The Guardian 2024-07-07 16:12:50


Polls open in one of most important French elections in living memory

Far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen poised to become dominant force in country’s national assembly

Voting has begun in France in one of the country’s most momentous elections in living memory, with the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and its allies poised to become the dominant force in the national assembly.

After a rest day with no political activity allowed, voting got under way across mainland France at 8am local time on Sunday, with pollsters due to publish usually reliable seat projections as the last big-city polling stations close at 8pm.

Successive polls over the past week have shown the estimated number of RN deputies in the new parliament falling steadily from earlier projections as rival candidates pulled out of three-way run-offs to avoid splitting the anti-far-right vote.

The “republican front” is thought likely to block the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic party from winning an outright majority of 289, with a final Ipsos poll indicating the RN and its allies would send between 175 and 205 deputies to the 577-seat parliament.

That would still give the RN a parliamentary party more than double the size of its 88-strong group in the outgoing parliament, however, with the number of MPs from the centrist coalition of the president, Emmanuel Macron, forecast to halve to at most 148.

The New Popular Front (NFP), a four-way left-wing alliance dominated by the radical left Unbowed France (LFI) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, was expected to win between 145 and 175 seats, likely making it the second largest force in the new assembly.

Macron, who called the snap election less than a month ago after his camp suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the RN in the European parliamentary ballot, looks set to face the final three years of his presidency with no clear ruling majority.

“Today the danger is a majority dominated by the extreme right and that would be catastrophic,” the prime minister, Gabriel Attal, who may be tasked with trying to hold together a caretaker government, said in a final interview on Friday.

Attal promised to stay on “as long as necessary” in a caretaker role while Macron and his advisers plot their next move, which could be some form of broad coalition excluding the far right and far left or perhaps a technocratic government.

But the result risks plunging France – one of the EU’s driving forces and the bloc’s second largest economy, as well as a prominent Nato power and member of the UN security council – into prolonged parliamentary deadlock and political uncertainty.

Le Pen insisted this week the far-right party could win an absolute majority, calling on voters to avoid “a total quagmire” by giving the RN a clear mandate to govern and ensuring her 28-year-old lieutenant, Jordan Bardella, became prime minister.

Le Pen has denounced the republican front as an attempt to steal victory “against the will of the people” by creating a “single party” protecting the political class, and Bardella has said he will not take up the post unless his party has an outright majority.

The RN has toned down many of its positions, but still plans to slash immigration, bar dual nationals from certain state jobs, abolish the right of babies born in France to be French and create a “national preference” for some welfare benefits.

Analysts say the far-right party has benefited from public anger at Macron, whose pro-business reforms have spurred the economy but who is viewed by many voters as having ignored their concerns about the cost of living and worsening public services.

The campaign has been marked by rising tensions and multiple incidents of violence, with more than 50 candidates and campaign activists physically assaulted. Several have been injured to the extent of needing hospital treatment.

The outgoing interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, last week said more than 30 arrests had been made across France and denounced what he described as “a climate of great violence towards politics and all that it represents”.

A fortnight before France is due to host the summer Olympics, about 30,000 police, including 5,000 in Paris, will be deployed this weekend to head off possible post-vote trouble, and street protests have been banned outside parliament.

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French artists, DJs and musicians unite to fight threat of far-right government

Front Électronique acts as ‘world of the night’ to combat rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally

More than 1,200 artists, DJs and promoters from the French music industry have come together in a bid to galvanise “the world of the night” into political action and to protest at the possibility of the first far-right French government since the second world war.

Members of the Front Électronique (FE) have organised live debates on video streaming service Twitch and free concerts, and released a fund-raising album Siamo Tutti Antifascisti Vol.1 (We are all Anti-Fascists) featuring 38 artists. The compilation is described as a “call to arms”.

The FE members say they were driven to act by the resurgence of “an old fascism” in the form of the National Rally (RN), the political party led by Marine le Pen that topped last Sunday’s first round – and which could form a government if it wins a majority in the second round.

On Wednesday night, FE members including dance music producer and artist Étienne de Crécy and singer-songwriter Voyou performed in front of a crowd of thousands at a rally at Place de la République in Paris. Speakers at the event included Brazilian former footballer Raí, who talked about his experience of living under a far-right government headed by Jair Bolsonaro in his homeland.

Lucas Langlais, founder of record label Unfair Music and a member of the FE, said: “Our culture has remained silent for too long. We can no longer stand idly by without acting to defend who we are and the people we love.

“The electronic scene has always been a refuge for diversity, whether it be sexual orientation, ethnic origin or individual beliefs. We believe that music and dance are powerful means to resist intolerance and celebrate freedom of expression.”

Some of the most established figures from French electronic music privately expressed their opposition to the rise of Le Pen’s party but have not spoken out, a reticence that Voyou disagrees with. “I always ask my followers to vote without telling them who to vote for, but this time I felt I had to take more of an active role,” Voyou said. “Artists can have a huge importance in the political sphere.”

A “dangerous wave of racism and homophobia” is already being felt in the wake of the far-right’s rise in France, according to musicians Le Kaiju and Sujigashira of Grand Remplacement Records, a collective which supports artists from diasporas of the global south.

They speak of friends and family who have faced catcalls such as “Can’t wait for 7 July”, and “Go back where you came from”.

Le Kaiju said:The rise of fascism in our country isn’t new; it’s a part of its DNA. But this moment has made even the most privileged of us scared for their existence.”

For Myriam Konté, who DJs as Melanin, one of her major concerns is the far-right policy on budgets for cultural institutions. Marion Maréchal, Le Pen’s niece, has spoken of her desire to halt the intermittent du spectacle: the scheme that ensures those working in the arts – from musicians and directors to sound engineers and stage managers – are paid a basic income.

“The only cultural aspect addressed by the RN and its allies is heritage,” says Langlais.

Young people could make a big difference in the final vote in the French election. Polling last Sunday showed a preference among the 18-34 demographic for the leftwing coalition over the far right, but around a quarter opted for Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s party, significantly more than for Macron’s centrist Ensemble pour la République.

French music and political protest have long been interconnected. Jacques Dutronc’s 1968 hit single Il est Cinq Heures, Paris s’éveille was co-opted for the widespread protests that year by students drawn to its chorus: “Paris, wake up”.

The 1985 song Porcherie by punks Bérurier Noir contains the refrain “La jeunesse emmerde le Front National” – the young piss off the National Front – a lyric that became a rallying cry against the far right in 2002 when party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the nation by advancing to the second round of the presidential elections.

It has enjoyed a revival on TikTok and at marches during this year’s vote. The singer Eloi led the crowd in chanting it at a concert at the club Virage in Paris as results from the first vote came in on Sunday night.

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Analysis

French Jewish people conflicted over voting choices amid antisemitism fears

Lili Bayer in Paris

Many say they feel stuck in middle between far-right National Rally and hard-left France Unbowed

As France faces a high-stakes second round of elections on Sunday, French Jewish people say they are grappling with tough choices and feel caught between extremes amid concerns about rising antisemitism.

As part of her longstanding efforts to detoxify the image of the far-right National Rally (RN) – currently leading in opinion polls – Marine Le Pen, to the incredulity of many, has sought to present herself as a friend of Jewish people and Israel.

Meanwhile, polling in second place is the left-green New Popular Front (NPF) alliance, which includes the centre-left and greens and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard-left party, France Unbowed (LFI). Senior figures within LFI have made comments that many French Jews and others have described as antisemitic.

These dynamics have raised profound questions for French Jewish communities, with many saying they feel stuck in the middle, with antisemitism not being sufficiently addressed.

The Guardian spoke with more than a dozen members of French Jewish communities in the days before the second round of elections, from politicians and public intellectuals to pensioners, student leaders and young professionals. The conversations reflected a diversity of views on political ideology and voting and a broad consensus about fears of rising antisemitic rhetoric and violence.

On Friday, the umbrella group Crif, which represents Jewish organisations in France, and the country’s chief rabbi, Haïm Korsia, were among the signatories of a public statement reiterating their formal stance: “Neither RN nor LFI.”

