The Guardian 2024-07-09 12:13:54


Biden decries Russian ‘brutality’ over deadly Ukraine strikes as Nato leaders gather

Joe Biden pledges to boost air defences on the eve of a Nato summit in Washington, which will see Volodymyr Zelenskiy request more military assistance

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Joe Biden has called one of the heaviest Russian airstrikes on Ukraine since the war began “a horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality”, amid widespread international revulsion at Monday’s attacks and as Nato leaders gathered to announce new measures to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences.

The government of Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared Tuesday a day of mourning after at least 37 civilians were killed in a series of attacks where targets included Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital, leaving an unknown number trapped under the rubble in Kyiv.

“It is critical that the world continues to stand with Ukraine at this important moment and that we not ignore Russian aggression,” the US president said in a White House statement, adding “we will be announcing new measures to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences to help protect their cities and civilians.”

The president’s statement came on the eve of a Nato summit in Washington which marks the 75th anniversary of the transatlantic alliance and which will bring together President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and leaders of countries that have provided Kyiv with tens of billions of dollars in military aid.

Zelenskiy said more than 100 buildings were damaged in Monday’s attack, including the children’s hospital and a maternity centre in Kyiv. “The Russian terrorists must answer for this,” he said, adding “being concerned does not stop terror. Condolences are not a weapon.”

Images beamed around the world showed parents holding babies in the streets outside Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt hospital, dazed and sobbing after the rare daylight aerial attack. Windows had been smashed and panels ripped off, and hundreds of Kyiv residents were helping to clear debris.

The strike largely destroyed the children’s hospital toxicology ward, where patients with severe kidney issues were being treated. Hundreds of rescue workers and volunteers joined the effort to clear the debris and search for survivors. Officials and emergency staff said it was not immediately clear how many doctors and patients – dead or aliveremained trapped under the rubble.

Zelenskiy, who was in Poland at the time of the attack before heading to Washington DC, put the death toll across the country at 37, including three children, with more than 170 injured. A Reuters tally of casualties from the sites of attacks in different regions totalled at least 41.

The government called a day of mourning on Tuesday for what is one of the worst air attacks of the war, adding that Monday’s strikes showed the urgent need to upgrade its air defences.

Zelenskiy, addressing a news conference in Warsaw on Monday alongside Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, called on Kyiv’s western allies to give a firm response to the attack.

“We will retaliate against these people, we will deliver a powerful response from our side to Russia, for sure. The question to our partners is: can they respond?” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy has for months said his country does not have enough air defence systems and has requested at least seven more Patriot batteries in addition to those already donated by the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. Russia has exploited the gaps in Ukraine’s air defences to carry out devastating strikes on civilians and infrastructure, as well as to pummel Kyiv’s troops on the frontlines.

Observers expect Nato members to pledge of at least four additional Patriot missile batteries to Ukraine at the conclusion of this week’s summit.

The package put forward by Nato countries has been presented as “historic” and is an widely seen as an attempt to “futureproof” continued aid to Ukraine – but it may not fully satisfy Kyiv.

The UN security council is set to meet on Tuesday at the request of Britain, France, Ecuador, Slovenia and the US.

In response to Monday’s attack, British prime minister Keir Starmer condemned “attacking innocent children” as the “most depraved of actions”, while the Italian foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, called the missile strike a “war crime”.

A spokesperson for António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said he strongly condemned the “particularly shocking” strikes against the children’s hospital and another medical facility.

UN rights chief Volker Türk condemned the Russian strikes as “abominable”. France’s foreign ministry called the bombardment of a children’s hospital “barbaric” and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau described the attack as “abhorrent”.

Russia, which has targeted civilian infrastructure throughout the war, denied responsibility for deaths on Monday. In a statement, the defence ministry attributed the incident, without directly referencing the hospital blast, to Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles, despite visual evidence that appeared to point to a Russian strike.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, shared an image on X that appeared to show a Russian missile over Kyiv moments before it struck a hospital, identifying it as a Kh-101 cruise missile. Ukraine’s Security Service said it found wreckage from the cruise missile, which flies low to avoid detection by radar, at the site.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Analysis

Nato will announce ‘historic’ Ukraine aid package – but hospital attack shows it’s not enough

Andrew Roth in Washington and Dan Sabbagh

Members have put forward hard-fought aid package but as Russia resumes large-scale attacks it may not satisfy Kyiv

After one of the worst Russian missile strikes against Ukraine in recent months, Nato leaders will sit down in Washington this week to announce the details of a hard-fought aid package that will include crucial air defense systems meant to protect Ukrainian cities.

The package put forward by Nato countries has been presented as “historic” and is an widely seen as an attempt to “futureproof” continued aid to Ukraine – but it may not fully satisfy Kyiv, which has been facing unprecedented attacks against civilian sites and infrastructure.

The resumption of large-scale missile strikes against targets in Kyiv will increase the sense of urgency around the discussions among 32 Nato leaders. Images from Kyiv showed children at a pediatric cancer hospital covered in blood and dust after the strike on Monday which a Biden administration official described as “horrific, tragic, senseless”. There were believed to be bodies still trapped under the rubble of the hospital.

“This is a fully deliberate action, specifically designed and approved by … Putin. On the eve of the @Nato summit. As a slap in the face to the alliance,” wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential administration. He called it an “informal signal” that “even the outright murder of children will not make them [the Alliance] take all the necessary decisions. And that is why we continue to attack.”

Observers expect Nato members to pledge of at least four additional Patriot missile batteries to Ukraine at the conclusion of this week’s summit. Zelenskiy had previously asked Nato for seven batteries, telling Nato members that Putin “must be brought down to earth, and our sky must become safe again … And it depends fully on your choice … [the] choice whether we are indeed allies.”

It is expected that the four Patriot missile systems will likely be delivered by the US, Germany, Romania and a Dutch-led multinational effort. Spain, Greece and Poland also field Patriot missile systems but have so far not pledged to supply any batteries to Ukraine. Another system could be provided by Israel, which now employs the Iron Dome and other air defense systems to protect against rocket and missile attacks.

“It’s clear that allies need to step up and provide Ukraine with additional air defense systems, precisely in order to be able to prevent types of tragedies that we’ve seen today, but sadly that we’ve seen time and again, month after a month since the beginning of this brutal and senseless war,” said Michael Carpenter, senior director for Europe at the US National Security Council.

The new military aid package to Ukraine is expected to include a joint commitment from Nato members to spend at least €40bn ($43bn) in 2025 on aid to Ukraine.

“Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, Allies have provided €40bn in military support to Ukraine each year,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of Nato, said last month. “We must maintain this level of support as a minimum, and for as long as it takes.”

Stoltenberg had asked for a multi-year pledge from the 32 Nato member states but it did not appear that they had come to an agreement on the eve of the summit.

A European official said that the idea of a multi-year pledge was “still being discussed because some allies including here are uncomfortable with the idea of a multi-annual pledge because of their legal and institutional limitations, so I think we still have to wait”.

One way around that issue, the official said, would be to “just make an annual pledge and then to recommit summit after summit”. Next year’s Nato summit is set to take place at the Hague.

But that could take place after the re-election of Donald Trump, who has threatened to cut aid to Ukraine or make it conditional on starting talks with Russia.

“The big orange elephant in the room for the Nato summit is that everything good that’s going to be said about Ukraine comes with a big caveat,” said Camille Grand, a former Nato assistant secretary general who is now at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It is will this all hold if Trump is elected? And I don’t believe in bureaucracies … because it has been agreed at the Nato summit that the Trump administration would follow that.”

Nato members are expected to announce the establishment of a new military command in the German city of Wiesbaden which would coordinate military aid and training for Ukraine, effectively replacing the US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group. That would in effect move the onus of supplying Ukraine from the Pentagon to Nato, in what US officials have said would be a “bridge to membership” preparing the country to be ready to work with the alliance when it is admitted “on day one”.

