The Guardian 2024-07-06 00:23:59


Ronald Klain, Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, has pushed back against Democratic donors over reports that they are strategizing ways to pressure Biden into withdrawing his re-election bid.

In a post on X that featured the New York Times headline “Major Democratic donors devise plans to pressure Biden to step aside”, Klain wrote:

We are the Democratic party! These … people don’t get to decide to oust a pro-labor pro-people president.

Joe Biden says he’s not ‘going anywhere’ but admits he needs more sleep

The president met with Democratic governors to shore up support, but doubts regarding his competence remain

  • US politics – live updates

Joe Biden has reportedly admitted to Democratic governors that he needs more sleep – while telling a supporter at the White House Fourth of July celebrations on Thursday night that he isn’t “going anywhere” in the race for re-election.

The US president told the Democratic governors that he had been feeling fatigued, needed to get more sleep and was aiming to reduce overwork, particularly by planning fewer engagements after 8pm, the New York Times reported.

The topic came up at a crucial meeting on Wednesday aimed at shoring up the support of key senior Democratic figures after the US president’s disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump last week.

Governors, including California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, who are increasingly tipped as rivals to Biden and his vice-president, Kamala Harris, emerged from the meeting enthusiastically pledging their ongoing support for the president as the presumptive party nominee for this November’s election.

And on Thursday evening at the White House, as Biden mingled and took selfies with guests, someone called out to him: “Keep up the fight.”

Biden responded: “You got me, man. I’m not going anywhere.”

But efforts to persuade voters that he is not being negatively affected by his age – Biden is 81, and would be 86 by the end of a potential second term – after his faltering debate performance will not be helped by his admission that he was feeling the effects of fatigue.

According to the New York Times, which cited two people in Wednesday evening’s meeting, Biden explained that several trips to Europe in the weeks leading up to the debate were factors in his poor showing, although he had a full week of debate preparation before the event.

He then said he had been ignoring his campaign team’s advice and pushing too hard, and added that he would be aiming to plan fewer engagements after 8pm and needed to get more sleep.

Axios had previously reported aides of Biden saying the president was at his most effective between the hours of 10am and 4pm but that at other times, including when travelling and feeling the effects of jet lag, he would more likely to make mistakes while speaking and to become tired.

Not all the governors were said to be convinced about Biden’s candidacy by the Wednesday meeting.

Josh Green, the governor of Hawaii, reportedly asked Biden about his health, to which Biden replied, “It’s just my brain,” in what a campaign chief afterwards emphasised was a joke.

Reuters contributed reporting

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Joe Biden to blitz media over weekend to counter claims of mental decline

An interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos will air on Friday night as worries grow over president’s competency

  • US politics – live updates

Joe Biden was gearing up on Friday for a three-day public relations blitz aimed at salvaging his floundering candidacy from the seven days of disarray sparked by last week’s disastrous debate performance, even as further revelations emerged that are likely to fuel concerns about whether he is suffering a mental decline.

In what is likely to be the most decisive set-piece event of his presidency, aside from the debate itself, Biden will give a television interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in which he will aim to dispel the growing perception that he lacks the acuity to continue in office for another four years.

The interview, scheduled to last between 15 and 25 minutes and conducted on Friday afternoon, will be aired in full at prime time on Friday evening, having been moved from its original scheduled Sunday slot. The president’s performance is certain to be scrutinised for any verbal slips or missteps reminiscent of last week’s stumbling display in the CNN debate with Donald Trump.

The interview will form the centrepiece of a weekend campaign schedule that will see Biden visit the battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, both of which are seen as vital to the Democrats’ chances of retaining the White House.

The president’s campaign has also launched a $50m advertising campaign this month, following its record-breaking $127m fundraising haul in June. The media campaign will target the large and diverse audiences expected to tune in for major events like the summer Olympics and the Republican national convention.

The offensive comes ahead of another potentially hazardous test: next week’s Nato summit in Washington, where Biden is slated to hold an unscripted news conference – a rare event during his three-and-a-half-year presidency, which has seen him stage the fewest press conferences of any president since Ronald Reagan.

The fightback comes as more worries surfaced about whether Biden, who is 81 and would be 86 by the end of a potential second term, still possessed the requisite intellectual and physical vigour to win the race against Trump and govern for another four years.

New York magazine on Friday cited a recent incident where Biden reportedly failed to recognise a longtime acquaintance and Democratic party donor until prompted by his wife, Jill, who whispered in his ear and told him to say “hello” and thank them for a generous donation. Other longtime friends of Biden and his family were said to be shocked at instances where he could not remember their names.