In an interview in Paris, the writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy said: “All the Jews I know agree they will of course never vote for France Unbowed, and they will never vote for Marine Le Pen.”

When it came to RN, he said: “There is absolutely no evidence of a deep change on the matter of antisemitism.”

RN, originally named Front National, was co-founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is well known for his antisemitic remarks. He has been convicted several times of contesting crimes against humanity, including for his claims that the gas chambers used to kill Jews during the Holocaust were only a “detail” of history.

Early members of the party included former leaders of a Waffen-SS military unit under Nazi command during the second world war. Pierre Bousquet, of the Waffen-SS Charlemagne division, was the party’s first treasurer and a founding member.

Even after its rebranding, RN has continued to face repeated scandals, including election candidates making allegedly antisemitic remarks.

The RN and LFI have repeatedly rejected accusations of antisemitism. Neither party responded to requests for comment on the antisemitism allegations.

For many French Jews, both parties are deemed unacceptable.

In the days before the second round, members of the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF) travelled to key constituencies to try to convince voters not to vote for extremes. As part of efforts to form a “republican front” against the far right, many centrist candidates who came third in the first round have since pulled out, leaving many voters with a straight choice between an NPF candidate and the RN.

Viviane, who asked to be identified by her first name only, said if the left had entered the second round in her area, she might have been open to voting for the far right, adding: “I’m not sure what I would have done at the last minute – I don’t think I would have managed to cast a ballot for the National Rally.”

In the days leading up to Sunday’s vote, a few people told the Guardian they were planning to vote for the far right, despite not feeling fully comfortable with the party. For many others, casting a vote for the RN remains an unthinkable prospect.

After morning prayers at a synagogue in central Paris on Saturday, there were heated conversations over snacks: is the far right really a lesser evil? Is not voting at all best?

French Jews who identify with the left and support the NPF, meanwhile, have also grappled with dilemmas. Lévy said he believed it had been “a political mistake, a moral fault” to include LFI in the leftwing alliance. Not everyone agrees.

Alice Timsit, 30, a city councillor and member of Les Écologistes party, described a growing feeling of isolation within the French left since the Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October and Israel’s retaliatory assault on Gaza. “It was very difficult for me to realise that my own political family left us alone,” adding that this was why she had joined Golem, a leftwing French Jewish collective.

Asked about LFI, she said that while some leaders had made antisemitic remarks, it was not antisemitic as a party when it came to policy. “It’s absolutely vital,” she said, to have LFI as part of the NPF because the far right “is a huge, huge risk for democracy”.

Timsit added that antisemitism needed to be addressed, including on the left. “I’m very sure that the left wing can do some great things, but to do that, we have to also face problems. We have to face it, because denying it is the worst thing to do.”

Others on the left share this view – to an extent.

Ariel Weil, a socialist serving as mayor of Paris Centre – an area covering four districts of the capital, said that in his view RN was incompatible with Jewish values, but also raised concerns about elements of LFI, saying he had always been “extremely opposed” to an alliance with them.

“There are only a few places where voters have to choose [on Sunday] between the extreme left wing and the extreme right wing … I’ve said, amongst others, that there are maybe 10 people that you can’t vote for amongst the Mélenchon party. You can’t vote for them because they are fascists from the left wing,” he said.

Aside from those candidates, said Weil, voters must back LFI against its far-right opponents.

“We are trying to walk a fine line,” he said, adding that once the election was over the left would have some challenges to address. “We are going to need to rebuild social democracy – and put an end to this alliance with people that do not share [our values].”

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‘We want our peace’: why is France’s far-right support such a rural affair?

Media rhetoric about migrants and crime is rallying support for the National Rally in the countryside but, say city folk, the reality is different

Flanked by fields of corn and tree-lined ponds, Colombier-Saugnieu has a proximity to the bustling metropolis of Lyon that is only hinted at by the regular rumbling of planes in the distance.

But in recent days journalists from the city have begun trekking out to the tiny commune, population 2,500, in hopes of better understanding a dynamic seemingly at play in the country’s snap parliamentary elections: the sharp divide between voters in rural and urban areas.

In Colombier-Saugnieu, 54% of voters cast their ballot for the far right, anti-immigrant National Rally (RN) party – the highest in the eastern central French department of Rhône. Around 17 miles away in central Lyon, the RN was conspicuously absent when it came to the top two choices in the city’s four voting districts.

In Colombier-Saugnieu, as she swept leaves from the pavement outside the stately home that has long belonged to her family, 77-year-old Jaqueline explained why support for Marine Le Pen’s party had soared from 36% in 2022’s first round of elections to 54% this time round.

“Frankly, I’m backing the RN. I hope they come in and things change a bit,” she said. “I want things to go back to the way they were, with a little more security, more dialogue and less violence.” She was swift to acknowledge, however, that crime, violence and lack of dialogue weren’t particularly hot-button issues in Colombier-Saugnieu. “In the village, at the moment, everything is fine. But when you see the news, we absorb it, you realise that it’s going badly everywhere.”

Perhaps she and others in the commune were not looking for change, she conceded, but had voted for RN out of fear of what could come. “We want things to stay the way they are. We want our peace.”

Four weeks after France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, launched the country into snap parliamentary elections, polls suggest that the RN will fall short of an absolute majority. The far-right party, however, which has promised to slash immigration, bar dual nationals from certain state jobs and work towards banning headscarves in public places, is still expected to become the biggest force in the National Assembly.

It’s a political transformation that appears to owe much to those who live outside France’s cities. In Sunday’s first-round ballot, on average, voters in the country’s 23 metropolises mostly turned their backs on the far right, with the leftwing New Popular Front (NFP) alliance earning more than double the support for the RN.

Now, as the country gears up to vote in the second, decisive round, some in Lyon are worried that those prepared to propel the far right to power were being driven largely by  misconceptions.

“People in the countryside are afraid of situations that they aren’t living but that they saw on TV,” said Mathieu, 33. “So the fantasy of the right and far right – I’m talking about Macron to Le Pen – is to make people fantasise by saying: ‘Look what’s happening.’ Except that we in cities are living what’s happening and we’re not afraid.” He pointed to the rich diversity of Lyon, home to people from all around the world. “I see migration every day – it’s not something to be afraid of,” he said. “The parties on the left tend to resonate with us more because we see poverty, we see situations that are not the result of immigration at all but rather the result of public policies.”

Still, some media had found ratings by choosing to focus incessantly on issues concerning security and immigration, effectively amplifying the message espoused by Le Pen and her party, he said. “And since then, we’ve seen a complete banalisation of what was previously inconceivable for us.”

His sentiments were echoed by Melanie, 36, standing outside an office building finishing a cigarette.

Constant news reporting on crime had created a false sense that France’s cities were being consumed by a “climate of insecurity”, she said. “We live here, we know that we’re not going to be assaulted every day. But those outside the cities watch the news and every day they see stories about assaults and think: ‘Ooh là là, it’s horrible in the city’.”

As he strolled with his bullmastiff Sherlock along a tree-lined alleyway in Colombier-Saugnieu, Bernie, 65, had little doubt that the time had come for a far-right government. “People don’t necessarily want the far right. They want security, less immigration and more purchasing power,” he said. “The only ones capable of providing this is the so-called extreme right.”

The RN, launched in the early 1970s as the National Front, once included in its ranks former members of a Waffen-SS military unit under Nazi command during the second world war. Rife with antisemitic, homophobic and racist views, the party was widely regarded as a danger to democracy that needed to be kept out of mainstream politics. While Le Pen has spent much of the past decade working to soften the party’s image, its core message remains one of deep hostility to immigration, with promises to cut welfare benefits and medical insurance for migrants.

In Colombier-Saugnieu, Bernie brushed off any suggestion that France, whose birthrate is declining, needed migrants to help sustain its social welfare state. “When they say ‘there aren’t enough workers in France’, I don’t know. It’s hard to verify.”