The new effort is also seen as a way to “Trump-proof” future aid to Ukraine if he is elected in November by “institutionalising” aid to Kyiv.

Carpenter also said that there would be announcements concerning the provision of F-16s to Ukraine. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have pledged to provide Ukraine with about 80 US made F-16 fighter jets between them, but the program to get the planes in the air has been hit by delays in delivery and training. The first F-16s are expected to arrive this summer.

On the eve of the summit, diplomats said there was still “no consensus” on Nato issuing an invitation to Ukraine at the summit to join the alliance. “Some allies are reluctant in that direction, but we are discussing languages to at least showcase that Ukraine’s path to membership is irreversible, that there is no there is no way back,” said a European official.

A Biden administration official declined to directly discuss the language of the final communiqué because it was “still being negotiated”, but said that the summit declaration “will include very strong signals of Allied support for Ukraine on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration. And it’s going to also underscore the importance of Ukraine’s vital work on democratic, economic and security reforms.”

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Explainer

Ukraine war briefing: day of mourning in Kyiv after missile strike on children’s hospital

Mayor says flags will fly at half-mast after devastating attacks on capital and other cities kill dozens. What we know on day 867

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  • A day of mourning has been declared in Kyiv by mayor Vitali Klitschko after a daylight Russian missile barrage hit Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital and killed dozens around the country. All flags will be flown at half mast on municipal buildings throughout the city, he said in a Telegram post, and entertainment events will be cancelled. The strike was among the heaviest attacks on the capital since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. Twenty-two people were killed in the capital, including two staff members at the hospital, where three children were hurt. At least 36 people were killed across Ukraine. The Ukrainian president posted on the Telegram messaging app: “Russia cannot help but know where its missiles are flying, and must fully answer for all its crimes: against people, against children, against humanity in general.”

  • After the strikes, US president Joe Biden promised “new measures” to boost Ukraine’s air defences. “Russia’s missile strikes that today killed dozens of Ukrainian civilians and caused damage and casualties at Kyiv’s largest children’s hospital are a horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. He was speaking on the eve of a Nato summit in Washington where leaders are expected to present a “historic” aid package for Ukraine, including air defences. Observers expect Nato members to pledge at least four additional Patriot missile batteries. Zelenskiy had previously asked Nato for seven batteries, saying that Putin “must be brought down to earth, and our sky must become safe again … And it depends fully on your choice … [the] choice whether we are indeed allies.”

  • Western and UN leaders condemned Monday’s strikes, which saw Ukraine’s main treatment centre for children with cancer, take a direct missile hit. British prime minister Keir Starmer condemned “attacking innocent children” as the “most depraved of actions”, while the Italian foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, called the missile strike a “war crime”. A spokesperson for António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said he strongly condemned the “particularly shocking” strikes against the children’s hospital and another medical facility. UN rights chief Volker Türk condemned the Russian strikes as “abominable”. France’s foreign ministry called the bombardment of a children’s hospital “barbaric” and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau described the attack as “abhorrent”. Russia has claimed the extensive missile damage in Kyiv was caused by Ukrainian air defence systems and that it was striking only military targets.

  • Witnesses in Kyiv have described how children – some as young as 18 months old and suffering kidney problems – had to be hurriedly taken off dialysis and evacuated through the building’s windows after the missile strike on Okhmatdyt children’s hospital. Nurse Tanya Lapshina said the strike came at a time when the hospital was at its busiest, and she feared for a child who was undergoing open-heart surgery at the time. Lapshina said her ward managed to bring the children to the shelter just minutes before the strike. “It was absolute chaos. The children were panicked, crying in the bunker. There are no words for this. It’s awful. I’m still shaking.” Images from inside the hospital, which treats 20,000 patients annually, showed bloodied children, collapsed ceilings and destroyed operating rooms.

  • The UN security council is to meet on Tuesday at the request of Britain, France, Ecuador, Slovenia and the US.

  • A fire broke out at a power substation in Russia’s Rostov region after Ukraine launched “tens” of drones overnight, Vasily Golubev, the governor of the southern Russia region that borders Ukraine said on Tuesday. “As a result of an air attack in the Rodionovo-Nesvetaysky district, two transformers caught fire at a power substation,” Golubev wrote on Telegram, adding that air defence systems destroyed a number of drones.

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Elina Svitolina wears black ribbon at Wimbledon after Kyiv hospital attack

Ukrainian tennis star shows solidarity with victims after tournament makes rare exception to all-white dress rules

The Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina has worn a black ribbon during a match at Wimbledon in solidarity with the victims of the Russian bombing of a children’s hospital in Kyiv.

Wimbledon organisers made a rare exception to relax its strict all-white rules for Svitolina’s fourth-round match against Wang Xinyu on Monday.

Svitolina fought back tears on the court after winning 6-2 6-1. She said: “It was a good performance from my side today. It’s a very difficult day today for Ukrainian people.

“It was not easy to focus today on the match. Since the morning it’s very difficult to read the news. Just to go on the court is extremely tough. I’m happy I could play today and get a win.”

The tournament has a strict dress code that states: “Competitors must be dressed in suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white and this applies from the point at which the player enters the court surround. White does not include off-white or cream.”

Svitolina confirmed that Wimbledon organisers gave her permission to wear the ribbon. “I feel like it would be understandable after such a big attack for my country,” she said at a press conference after her win.

On Monday, Ukraine was hit by a Russian missile barrage that authorities said killed at least 36 people across the country. Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital was among the buildings hit. Two staff members at the hospital were killed and three children were hurt, although the search continued for people trapped in the rubble.

Svitolina said: “It’s an incredibly sad day today for all Ukrainians. It was really difficult for me to really be here in a way and do anything. I just wanted to be in my room, just be there with my emotions, with everything.”

Svitolina, who is ranked 21 in the world, said tennis was her way of raising awareness. She said: “I have to put my head down and show up and do my best, my very best. Every Ukrainian is using their own way to raise awareness, to raise money, to help in every possible way they can.”

The player still has family in Ukraine who she has kept in close contact with during the conflict. “It’s nice to hear their voices. Of course, sad voices, but in a way it still warms my heart when I speak with them,” Svitolina said.

Wimbledon has relaxed its strict dress code in the past. In 2022, tournament organisers allowed Poland’s Iga Świątek, who is ranked No 1 in the world, to wear a blue and yellow ribbon on her cap in a sign of unity with Ukraine.

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Leading House Democrat Adam Smith calls on Biden to end presidential bid

Ranking Democrat on armed services committee says debate was ‘alarming’ and urges president to stand aside

Joe Biden’s position among congressional Democrats eroded further on Monday when an influential House committee member lent his voice to calls for him to end his presidential campaign following last month’s spectacular debate failure.

Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the armed services committee in the House of Representatives, issued the plea just hours after the president emphatically rejected calls for him to step aside in a letter to the party’s congressional contingent.

Biden had also expressed determination to continue in an unscheduled phone interview with the MSNBC politics show Morning Joe.

But in a clear sign such messaging may be falling on deaf ears, Smith suggested that sentiments of voters that he was too old to be an effective candidate and then president for the next four years was clear from opinion polls.

“The president’s performance in the debate was alarming to watch and the American people have made it clear they no longer see him as a credible candidate to serve four more years as president,” Smith, a congressman from Washington state, said in a statement.

“Since the debate, the president has not seriously addressed these concerns.”

He said the president should stand aside “as soon as possible”, though he qualified it by saying he would support him “unreservedly” if he insisted on remaining as the nominee.

But his statement’s effect was driven home in a later interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, one of the two moderators in the 27 June debate with Donald Trump in which Biden’s hoarse-voiced and frequently confused performance and demeanour plunged his re-election campaign into existential crisis.

“Personally, I think Kamala Harris [the vice-president] would be a much better, stronger candidate,” Smith told Tapper, adding that Biden was “not the best person to carry the Democratic message”.