A separate report from Axios said three White House officials – the deputy chief of staff, Annie Tomasini; the first lady’s top adviser, Anthony Bernal; and longtime aide Ashley Williams – would regularly remind the president of the names of people who he has known for a long time.

“Annie, Ashley and Anthony create a protective bubble around [Biden],” an unnamed White House source was quoted as saying.

“He’s staffed so closely that he’s lost all independence. [He] relies on staff to nudge him with reminders of who he’s meeting, including former staffers and advisers who Biden should easily remember without a reminder from Annie.”

“These are standard processes for any White House, regardless of president or party. The claims about these individuals – whose professionalism and character are respected across the administration – are inaccurate,” said a White House spokesman, Andrew Bates, in response to the Axios report.

“This is a team with experience keeping the faith as we helped earn the strongest record in modern history, and our focus is not on anonymous sniping.”

Biden attempted to reverse the perception of his decline at a meeting with Democratic state governors at the White House on Wednesday. The governors emerged expressing their renewed support for Biden. But the White House was forced to later emphasise that Biden was kidding when he responded to a question from Hawaii’s governor, Josh Green, who is a medical doctor, by saying his health was fine but adding: “It’s just my brain.” Biden also told the governors that he needed to get more sleep and would try not schedule events after 8pm.

In the lead-up to the ABC interview, Biden gave two radio interviews which aired on Thursday. Speaking to a Philadelphia radio station on Thursday, he twice garbled his words, saying at one point: “I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice-president, first Black woman, to serve with a Black president,” and later that he was proud to be “the first president [who] got elected statewide in the state of Delaware” – a remark that may have intended to convey that he was the first Catholic to be elected statewide in Delaware, Politico reported.

The weekend’s offensive follow a calamitous seven days that have been the most fraught of Biden’s presidency – and arguably of his half-century-long political career – triggered by the 27 June debate performance, when he repeatedly lost his train of thought and appeared incapable of mounting simple political arguments that were once his stock-in-trade.

That episode sparked a firestorm of fevered debate among senior Democratic figures and donors about whether Biden should step aside as the presidential candidate, paving the way for an open nomination contest at next month’s national party convention.

While Biden tried to dismiss the performance as “one bad debate”, the continuing fallout has led to an erosion in his poll numbers against Trump, with even formerly safe Democratic states now appearing vulnerable.

The fight to prevent a second Trump presidency was given renewed urgency last Monday by a US supreme court ruling that gave him broad immunity for alleged crimes committed when he was in the White House – a decision which Biden vigorously condemned in a White House statement in which he said Trump would be “emboldened” if he won November’s election.

But Democrats complained that a recent media appearance was insufficient to overcome the fears provoked by the debate fiasco and said the president should have tried to meet senior party decision-makers and hold unscripted events and interviews without the help of a teleprompter, which he has relied on heavily throughout his presidency.

In response, Biden met with state governors – some of whom have been touted as potential replacement candidates – on Wednesday and has reportedly talked with Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, and Hakeem Jeffries, the party’s minority leader in the House of Representatives.

His advisers also scheduled today’s interview with Stephanopoulos, a former White House communications director under Bill Clinton, in the hope that it could revive his image.

The limited outreach has failed to quell rising doubts, however, with at least three House Democrats publicly calling for him to step aside and many more expressing similar sentiments privately.

Trump, meanwhile, has remained uncharacteristically quiet about his rival’s predicament, a posture analysts said was indicative of how much damage the Democrats were inflicting on themselves by publicly agonising over Biden’s electability.

However, on Thursday a video emerged of Trump, sitting on a golf cart beside his youngest son, Barron, predicting that Biden would end his campaign, to be replaced as the Democratic candidate by Kamala Harris. “She’s so fucking bad,” the presumptive Republican nominee added.

Some post-debate polls have shown Harris doing better than Biden – though still trailing – in a match-up against Trump.

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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

  • US politics – live updates

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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Hurricane Beryl makes landfall in Mexico as category 2 storm

Hurricane warning issued for the coast from Puerto Costa Maya to Cancún, including Cozumel

Hurricane Beryl has made landfall as a category 2 storm in Mexico’s top tourist destinations, triggering a red alert in the region following its deadly trail of destruction across several Caribbean islands.

The storm’s core shifted over the Yucatán, with winds slowing to approximately 100mph (160km/h) as it reached the north-eastern region of Tulum, famed for its white-sand beaches, lush landscapes and Mayan ruins.