Instead the son of Italian immigrants took aim at those who were migrating to France. “I’m not against them coming here – it’s not a problem. But you can see they have no intention of integrating into our way of life,” he said.

When asked if he had ever tried to speak to any migrants to find out about their intentions, he said that he hadn’t. “No, I never had the chance.”

In front of the bakery in Colombier-Saugnieu, one resident shook his head as he attempted to explain why more than half the commune had cast their ballots for RN days earlier.

“I really don’t understand it,” he said, noting that he had always voted for the centre or the mainstream rightwing party. “There are a lot of people who don’t like foreigners, or rather so-called foreigners. It’s like before, when elderly people in the village had their guard up against those from the outside.”

Where exactly this intense rejection for foreigners had come from was hard to say, he added. “There are very few foreigners here. Very few. People just don’t like what’s new.”

While media have been quick to seize on the political divide between urban and rural areas, much of the voting discrepancy can be attributed to the kinds of people who live in both areas rather than geography, said Mathieu Gallard, research director for pollster Ipsos in France. “In the countryside, generally speaking, you tend to have more older citizens, more people from the working class, more people with just a high school diploma, for example.”

At the University of Lyon, political science professor Stéphane Cadiou cautioned against generalisations. “It’s just not that simple,” he said. “There are senior executives who live in the countryside, but they don’t vote RN. So you can’t say that the countryside votes RN. This idea of one, generalised countryside doesn’t exist in France.” The same nuance needs to be applied to cities, he said.

“In Nice, a big city, they didn’t vote in the same way as Lyon.”

The southern city of Nice, along with nearby Toulon, ran counter to most cities, with the far right gathering the most votes across the board in last Sunday’s first-round ballot. The wide difference lies in Nice’s social fabric, said Cadiou. “In Nice, there are very few industrial jobs, very few jobs that require higher education. It’s mainly small service-sector jobs,” he said. “And you also have a right that very quickly cultivated links with the far right. So all of this created a porosity that makes it a favourable breeding ground for the extreme right.”

Regardless of where they live, voters are united over the cost of living, said Gallard. “People are afraid for their own economic and social situation,” he said. “Basically, the left says that you can fight social inequalities and have a better level of life by fighting the wealthiest, and the far right says it will be done by fighting immigrants.”

He pointed to these entrenched positions to explain polling data that suggested the far right was in a stronger position heading into Sunday’ssecond-round ballot. “I think many people actually think that it would be easier to fight against immigration than to have a fair fight against big corporations and wealthy people.”

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Biden’s doctor reportedly met with top neurologist at White House

Parkinson’s expert at Walter Reed medical center has visited White House eight times since August 2023 – report

Joe Biden’s doctor met with a leading Washington neurologist at the White House this year, it was reported on Saturday.

The report came after Biden on Friday ruled out taking an independent cognitive test and releasing its findings publicly, in an interview with ABC News arranged following his disastrous performance in last week’s presidential TV debate with Donald Trump.

According White House visitor logs reviewed by the New York Post, Dr Kevin Cannard, a Parkinson’s disease expert at Walter Reed medical center, met with Dr Kevin O’Connor, a doctor of osteopathic medicine who has treated the president for years.

The visit took place at the White House residence clinic on 17 January. Cannard has visited the White House house eight times since August 2023. On seven of those visits, most recently in late March, he met with Megan Nasworthy, a liaison between Walter Reed and the White House.

Biden has consistently rejected taking any cognitive test, including in August 2020 when he dismissed a reporter’s question with: “Why the hell would I take a test?” He has continued to dismiss the need for one and, according to aides, has not received one during his three annual physical exams during his term in the White House.

The Washington Post on Saturday reported a White House aide saying that O’Connor, who has been Biden’s doctor since 2009, has never recommended that Biden take a cognitive test.

O’Connor has said that his most important job is to offer Biden an affirmative “Good morning, Mr President” – to get Biden off the on the right track each day.

During Biden’s ABC News interview on Friday, the anchor George Stephanopoulos, who was communications director in the Clinton White House, asked Biden if had taken specific tests for cognitive capability. “No one said I had to … they said I’m good,” Biden replied.

Later in the broadcast, Biden was asked if he would do an independent neurological and cognitive exam and release the results. “I get a cognitive test every day,” Biden said. “Everything I do – you know, not only am I campaigning, but I’m running the world.”

Pressed on the issue, he said: “I’ve already done it.”

Questions about Biden’s mental state continued on Saturday when the two radio hosts who interviewed him briefly on Thursday said that the Biden campaign had given them a list of approved questions. Wisconsin radio host Earl Ingram said that Biden aides had sent him a list of four questions in advance, about which there was no negotiation.

“They gave me the exact questions to ask,” Ingram told the Associated Press. “There was no back and forth.”

Philadelphia civic radio host Andrea Lawful-Sanders told CNN she had received a list of eight questions, from which she approved four. Both interviews had been scheduled to restore Biden’s credibility following his meandering debate performance with Donald Trump a week earlier.

Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said it is “not at all an uncommon practice for interviewees” and that acceptance of the questions was not a prerequisite for an interview to go ahead. However, both interviews had been structured for Biden to tout his achievements for Black voters.

On Saturday, Trump sarcastically called on Biden to “ignore his many critics and move forward, with alacrity and strength, with his powerful and far reaching campaign”. Last week, Trump’s campaign pre-emptively launched attack ads against vice-president Kamala Harris, who is polling better in a Trump match-up than the president.

Earlier this year, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, defended O’Connor’s decision not to administer a cognitive test when the issue came up following a report by the special counsel Robert Hur into classified documents found at Biden’s Delaware home that concluded Biden was a “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory”.

At that time, as now, the White House pushed back, accusing Hur of being part of a partisan smear campaign. “I’m well-meaning, and I’m elderly, and I know what I’m doing,” Biden said at a news conference. “My memory is fine.”

But the eight visits Kevin Cannard has made to the White House over the past 11 months are certain to raise further questions about the 81-year-old president’s mental abilities in the wake of his debate with Donald Trump and subsequent verbal mistakes, including during a radio interview on Thursday when he said he was “proud” to be the “first Black woman to serve with a Black president”.

Cannard has served as the “neurology specialist supporting the White House medical unit” since 2012 and published academic papers including one last year in the Parkinsonism & Related Disorders journal that focused on the “early stage” of the brain degenerative disorder.

Ronny Jackson, a Republican congressman in Texas who was White House doctor for Barack Obama and Trump, has previously called for Biden to undergo a cognitive exam and accused O’Connor and Biden’s family of trying to “cover up” problems with Biden’s mental abilities.

Jackson told the New York Post he believed that O’Connor and Biden “have led the cover up”.

“Kevin O’Connor is like a son to Jill Biden – she loves him,” Jackson continued, adding that ‘they knew they could trust Kevin to say and do anything that needed to be said or done”.

Last week, the White House initially denied but later confirmed that Biden had seen a doctor since the debate. It has said that the president’s performance was affected, variously, by a cold, over-preparation and jet-lag. Biden has said simply: “I screwed up.”

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Top Democrats plan crisis meeting despite Biden’s vow to fight on

House Democratic leader schedules virtual conference for Sunday as several members call for president’s withdrawal

  • US politics – follow live

Congressional Democrats are to hold an emergency weekend meeting to discuss Joe Biden’s tottering presidential candidacy, after a primetime television interview failed to dispel doubts triggered by last week’s debate fiasco.

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrats’ leader in the House of Representatives, scheduled the virtual meeting for Sunday with ranking committee members, according to multiple reports, even as Biden struck a defiant posture in Friday’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

In a 22-minute interview from a school library in Wisconsin, aired in full, the president brushed off his miserable debate display as “a bad night” and insisted he would only withdraw his candidacy if the “Lord almighty” ordered it.

But his posture appeared only to reinforce the views of those Democrats who had already publicly urged him to quit the race, while others were said to be privately infuriated by his seemingly insouciant attitude to the prospect of defeat at the hands of Donald Trump in November’s election.