He implicitly criticised Democratic colleagues – and Biden campaign staff – who were calling for the party to put the debate behind them as “one bad night”.

“A lot of Democrats are saying: ‘Well let’s move on, let’s stop talking about it’,” said Smith. “We are not the ones who are bringing it up. The country is bringing it up. And the campaign strategy of ‘be quiet and fall in line and let’s ignore it’ simply isn’t working.”

Smith joins the ranks of five Democratic members of Congress who publicly demanded Biden’s withdrawal last week. He was among at least four others who spoke in favour of it privately in a virtual meeting on Sunday with Hakeem Jeffries, the party’s leader in the House.

Having the ranking member of the armed services committee join the siren voices urging his withdrawal may be particularly damaging to Biden’s cause in a week when he is to host a summit of Nato leaders in Washington.

The alliance’s heads of government and state will gather in the US capital on Tuesday for an event that is likely to increase the international spotlight on Biden, who is due to give a rare press conference on its final day on Thursday, an occasion likely to be scrutinised for further misstatements and evidence of declining cognitive faculties. Unscripted appearances have been rare in Biden’s three-and-a-half-year tenure.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last Friday, Biden stressed his role in expanding Nato’s membership and leading its military aid programme to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion as a key element of his qualification to continue as his party’s nominee and be re-elected as president.

In the surprise interview with Morning Joe on Monday, Biden put the blame for his current predicament on Democratic elites, an undefined designation which he may now expand to include Smith.

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Explainer

The Democrats who have called on Joe Biden to step down

A growing number of Democratic officials have publicly called for Biden to quit, or reportedly done so in private

After Joe Biden’s disastrous performance in his first debate against Donald Trump super-charged concerns about his age and fitness for office, the president faces growing calls to stand down as the Democratic nominee this November.

Biden has pushed back hard, telling MSNBC “elites in the party” were behind calls for him to quit, claiming strong support from actual voters, and challenging doubters in his own party to “run against me. Go ahead. Announce for president – challenge me at the convention!”

Nobody has gone that far yet but a growing number of elected Democratic officials have either publicly called for Biden to quit or reportedly done so in private. Here they are:

Lloyd Doggett (Texas)

The Texas veteran was first out of the gate, saying last week: “Recognising that, unlike [Donald] Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so.”

Raúl Grijalva (Arizona)

A senior progressive from a battleground state, Grijalva has sway in his party. Following Doggett, the 76-year-old told the New York Times: “What [Biden] needs to do is shoulder the responsibility for keeping that seat – and part of that responsibility is to get out of this race.” Grijalva also said Democrats “have to win this race, and we have to hold the House and hold the Senate”, because if not, the party’s achievements under Biden would “go down the sewer”.

Seth Moulton (Massachusetts)

The former US marine, who briefly challenged Biden for the nomination in 2020, told a Boston radio station: “President Biden has done enormous service to our country, but now is the time for him to follow in one of our founding father, George Washington’s, footsteps and step aside to let new leaders rise up.” Moulton has since doubled down, citing the “disaster” of the debate.

Mike Quigley (Illinois)

Speaking to MSNBC on Friday, Quigley said: “Mr. President, your legacy is set. We owe you the greatest debt of gratitude. The only thing that you can do now to cement that for all time and prevent utter catastrophe is to step down and let someone else do this.”

Angie Craig (Minnesota)

On Saturday, the congresswoman said: “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 the president himself following that debate, I do not believe that the president can effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump. That’s why I respectfully call on President Biden to step aside as the Democratic nominee for a second term as president and allow for a new generation of leaders to step forward.”

Adam Smith (Washington)

On Monday, the congressman said: “That candidate must be able to clearly, articulately, and strongly make his or her case to the American people. It is clear that President Biden is no longer able to meet this burden.” In an interview he also implored Biden. “I’m pleading with him − take a step back,’” he said on CNN. “Look at what’s best for the party, look at what’s best for the county.”

Reported: Jerry Nadler (New York), Mark Takano (California), Joe Morelle (New York)

According to multiple reports, on Sunday the three senior Democrats along with Smith had used a private call arranged by Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, to call for Biden to stand down. Others on the call reportedly expressed serious concerns but did not go so far as to say Biden should quit.

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Mapped: the vast network of security deals spanning the Pacific, and what it means

Guardian analysis shows web of agreements between Pacific countries and Australia, US and China, as experts raise concerns over rising militarisation

As competition for influence in the Pacific region intensifies, analysis by the Guardian has mapped a vast network of security, policing and defence agreements between the island countries and foreign partners – leading to concerns about militarisation of the region.

The Guardian examined agreements and partnerships covering security, defence and policing with the 10 largest Pacific countries by population. Australia remains the dominant partner in the region – accounting for more than half the deals identified – followed by New Zealand, the US and China.

The data shows more than 60 agreements and initiatives, including several infrastructure and equipment deals, to support defence and policing in Pacific countries. The interactive table below sets out each agreement, and can be searched by country or keyword.

More than half the agreements include a focus on policing, with an emphasis on training of Pacific police forces and donating equipment – a push that comes amid rising transnational crime and threats. China has emerged as a new player in this arena, having developed nearly half a dozen initiatives to support policing in Pacific countries in recent years. Almost all the Pacific countries tracked have deals with multiple partners.

Experts have raised concerns about the militarisation of the region, citing the 2022 security deal between China and Solomon Islands, and the US defence cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea agreed a year later. Only three Pacific countries – Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga – have their own militaries.

Papua New Guinea, the largest of the Pacific nations with a population of about 10 million, draws security support and maintains ties with various partners including Australia, the US and China.

Donald Yamasombi, a deputy commissioner in the country’s police force, said “international partners are keen and are coming in.” He said police in Papua New Guinea were keen to work alongside foreign forces, particularly to combat rising methamphetamine trafficking and use in the country.

While China doesn’t have any formal policing or security agreements with Papua New Guinea, Yamasombi said he regularly seeks advice from Chinese embassy officials, particularly on how to deal with emerging crimes – such as money laundering, illegal migration and prostitution – that are a growing problem in Papua New Guinea.

“If we were to partner with China, I’d like to see it being targeted at those very crime types,” Yamasombi said. The deputy commissioner said he would welcome further collaboration with Chinese police forces, including participating in training programs.

Meanwhile, the US has at least eight defence and security agreements in place with Pacific countries. Last year, it signed a pact with Papua New Guinea that gave the US military “unimpeded” access to its bases, and in 2020, the US signed a defence and security agreement with Fiji. The US also retains its dominant military footprint in the northern Pacific through its Compact of Free Association (Cofa) agreements with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, which grant the US full responsibility over each country’s defence and security matters.

A spokesperson for the US state department said the Indo-Pacific region is “a leading priority for US foreign policy” and in order to maintain stability, it is “bolstering … security to deter aggression and to counter provocations and other dangerous and destabilising actions” in the region.

The analysis attempts to capture the most significant deals to reveal the span of security ties with Pacific countries and their main partners. It focuses on relationships with individual partners, including some Pacific-wide and regional agreements. Some support or deals – such as one-off police equipment donations – were not included.

Fears over rising ‘militarisation’

Some experts have expressed concern that the kind of deals developed in recent years will enhance militarisation in the region, and a lack of transparency in certain agreements may erode sovereignty and democracy in the Pacific.

Prof Joanne Wallis, director of the Security in the Pacific Islands research program at the University of Adelaide, said there is “a lot more anxiety” about strategic competition in the region between the US and allies including Australia on one side, and China on the other.

Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, professor at the University of Hawaii and former director of its Center for Pacific Islands Studies, said the “nature of the security agreements and the details … is of concern”.

Kabutaulaka said the 2023 Papua New Guinea-US defence cooperation deal, which allows American forces access to the Pacific nation’s defence facilities, will “result in the increasing militarisation of the region.”