While the storm’s center moving through Tulum resulted in slower winds and some downed branches, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) continues to anticipate dangerous winds, storm surges and destructive waves in the area of landfall.

Video posted on social media on Friday showed fierce winds battering Tulum’s downtown.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the coast from Puerto Costa Maya to Cancún, including Cozumel.

Hurricane Beryl, the first of the 2024 Atlantic season, was at one point a category 5 storm, making it the earliest category 5 storm on record. This extraordinary storm season is believed by scientists to be fueled by climate change.

Mexico’s civil protection agency has issued a red alert, signaling a maximum hazard threat. The agency has advised residents to remain in their homes or seek refuge in storm shelters.

The Mexican president, Andres Manuel López Obrador, echoed this advice, urging those in the storm’s path to seek shelter. He emphasized the importance of prioritising life over material possessions in a social media post.

In Quintana Roo, home to Cancún, Governor Mara Lezama posted a video of Tulum’s downtown showing strong winds and rain already affecting the region. Posting on X, she urged residents to remain indoors, saying: “We’re asking everyone to stay in your homes, in your shelters, do not leave.”

Schools in Quintana Roo have been closed and the Mexico’s defense ministry has opened around 120 storm shelters in the area.

Before reaching Mexico, Hurricane Beryl wreaked havoc in the Caribbean. It swept through Jamaica, Grenada, St Vincent, the Grenadines, and northern Venezuela, claiming at least 11 lives, bringing down buildings and uprooting trees.

The death toll may rise as more information becomes available.

Beryl is expected to weaken rapidly as it crosses the Yucatan peninsula, but is forecast to regain strength when it moves over the Gulf of Mexico. The NHC predicts that the storm will move towards north-eastern Mexico and southern Texas towards the end of the weekend.

Hurricane Beryl forced the evacuation of around 3,000 tourists from Isla Mujeres, an island near Cancun, the island’s tourism director Jose Magana said. Many residents, including fishermen, have sought shelter in anticipation of the storm’s impact.

About 100 flights were canceled at Cancún international airport on Thursday, causing many tourists to rush to catch the last outgoing flights.

Mexico’s major oil platforms, primarily located in the southern Gulf of Mexico, are not expected to be impacted or shut down, but oil projects in US waters to the north may be affected if the hurricane continues on its expected path.

Research by the ClimaMeter consortium determined that climate change, caused by human activities, significantly intensified Hurricane Beryl. According to the study, the storm’s severity, along with its associated rainfall and wind speed, saw an increase of 10-30% as a direct result of climate change.

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22 min: Cucerella helps the ball on to Williams out on left touchline. He plays inside to Laporte, who sees space opening up in front of him. He tries a shot from about 25 yards out but doesn’t trouble Neuer.

Andrew Tate can leave Romania while awaiting trial, court rules

Self-professed ‘misogynist influencer’ is charged with human trafficking, rape, and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women

The controversial social media influencer Andrew Tate will be allowed to leave Romania while awaiting trial on charges of human trafficking, a court has ruled.

Tate, 37, had been banned from leaving the country but will now be permitted to travel within the EU without restrictions while awaiting the trial.

The self-professed “misogynist influencer” was indicted in June 2023 along with his brother, Tristan, and two Romanian female suspects for human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women, allegations they have all denied.

In April this year, the Bucharest court ruled their trial can start, a decision Tate has appealed. Pending a ruling on his appeal, the four suspects had been banned from leaving Romania but Friday’s court decision lifted the restriction for the EU.

The Bucharest tribunal’s decision was hailed by his spokesperson, Mateea Petrescu, as a “significant victory and a major step forward” in the case.

In a social media post of X, Tate wrote: “I AM FREE. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 3 YEARS I CAN LEAVE ROMANIA. THE SHAM CASE IS FALLING APART.”

In a video also posted on X he said: “My judges decided … I’m allowed to leave Romania, so do we take the [Ferrari] SF90 to Italy, the [Maserati] MC20 to Cannes, the [Ferrari] 812 Competition to Paris, where do I go?”

Eugen Vidineac, one of Tate’s lawyers, said: “We embrace and applaud the decision of the court today, I consider it a reflection of the exemplary behaviour and assistance of my clients.”

He added the Tates were “still determined to clear their name and reputation”.

Vidineac said the ability to travel within the 27-country EU bloc would allow the Tates to “pursue professional opportunities without restriction”.