On Saturday, Congresswoman Angie Craig of Minnesota became the fifth House member to publicly urge Biden to stand aside. Four others had done so before Friday’s interview.

“Given what I saw and heard from the president during last week’s debate in Atlanta, coupled with the lack of a forceful response from [him] following [it], I do not believe [Biden] can effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump,” she said.

Asked by Stephanopoulos how he would feel if he had to turn the presidency back to an opponent he and his party loathe, the president said: “I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do – that’s what this is about.”

The response seemed to minimise the consequences of handing over power to a rival who tried to overturn the results of the 2020, incited a mob to attack the US Capitol and vowed to seek “retribution” on his opponents if he won again, a threat that has unnerved many Democrats.

The convening of Democratic House members by Jeffries would follow a similar move even before Friday’s interview by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who called on fellow senators from his party to meet to discuss Biden’s candidacy. Warner has been reported to be leading an effort by Senate Democrats urging the president to stand aside.

Democrats who had already called publicly for an end to his candidacy reiterated the sentiment after Friday evening’s broadcast of the interview, in which Biden projected greater assuredness than in the 27 June debate with Trump, yet affected obliviousness to concerns over his mental acuity or loss of support in the polls.

Lloyd Doggett, a veteran Texas Democrat who had been the first congressman to call for Biden to withdraw last Tuesday, said the interview only confirmed his view.

“The need for him to step aside is more urgent tonight than when I first called for it on Tuesday,” he told CNN.

He added: “[Biden] does not want his legacy to be that he’s the one who turned over our country to a tyrant.”

Mike Quigley, an Illinois congressman who was the fourth to urge the president to stand aside – after Doggett, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts – called aspects of the interview “disturbing”, adding that it showed “the president of the United States doesn’t have the vigour necessary to overcome the deficit here”.

Addressing Biden’s response to a putative Trump re-election, he told CNN: “He felt as long as he gave it his best effort, that’s all that really matters. With the greatest respect: no.”

Julián Castro, a former Democratic presidential hopeful and a member of Barack Obama’s cabinet, acknowledged to MSNBC that Biden had been “steadier” than in his debate performance but was in “denial about the decline that people can clearly see”.

Addressing Biden’s comments on a possible second Trump presidency, Castro said: “I think the most chilling was when Stephanopoulos asked him, ‘Well, what if you lose to [former President Trump,] then how are you gonna feel?’ and President Biden said, ‘Well, as long as I gave it my all,’ that, basically, that he would feel OK.”

“That’s not good enough for the American people. That’s not good enough with the stakes of Donald Trump winning.”

Other Democrats criticised Biden’s resistance to the idea of taking a cognitive test. He dismissed the suggestion out of hand by telling Stephanopoulos: “I take a cognitive test every day”, referring to the daily work of the presidency and running for re-election.

“I found the answer about taking a cognitive test every day to be unsettling and not particularly convincing, so I will be watching closely every day to see how he is doing, especially in spontaneous situations,” Representative Judy Chu of California told Politico.

Tim Ryan, a former representative from Ohio – who has also urged a Biden withdrawal – echoed that sentiment, telling the same network: “I think there was a level of him being out of touch with reality on the ground.”

He also said: “I don’t think he moved the needle at all. I don’t think he energised anybody. I’m worried, like I think a lot of people are, that he is just not the person to be able to get this done for us.”

Several Biden loyalists, including Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a chairman of his campaign, and John Fetterman, a senator from Pennsylvania, voiced their continued support. But even among supporters there were doubts.

Ro Khanna, a California congressman and Biden surrogate, issued a statement saying he expected the president to do more to show he has vigour to fight and win the election and “that requires more than one interview.”

“I expect complete transparency from the White House about this issue and a willingness to answer many legitimate questions from the media and voters about his capabilities,” Khanna said.

Gavin Newsom, the California governor who has been widely discussed as a potential successor to Biden, was campaigning on Saturday for the president in Pennsylvania’s Bucks county.

Kamala Harris, the vice-president, was due to make a public appearance at the Essence culture festival in New Orleans the same day.

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Hopes of Gaza ceasefire rise further as Hamas reportedly backs new proposal

Militant group gives initial backing to plan for phased deal after ‘verbal commitments’ from mediators

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza have risen further after reports that Hamas has given its initial approval of a new US-backed proposal for a phased deal.

Egyptian officials and representatives of the militant Islamist organisation confirmed Hamas had dropped a key demand that Israel commits to a definitive end to the war before any pause in hostilities, Reuters and the Associated Press reported.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza have intensified over recent days, with active shuttle diplomacy among Washington, Israel and Qatar, which is leading mediation efforts from Doha, where the exiled Hamas leadership is based.

Observers said any progress was welcome, but pointed out that multiple rounds of negotiations over more than seven months had so far failed to bring success.

With all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah looming, and casualties in Gaza still mounting, pressure to end the war is high.

A Hezbollah official said last week the group would cease fire as soon as any Gaza deal took effect, echoing previous statements. On Thursday the Iran-backed organisation fired 200 rockets into Israel in retaliation for a strike that killed one of its top commanders.

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

The White House has described the latest Hamas ceasefire proposal as a “breakthrough”. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed on Friday that the director of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, had been sent to make an urgent visit to Qatar, but his office said “gaps between the parties” remained.

The proposed deal would involve a first phase including the release by Hamas of elderly, sick and female hostages during a six-week truce, an Israeli withdrawal from cities in Gaza, and the release of Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Further phases could include the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, in return for additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Eventually, any remaining hostages would be returned, including bodies of dead captives, and a start made on the immensely expensive and complex task of reconstructing Gaza.

A key obstacle to a deal until this week had been widely differing views on how the agreement would move from its first phase to its second.

Hamas wants strong guarantees over the path to a permanent ceasefire, but 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 Hamas representative told the Associated Press the group’s approval came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from the mediators that the war would not be resumed and that negotiations would continue until a permanent ceasefire was reached. “Now we want these guarantees on paper,” he said.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after the attack by Hamas in October, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250.

Since then, the Israeli air and ground offensive has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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Welcome to our continuing live coverage of the Israel-Gaza war and wider Middle East crisis. Here’s a snapshot of the latest news.

Israel carried out deadly airstrikes in the Gaza Strip as the war entered its tenth month on Sunday, with fighting raging across the Palestinian territory and fresh diplomatic efforts under way to halt the violence.

Israel has said it will send a delegation in the coming days to continue truce talks with Qatari mediators which began recently in Doha.

But a spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said “gaps” remained with Hamas on how to secure a ceasefire and hostage release deal, Agence France-Presse reported.

Meanwhile, the fighting in Gaza continued unabated, with the Palestinian Red Crescent saying on Sunday that the bodies of six people, including two children, who were killed in Israeli strikes had arrived at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah.

Paramedics also said on Sunday that six people had been killed in an Israeli strike on a house in a northern area of Gaza City.

On Saturday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 16 people had been killed in a strike on a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) that was sheltering displaced people in Nuseirat, central Gaza.

The Israeli military said its aircraft had targeted “terrorists” operating around the al-Jawni school.

In other developments:

  • Hamas has accepted a US proposal to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages, including soldiers and men, 16 days after the first phase of an agreement aimed at ending the Gaza war, a senior Hamas source has told Reuters. The militant group has dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, the source said on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

  • At least 38,098 Palestinians have been killed and 87,705 others injured in Israel’s military offensive on Gaza since 7 October, Gaza’s health ministry said on Saturday.

  • Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian has won Iran’s runoff presidential election, beating hardliner Saeed Jalili by promising to reach out to the west and ease enforcement on the country’s mandatory headscarf law after years of sanctions and protests squeezing the Islamic Republic.