Separately, a lack of transparency in the China-Solomon Islands security and policing deals is “an issue of concern, not only for Canberra, or Wellington, or Washington DC, but an issue of concern for citizens as well.”

“Part of the anxiety with the agreement with China is that it’s not transparent. We don’t know what was said, what they are going to do,” said Kabutaulaka.

He is particularly concerned the agreements may lead to Chinese law enforcement making extrajudicial arrests in Pacific countries, as was done in Fiji in 2017. “Our approach to policing, our approach to issues of law and order cannot be the same as China,” Kabutaulaka, who is from Solomon Islands, said.

Yamasombi also cautioned against further increases to military spending in the region, saying the money would be better used to fortify the country’s law enforcement and boost its capacity to prosecute transnational crimes.

“Policing is more needed than military [investment] in the region,” Yamasombi said. “Why should we be fighting a war against another country?”

China’s ‘unwelcome’ presence

Australia has invested heavily in policing across the region and is reportedly preparing to establish a new training centre for Pacific police. The Pacific Policing initiative, still in development and being led by Pacific police chiefs, will include coordination hubs and multinational response capabilities.

Canberra provides policing support to various nations and last month Solomon Islands asked Australia to help grow its police force from 1,500 to 3,000 officers. A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said “Australia remains committed to the security objectives of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) membership” – guided by the 2018 Boe Declaration.

In Tonga, Chinese officials have offered to provide police training and personnel to assist with security at the upcoming PIF meeting. Police commissioner Shane McLellan – an Australian appointed to the role by Tonga’s King – said China has donated forensic equipment and vehicles to the police force in recent years, and continues to put “offers on the table of various kinds”.

McLellan said, due to language and cultural barriers, police training from democratic nations such as New Zealand and Australia are more appropriate than those offered by China.

“The style of training, and the delivery of training and the methodology that we need in Tonga is more easily accessible and more directly relevant if it comes from a like nation,” he said, adding however “it doesn’t mean to say that we immediately say no to China.”

A spokesperson from the New Zealand ministry of foreign affairs and trade told the Guardian the increased security presence of China in the Pacific was “unnecessary and unwelcome”.

China’s ministry for foreign affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite these concerns, Kabutaulaka predicted Pacific countries “will continue to sign agreements with places like China, whether it’s in policing, or whether it’s in military cooperation”.

He said this may not only lead to geopolitical instability, but may also lead to domestic fractures between citizens and their Pacific governments.

Wallis, meanwhile, said the Pacific “is not a priority” for China, and that it was unlikely Beijing would invest the money to build a permanent military presence in the region.

“I’m less concerned about a [military] base, I’m more concerned about China, undermining democratic structures by not adhering to transparency,” Wallis said.

“The Solomon Islands security agreement is an example that, ideally, would be public,” she said, while also noting that in the future Chinese police may be deployed in the region in ways “that might not fully observe human rights protections and what we would typically expect of good policing”.

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Tony Blair urges Starmer to keep grip on immigration to tackle rise of far right

Exclusive: former PM says immigration benefits UK but controls are needed to ‘close off avenues’ for populists

Tony Blair has warned Keir Starmer to “close off the avenues” of the populist right by keeping tough controls on immigration.

The former prime minister said the new government should tackle parties such as Nigel Farage’s Reform UK by dealing with people’s grievances while sticking to the centre ground to hold Labour’s electoral coalition together.

However, he said he believed that immigration should be celebrated for the good it had done the country, adding that the Conservative party’s “mad” approach to the issue had damaged the economy.

In his first interview since Labour won power last week, Blair also urged Starmer to “be realistic” about how tough it could be to hit his climate targets, and he predicted that the UK would ultimately have join a “regional grouping” with European neighbours to compete on the world stage.

The Tony Blair Institute is holding its Future of Britain conference in London on Tuesday at which Blair will also argue that public sector adoption of artificial intelligence could realise £12bn in savings a year by the end of this term.

But it was his comments about how to tackle the rise of the radical right that will hit a nerve inside the new Labour government, after Reform UK won five seats in last week’s election and took 14% of the votes cast.

Blair told the Guardian: “Progressives should be thinking about the answers, but you’ve got to understand what the populist does. The populist usually doesn’t invent a grievance, they exploit the grievance. If you want to close off their avenues for increasing support, you’ve got to deal with the grievance. That’s why Keir is absolute right in saying you’ve got to have controls on immigration.

“That doesn’t mean to say we don’t celebrate the good that immigration can do, because it does an immense amount of good for this country, but you do need to have controls.”

Starmer, who has said he will stave off the populist right by making a material difference to people’s lives, has just diverted tens of millions of pounds from the Rwanda scheme to set up the new Border Security Command as part of plans to tackle illegal migration.

Blair said the government should also take law and order “really seriously” and be “really careful” on cultural issues that were being exploited by the right, saying: “Labour has got a coherent [electoral] coalition, provided you pitch things in the centre.”

The former prime minister, who campaigned for remain in the EU referendum, said he understood Starmer’s caution towards a closer relationship with Europe after the party’s 2019 election disaster. “You’ve got to take this carefully,” Blair said. “I totally understand the reason for caution. You’ve just got to take this step by step.”

While he could not predict whether the UK would ever rejoin the single market or customs union, he said: “The one thing I’m absolutely sure of is that Britain will need to be part of the political family on its own continent.

“Now quite what form that takes, I don’t know. But the absolutely essential thing for a country like Britain to realise, because we have become very inward looking as a country, is that within the next two decades you are going to have three giants in the world – America, China, probably India. And the only alternative all other countries will have is to be in regional groupings that give you collectively what you won’t have individually.”

He said the decision, as a result of Brexit, to cut off migration from Europe had been the “most mad thing”, as it meant swapping young people working in hospitality for high levels of immigration from Asia and Africa.

Blair, who said he sat up until 1am on Thursday night to watch news of Labour’s election victory, said he was in regular contact with Starmer. “I don’t really offer advice but if he wants to talk about things, we talk about things,” he said.

“I was so happy that the Labour party has finally come back. If it’s not in power, it can’t do anything. He’s taken the party from its worst ever defeat to one of its greatest ever victories. In some ways it’s the greatest victory, given the challenge.”

He was cautious about the government’s plans to treble solar capacity, double onshore wind and quadruple offshore wind as key milestones towards achieving net zero emissions by 2030. “I’m 100% in favour of Labour doing everything it can to meet its targets, so don’t misunderstand me,” he said. “It’s just one thing I think Labour should be very open about is the Tories on this, as in so many other areas, have left a complete mess.

“The gap between what they promised we would be in a position to do and where we are now is massive, and you’re talking about quadrupling renewable energy … with the best will in the world its going to take some time. It’s not that I think Labour should give up on its ambitions. It’s just it should be realistic about how tough it’s going to be.”

Ahead of the conference, Blair suggested that AI was the 21st century’s equivalent of the Industrial Revolution, and the government should grip its potential to improve public services and cut costs. “I don’t think people have really grasped that it’s going to transform literally everything,” he said. “People still say: ‘Yeah, maybe, but it’s all a bit science fiction,’ but you’ve got to look at what’s coming down the track.

“What I will say to people about this is, people were scared of the Industrial Revolution. But one of the things that you learn when you study history is that what is it invented by human ingenuity is not just disinvented by human anxiety. It’s a fact. The most important thing for policymakers right now is to understand it is a fact. And it’s going to accelerate.”

Blair has proposed digital identity cards to help people access services such as the health and benefits systems, but this has been rejected by ministers.

“The civil liberties arguments are important until you realise the amount of information you give to Amazon, Netflix, your local supermarket,” he said. “You can put very strong protections in place, and should, of course, but the important thing is not to see it as a control mechanism for government.”

