51-year-old cashier who lives in Top Hill, a rural farming community in southern St Elizabeth parish. “It’s a disaster.”

According to the most recent reports, many people in the country are without water, and on Wednesday night, officials said 60% of the population was without electricity.

On Wednesday evening, there were reports of a man being washed away, and confirmation that a woman had died in the parish of Hanover after a tree toppled on her house, bringing the death toll to at least nine across the countries affected by the hurricane.

But officials in the multi-island countries of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have said the death toll could increase as they struggle to assess the damage on some islands.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro told state television three people had died, four were missing, and more than 8,000 homes had been damaged.

Mexico’s tourist centres of Cancún and the wider Yucatán peninsula lie in Beryl’s predicted path. Cancún’s airport was thronged with tourists hoping to catch the last flights out before the storm arrived. Workers filled bags with sand and boarded up doors and windows of businesses for protection.

Mexico’s defence ministry opened about 120 storm shelters and asked visitors to heed instructions on evacuation or other measures.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane and at its peak earlier this week was the earliest category 5 storm on record. The prime minister of SVG has decried a lack of political will in western Europe and the US to tackle the global climate crisis.

Scientists say human-caused climate breakdown has increased the occurrence of the most intense and destructive tropical storms, because warming oceans provide more energy and increase their strength.

As the storm charts its deadly course through the region, leaders are seeking support for what they describe as the “herculean effort to rebuild”.

The SVG prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, expressed his concern about accessing grants to rebuild, while his Grenadian counterpart, Dickon Mitchell, told reporters he was hoping to trigger his country’s catastrophic risk insurance policy.

Since Monday, individuals, groups, countries and regional and international organisations, including the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the UN, and the Commonwealth, have pledged support to the devastated islands.

On Thursday, the Royal Navy said it would deploy its warship HMS Trent to deliver aid, including bottled water, basic emergency supplies, and equipment to the Cayman Islands.

King Charles has asked to be kept closely informed of the developing situation, and it is understood he will be making a substantial donation to the disaster recovery and relief efforts.

In a message to the people of the Caribbean who had been affected by Beryl, he said: “My family and I have been profoundly saddened to learn of the dreadful destruction caused by Hurricane Beryl across the Caribbean. Above all, we send our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who have so cruelly lost their lives.

“I have seen the extraordinary spirit of resilience and solidarity that people across the Caribbean have shown in response to such destruction – a spirit which has been called upon too often – and so I also send my particular gratitude to the emergency services and volunteers who are supporting the rescue and recovery efforts.

“At this most difficult of times, please know that our most special thoughts and prayers are with all those whose lives, livelihoods and property have been so utterly devastated.”

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  • Cayman Islands
  • Grenada
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
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  • Hurricane Beryl barrels through Cayman Islands after battering Jamaica

Orbán to meet Putin in Moscow visit likely to anger EU

Hungarian PM ‘trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine’ after Hungary took over rotating EU presidency

Viktor Orbán will travel to Moscow on Friday for talks with Vladimir Putin, sources said, days after Hungary’s prime minister made his first visit to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country.

Two sources in Budapest told the Guardian about the trip, saying it was planned as part of a package with the Ukraine visit after Hungary took over the rotating EU presidency this week.

A high-level EU source confirmed they had been told of the planned visit, which is likely to cause fury in Brussels.

There has so far been no official confirmation of the trip from either Budapest or Moscow, and Hungarian government spokespersons did not reply to requests for comment. Orbán is due to attend a Turkic summit in Azerbaijan later in the day.

In an apparent reference to the planned visit, the European Council president, Charles Michel, wrote on X on Thursday evening: “The EU rotating presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU. The European Council is clear: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is the victim. No discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine.”

Orbán, widely seen as the EU’s most pro-Russian leader, has sought to portray himself as a “pro-peace” politician, but has frequently repeated Russian talking points about the war. He has also held up EU support to Ukraine on numerous occasions, to the frustration of many other European leaders.

“Orbán’s team planned the Moscow trip before he met with [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy,” said a source close to the Hungarian government. “He is trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. And after his talk with the Ukrainian president, this meeting makes sense.”