  • The British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond was returning to Portsmouth on Saturday after six months in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden helping to protect shipping from attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The warship shot down nine drones and a Houthi missile, sailing nearly 44,000 miles (71,000km) and spending 151 days at sea, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Fears of long war in Gaza as new chapter opens and ‘intense fighting’ eases off

Israel’s ground offensive is nearing its conclusion amid the threat of indefinite occupation and a continuing insurgency

Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the phase of “intense fighting” against Hamas in Gaza is coming to an end, but with no publicly unveiled plans for the next stage of Israel’s campaign, Palestinians and Israelis alike fear that the unfolding ­chapter in the conflict could amount to a long period of insurgency-style warfare and indefinite occupation.

Israel’s generals are expected to announce soon that the last main ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, in the southernmost city of Rafah, is over, although the prime minister has made clear that the war will not end until Israel achieves “total victory”, which he defines as the complete eradication of Hamas as a civilian and military entity.

However, nine months into a campaign meant to have ended by January, several of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) declared objectives remain unfulfilled and new fighting continues to erupt in areas supposedly under Israeli military control.

At least 16 people were reported killed in an Israeli strike on a school in central Gaza yesterday, the Palestinian health ministry said. It claimed the attack on the school in Al-Nuseirat, said to have been sheltering displaced families, also left more than 50 people wounded. Israel’s military said it targeted ­gunmen operating in the vicinity, after taking precautions to minimise risk to civilians.

Although both sides indicated tentative progress last week, ceasefire and hostage release talks have repeatedly stalled. Despite huge domestic and international pressure, the Israeli government is still to release details of its postwar proposals for Gaza. One Israeli observer briefed on the plans described them as “fantasies”.

“None of the scenarios Netanyahu and his people have put forward so far are serious. The only conclusion we can draw is that he is trying to buy time,” said Nour Odeh, a Ramallah-based political analyst. “Netanyahu does not want to end the war for his own political reasons.”

Public statements from Israeli officials and leaked details suggest that two army divisions will remain in Gaza in the third part of Israel’s war plan.

One will be posted on the newly created Netzarim corridor that bisects the northern and southern halves of the strip, preventing residents of Gaza City returning to their homes. The other will be based on the Philadelphi corridor, along the border between Gaza and Egypt, in order to shut down Hamas’s main lifeline – the extensive tunnel network and smuggling routes in the area.

These troops will have the task of launching frequent raids on suspected Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets across Gaza, a strategy known as “mowing the grass” already employed in the West Bank. Israel has approached Arab states such as Egypt and the UAE to discuss forming a security force that could operate in Gaza after the war, although support remains tepid, according to regional diplomats.

The buffer zone between the separation fence and Israel proper is expected to expand to at least two-thirds of a mile (1km) in depth across the entire territory.

According to satellite imagery ­analysis by Gisha, a nonprofit organisation focused on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, the buffer zone and two corridors of land expropriated for military use could total 32% of the territory. Areas illegally seized make up a lot of Gaza’s agricultural land, which is already insufficient to meet the needs of its 2.3 million residents.

Initial US-backed plans to bring the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority back to govern Gaza after it was kicked out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007 appear to have stalled. After 18 years without elections, the ­authority lacks political legitimacy and its prime minister previously said it will not return to the strip “aboard an Israeli tank”.

According to the Financial Times, Israel is instead close to reimplementing a failed plan from early in the conflict – “bubbles” run by local people, such as respected elders, with no ties to Hamas. These vetted figures will administer aid distribution and, if successful, their responsibilities will expand into areas of civilian governance.

“Half a year ago this same idea, negotiating with heads of clans, ended with the execution of several of them by Hamas,” said Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian studies forum at Tel Aviv University. “You can’t pretend you are going to dramatically change something when you don’t control it.”

For Milshtein, Israeli decision-makers need to commit to controlling all of Gaza for the foreseeable future, or be prepared to make a painful deal to end the war in which it is most likely Hamas will remain in power.

“I do not see any alternative to Hamas continuing to run Gaza’s civil sphere. I don’t know if we have the willingness or the capacity to occupy all of Gaza with boots on the ground,” he said. “There are no good options.”

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Good morning. On his second full day as prime minister, Keir Starmer is setting off on a tour around the UK intended to reset relations with the devolved governments. He will be in Scotland this evening, and then visiting Northern Ireland and Wales before returning to London and leaving for Washington on Tuesday to take part in the Nato summit. Talking about the four-nations tour at his press conference yesterday, Starmer said he wanted not just to meet the first ministers to discuss the challenges they face, but “to establish a way of working across the United Kingdom that will be different and better to the way of working that we’ve had in recent years”.

And in a statement issued overnight he said:

People across the United Kingdom are bound by shared beliefs. Fundamental values of respect, service and community which define us as a great nation.

And that begins today with an immediate reset of my government’s approach to working with the first and deputy first ministers because meaningful co-operation centred on respect will be key to delivering change across our United Kingdom.

Together we can begin the work to rebuild our country with a resolute focus on serving working people once again.

Last night Starmer announced a further set of ministerial appoinments, including giving minister of state jobs to two former cabinet ministers from the Blair/Brown era. Douglas Alexander, who has returned to the Commons as an MP, will be a business minister, and Jacqui Smith, who is getting a peerage, will be an education minister. Michael Savage has the details here.

Because of England’s victory in the Euros last night, there is less politics on the Sunday newspaper front pages than there might have been. But two of the papers that are splashing on Labour are also focusing on Blair-era figures.

The main story in the Sunday Times is based on an article written by Tony Blair urging Starmer to come up with a plan to control immigration.

And the Sunday Telegraph is splashing on a story saying Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, will have a role helping Wes Streeting, the new health secretary, reform the NHS.

The Observer is splashing on Starmer’s message to his cabinet yesterday.

The Mail on Sunday is splashing on a story about Starmer wanting to improve the Brexit deal with the EU – something he said repeatedly before the election he wanted to do.

And the Sunday Express has splashed on Starmer ending the Rwanda policy – something Starmer also promised.

Here is the agenda for the day.

8.30am: Jonathan Reynolds, the business secretary, is interviewed on Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips. Nadhim Zahawi, the Tory former cabinet minister, and Simon Harris, the taoiseach (Irish PM) are also being interviewed.

9am: Reynolds is also interviewed on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. The other guests include Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, two potential candidates for next Tory leader (the former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and the former health secretary Victoria Atkins) and Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester.

4.30pm: Keir Starmer meets Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, in Scotland.

6pm: Starmer meets John Swinney, the Scottish first minister, at Bute House, his official residence, in Edinburgh.

We don’t have comments open at the moment, but hope to be able to turn them on later.

Starmer tells his cabinet: now it’s time to deliver on our promises

PM pledges swift action on NHS and prisons, setting out agenda to reform public services and rebuild international relations

Keir Starmer on Saturday rallied his new cabinet behind an ambitious agenda to reform the country’s creaking public services and reset damaged relations abroad during his first full day as prime minister.

After an extraordinary 48 hours that saw Labour storm to a landslide general election victory with a massive Commons majority of 174 while the Tories were routed, Starmer said he was “restless for change” and determined to deliver on his campaign pledges.

The prime minister cracked the whip as he held the first cabinet meeting, stressing the importance of each minister delivering on the party’s pledges and maintaining the highest standards of probity.

“I had the opportunity to set out to my cabinet precisely what I expect of them in terms of standards, delivery and the trust that the country has put in them,” he said.

Starmer made clear that, under his leadership, politics would be returned to a duty of service, in contrast to the last 14 years of Tory rule. “Self-interest is yesterday’s politics,” he said.

Shortly after the cabinet meeting, he moved straight to the first press conference of his prime ministership, at which he was adamant that, while Labour could not change the country by “flicking a switch”, no time would be wasted in beginning the task of national renewal.

He said “raw honesty” was needed about the state of the health service, agreeing with his health secretary, Wes Streeting, who said on Friday that the NHS was fundamentally “broken”.

Work to realise Labour’s pledge of 40,000 extra NHS appointments a week “starts straight away”, Starmer said, adding that ministers were looking at how St Thomas’ Hospital in central London and other hospitals across the country, including Leeds, had already increased appointments “of their own volition” by setting up schemes under which staff were given incentives to work later in the evenings and at weekends.