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Tony Blair urges Starmer to keep grip on immigration to tackle rise of far right

Exclusive: former PM says immigration benefits UK but controls are needed to ‘close off avenues’ for populists

Tony Blair has warned Keir Starmer to “close off the avenues” of the populist right by keeping tough controls on immigration.

The former prime minister said the new government should tackle parties such as Nigel Farage’s Reform UK by dealing with people’s grievances while sticking to the centre ground to hold Labour’s electoral coalition together.

However, he said he believed that immigration should be celebrated for the good it had done the country, adding that the Conservative party’s “mad” approach to the issue had damaged the economy.

In his first interview since Labour won power last week, Blair also urged Starmer to “be realistic” about how tough it could be to hit his climate targets, and he predicted that the UK would ultimately have join a “regional grouping” with European neighbours to compete on the world stage.

The Tony Blair Institute is holding its Future of Britain conference in London on Tuesday at which Blair will also argue that public sector adoption of artificial intelligence could realise £12bn in savings a year by the end of this term.

But it was his comments about how to tackle the rise of the radical right that will hit a nerve inside the new Labour government, after Reform UK won five seats in last week’s election and took 14% of the votes cast.

Blair told the Guardian: “Progressives should be thinking about the answers, but you’ve got to understand what the populist does. The populist usually doesn’t invent a grievance, they exploit the grievance. If you want to close off their avenues for increasing support, you’ve got to deal with the grievance. That’s why Keir is absolute right in saying you’ve got to have controls on immigration.

“That doesn’t mean to say we don’t celebrate the good that immigration can do, because it does an immense amount of good for this country, but you do need to have controls.”

Starmer, who has said he will stave off the populist right by making a material difference to people’s lives, has just diverted tens of millions of pounds from the Rwanda scheme to set up the new Border Security Command as part of plans to tackle illegal migration.

Blair said the government should also take law and order “really seriously” and be “really careful” on cultural issues that were being exploited by the right, saying: “Labour has got a coherent [electoral] coalition, provided you pitch things in the centre.”

The former prime minister, who campaigned for remain in the EU referendum, said he understood Starmer’s caution towards a closer relationship with Europe after the party’s 2019 election disaster. “You’ve got to take this carefully,” Blair said. “I totally understand the reason for caution. You’ve just got to take this step by step.”

While he could not predict whether the UK would ever rejoin the single market or customs union, he said: “The one thing I’m absolutely sure of is that Britain will need to be part of the political family on its own continent.

“Now quite what form that takes, I don’t know. But the absolutely essential thing for a country like Britain to realise, because we have become very inward looking as a country, is that within the next two decades you are going to have three giants in the world – America, China, probably India. And the only alternative all other countries will have is to be in regional groupings that give you collectively what you won’t have individually.”

He said the decision, as a result of Brexit, to cut off migration from Europe had been the “most mad thing”, as it meant swapping young people working in hospitality for high levels of immigration from Asia and Africa.

Blair, who said he sat up until 1am on Thursday night to watch news of Labour’s election victory, said he was in regular contact with Starmer. “I don’t really offer advice but if he wants to talk about things, we talk about things,” he said.

“I was so happy that the Labour party has finally come back. If it’s not in power, it can’t do anything. He’s taken the party from its worst ever defeat to one of its greatest ever victories. In some ways it’s the greatest victory, given the challenge.”

He was cautious about the government’s plans to treble solar capacity, double onshore wind and quadruple offshore wind as key milestones towards achieving net zero emissions by 2030. “I’m 100% in favour of Labour doing everything it can to meet its targets, so don’t misunderstand me,” he said. “It’s just one thing I think Labour should be very open about is the Tories on this, as in so many other areas, have left a complete mess.

“The gap between what they promised we would be in a position to do and where we are now is massive, and you’re talking about quadrupling renewable energy … with the best will in the world its going to take some time. It’s not that I think Labour should give up on its ambitions. It’s just it should be realistic about how tough it’s going to be.”

Ahead of the conference, Blair suggested that AI was the 21st century’s equivalent of the Industrial Revolution, and the government should grip its potential to improve public services and cut costs. “I don’t think people have really grasped that it’s going to transform literally everything,” he said. “People still say: ‘Yeah, maybe, but it’s all a bit science fiction,’ but you’ve got to look at what’s coming down the track.

“What I will say to people about this is, people were scared of the Industrial Revolution. But one of the things that you learn when you study history is that what is it invented by human ingenuity is not just disinvented by human anxiety. It’s a fact. The most important thing for policymakers right now is to understand it is a fact. And it’s going to accelerate.”

Blair has proposed digital identity cards to help people access services such as the health and benefits systems, but this has been rejected by ministers.

“The civil liberties arguments are important until you realise the amount of information you give to Amazon, Netflix, your local supermarket,” he said. “You can put very strong protections in place, and should, of course, but the important thing is not to see it as a control mechanism for government.”

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Reform UK under pressure to prove all its candidates were real people

Doubt raised about election hopefuls who stood without providing photos, biographies or contact details

Reform UK has come under pressure to provide evidence its candidates at the general election were all real people after doubts were raised about a series of hopefuls who stood without providing any photos, biographies or contact details.

Reform insists every one of its 609 candidates on 4 July were real, while accepting that some were in effect “paper candidates” who did no campaigning, and were there simply to help increase the party’s vote share.

However, after seeing details about the apparently complete lack of information about some candidates, who the Guardian is not naming, the Liberal Democrats called on Reform to provide details about them.

A Liberal Democrat source said: “This doesn’t sound right and Reform should come clean with evidence. We need Reform to show who they are. People need to have faith in the democratic process.”

A series of candidates listed on the Nigel Farage-led party’s election website only show their name and the constituency they stood in, without any information about them, or contact details beyond a generic regional email address.

Many of these people have no visible online presence, and did not appear to do any campaigning. Photographs of the electoral counts for some of the relevant constituencies show that the Reform candidate was the only person not to attend.

Under electoral rules, the only details that need to be given about the candidate is their full name and the constituency where they live. They must all have an agent, and be nominated by 10 local voters.

With some of the Reform candidates, it is not clear if they are listed on the electoral register for the area where they are standing – which in a few cases is hundreds of miles from the constituency in question. One person with the same name and location of a candidate denied it was them.

While there is no evidence any of the candidates are fake, if that turned out to be true, it would be a serious electoral offence. Reform was keen to win as big a share of the national vote as possible, which is helped by a full slate of candidates. Some of the seemingly invisible candidates won several thousand votes.

A Reform source said: “All our candidates are categorically real. Given the rush, a few are just paper candidates and didn’t campaign. Some people began as paper candidates but then did campaign, and one of these – James McMurdock in South Basildon and East Thurrock – ended up winning his seat.”

The Guardian has also learned that one Reform candidate suspected of being fake, in part because his official election photo looked AI-generated, is a real person.

The suspicions about Mark Matlock, who won 1,758 votes in Clapham and Brixton Hill in south London, were compounded when he did not show for the election count, with sceptics also pointing to an apparent lack of any photographs of him campaigning.

However, Matlock insisted that he did exist, and there was a reason for the curious-looking election picture: “The image is me. Stupidly I had to get it altered to change my tie and suit as I couldn’t get to a photographer on time.” He showed the Guardian a copy of the original image, which was changed to make his tie a Reform light blue.

Matlock, who lives in the Cotswolds, said he did undertake a leaflet drop, adding that he understood the rush to get candidates in place: “The election caught us all on the hop and Rishi Sunak knew that. But we still managed to fill most of the seats with candidates, even if not all of them lived there, and it all contributed to our vote share.”

The Clapham and Brixton Hill candidate said he missed the election count because he had pneumonia.

Separately, it has emerged that Reform raised the most out of all political parties during the fourth week of the election campaign, bringing in almost £600,000 – of which a third was from the party’s new donor, Zia Yusuf.