A trip to Moscow is likely to cause further anxiety in Brussels and in other member states, where many are already horrified that a leader who they feel has done everything to undermine European unity and the rule of law in recent years is now the bloc’s main representative for the next six months.

The Hungarian leader maintains links with rightwing groups across the globe and has long suggested Hungary could play a role in bringing peace to Ukraine, but has been mostly ignored.

However, with elections in France later this week and a possible return to the US presidency for Donald Trump, Orbán may sense that the geopolitical winds are changing. “We have had ambitions for a mediating role from the very beginning,” said the source.

In Kyiv, Orbán floated the idea of a quick ceasefire that might accelerate peace talks, a suggestion that Zelenskiy did not comment on.

“The aim of the Hungarian presidency is to contribute to solving the challenges ahead of the European Union. That’s why my first trip was to Kyiv,” Orbán wrote on Facebook.

The Hungarian leader last visited Russia in September 2022 to attend funeral of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, but did not meet Putin on that occasion.

The only other leader of an EU country to visit Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine is the Austrian chancellor, Karl Nehammer, who travelled there in April 2022, weeks after the start of the invasion.

Since then Putin has largely been shunned by western leaders, with the exception of Orbán, who travelled to Shanghai to meet the Russian president last October.

Orbán’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, who has been awarded a medal by the Russian government, has been a frequent visitor to Russia.

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  • Vladimir Putin
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Ukraine war briefing: Ukrainian army confirms retreat from part of key town of Chasiv Yar

Fall of strategically important town in eastern Ukraine would bring Moscow closer to aim of capturing entire Donetsk region. What we know on day 863

  • Ukraine’s army has retreated from Nazar Voloshyn, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, which is a strategically important town in the eastern Donetsk region that has been reduced to rubble under a monthslong Russian assault, a military spokesperson said Thursday. Chasiv Yar is a short distance west of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russia last year after a bitter 10-month battle. For months, Russian forces have focused on capturing Chasiv Yar, a town which occupies an elevated location. Its fall would put nearby cities in jeopardy, compromise critical Ukrainian supply routes and bring Russia closer to its stated aim of seizing the entire Donetsk region.

  • Viktor Orbán will travel to Moscow on Friday for talks with Vladimir Putin, sources said, days after Hungary’s prime minister made his first visit to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. Two sources in Budapest told the Guardian about the trip, saying it was planned as part of a package with the Ukraine visit after Hungary took over the rotating EU presidency this week. A high-level EU source confirmed they had been told of the planned visit, which is likely to cause fury in Brussels; Orbán, widely seen as the EU’s most pro-Russian leader, has sought to portray himself as a “pro-peace” politician, but has frequently repeated Russian talking points about the war.

  • A Ukrainian drone assault targeted a gunpowder factory in western Russia, a Kyiv security source said Thursday, in the latest strike aiming to dent Russia’s military logistics. Kyiv has stepped up aerial attacks on military and energy facilities inside Russia in recent months with the hopes of crippling Moscow’s ability to attack Ukrainian cities or gain more ground in the industrial east. A source from Ukraine’s defence sector told AFP the attack was carried out using explosive drones – one of which successfully hit the military facility in the city of Kotovsk in Russia’s Tambov region, 350 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.

  • Russian strikes killed two people and wounded 26 on Thursday in Ukrainian regions stretching from the south to the east and northeast, local authorities said. A missile strike in southern Odesa region killed a woman, injured seven people and damaged port infrastructure, regional governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram. In northeastern Kharkiv region, a second woman was killed and a man wounded in a strike by a Russian guided bomb on the village of Ruska Lozova, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov.