“We’ve talked through with them how they did it … they will go across the country to be deployed to help set up the model in other hospitals as quickly as we can,” he said. “So I can’t say by day X it will happen, but we’ve already had quite some discussions about how that will be rolled out from day one.”

On the overcrowded state of the country’s prisons, Starmer said action was needed urgently.

“We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons. That’s a monumental failure of the last government, on any basic view of government, to get to a situation where you haven’t got enough prison places for prisoners – doesn’t matter what your political stripe, that is a failure of government.”

His government would look at how to ease planning rules so more prisons could be built quicker, he said, and also at early interventions to make sure young boys in particular did not get involved in offences such as knife crime.

A Ministry of Justice source said on Saturday night: “As the prime minister said yesterday, our prisons are broken. After 14 years of neglect, they are unsafe and catastrophically close to bursting at the seams.

“This is not an unforeseen crisis but one caused by irresponsible stewardship. We have been left with no choice but to consider difficult short- and long-term decisions to defuse this ticking timebomb.”

Late on Friday, Starmer appointed the businessman and prison reform campaigner James Timpson as his new prisons minister.

When asked about Timpson’s recent claim that a third of prisoners should not be there, he cited his experience as director of public prosecutions, where he saw young offenders who could have been prevented from veering into lives of crime.

“I’ve sat in the back of I don’t know how many criminal courts, watching people processed through the system on an escalator to go into prison,” the prime minister said.

Marking a complete departure from the previous government’s immigration policy, Starmer said its Rwanda scheme was now “dead and buried” and that he was not prepared to carry on with such “gimmicks”.

“It’s never been a deterrent,” he said. “Look at the numbers that have come over in the first six and a bit months of this year; they are record numbers – that is the problem that we are inheriting.”

MPs will return to the House of Commons on Tuesday, including the 334 new MPs. Their first task will be to elect a speaker, and then they will be sworn in over several days.

Starmer suggested that his new government would be making a string of announcements over the coming days to maintain the momentum of change. The prime minister will embark on a tour of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Sunday before heading to a Nato summit that starts in Washington DC on Tuesday.

The new foreign secretary, David Lammy, has already embarked on his first trip abroad, which will take him to Germany, Poland and Sweden to meet his counterparts in each country, signalling his commitment to a working closely with key European partners.. He will then join the prime minister at the Nato meeting in Washington. Lammy has already said he intends to “reset” relations between the UK and the EU that have been damaged by Brexit.

In a further signal of a desire to improve relations with European countries, Starmer held a call on Saturday with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in which he made the case for “building greater economic cooperation”.In a call with French president Emmanuel Macron, the leaders discussed “furthering the close cooperation between the UK and France”.

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Viktor Orbán’s rightwing group hits quota for recognition by EU parliament

Patriots for Europe gets Danish and Flemish nationalists as latest members, amid EU anger over Hungary PM’s latest unauthorised foreign policy foray

Viktor Orbán’s rightwing political movement attracted enough parties on Saturday to achieve recognition from the European Union parliament in a boost for the Hungarian prime minister’s self-styled effort to “change European politics”.

The nationalist and pro-Russia leader announced on 30 June his intention to form an EU parliamentary grouping called “Patriots for Europe”.

The Danish People’s party and the Flemish nationalist pro-independence Vlaams Belang announced on Saturday that they would join, giving Patriots for Europe 23 MEPs – enough to meet the EU parliament’s threshold for formal recognition.

Other parties involved are the Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), the centrist ANO of former Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, the Party for Freedom (PVV) of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, Portugal’s far-right Chega party and Spain’s Vox.

Orbán said the parties would meet on Monday in Brussels. France’s National Rally could become another ally after the second round of the French legislative elections on Sunday. Italy’s League, led by Matteo Salvini, has also expressed an interest in the new movement but has not confirmed its participation.

With the formation of Patriots for Europe, Orbán is bidding to become the dominant hard-right force in the EU parliament. As well as campaigning for conservative family values and against immigration, the group would push to end European support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion.

Orbán, meanwhile, drew a fresh rebuke from the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Saturday after attending a meeting of the Organisation of Turkic States in Azerbaijan.

Hungary took over the EU’s rotating presidency this month and Orbán on Friday appeared to try to carry its imprimatur into a surprise meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow about the Ukraine war.

EU leaders quickly blasted the visit as not authorised by them and stressed that Orbán was not representing Brussels.

Orbán’s participation at an informal OTS summit in Azerbaijan on Saturday was the latest event where he represented Hungary alone and not the EU, Borrell said.

“Hungary has not received any mandate from the EU council to advance the relations with the Organisation of Turkic States.”

Orbán has sparred with Brussels over his travels. “Are we allowed to have dinner, or do we need a EUCO mandate for that too?” his political director wrote on X/Twitter after the Moscow trip.

The EU also rejected OTS attempts to legitimise the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by admitting it as an observer, said Borrell. The island of Cyprus has been divided for decades between the internationally recognised, Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and the Turkish-speaking TRNC, recognised only by Ankara.

The OTS is an international organisation bringing together countries with Turkic languages, founded in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Hungary became an observer of the group in 2018.

With Agence France-Presse in Belgium

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Viktor Orbán’s rightwing group hits quota for recognition by EU parliament

Patriots for Europe gets Danish and Flemish nationalists as latest members, amid EU anger over Hungary PM’s latest unauthorised foreign policy foray

Viktor Orbán’s rightwing political movement attracted enough parties on Saturday to achieve recognition from the European Union parliament in a boost for the Hungarian prime minister’s self-styled effort to “change European politics”.

The nationalist and pro-Russia leader announced on 30 June his intention to form an EU parliamentary grouping called “Patriots for Europe”.

The Danish People’s party and the Flemish nationalist pro-independence Vlaams Belang announced on Saturday that they would join, giving Patriots for Europe 23 MEPs – enough to meet the EU parliament’s threshold for formal recognition.

Other parties involved are the Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), the centrist ANO of former Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, the Party for Freedom (PVV) of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, Portugal’s far-right Chega party and Spain’s Vox.

Orbán said the parties would meet on Monday in Brussels. France’s National Rally could become another ally after the second round of the French legislative elections on Sunday. Italy’s League, led by Matteo Salvini, has also expressed an interest in the new movement but has not confirmed its participation.

With the formation of Patriots for Europe, Orbán is bidding to become the dominant hard-right force in the EU parliament. As well as campaigning for conservative family values and against immigration, the group would push to end European support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion.

Orbán, meanwhile, drew a fresh rebuke from the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Saturday after attending a meeting of the Organisation of Turkic States in Azerbaijan.

Hungary took over the EU’s rotating presidency this month and Orbán on Friday appeared to try to carry its imprimatur into a surprise meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow about the Ukraine war.

EU leaders quickly blasted the visit as not authorised by them and stressed that Orbán was not representing Brussels.

Orbán’s participation at an informal OTS summit in Azerbaijan on Saturday was the latest event where he represented Hungary alone and not the EU, Borrell said.

“Hungary has not received any mandate from the EU council to advance the relations with the Organisation of Turkic States.”

Orbán has sparred with Brussels over his travels. “Are we allowed to have dinner, or do we need a EUCO mandate for that too?” his political director wrote on X/Twitter after the Moscow trip.

The EU also rejected OTS attempts to legitimise the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by admitting it as an observer, said Borrell. The island of Cyprus has been divided for decades between the internationally recognised, Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and the Turkish-speaking TRNC, recognised only by Ankara.

The OTS is an international organisation bringing together countries with Turkic languages, founded in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Hungary became an observer of the group in 2018.

With Agence France-Presse in Belgium

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‘Potentially historic’ heatwave threatens more than 130 million people across US

Temperatures could crest 100F (38C) in many regions after breaking records and sparking dozens of wildfires

A long-running heatwave that has already broken records, sparked dozens of wildfires and left about 130 million people under a high-temperature threat is about to intensify enough that the National Weather Service has deemed it “potentially historic”.