The brothers, who are dual UK-US nationals, were held in police custody during the criminal investigation from December 2022 until April 2023 to prevent them from absconding from Romania or tampering with evidence.

They were then under house arrest until August, when courts placed them under judicial control. In January, a Romanian court rejected an appeal by Andrew Tate to ease the judicial control measures.

Tate, a kickboxer who has 9.1 million followers on X, has repeatedly claimed that prosecutors have no evidence against him and that there is a political conspiracy to silence him. He was previously banned from various social media platforms for expressing misogynistic views and for hate speech.

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French PM urges calm after assaults in run-up to second round vote

Gabriel Attal’s call comes on tense last day of campaigning after more than 50 candidates and canvassers attacked

  • Europe live – latest updates

The French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, has urged all political parties to call for calm on a tense last day of campaigning for a snap election in which the far-right hopes to win a majority in parliament.

“Violence and intimidation have no place in our society,” Attal wrote in a social media post.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said: “This campaign is short and yet we already have 51 candidates, substitutes and activists who have been physically assaulted.”

Darmanin told BFMTV that some of the assaults had been extremely serious and led to people being admitted to hospital. He said more than 30 arrests had been made across France and denounced what he called “a climate of great violence towards politics and all that it represents”.

It was too early to establish a “typical profile” of the people carrying out the attacks, but that they ranged from people who had “spontaneously got angry” to “political activists either from the ultra-left or ultra-right”. The assaults had happened against people on all sides, he said.

Around 30,000 police will be deployed across France after the results on Sunday, including 5,000 in Paris and the surrounding area. Darmanin said he feared “excesses” and had asked the Paris police chief to ban street protests expected outside parliament on Sunday night. He said he feared the “ultra-left” above all. He also said he anticipated demonstrations in Lyon, Rennes and Nantes or “anywhere there is the ultra-right or ultra-left”.

The Paris Bar Council has asked the public prosecutor’s office to open a case after a far-right website called for the “elimination” of lawyers who had signed an article against Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally (RN).

The far-right party has insisted it could win an absolute majority of 289 seats in parliament and form a government. Latest polling, however, suggests it will fall short of that target, but it is expected to become the largest party. An Ipsos poll forecast the RN would get between 175 and 205 seats and Ifop pollsters put the figure at between 170 and 210.

Polls also showed that tactical voting could limit the RN’s gains. Macron’s centrists and a broad leftwing coalition agreed this week to withdraw more than 200 candidates from the final round to avoid splitting the vote against the RN.

Polls suggest that only between a third and a half of centrists could switch to the leftwing alliance to fend off the far right, while perhaps two-thirds of left-leaning voters could back a centrist.

If the RN and its allies do not win an absolute majority but end up as the largest party, there could be deadlock in parliament and a struggle to form a government.

Le Pen said on Friday that such deadlock would “not [be] chaos but a quagmire, a total standstill”, urging her supporters to turn out and give her party the biggest score possible. She said that if the RN did not have a clear majority, “no law will be voted … for a year, the country will be at standstill at the worst moment for France”.

If no party reaches a clear majority, there is uncertainty about how a government could be formed, weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

Attal, an ally of Macron, was campaigning on Friday in Paris and did not rule out his minority administration remaining in place for “as long as necessary” after polling day. That was understood to mean the government could continue for a brief period in case of deadlock in parliament, but Attal did not explain further.

Macron’s decision to call a snap vote three years ahead of schedule after his party was trounced by the far-right in European elections was seen as the biggest gamble of his political career. He said at the time that it would allow French people to reject extremes and reset parliament.

Predictions are hard to make before Sunday’s second round but polling showed Macron’s centrists losing ground and the far-right gaining support.

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French PM urges calm after assaults in run-up to second round vote

Gabriel Attal’s call comes on tense last day of campaigning after more than 50 candidates and canvassers attacked

  • Europe live – latest updates

The French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, has urged all political parties to call for calm on a tense last day of campaigning for a snap election in which the far-right hopes to win a majority in parliament.

“Violence and intimidation have no place in our society,” Attal wrote in a social media post.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said: “This campaign is short and yet we already have 51 candidates, substitutes and activists who have been physically assaulted.”

Darmanin told BFMTV that some of the assaults had been extremely serious and led to people being admitted to hospital. He said more than 30 arrests had been made across France and denounced what he called “a climate of great violence towards politics and all that it represents”.