  • A Russian military court on Thursday placed Colonel Artyom Gorodilov, commander of the country’s 83rd Guards Air Assault Brigade, in pre-trial detention for two months on charges of large-scale fraud, the TASS state news agency reported. Gorodilov, who was promoted for his exploits in what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine, is the latest in a series of high-ranking Russian military officers and senior defence officials to be arrested on charges of corruption since the appointment in May of new defence minister Andrei Belousov. In 2022, the New York Times reported that Gorodilov led forces that Ukraine and the west say killed Ukrainian civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha in March that year.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he believed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was sincere about wanting to end the war in Ukraine, but that he did not know how Trump planned to do so if elected.
    “The fact that Mr Trump, as a presidential candidate, declares that he is ready and wants to stop the war in Ukraine, we take this completely seriously,” Putin said at a news conference in Kazakhstan. Putin also said that his publicly stated preference for Joe Biden to remain president remained the same.

  • About 190,000 recruits have signed contracts to join the Russian military so far in 2024, state-run Ria news agency quoted former president Dmitry Medvedev as saying on Thursday. Medvedev, who is deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said the current average recruitment rate was about 1,000 people a day.

  • The Kremlin on Thursday said Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will visit Russia on Monday to hold talks with Putin. Russia has had strong ties with India since the cold war, and New Delhi’s importance as a key trading partner for Moscow has grown since the start of Ukraine war as it has become a key buyer of Russian oil after sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.

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Melodies in chart-topping music have become less complex, study finds

Scientists say changes since 1950 could partly be due to new genres such as stadium rock, disco and hip-hop

“Won’t you play a simple melody,” sang Bing Crosby in his rendition of the Irving Berlin classic. Now it seems his wish has come true: research has revealed the tunes of modern chart-toppers are less complex than those of the past.

Scientists say the change could – at least in part – be down to the emergence of new genres over the decades, such as stadium rock, disco and hip-hop.

However, Madeline Hamilton, a co-author of the research from Queen Mary University of London, said the results did not mean music was dumbing down.

“My guess is that other aspects of music are getting more complex and melodies are getting simpler as a way to compensate,” Hamilton said, noting that while music in earlier decades was made with a handful of instruments – meaning complexity tended to be added through vocals – modern tracks involved many layers and sound textures.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Hamilton and her co-author Dr Marcus Pearce describe how they studied songs placed in the top five of the US Billboard year-end singles music chart each year between 1950 and 2022. These included Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley, Hey Jude by the Beatles, Vogue by Madonna, Poker Face by Lady Gaga and Irreplaceable by Beyoncé.

They then analysed eight features relating to the pitch and rhythmic structure of the melodies. The results revealed the average complexity of melodies had fallen over time, with two big drops in 1975 and 2000, as well as a smaller drop in 1996.

Hamilton said one explanation was the rise of different genres of music, with the first drop occurring around the time stadium rock and disco music became popular.

“The [drop] around the year 2000 [is] probably at least partially due to the rise of hip-hop, because those melodies are very distinct. They’re very simple melodies, normally,” said Hamilton.

The smaller decline around 1996, she added, could also be linked to hip-hop, although another possible influence is the rise of the digital audio workstation, which makes it easy to loop sections and phrases within songs.

“We’re thinking that could be leading to an increase in repetition in the melodies,” she said.

But changes to melodies do not necessarily reflect the full picture. The analysis revealed chart-toppers had shown an increase in the density of notes – in other words the number of notes being sung per second – particularly since the year 2000.

“If you have a melody [with a] lot of notes per second, that kind of limits how complex [the melody] can be,” said Hamilton. “Whereas if you’re singing slower, you can sing more unexpected pitches, or you can do bigger jumps and stuff.”

The team said other studies had found no sign of a decline in the timbre or harmony of music over the 50 years since 1960. And while “revolutions” in popular music had previously been identified, their timing differs – something Hamilton and colleagues say could be down to other work focusing on different features of music, and the fact that the new study only looks at chart-toppers.

Hamilton said she was expanding her analysis to include other aspects of music: “Right now, we’re looking at chords. We also want to expand our analysis to include more songs, to see if this trend [for melodies] holds up for a bigger set of music.”

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‘Hard to argue against’: mandatory speed limiters come to the EU and NI

All new cars must have the devices from 7 July, adding fuel economy as well as safety. Will mpg become the new mph?

In the highway code and the law courts, there is no doubt what those big numbers in red circles mean. As a quick trip up any urban street or motorway with no enforcement cameras makes clear though, many drivers still regard speed signs as an aspiration rather than a limit.