The NWS on Saturday reported some type of extreme heat or advisory for nearly 133 million people across the nation – mostly in western states where the triple-digit heat, with temperatures 15F to 30F higher than average, is expected to last into next week.

Oppressive heat and humidity could team up to spike temperatures above 100F (about 38C) in parts of the Pacific north-west, the mid-Atlantic and the north-east, said Jacob Asherman, a meteorologist with the NWS.

Records were broken in at least four Oregon cities on Friday, the NWS reported. Medford, which had a high temperature of 102F set in 1926, saw temperatures soar to 109F. The biggest leap, however, was in North Bend, whose record of 74F set in 1913 was busted by a spike of 11 degrees when it hit 85F on Friday.

“Certainly a pretty anomalous event that we’re expecting here, which looks like it will continue through at least midweek,” Asherman said.

At the Waterfront blues festival in Portland, Oregon, music fans dealt with heat on Friday by drinking cold water, seeking refuge in the shade or freshening up under water misters.

Angela Quiroz, 31, kept her scarf and hat wet and applied sunscreen to protect herself from the heat at the music festival.

“Definitely a difference between the shade and the sun,” Quiroz said. “But when you’re in the sun, it feels like you’re cooking.”

In sweltering Las Vegas, where the temperature had hit 100F (37.7C) by 10.30am, Marko Boscovich said the best way to beat the heat was in a seat at a slot machine with a cold beer inside an air-conditioned casino.

“But you know, after it hits triple digits, it’s about all the same to me,” said Boscovich, who was visiting from Sparks, Nevada, to see a Dead & Company concert later Saturday night at the Sphere. “Maybe they’ll play one of my favorites: Cold Rain and Snow.”

By midday Saturday, Las Vegas ended up tying its daily heat record of 115F, the NWS said, as it pleaded with people to be mindful of leaving children or pets inside vehicles in the extreme heat.

On Friday, a new heat record for the day was set in California’s Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth. The previous high was shattered by 5F, with the mercury climbing to 127F (53C). The old mark of 122F was last tied in 2013.

More extreme highs are in the near forecast, including 129F for Sunday at Furnace Creek in Death Valley national park, and then around 130F through Wednesday. The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134F (57C) in Death Valley in July 1913, though some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130F recorded there in July 2021.

Rare heat advisories were extended even in upper elevations, including around Lake Tahoe, with the National Weather Service in Reno warning of “major heat risk impacts, even in the mountains”.

“How hot are we talking? Well, high temperatures across [western Nevada and north-eastern California] won’t get below 100 degrees [37.8C] until next weekend,” the service posted online. “And unfortunately, there won’t be much relief overnight either.”

There was also a record high for the date of 118F in Phoenix, where highs of 115F or hotter were forecast through Wednesday. In Needles, California, where the NWS has records dating to 1888, the high of 122F edged the old mark of 121F set in 2007. It was 124F in Palm Springs, California.

The intense heat – combined with winds and low humidity – means the potential for wildfires to spread is high.

Red-flag warnings are in effect across much of California until Saturday evening, said the California department of forestry and fire protection, or Cal Fire. Officials urged people to stay vigilant and take extra precautions such as avoiding activities that can spark fires and following evacuation orders.

California has more than two dozen wildfires burning across the state, with the two largest, in the central part of the state, burning more than 24,000 acres combined. The Thompson fire, in northern California’s Butte county, has devoured at least 3,700 acres since it was reported on 2 July.

By Saturday, the blaze had forced thousands to evacuate and injured two firefighters. It was 71% contained. Cal Fire reported that 26 structures had been destroyed by the blaze.

The French fire, which erupted on 4 July near Yosemite national park and quickly grew to more than 900 acres (364 hectares), has held steady after more than 1,000 personnel worked overnight to get it to 25% containment, according to Cal Fire.

The eastern US also was bracing for more hot temperatures. Baltimore and other parts of Maryland were under an excessive heat warning, as heat index values could climb to 110F, forecasters said.

“Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors,” said a National Weather Service advisory for the Baltimore area. “Young children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances.”

In Arizona’s Maricopa county, which encompasses Phoenix, there have been at least 13 confirmed heat-related deaths this year, along with more than 160 suspected heat deaths still under investigation, according to the county’s most recent report.

That does not include the death of a 10-year-old boy earlier this week in Phoenix who suffered a “heat-related medical event” while hiking with family at South Mountain park and preserve, according to police.

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Netherlands fight back to see off Turkey and set up semi-final against England

The Netherlands lie between England and a place in next Sunday’s final, although that does not tell half the story of a night that swirled in every conceivable direction. In the end they overcame a relentless Turkey and did so, in large part, by resorting to the kitchen sink.

Or, as he is better known, Wout Weghorst. He watched from the bench as everything his teammates tried in the first half ran aground. After beginning brightly enough they buckled under the sheer will, aggression, energy and noise pulsating from their opponents and deserved to be a goal down at half-time. Ronald Koeman knew his players had been running into a brick wall and reached for the 6ft 6in totem, whose introduction eventually turned the tide and sent an orange wave heading for Dortmund.

Weghorst gave the Netherlands a decisive focal point but, before assessing his attacking impact, it is worth zeroing straight in on a remarkable piece of defensive work that kept them in the game. Turkey were looking capable of scoring a second goal, tearing the Dutch defence up on the break and striking a post through an extraordinary Arda Guler free-kick, when Bart Verbruggen spilled Kenan Yildiz’s drive in the 65th minute. The way was clear for Kaan Ayhan to gobble up the loose ball before Weghorst, lying on the ground, showed astonishing reactions to poke out a leg and save the day.

The game would surely have been up if Ayhan had converted. In the next significant action Weghorst was peeling off at the far post in the other penalty area, sought by the latest of several crosses from the left side. His volley, half caught in truth, was tipped wide by Mert Gunok and it was time to load the box again. Memphis Depay took the corner short, received the return pass and crossed on to the head of the towering Stefan de Vrij. The centre-back did the rest from 12 yards and Turkey, comfortably the better side for the middle 40 minutes, were deflated.

Soon they were behind after Denzel Dumfries, who had come back from an offside position, was found unattended on the right and curved a glorious low centre across the face of goal. It was met by a mixture of Cody Gakpo and the right-back Mert Muldur, who both hurled themselves at the ball, and their combined force sent it flashing past a helpless Gunok.

Four days previously Gunok had been Turkey’s hero with a late save for the ages from Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner. Moments like that can leave the impression your name is on the trophy but football has a habit of turning the tables. With Turkey pushing ferociously for an equaliser in the first minute of added time, their substitute Semih Kilicsoy timed his run perfectly and jabbed towards goal from six yards. Verbruggen should have had no chance but somehow, diving to his right, scooped clear to give them a bitter taste of their own medicine.

How vigorously they had fought, their every run and challenge so intensely meant. Before Verbruggen’s stop they were also denied extra time by a monumental block from Micky van de Ven when Zeki Celik took aim at a seemingly open goal. What Vincenzo Montella’s team lacks in control, it atones for in gusts of pressure that threaten to blow opponents away.

One such first-half spell resulted in an opener that raised the roof. They had survived a couple of Netherlands half chances and gained impetus when Guler, magical to watch once again, delivered deliciously with his weaker right foot and watched the centre-back Samet Akaydin crash his header past Verbruggen from an angle.

Akaydin was playing because Merih Demiral, their surprise matchwinner against Austria, was suspended. Therein lay the match’s other subplot, confirmed by the presence of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the stands. Turkey’s president had not shown up simply for fun: Demiral’s two-match ban, handed down after he celebrated with a “wolf” gesture associated with an extremist nationalist group, had caused a diplomatic incident with Germany.

It was an obvious, choreographed show of defiance. Erdogan was there to stand by his men, who hardly needed any greater encouragement from the side. Before the game there had already been a flashpoint when a fans’ march to the stadium was stopped by police, a number of those supporters having decided this was a moment to perform the salute en masse. The debate about banning it in Germany will surely intensify.