It was too early to establish a “typical profile” of the people carrying out the attacks, but that they ranged from people who had “spontaneously got angry” to “political activists either from the ultra-left or ultra-right”. The assaults had happened against people on all sides, he said.

Around 30,000 police will be deployed across France after the results on Sunday, including 5,000 in Paris and the surrounding area. Darmanin said he feared “excesses” and had asked the Paris police chief to ban street protests expected outside parliament on Sunday night. He said he feared the “ultra-left” above all. He also said he anticipated demonstrations in Lyon, Rennes and Nantes or “anywhere there is the ultra-right or ultra-left”.

The Paris Bar Council has asked the public prosecutor’s office to open a case after a far-right website called for the “elimination” of lawyers who had signed an article against Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally (RN).

The far-right party has insisted it could win an absolute majority of 289 seats in parliament and form a government. Latest polling, however, suggests it will fall short of that target, but it is expected to become the largest party. An Ipsos poll forecast the RN would get between 175 and 205 seats and Ifop pollsters put the figure at between 170 and 210.

Polls also showed that tactical voting could limit the RN’s gains. Macron’s centrists and a broad leftwing coalition agreed this week to withdraw more than 200 candidates from the final round to avoid splitting the vote against the RN.

Polls suggest that only between a third and a half of centrists could switch to the leftwing alliance to fend off the far right, while perhaps two-thirds of left-leaning voters could back a centrist.

If the RN and its allies do not win an absolute majority but end up as the largest party, there could be deadlock in parliament and a struggle to form a government.

Le Pen said on Friday that such deadlock would “not [be] chaos but a quagmire, a total standstill”, urging her supporters to turn out and give her party the biggest score possible. She said that if the RN did not have a clear majority, “no law will be voted … for a year, the country will be at standstill at the worst moment for France”.

If no party reaches a clear majority, there is uncertainty about how a government could be formed, weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

Attal, an ally of Macron, was campaigning on Friday in Paris and did not rule out his minority administration remaining in place for “as long as necessary” after polling day. That was understood to mean the government could continue for a brief period in case of deadlock in parliament, but Attal did not explain further.

Macron’s decision to call a snap vote three years ahead of schedule after his party was trounced by the far-right in European elections was seen as the biggest gamble of his political career. He said at the time that it would allow French people to reject extremes and reset parliament.

Predictions are hard to make before Sunday’s second round but polling showed Macron’s centrists losing ground and the far-right gaining support.

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Viktor Orbán visits Vladimir Putin to condemnation from fellow EU leaders

Brussels disassociates itself from Hungarian PM’s Moscow trip, which he has tried to cast as a peace mission

  • Europe live – latest updates

Viktor Orbán, Europe’s most pro-Russian leader, met with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Friday, in a rare trip to Russia that drew strong condemnation from European leaders.

Orbán’s visit to Moscow came just days after he made a similar unannounced trip to Kyiv, as the Hungarian prime minister attempts to position himself as a peace broker between Russia and Ukraine.

Shortly after landing in Russia for his first trip to the country since Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Orbán published a photograph with the caption: “The peace mission continues. Second stop: Moscow.”

The two leaders then held talks at the Kremlin, which a senior Moscow aide described as a “frank conversation” covering all issues related to Ukraine.

Speaking at a joint conference with Orbán afterwards, Putin signalled he was not ready to compromise on the maximalist demands he made of Ukraine last month.

Putin repeated his earlier ultimatum to end the war, demanding Kyiv cede more land, withdraw troops deeper inside its own country and drop its Nato bid.

These terms have already been firmly rejected by Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his western allies, as they imply that Kyiv would have to relinquish four Ukrainian regions that Russia has “annexed” but does not fully control militarily.

Orbán this week assumed the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year and told reporters in Moscow that he viewed his six-month tenure as a peace mission.

“Many steps are needed to end the war, but we took the first step to restore dialogue,” Orban said, admitting that “points of view remained far from each other in Kyiv and Moscow”.

Brussels was quick to denounce the visit, stressing Orbán did not speak for the EU and had “not received any mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow”.

“Prime minister Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow takes place, exclusively, in the framework of the bilateral relations between Hungary and Russia. The Hungarian prime minister is thus not representing the EU in any form,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, wrote in a statement.

Ukraine slammed Orbán’s visit, saying that it was made “without approval or coordination” with Kyiv. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement that “the principle of ‘no agreements on Ukraine without Ukraine’ remains inviolable for our country.”

Hungary has been at odds with other western countries over Orbán’s continued cultivation of close ties to Russia and refusal to send arms to Ukraine. Budapest’s foreign minister called plans to help the country a “crazy mission” in May.