Yusuf, a Muslim businessman who spoke at a recent Reform rally, is the founder of a luxury concierge company called Velocity Black, and gave Nigel Farage’s party £200,000.

Other donors to Reform include £125,000 from Jeremy Hosking, a businessman who recently backed Laurence Fox’s Reclaim party, and the anti-vax former Tory MP Andrew Bridgen.

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Alleged Bolsonaro-linked crime ring sold official luxury gifts worth $1.2m, Brazil police claim

Report into ‘Jewellerygate’ scandal alleges former president involved in embezzlement of high-value gifts received from foreign leaders

Federal police investigators have claimed that a criminal group, allegedly involving Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro, tried to illegally siphon off and sell luxury gifts from foreign leaders worth at least $1.2m.

The new claims came on Monday, three days after police formally accused the far-right politician of embezzlement, money laundering and criminal association and suggested he face criminal charges. If Bolsonaro is charged and convicted, those alleged crimes could reportedly land him in jail for a total of 25 years.

The Brazilian media has dubbed the scandal “O Caso das Joias”, which roughly translates as Jewellery-gate.

On Monday, the supreme court judge Alexandre de Moraes authorised the publication of the 476-page federal police investigation into the alleged criminal group, the existence of which came to light in the months after Bolsonaro left power following his 2022 election defeat to the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The report, seen by the Guardian, claims investigators found evidence of “a criminal association geared towards the embezzlement of high-value gifts received as a result of the ex-president Jair Bolsonaro’s office and/or by Brazilian government delegations that were acting in his name, during international trips … which could later be sold overseas”.

Investigators also claim “the sums obtained through these sales were converted into cash and incorporated into the ex-president’s personal patrimony, through intermediaries and without using the formal banking system, in order to hide the origin, whereabouts and ownership of those sums”.

The sums involved in the alleged racket are substantial and potentially politically damaging for the army captain-turned-president who has – despite longstanding suspicions and allegations of corruption – spent years promoting himself as an incorruptible and upstanding citizen. The police report is peppered with photographs of extravagant gifts from foreign governments that were allegedly misappropriated including a Chopard rollerball pen worth $20,000, a pair of ear-rings worth more than $126,000 and a special edition Rolex watch valued at nearly $74,000.

Investigators claimed it was possible that the fruits of the alleged criminal scheme were used to bankroll Bolsonaro’s activities in the US after he flew there in the final hours of his four-year presidency, on 30 December 2022.

The Donald Trump-admiring South American populist has yet to comment on the latest allegations against him but has previously denied wrongdoing during his time as president.

Speaking at a rightwing conference in south Brazil this weekend, Bolsonaro claimed he was happy to subject himself to a live, two-hour grilling by the press “about anything”. But he has yet to fully address the allegations, or other claims against him, including suspicions that he helped incite the January 2023 rebellion in Brasília. Argentina’s rightwing leader, Javier Milei, who also spoke at the conservative conference, claimed his Brazilian “friend” was the victim of “judicial persecution”.

Brazilian investigators allegedly believe they have uncovered strong evidence that Bolsonaro was aware of, and benefited from, Jewellery-gate.

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Chinese developers scramble as OpenAI blocks access in China

US firm’s move, amid Beijing-Washington tensions, sparks rush to lure users to homegrown models

At the World AI Conference in Shanghai last week, one of China’s leading artificial intelligence companies, SenseTime, unveiled its latest model, SenseNova 5.5.

The model showed off its ability to identify and describe a stuffed toy puppy (wearing a SenseTime cap), offered feedback on a drawing of a rabbit, and instantly read and summarised a page of text. According to SenseTime, SenseNova 5.5 is comparable with GPT-4o, the flagship artificial intelligence model of the Microsoft-backed US company OpenAI.

If that wasn’t enough to entice users, SenseTime is also giving away 50m free tokens – digital credits for using the AI – and says that it will deploy staff to help new clients migrate from OpenAI services to SenseTime’s products for free.

Chinese attempts to lure domestic developers away from OpenAI – considered the market leader in generative AI – will now be a lot easier, after OpenAI notified its users in China that they would be blocked from using its tools and services from 9 July.

“We are taking additional steps to block API traffic from regions where we do not support access to OpenAI’s services,” an OpenAI spokesperson told Bloomberg last month.

OpenAI has not elaborated about the reason for its sudden decision. ChatGPT is already blocked in China by the government’s firewall, but until this week developers could use virtual private networks to access OpenAI’s tools in order to fine-tune their own generative AI applications and benchmark their own research. Now the block is coming from the US side.

Rising tensions between Washington and Beijing have prompted the US to restrict the export to China of certain advanced semiconductors that are vital for training the most cutting-edge AI technology, putting pressure on other parts of the AI industry.

The OpenAI move has “caused significant concern within China’s AI community” said Xiaohu Zhu, the founder of the Shanghai-based Centre for Safe AGI, which promotes AI safety, not least because “the decision raises questions about equitable access to AI technologies globally”.

But it has also created an opportunity for domestic AI companies such as SenseTime, which are scrambling to hoover up OpenAI’s rejected users. After warnings about OpenAI’s decision circulated last month, Baidu offered 50m free tokens for its Ernie 3.5 AI model, as well as free migration services, while Zhipu AI, another local company, offered 150m free tokens for its model. Tencent Cloud is giving away 100m free tokens for its AI model to new users until the end of July. “Competitors are offering migration pathways for former OpenAI users, seeing this as an opportunity to expand their user base,” said Zhu.

One consequence of OpenAI’s decision may be that it accelerates the development of Chinese AI companies, which are in tight competition with their US rivals, as well as each other. China is estimated to have at least 130 large language models, accounting for 40% of the world’s total and second only to the US. But while US companies such as OpenAI have been at the cutting edge of generative AI, Chinese companies have been engaged in a price war that some analysts have speculated may harm their profit margins and their ability to innovate. Still, Winston Ma, a professor at New York University who writes about Chinese technology, said OpenAI’s departure from China comes “at a time when Chinese big tech players are closing on performance gap with OpenAI and are offering these Chinese LLM models essentially free”.

“OpenAI’s departure is a short-term shock to the China market, but it may provide a long-term opportunity for Chinese domestic LLM models to be put to the real test,” said Ma. Until now, Chinese companies have focused on the commercialisation of large language models rather than advancing the models themselves, he added.

Chinese commentators have been keen to brush off the impact of OpenAI’s decision. State media outlet the Global Times said it was “a push from the US to hamper China’s technology development”. Pan Helin, a digital economy researcher at Zhejiang University who sits on a government technology committee, described the development as “a good thing for China’s large-scale model independence and self-reliance”, according to Chinese media.

But there are signs that the US restrictions on China’s AI industry are starting to bite. The online video giant Kuaishou recently had to restrict the number of people who could access its new text-to-video AI model, Kling, because of a lack of computing capacity caused by a shortage of chips, according to a report in The Information. And there is now a booming hidden market for US semiconductors, as companies find ways to circumvent the sanctions. Being blocked from US software may inspire similar creativity.

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UK officials fear October port chaos unless EU again delays biometric plan

Exclusive: Entry/exit rules due to be tightened three weeks before half-term holiday, requiring face and finger scans

UK government officials fear tailbacks and chaos at UK ports in three months’ time unless the EU again delays plans to introduce a biometric travel registration scheme requiring facial and finger scanning.

From 6 October all non-EU nationals will be required to enter biometric and fingerprint technology under a new European entry/exit system.

The scheme’s introduction is seen as a critical moment when British citizens – as opposed to businesses – will suddenly feel the impact of the end of free movement on their daily lives. Part of the problem is that an app prepared by the EU and Frontex that is supposed to streamline the process of registering individual data is not yet definitely ready.

The aim of the app is to allow non-EU citizens to register their details before starting their journey rather than doing so at a border crossing.