Technology that will be required across Europe from this weekend may change that culture, because from 7 July all new cars sold in the EU and in Northern Ireland must have a range of technical safety features fitted as standard. The most notable of these is intelligent speed assistance – or colloquially, a speed limiter.

The rest of the UK is theoretically free, as ministers once liked to put it, to make the most of its post-Brexit freedoms, but the integrated nature of car manufacturing means new vehicles here will also be telling their drivers to take their foot off the accelerator. Combining satnav maps with a forward camera to read the road signs, they will automatically sound an alarm if driven too fast for the zone they are in.

Drivers of most new cars will be familiar with similar features already installed, but they are currently easy to override. According to a representative at one large manufacturer: “You’ve got to balance whether it makes the car safer – but it’s driving people mad. In practice, we’re finding that a lot of people are switching it all off.”

From now on, however, cars will be designed with systems that are impossible to permanently turn off, restarting each time the engine does. Will car lovers see this as pure progress?

“It’s one of those things that it’s very difficult to argue against,” says Steve Fowler, an automotive consultant and former editor of Autocar. “Sticking to speed limits is not only is going to save you in no end of ways, it’s going to potentially save lives.”

Safety is the overriding reason for slower speeds, and as charities such as Brake and Rospa emphasise, even small increases above 30mph make a significant difference in outcomes, particularly for those who are not driving the car.

Yousif Al-Ani, the principal engineer for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) at Thatcham Research, says: “Modern vehicles are very good at protecting occupants in the event of a collision through passive safety features, such as airbag and crumple zones, but these have limited benefit to vulnerable road users” such as pedestrians and cyclists.

The number of road deaths involving a speeding vehicle in Britain has risen faster than the wider toll since Covid, up 20% in 2022 to 303 out of 1,695.

A significant minority of drivers admite to break speed limits on all types of roads, but observation of free-flowing traffic by the Department for Transport suggests the proportions are higher. According to the RAC’s 2023 report on motoring, 57% of drivers said they broke the 70mph speed limit on motorways. The 30mph in most urban areas was most likely to be respected, broken by only 40%. The DfT found that on 20mph roads with free-flowing traffic – not residential streets with speed bumps – between 80 and 90% of vehicles flouted the limit.

One of the most common asssertions speeders made to the RAC was that “I drive at the speed of other road users”. That kind of peer pressure may be no surprise to those struggling to observe 20mph limits on, for example, bigger roads in London or Wales, as following drivers display furious incredulity; or on roads such as the M6 toll, where many appear to regard the £9.70 charge as buying the right to bomb past at 80mph as much as dodge Birmingham.

With the precise readings of computers replacing wobbly speedometer needles, however, and a new generation of speed cameras upping the ante on the enforcement side, it may be ever harder to disown responsibility. Lawyers say those who switch off the speed limiter at the start of their journey may have a difficult time if they end up in court.

As well as the limiter, other ADAS features, including automated lane-keeping and autonomous emergency braking, will become mandatory. Questions remain over whether the technology works well enough in all real-life situations, and how comfortable people will feel with their car telling them what to do, let alone taking control of their steering, brakes and acceleration – a potentially alarming and disorienting experience.

“Striking a balance between safety, performance and integration to create systems that cooperate with drivers is a real challenge for manufacturers,” says Al-Ani.

The consensus, however, is that the benefits far outweigh the risk. More and more drivers are happy to go slower and rely on the technology, Fowler says. “Driving is changing, and I think drivers are changing. Much as it pains me to say this, they don’t necessarily love the sort of things that enthusiasts in the past have loved, the engineering that goes into them.

“People are more aware that driving faster uses more fuel. If you’re doing 80 on the motorway, it exponentially increases.”

With the rising cost of living focusing minds on the miles per gallon as much as the speed, the joy can be in driving well rather than fast, Fowler said. “We need to breed a new generation of drivers who find driving in a more relaxed manner can be just as rewarding. Driving well, so you can keep momentum going, not having to stop and start all the time, will save you fuel, save your money, save on emissions. Maybe mpg is the new mph.”

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