The Hungarian leader, who maintains links with rightwing groups across the globe, has long suggested Hungary could play a role in bringing peace to Ukraine. Aside from making vague calls for a “ceasefire,” he has not provided any details of a potential peace plan and has largely been 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.

During his visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, Orbán said he had asked Zelenskiy to consider a quick ceasefire that could accelerate peace talks.

Both Zelenskiy and Putin rejected Orbán’s call for a ceasefire, with the Ukrainian leader saying his country “cannot just trust Putin in principle”.

“It is important that Hungary recognises that Russia is an aggressor,” he said in an interview after Orbán’s visit.

Ukrainians fear that without hard security guarantees, such as Nato membership, a ceasefire would simply allow Russia to regroup and attack again in the future.

Putin said Russia could not agree to a ceasefire “because it is not sure of Kyiv’s reciprocal actions”.

Orbán’s visit is the first by an EU leader to Russia since the Austrian chancellor, Karl Nehammer, made a fruitless effort to negotiate an end to Russia’s invasion in April 2022.

Friday’s trip caused further anxiety in Brussels and in EU 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.

Citing Orbán, who said the trip would “serve as an important tool in making the first step towards peace”, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on social media: “The question is in whose hands this tool is.”

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, wrote on X: “Appeasement will not stop Putin. Only unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”

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Ex-president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro could face money-laundering charges

Indictment, which includes embezzlement and criminal association charges, stems from a gift from Saudi Arabia

Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro faces possible charges for money laundering, embezzlement and criminal association in connection with undeclared diamonds the far-right leader received from Saudi Arabia during his time in office, local media has reported.

Brazil’s supreme court has yet to receive the police report with the indictment. Once it does, the country’s prosecutor-general, Paulo Gonet, will analyze the document and decide whether to file charges and force Bolsonaro to stand trial.

This is Bolsonaro’s second indictment since leaving office, following another in May for allegedly falsifying his Covid vaccination certificate. But this indictment dramatically raises the legal threats facing the divisive ex-leader that are applauded by his opponents but denounced as political persecution by his supporters.

Bolsonaro did not immediately comment, but he and his lawyers have previously denied any wrongdoing in both those cases, as well as other investigations into the former president. One is probing his possible involvement in inciting an uprising in the capital, Brasília, on 8 January 2023 that sought to oust his successor from power.

Last year, federal police accused Bolsonaro of attempting to sneak in diamond jewelry reportedly worth $3m and selling two luxury watches.

Police said in August that Bolsonaro received cash from the nearly $70,000 sale of two luxury watches he received as gifts from Saudi Arabia. Brazil requires its citizens arriving by plane from abroad to declare goods worth more than $1,000 and, for any amount above that exemption, pay a tax equal to 50% of their value.

The jewelry would have been exempt from tax had it been a gift from Saudi Arabia to Brazil, but not to Bolsonaro to keep for himself. Rather, it would have been added to the presidential collection.

The investigation showed that Mauro Cid, Bolsonaro’s former aide-de-camp who allegedly falsified his Covid records, in June 2022 sold a Rolex watch and a Patek Philippe watch to a store in the US for a total of $68,000. They were gifted by Saudi Arabia’s government in 2019. Cid later signed a plea bargain with authorities and confirmed the allegations.

Flávio Bolsonaro, the former president’s eldest son and a sitting senator, said on X after Thursday’s indictment that the prosecution of his father was “blatant and shameless”.

In addition to Bolsonaro, police indicted 10 others, according to reports.

The 69-year-old former army captain started his political career as a staunch advocate of Brazil’s military dictatorship, and was a lawmaker for nearly three decades. When he ran for the presidency for the first time, in 2018, he was widely dismissed as an outsider and too radically conservative. But he surprised analysts with a decisive victory, in no small part due to his self-portrayal as an upstanding citizen in the years following a sprawling corruption probe that ensnared hundreds of politicians and executives.

Last year, Brazil’s top electoral court ruled that Bolsonaro abused his presidential powers during his 2022 re-election bid, which rendered him ineligible for any elections until 2030. The case focused on a meeting during which Bolsonaro used government staffers, the state television channel and the presidential palace in Brasília to tell foreign ambassadors that the country’s electronic voting system was rigged.

Bolsonaro is expected to meet the Argentinian president, Javier Milei, this weekend at a conservative conference in Balneario Camboriu, in Brazil’s south.