The scheme could also become an early test of whether the new UK government’s offer to have a more cooperative relationship with the European Commission can ease inherited headaches such as these. Rishi Sunak had been privately pressing for the EU to give UK citizens full access to the bloc’s e-gates, but that appeared to be a political non-starter.

The benefit of the scheme from the EU’s perspective is that it will be a practical step against illegal migration into the bloc and it will make it easier to ensure that non-EU citizens do not exceed their maximum stay time. It will also reduce the need to stamp passports with entry and exit dates.

The scheme has been in preparation since 2017 and was due to start in 2021. The latest postponement, to October, was made after France requested that the scheme be delayed until after the Paris Olympics.

It is due to be introduced only three weeks before the October half-term holiday, leaving little time for glitches to be ironed out before there is a rush of passengers.

On the first registration, travellers will be required to submit fingerprint checks and provide a facial biometric. On subsequent visits within three years, a facial biometric test at automated gates will be required.

Each new visit triggers another three years of validity, until the expiry date of the passport.

UK officials fear that if the predicted chaos at border crossings such as Folkestone and Dover happens in the way many in the travel industry fear, it will be the current government, as opposed to the advocates of Brexit in the Conservative party, that will take the blame.

The UK is not opposed to the scheme in principle, and acknowledges there have already been numerous previous delays. But it is concerned that inefficient introduction of the scheme will help no one.

A recent UK Department for Transport survey showed that 69% of the UK public had not heard of the European entry/exit scheme, and 15% said it was likely to make them travel less.

Getlink, the rail company operating the Channel tunnel between France and the UK, is already building multimillion-pound processing centres at Folkestone and Calais to handle the scheme. The UK border crossing that is likely to experience the most disruptive delays, however, is the Port of Dover.

Dover could face significant issues because of the volume of vehicles it processes and its space constraints. The Kent council county leader, Roger Gough, and the Port of Dover CEO, Doug Bannister, warned the UK government last week that the system’s implementation could ultimately lead to supply chain disruption in the UK.

Shortly after the scheme is introduced – in mid-2025, according to the latest plan – prospective UK visitors to the Schengen area will also have to apply online for permission to enter.

The Schengen area comprises most of the 27 remaining members of the EU (but not Cyprus or Ireland), as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

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UK officials fear October port chaos unless EU again delays biometric plan

Exclusive: Entry/exit rules due to be tightened three weeks before half-term holiday, requiring face and finger scans

UK government officials fear tailbacks and chaos at UK ports in three months’ time unless the EU again delays plans to introduce a biometric travel registration scheme requiring facial and finger scanning.

From 6 October all non-EU nationals will be required to enter biometric and fingerprint technology under a new European entry/exit system.

The scheme’s introduction is seen as a critical moment when British citizens – as opposed to businesses – will suddenly feel the impact of the end of free movement on their daily lives. Part of the problem is that an app prepared by the EU and Frontex that is supposed to streamline the process of registering individual data is not yet definitely ready.

The aim of the app is to allow non-EU citizens to register their details before starting their journey rather than doing so at a border crossing.

The scheme could also become an early test of whether the new UK government’s offer to have a more cooperative relationship with the European Commission can ease inherited headaches such as these. Rishi Sunak had been privately pressing for the EU to give UK citizens full access to the bloc’s e-gates, but that appeared to be a political non-starter.

The benefit of the scheme from the EU’s perspective is that it will be a practical step against illegal migration into the bloc and it will make it easier to ensure that non-EU citizens do not exceed their maximum stay time. It will also reduce the need to stamp passports with entry and exit dates.

The scheme has been in preparation since 2017 and was due to start in 2021. The latest postponement, to October, was made after France requested that the scheme be delayed until after the Paris Olympics.

It is due to be introduced only three weeks before the October half-term holiday, leaving little time for glitches to be ironed out before there is a rush of passengers.

On the first registration, travellers will be required to submit fingerprint checks and provide a facial biometric. On subsequent visits within three years, a facial biometric test at automated gates will be required.

Each new visit triggers another three years of validity, until the expiry date of the passport.

UK officials fear that if the predicted chaos at border crossings such as Folkestone and Dover happens in the way many in the travel industry fear, it will be the current government, as opposed to the advocates of Brexit in the Conservative party, that will take the blame.

The UK is not opposed to the scheme in principle, and acknowledges there have already been numerous previous delays. But it is concerned that inefficient introduction of the scheme will help no one.

A recent UK Department for Transport survey showed that 69% of the UK public had not heard of the European entry/exit scheme, and 15% said it was likely to make them travel less.

Getlink, the rail company operating the Channel tunnel between France and the UK, is already building multimillion-pound processing centres at Folkestone and Calais to handle the scheme. The UK border crossing that is likely to experience the most disruptive delays, however, is the Port of Dover.

Dover could face significant issues because of the volume of vehicles it processes and its space constraints. The Kent council county leader, Roger Gough, and the Port of Dover CEO, Doug Bannister, warned the UK government last week that the system’s implementation could ultimately lead to supply chain disruption in the UK.

Shortly after the scheme is introduced – in mid-2025, according to the latest plan – prospective UK visitors to the Schengen area will also have to apply online for permission to enter.

The Schengen area comprises most of the 27 remaining members of the EU (but not Cyprus or Ireland), as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

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Meta claims news is not an antidote to misinformation on its platforms

Company says it has ‘never thought about news’ as a way to counter misleading content on Facebook and Instagram despite evidence to the contrary

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Meta has claimed news is not the antidote to misinformation and disinformation spreading on Facebook and Instagram, as the company continues to push back against being forced to pay media companies for news in Australia.

Meta announced in March it would not enter into new agreements with media companies to pay for news following the end of contracts signed in 2021 under the Morrison government’s news media bargaining code.

The assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones, is considering whether the Albanese government should use powers under the news media bargaining code legislation to “designate” Meta under the code, which would force the tech company to enter negotiations for payment with news providers, or risk fines of 10% of its Australian revenue.

The treasury department is also considering other options, including whether it could force the company to carry news or influence it via the tax system. The government is concerned that if Meta is designated under the code it will block news in Australia, as it did in Canada since August last year.

A Canadian expert told Guardian Australia that where news went missing, it was replaced with misleading viral content.

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In a submission to the federal parliament’s inquiry on social media and Australian society, Meta said it was “unaware of any evidence” to support the assertion there was more misinformation on its platform in Canada as a result of the news ban, and said Meta had “never thought about news as a way to minimise misinformation/disinformation on our services”.

“With or without news content, we are incentivised to – and do – remove harmful misinformation and reduce distribution for fact-checked misinformation, and we remain steadfast in our commitments to ensure the integrity of information on our platforms by countering this type of harmful content,” the submission said.

“Canadians can continue to use our services to access authoritative information from a range of sources, including government agencies, political parties and non-governmental organisations, which have always shared information with their audiences in engaging formats, in addition to links to news content.”

Meta pointed to its third-party factchecking partnerships to verify or label content, which remains available in Canada, as part of its work to limit the spread of misinformation. The company said since the news ban in Canada, there had not been a significant drop in engagement from Canadian users.

“News is substitutable,” Meta said.

An analysis by Guardian Australia previously found news was replaced largely with memes on Facebook.

Meta’s director of policy in Australia, Mia Garlick, told the committee last month that all options were on the table if Meta was designated under the news code, but refused to comment on the hypothetical option of blocking news.

Publishers have said the effect of a news block would be devastating. Broadsheet – which publishes city, restaurant and entertainment guides – told the committee in a submission it would lose up to 52% of its revenue should news be blocked. The publisher said it “would make it nearly impossible for the business to survive”.

There also has been a push for other platforms, including TikTok, to be designated under the code. TikTok told the inquiry, however, that of the content consumed by the 8.5 million Australians on the platform, less than 0.5% is professional news content.

This was despite TikTok’s own economic report released earlier this year finding 27.5% of users come to the app for current events and social causes. TikTok’s director of public policy in Australia, Ella Woods-Joyce, explained the difference is that what the public considers news may be different to what media and politicians consider news.