The football argument was won by the Netherlands, though, and what a turnaround it has been since Austria outplayed them at this venue in the group stage. At that point the knives were out for Koeman and his skilful but sometimes ragged side. Now a blunter instrument has taken them within reach of Europe’s summit.

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John Cena announces retirement from WWE wrestling

World Wrestling Entertainment great who has also carved out an acting career says he will stop in 2025 after farewell tour

The American actor and wrestler John Cena has officially announced his retirement from competing in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) events.

Cena made the announcement in front of a packed, enthusiastic crowd at the Money in the Bank event in Toronto, Canada, and said his final competition would be sometime in 2025.

He told the crowd he had seen “incredible waves of prosperity” and “tremendous hardship” in the WWE since he joined more than two decades ago.

The 47-year-old joined the WWE in 2001 and is regarded as one of its best wrestlers of all time, having achieved world champion status 16 times.

Cena suggested that an appearance at Wrestlemania in 2025 is where his WWE career will wrap up.

The Toronto crowd chanted “Thank you Cena” as he made the announcement wearing a T-shirt that said “The last time is now” and “John Cena farewell tour”. Cena said this was an “incredible gesture of kindness” as he thanked the Toronto audience for “letting me play in the house that you built”.

Cena ventured out of the WWE and made his acting debut in 2006 when he starred in The Marine. He has gone on to appear in a number of films including Trainwreck (2015), The Suicide Squad (2021) and Fast and Furious 9 (2021), as well as the DC superhero TV series Peacemaker.

This year, Cena starred in the comedy film Ricky Stanicky alongside Zac Efron and the Australian journalist and author Stan Grant.

Cena has performed part-time with the WWE since 2018 as his career widened.

He is also a Guinness World Records holder, having granted the most Make-a-Wish wishes for seriously ill children. He granted his 650th wish on 19 July 2022 and typically wears his championship belts on such occasions. Guinness World Records says he is the most requested celebrity, having granted his first wish in 2002.

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French artists, DJs and musicians unite to fight threat of far-right government

Front Électronique acts as ‘world of the night’ to combat rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally

More than 1,200 artists, DJs and promoters from the French music industry have come together in a bid to galvanise “the world of the night” into political action and to protest at the possibility of the first far-right French government since the second world war.

Members of the Front Électronique (FE) have organised live debates on video streaming service Twitch and free concerts, and released a fund-raising album Siamo Tutti Antifascisti Vol.1 (We are all Anti-Fascists) featuring 38 artists. The compilation is described as a “call to arms”.

The FE members say they were driven to act by the resurgence of “an old fascism” in the form of the National Rally (RN), the political party led by Marine le Pen that topped last Sunday’s first round – and which could form a government if it wins a majority in the second round.

On Wednesday night, FE members including dance music producer and artist Étienne de Crécy and singer-songwriter Voyou performed in front of a crowd of thousands at a rally at Place de la République in Paris. Speakers at the event included Brazilian former footballer Raí, who talked about his experience of living under a far-right government headed by Jair Bolsonaro in his homeland.

Lucas Langlais, founder of record label Unfair Music and a member of the FE, said: “Our culture has remained silent for too long. We can no longer stand idly by without acting to defend who we are and the people we love.

“The electronic scene has always been a refuge for diversity, whether it be sexual orientation, ethnic origin or individual beliefs. We believe that music and dance are powerful means to resist intolerance and celebrate freedom of expression.”

Some of the most established figures from French electronic music privately expressed their opposition to the rise of Le Pen’s party but have not spoken out, a reticence that Voyou disagrees with. “I always ask my followers to vote without telling them who to vote for, but this time I felt I had to take more of an active role,” Voyou said. “Artists can have a huge importance in the political sphere.”

A “dangerous wave of racism and homophobia” is already being felt in the wake of the far-right’s rise in France, according to musicians Le Kaiju and Sujigashira of Grand Remplacement Records, a collective which supports artists from diasporas of the global south.

They speak of friends and family who have faced catcalls such as “Can’t wait for 7 July”, and “Go back where you came from”.

Le Kaiju said:The rise of fascism in our country isn’t new; it’s a part of its DNA. But this moment has made even the most privileged of us scared for their existence.”

For Myriam Konté, who DJs as Melanin, one of her major concerns is the far-right policy on budgets for cultural institutions. Marion Maréchal, Le Pen’s niece, has spoken of her desire to halt the intermittent du spectacle: the scheme that ensures those working in the arts – from musicians and directors to sound engineers and stage managers – are paid a basic income.

“The only cultural aspect addressed by the RN and its allies is heritage,” says Langlais.

Young people could make a big difference in the final vote in the French election. Polling last Sunday showed a preference among the 18-34 demographic for the leftwing coalition over the far right, but around a quarter opted for Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s party, significantly more than for Macron’s centrist Ensemble pour la République.

French music and political protest have long been interconnected. Jacques Dutronc’s 1968 hit single Il est Cinq Heures, Paris s’éveille was co-opted for the widespread protests that year by students drawn to its chorus: “Paris, wake up”.

The 1985 song Porcherie by punks Bérurier Noir contains the refrain “La jeunesse emmerde le Front National” – the young piss off the National Front – a lyric that became a rallying cry against the far right in 2002 when party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the nation by advancing to the second round of the presidential elections.

It has enjoyed a revival on TikTok and at marches during this year’s vote. The singer Eloi led the crowd in chanting it at a concert at the club Virage in Paris as results from the first vote came in on Sunday night.

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Jon Landau, Oscar-winning Titanic and Avatar producer, dies aged 63

Titanic became first film to gross $1bn globally, and Landau topped that with Avatar, and Avatar: The Way of Water

Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning Titanic and Avatar producer who helped bring director James Cameron’s visions to life, has died at 63.

Alan Bergman, co-chair of Disney Entertainment, announced Landau’s death in a statement on Saturday. No cause of death was given.

“Jon was a visionary whose extraordinary talent and passion brought some of the most unforgettable stories to life on the big screen. His remarkable contributions to the film industry have left an indelible mark, and he will be profoundly missed. He was an iconic and successful producer yet an even better person and a true force of nature who inspired all around him,” Bergman said.

Jon Landau helped make history in 1997 with Titanic, which became the first film to gross $1bn at the global box office. He topped that record twice, with Avatar in 2009 and the sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, in 2022.

Landau began his career in the 1980s as a production manager, gradually rising through the ranks and eventually becoming producer for Cameron on his expensive, epic film about the infamous disaster that was the Titanic. Landau’s partnership with Cameron on that film led to 14 Oscar nominations and 11 wins, including for best picture.

“I can’t act and I can’t compose and I can’t do visual effects. I guess that’s why I’m producing,” Landau said while accepting the award with Cameron.

Their partnership continued, with Landau becoming a top executive at Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. In 2009, the pair watched as Avatar, a sci-fi epic filmed and shown in theaters with groundbreaking 3D technology, surpassed the box-office success of Titanic. It remains the top-grossing film of all time.

Its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, is third on the list.

Landau was a key player in the Avatar franchise, which saw frequent delays of the release of The Way of Water. Landau defended the sequel’s progress and Cameron’s ambitious plans to film multiple sequels at once to keep the franchise going.

“A lot has changed but a lot hasn’t,” Landau told the Associated Press in 2022, a few months before the sequel’s release. “One of the things that has not changed is: why do people turn to entertainment today? Just like they did when the first Avatar was released, they do it to escape, to escape the world in which we live.”

Landau was named an executive vice-president of feature movies at 20th Century Fox when he was 29, which led him to oversee major hits including Home Alone and its sequel, as well as Mrs Doubtfire and True Lies, on which he first started working closely with Cameron.

Born in New York on 23 July 1960, Landau was the son of the film producers Ely and Edie Landau.

Ely Landau died in 1993. Edie Landau, the Oscar-nominated producer of films such as Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Hopscotch and The Deadly Game, died in 2022.

Jon Landau is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Julie Landau, and their two sons, Jamie and Jodie Landau.

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