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Israel-Hamas talks to resume, raising hopes of a Gaza ceasefire

Netanyahu sends intelligence chief to Qatar to study Hamas proposal, while Hezbollah says it would also stop attacks if hostilities paused

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza and de-escalation on the boundary between Israel and Lebanon were raised on Friday, as Israel’s intelligence chief was dispatched by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Qatar to resume stalled negotiations as Hamas reportedly told its Lebanese ally Hezbollah it had accepted a ceasefire proposal.

An official for the Lebanese group, which said on Thursday that it has fired 200 rockets into Israel in retaliation for a strike that killed one of its top commanders, also told Reuters that the group would cease fire as soon as any Gaza ceasefire agreement takes effect, echoing previous statements.

“If there is a Gaza agreement, then from zero hour there will be a ceasefire in Lebanon,” the official said.

The efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held for nearly nine months gained momentum this week as Hamas put forward a revised proposal outlining the terms of an agreement, and Israel expressed readiness to resume discussions that had previously come to a standstill.

The head of the Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, travelled alone on Friday to Doha to meet Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, to study proposals from Hamas to pause the nearly nine-month war, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing senior Israeli officials.

The United States appears to hold high expectations regarding the recently resumed contact between Israel and Hamas, with the White House describing the latest Hamas ceasefire proposal as a “breakthrough” establishing a framework for a possible hostage deal.

‘‘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 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 group, which had run Gaza for nearly two decades before it launched its surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts told Reuters the new Hamas proposal could lead to a framework agreement if it is embraced by Israel.

He said Hamas was no longer demanding as a pre-condition an Israeli commitment to a permanent ceasefire before the signing of an agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout a first six-week phase.

The White House said Biden and Netanyahu had on Thursday discussed the response received from Hamas on the possible terms of a deal, and that Biden had welcomed Netanyahu’s decision on resuming the stalled talks “in an effort to close out the deal”.

A source in the Israeli negotiating team told Reuters: “There’s a deal with a real chance of implementation.”

A Gaza ceasefire could also allow for the de-escalation between Hezbollah and Israel on the Lebanese boundary. 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.

A Hamas delegation headed by the group’s deputy leader, Khalil al-Hayya, briefed Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah about the latest developments at a meeting in Beirut, the sources said.

Its deputy secretary general Naim Qassem on Friday publicly indicated that the group is not anticipating a full-scale war with Israel, but remains prepared for any extreme scenarios, in an interview with Russian outlet Sputnik.

“The possibility of expanding the war is not at hand at the moment but the organisation is prepared for the worst,” he said.

Mothers of Hamas-held hostages demonstrating in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square urged Israeli leaders to make an agreement. “There is right now a deal on the table,” said Shira Albag, mother of 19-year-old Liri Albag, calling on PM to “show leadership and courage and sign it off”.

One of the main obstacles to the negotiations within Israel is the far-right faction of the Netanyahu coalition government. The national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, issued a warning about potentially exiting the coalition during a highly charged security cabinet session on Thursday evening.

According to media reports in Israel, Ben Gvir criticised Netanyahu for engaging in private discussions with the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, and top security officials, painting the cabinet as merely a superficial facade.

“I want to make it abundantly clear, prime minister, that if you choose to act unilaterally, the consequences are solely your own to bear, and you will find yourself standing alone. I did not receive half a million votes to partake in a government where key security decisions are made outside the collective,” he was quoted as saying.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Lucy Letby handed 15th whole-life jail sentence

Former neonatal nurse proclaims innocence from dock as she is sentenced for attempted murder of newborn baby

Lucy Letby cried from the dock “I’m innocent” after she was sentenced to a whole-life order for attempting to kill a newborn girl in what the judge called a “shocking act of calculated, callous cruelty”.

The former neonatal nurse made the remark as she was taken to the court cells after being sentenced.

The judge, James Goss KC, told the prison officers to take the defendant down when she turned to face him, turned out her palms and said “I’m innocent”, to gasps in the courtroom.

Members of her newborn victim’s family – who had moments earlier described the everlasting grief of her crimes – appeared visibly shocked and emotional at Letby’s outburst.

Letby, 34, was found guilty on Tuesday of trying to kill the extremely premature infant less than two hours after she was born on 17 February 2016.

Letby was handed a 15th whole-life order, having been jailed last year for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill another six.

Letby was convicted of attempting to kill a seventh infant, known as Baby K, after a three-week retrial at Manchester crown court.