“I understand that the code defines ‘news’ in a very particular way, and it’s reasonable that we would consider using it in a particular way, but the broader community may have a different view of what news actually is for them.”

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Labour unlikely to rush into proscribing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

Exclusive: Lammy said to be looking at creating new category of state-sponsored terrorism to allow restrictions to be imposed

Labour is unlikely to rush into proscribing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and will instead examine whether a new category of state-backed terrorism needs to be devised.

David Lammy, the foreign secretary, will also consult colleagues on the implications for Iranian foreign policy of the election at the weekend of a reformist-backed president, Masoud Pezeshkian.

An issue for the west is testing – either through private talks in Oman or more public dialogue – whether Pezeshkian has any real influence on foreign policy and wants to take steps to dial down Iran’s nuclear programme, which would make it possible for sanctions to be eased.

In opposition, Labour said it would proscribe the IRGC, a step that has caused deep concern in Tehran, with foreign ministry advisers warning that such a decision could have an untold damaging impact on UK-Iran relations.

The IRGC is an arm of the Iranian state, and it would be a major precedent for the UK to proscribe part of another state on the basis that it is involved in terrorist acts.

Speaking to the Guardian at the weekend, Lammy said: “We recognise there are real challenges from state-sponsored terrorist activity, and I want to look closely at those issues, and how the predecessor system works for states, as well as for specific terrorist organisations.”

His aides say he is examining a possible amendment to existing laws to allow the government to put targeted proscription-style restrictions on the operations of state-linked organisations such as the IRGC. But this might take time to develop, and the Labour manifesto referred to a possible new regime for state-sponsored terrorism without identifying the IRGC.

David Cameron, Lammy’s predecessor as foreign secretary, withstood wide parliamentary pressure to proscribe the IRGC, arguing such a step could mean Tehran cutting off diplomatic relations with the UK, something Lord Cameron was reluctant to do since he valued the direct, if often angry, conversations with the then Iranian foreign minister.

On the election of Pezeshkian, Lammy said: “I’ve seen the development over the last 24 hours. I want to speak to other colleagues about that and what that really means on the ground, I think it’s a little bit early to say.”

Many Iranian experts disagree about the extent to which the president can influence the direction of foreign policy, or whether ultimately major strategic decisions are reserved by those around the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a sign that Iran’s overall outlook will initially change only at the margins, Pezeskhian sent a letter to Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, saying he was confident the resistance movements in the region would “not allow [Israel] to continue its warmongering and criminal policies against the oppressed people of Palestine and other nations of the region”.

He also told the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, that Iran was ready to sign a delayed comprehensive cooperation agreement with Moscow.

There is speculation Abbas Araghchi will be the foreign minister in the new government. He worked as the deputy to the former foreign minister Javad Zarif, who acted as Pezeshkian’s campaign aide.

On Monday Lammy met the Canadian foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, in London, the first foreign minister to meet him in the capital since his appointment. Last month Canada announced it would proscribe the IRGC. It had also proscribed the IRGC’s overseas arm, the al-Quds force.

Ottawa already has no diplomatic relations with Iran, so the sacrifice is not comparable to the step the UK would take.

The effect of proscription is that members and supporters, both moral and financial, are criminally liable if they help a proscribed organisation. In a paper last year Jonathan Hall, the UK’s adviser on terrorism law, argued the effect of proscribing the IRGC would be to accept, contrary to the UK’s longstanding policy position, that state forces and therefore states can be “concerned in terrorism” within the Terrorism Act 2000.

He suggested the 2000 law might then need amending to make it legitimate for states to use force in line with humanitarian law.

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United Airlines flight loses wheel during take-off in Los Angeles

The airline said there were no injuries and it was investigating the cause of the incident, after the flight landed safely at its destination in Denver

A United Airlines jet lost a landing-gear wheel during take off from Los Angeles, but was able to land safely in Denver, its planned destination, with no injuries, the airline said.

“The wheel has been recovered in Los Angeles, and we are investigating what caused this event,” United said in a statement on Monday. It was the second such incident for the airline this year.

The aircraft involved in Monday’s incident was a nearly 30-year-old Boeing 757-200, according to FlightRadar24 data, which was carrying 174 passengers and 7 crew members. Boeing ended production of the 757 in 2004.

In March, a United Airlines Boeing 777-200 jet headed for Japan lost a tire mid-air after takeoff from San Francisco, landing safely at Los Angeles International Airport.

The wheel landed on a car in an airport employee parking lot, breaking a car window, but no one was hurt.

Monday’s incident was the latest in a string of incidents involving United Airlines planes. One aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles international airport in March due to an issue with its hydraulic system. Elsewhere that month, another flight was attempting to land in Houston when it rolled off the taxiway and into the grass.

Also in March, a flight carrying 167 passengers made an emergency landing in Houston, after bright flames burst out of the engine of the United flight 1118, a Boeing 737-900 en route from Houston to Fort Myers, Florida.

US flight issues were catapulted into the headline in January, after a door plug blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 in mid-air, shortly after it took off from Portland Oregon, forcing it to make an emergency landing. Several people were injured.

In April, United Airlines blamed a $200m (£161m) hit to its earnings in the first three months of the year on the incident, saying the mid-flight blowout on rival Alaska airlines forced it to ground many of its Boeing planes, contributing to the losses.

With Maya Yang, Jack Simpson, Reuters and Associated Press

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Bob’s Burgers actor Jay Johnston pleads guilty over role in Capitol attack

Johnston, 54, faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to felony count of civil disorder from January 6 riot

Jay Johnston, an actor best known for his role on the animated comedy show Bob’s Burgers, has pleaded guilty to charges related to his role in the storming of the US Capitol in January 2021.

Johnston, 54, faces a maximum of five years in prison and pleaded guilty to a felony count of civil disorder. He was released on a $25,000 bond in June 2023 after an initial court appearance in California.

Johnston was also charged with felony obstruction of officers during civil disorder, unlawful entry on restricted buildings or grounds, and impeding passage through Capitol grounds.

Documents filed in court allege Johnston joined a mob of protesters attacking police. A video from the incident showed the actor take a shield from an officer and use it to push back law enforcement officers defending the Capitol.

Johnston “was close to the entrance to the tunnel, turned back and signaled for other rioters to come towards the entrance”, the charging documents stated. He also acknowledged his role in the Capitol riot, sending a text message that stated it “wasn’t” an attack but that it “kind of turned into that”.

“It was a mess,” another message said.

Three current or former associates of Johnston identified him as a suspect from photos the FBI published online, according to the agent. The FBI said one of those associates provided investigators with the text message in which Johnston acknowledged being at the Capitol on January 6.

Airline records also proved Johnston booked a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Washington DC, leaving on 4 January 2021 and returning on 7 January, according to FBI filings.

In addition to Bob’s Burgers, Johnston has appeared on HBO’s Mr Show with Bob and David and held smaller roles on the Fox sitcom Arrested Development. US district judge Carl Nichols is set to sentence Johnston on 7 October.

Also on Monday, a Texas woman pleaded guilty to assaulting a Metropolitan police department officer during the Capitol attack. Video captured Dana Jean Bell cursing at officers inside the Capitol and grabbing an officer’s baton, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.

Bell, 65, of Princeton, Texas, also was shown on video assaulting a local television journalist outside the Capitol that day. The FBI affidavit says Bell appeared to reach out and try to push or grab the journalist, who worked for the Fox affiliate in Washington DC.

Bell faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. US district judge Timothy Kelly is scheduled to sentence her on 17 October. Her estimated sentencing guidelines recommend a term of imprisonment of between two and two and a half years.

Approximately 1,000 people have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to the Capitol riot, according to the Associated Press, with more than half of those sentenced getting terms of imprisonment ranging from seven days to 18 years.

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