Goss told Letby she had deliberately interfered with the breathing tube of the tiny newborn – who was born 15 weeks’ premature and weighted only 692g (1.52lbs) – when a nurse had briefly left the infant’s side.

Her actions were “completely contrary to the normal human instincts and nurturing and caring for babies”, he said, and were “in gross beach of the trust that all citizens place in those who work in the medical and caring professions”.

Baby K died three days later after being transferred to a separate hospital. Letby was not accused of causing her death.

Sentencing Letby, Goss said she could not be blamed for causing Baby K’s death but she was guilty of a “shocking act of calculated, callous cruelty”.

As Letby stared straight ahead, Goss told her she was a “conscientious, hard-working, confident and professional nurse … which allowed you to harm babies without suspicion”.

“Only you know the reason, or reasons, for your murderous campaign,” he said, adding that the impact of her crimes was “immense”. “You have no remorse. There are no mitigating factors,” he added.

Eight members of the jury were in court to watch the sentencing.

Fighting back tears, Baby K’s mother told a silent courtroom how she and her husband had been “beyond ecstatic and overwhelmed with love” when they heard their unborn child’s heartbeat for the first time, after a previous miscarriage.

She described how their loss had affected every area of their lives, damaging their relationships, friendships and careers. “The impact is across all aspects of your life,” she said, “like ripples in the water, layer by layer of your life is touched”.

As relatives became emotional in the public gallery, Baby K’s mother said the “biggest future struggle that plagues us each day” was how to tell their children about her death.

“The devastation expands so far and for so long when a child is lost let alone under these circumstances,” she said. “Will we get answers and the verdict that we want? Will that actually bring some peace and closure?”

Addressing Letby from the witness box, Baby K’s mother said her daughter was “not here, never will be, we will never have what would give us peace, closure, or a feeling of being complete family unit”.

She went on: “However, you, Lucy Letby, will never hurt another child or have the privilege and joy that children give.

“Our time and effort that you have absorbed over the years will stop today and our focus will remain on our beautiful children and building the most exciting and love-filled life that we possibly can.”

Benjamin Myers KC, for Letby, said his client “recognised the sympathy” for the families but that she maintained her innocence. He said there was no mitigation. “The sentence is inevitable and there is no more I can say,” he said.

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‘This sucks. I want to go back to being famous’: Kevin Bacon’s experiment as a ‘regular person’

The actor wore prosthetic teeth, nose and glasses to experiment with anonymity – but found queueing and a lack of adoration challenging

Immersive research into the everyday lives of normal people conducted by the actor Kevin Bacon has revealed some startling results: it’s not as good as being a celebrity.

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Bacon said he had long hankered after the anonymity of the everyman, so commissioned a prosthetics specialist to enable him to do so.

“I’m not complaining,” he said, “but I have a face that’s pretty recognisable. Putting my hat and glasses on is only going to work to a certain extent.”

He continued: “I went to a special effects makeup artist, had consultations, and asked him to make me a prosthetic disguise.”

Kitted out with fake teeth, a different nose and a pair of glasses, the actor trialled his new look at a shopping mall in Los Angeles called The Grove. To his delight, he discovered that “nobody recognised me”.

Yet the newfound freedom soon palled as Bacon discovered the downsides of invisibility.

“People were kind of pushing past me, not being nice,” he said. “Nobody said, ‘I love you.’ I had to wait in line to buy a fucking coffee or whatever. I was like, This sucks. I want to go back to being famous.”

Bacon, now 65, made his screen debut 46 years ago, in National Lampoon’s Animal House, before starring in the likes of Diner, Footloose, A Few Good Men, JFK, The River Wild and Tremors. He has also featured in films such as The Woodsman, Patriots Day and TV series I Love Dick and City on a Hill.

His industry ubiquity spawned the parlour game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenges players to trace anyone in showbiz back to Bacon in six names or fewer.

Other celebrities rumoured to have gone undercover using similar strategies include Ellen DeGeneres (as a keen shopper), Daniel Radcliffe (as a dog walker), Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a gym instructor) and Chris Pratt (as a Chris Pratt lookalike).

Meanwhile celebrities who have admitted how much they enjoy the trappings of notoriety include Noel Gallagher, Catherine Deneuve and Billie Eilish.

In 2019, Christina Ricci declared: “I’m not going to lie, I like being famous. I like being well respected. I like that people don’t laugh when they hear my name. I like being able to get tables at restaurants and discounts on clothes. My life is exactly the life that I wanted for myself.”

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