The Guardian 2024-07-10 16:13:08


Biden promises new air defenses for Ukraine in forceful Nato speech

Critical step for president in convincing foreign leaders he remains up to task of leading 32-member military alliance

Joe Biden has announced that Nato countries will provide Ukraine with five new strategic air defense systems as leaders began a summit in Washington where the alliance was expected to declare Ukraine’s path toward Nato to be “irreversible”.

The promise of weapons deliveries, including anti-air defenses sought after by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, came just a day after a deadly missile strike against a paediatric cancer hospital and other civilian targets in Ukraine that Biden called a “horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality”.

“All told, Ukraine will receive hundreds of additional interceptors over the next year, helping protect Ukrainian cities against Russian missiles and Ukrainian troops facing their attacks on the frontlines,” said Biden.

The headline speech was a critical step to convincing foreign leaders that Biden, 81, remains up to the task of leading the 32-member military alliance. It was also a key test in saving his presidential campaign following a disastrous debate against Donald Trump that led many in his own party to question his mental acuity.

In forceful tones, Biden said: “Before this war, Putin thought Nato would break. Today, Nato is stronger than it’s ever been in its history. When this senseless war began, Ukraine was a free country. Today it’s still a free country and the war will end with Ukraine remaining a free and independent country.”

“Russia will not prevail,” he said to rising applause. “Ukraine will prevail.”

In a speech later in the night, Zelenskiy urged US political leaders not to wait for the outcome of November’s presidential election to move forcefully to aid his country.

“Everyone is waiting for November. Americans are waiting for November, in Europe, Middle East, in the Pacific, the whole world is looking towards November and, truly speaking, Putin awaits November too.

“It is time to step out of the shadows, to make strong decisions … to act and not to wait for November or any other month,” Zelenskiy said.

It was announced on Tuesday that the US and its European allies would act to bolster Ukraine’s air defences at a time when the country is under constant heavy bombardment from Russia.

The US, Germany and Romania would send additional batteries of the Patriot air defence system while Patriot components donated by the Netherlands would enable another battery to operate, according to a statement by the leaders of the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Romania.

The Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, approved the donation of a Italian-French-made equivalent of the Patriot interceptor, the SAMP/T air defence system.

“These five strategic air defence systems will help to protect Ukrainian cities, civilians, and soldiers, and we are coordinating closely with the Ukrainian government so that these systems can be utilised rapidly,” the statement said. “We are working on a further announcement this year of additional strategic air defence systems for Ukraine.”

As well the medium range Patriot and SAMP/T systems, the US and its allies said they would provide Ukraine with dozens of shorter-range tactical systems, including the US-Norwegian made NASAMS, US-made Hawks, Iris systems made by a European consortium and German Gepard missiles.

Britain’s new prime minister, Keir Starmer, and Zelenskiy, were among those arriving at the US capital amid a warning that Russia could step up missile strikes on Ukraine this week, repeating a barrage that killed at least 38 on Monday.

Diplomats said that a final communique would probably declare Ukraine’s path to Nato to be “irreversible” and to move control of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the main conduit for delivering military aid and training to Ukraine, under Nato control.

Those steps are widely seen as an attempt to “Trump-proof” Nato policies from the potential for a new Republican administration to cut aid to Ukraine, or possibly to make it contingent on holding direct negotiations with Russia.

Despite the communique, there will be no meaningful progress on Ukraine joining Nato in Washington, although alliance members will seek to dress up the latest package of support as part of what is described as “a bridge to membership”.

Holdouts including the US, Hungary, Germany and Italy are concerned that allowing Ukraine to join Nato while the war with Russia continues would be considered an escalation that could bring the alliance into direct conflict with Moscow. Even a more limited form of what could be considered direct military intervention in support of Kyiv attracts similar concerns.

On Tuesday, Zelenskiy said he hoped Trump would not quit Nato and would keep supporting Ukraine, if he won in November, but he could not predict the former president’s actions.

“I can’t tell you what he will do, if he will be the president of the United States. I don’t know,” he said.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s outgoing secretary general, speaking immediately before Biden, sought to justify continued US and western support for Ukraine by arguing that “the biggest cost and the greatest risk will be if Russia wins in Ukraine”. Authoritarian leaders in China, North Korea and Iran would all feel emboldened if Russia conquered its neighbour, he added, describing the war as a struggle over values.

“They all support Russia’s brutal war. They all want Nato to fail. So the outcome of this war will shape global security for decades to come. The time to stand for freedom and democracy is now the place is Ukraine,” the Nato chief added. Biden subsequently awarded Stoltenberg, the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US.

In remarks to the Guardian, Ruslan Stefanchuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, said that the strike on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital should be a “turning point” in the war and lead to great supplies of anti-air weapons to Ukraine.

“I believe that what happened today must be a turning point to change everyone’s attitude to what is happening in Ukraine, and I believe that without the F-16 fighter jets, without the new air defence systems, without the ammunition for those systems, we won’t be able to cover the skies to defend Ukraine,” he said.

Elsewhere at the summit, several high-ranking European officials have met with a top foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump.

Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general who served as the chief of staff to Trump’s national security council, told Reuters he had met several European officials in recent days, including foreign ministers, but did not disclose their identities.

Kellogg, who is in regular contact with Trump, has emphasised that he does not speak for the former president nor his campaign.

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White House releases more details on Biden’s health after press room shouting match

White House physician clarifies in letter that Biden has not seen a neurologist outside of his annual physicals

The White House clarified on Monday that Joe Biden has not seen a neurologist outside of his annual physicals, following a heated exchange between the president’s press secretary and journalists seeking an explanation for why a Parkinson’s disease specialist visited the White House eight times in as many months.

In an evening letter the White House physician, Kevin O’Connor, said the specialist, Kevin Cannard, has been a neurology consultant to the White House medical unit since 2012. He said Cannard had visited multiple times a year since then, and that the neurologist was chosen for his breadth of experience and expertise.

“Seeing patients at the White House is something that Dr Cannard has been doing for a dozen years,” O’Connor wrote. “Dr Cannard was chosen for this responsibility not because he is a movement disorder specialist, but because he is a highly trained and highly regarded neurologist here at Walter Reed and across the Military Health System, with a very wide expertise which makes him flexible to see a variety of patients and problems.”

He added that Cannard was the neurologist who had examined Biden for his three annual physicals since becoming president.

Biden’s last medical examination in February had not shown “any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or ascending lateral sclerosis, nor are there any signs of cervical myelopathy”, O’Connor wrote.

The letter, which O’Connor said he was releasing with the permission of both Biden and Cannard, followed intense speculation about the president’s cognitive powers following last month’s stumbling performance in a debate with Donald Trump in Atlanta, in which he repeatedly appeared confused and lost his train of thought.

It was released after Karine Jean-Pierre, the president’s press secretary, sparred with reporters in the White House briefing room in an exchange during which she asked them for “respect” and declined to confirm Cannard’s name, even though it had already been reported in multiple media outlets.

“There are thousands of military personnel that come to the White House and they are under the care of the medical unit,” she said.

“The president has seen a neurologist three times,” she added, and continued that there were “no findings which would be consistent with any cerebellar or other central neurological disorders such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or ascending lateral sclerosis”.

She said Biden was not being treated or taking medication for Parkinson’s disease.

O’Connor’s letter may not be enough to quell the suspicions over Biden’s health and fitness to serve, amid revelations that he is a former business associate and longtime friend of the president’s family. Politico reported that he introduced Biden’s brother, Jim Biden, to a military-focused medical team in 2017, at a time when he was pursuing a business venture aimed at securing veterans’ affairs contracts, and the president’s sister-in-law, Sara Biden, has also described O’Connor as a friend who has dispensed medical advice to the family.

Jacob Appel, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, told Politico that presidential doctors could not necessarily be relied on to disclose the truth about their distinguished patients.

“Presidents’ doctors have deceived the public going back to the early 19th century,” said Appel, who has studied the medical dilemmas of multiple doctors acting for US presidents. “There are plenty of ways of saying something that are factually accurate that don’t convey the full sense of what’s going on.”

Speculation about matters relating to Biden that might not previously have been scrutinized before his poor debate showing has grown, such as the recent disclosure that his staff prepares memos, complete with large print and photos, mapping out his path to the podium for public engagements, though the campaign emphasised that such materials are prepared for all presidents.

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Russia issues arrest warrant for Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Alexei Navalny

Two-month detention order imposed on exiled dissident Yulia Navalnaya for participating in ‘extremist’ group

Russia has issued an arrest warrant for Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny and a leading dissident living in exile, imposing a two-month detention order on grounds that she participated in an “extremist” group.

The warrant was issued in absentia by a Moscow court on Tuesday, five months after Navalny died in a Russian Arctic penal colony. Navalnaya held the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, responsible for her husband’s death.

In Russia, the label “extremist” is routinely applied to dissident or independent civic groups by courts, which typically carry out the wishes of the Kremlin in political cases.

Since Navalny’s death, Navalnaya has lived in an undisclosed location outside Russia with the couple’s two children. Writing on the X social media platform on Tuesday she told her supporters not to be distracted by the court order against her, but to focus on the broader campaign against Putin.

“When you write about this, please don’t forget to write the main thing: Vladimir Putin is a murderer and a war criminal,” Navalnaya wrote.

“His place is in prison, and not somewhere in The Hague, in a cosy cell with a TV, but in Russia – in the same (penal) colony and the same 2 by 3 metre cell in which he killed Alexei.”

Navalny was serving a 19-year prison sentence in the Russian Arctic for his leading role in opposition to Putin. In August 2020 he fell violently ill on a Russian internal flight, as a result of poisoning with the nerve agent novichok. He was evacuated to Germany for emergency medical care and recovered. On 17 January 2021, Navalny returned to Russia by plane from Germany and was detained on landing in Moscow.

Three days after Navalny’s death in custody, the 47-year-old Navalnaya took on his mantle of leadership, broadcasting a nine-minute video message vowing to continue his resistance to Putin’s dictatorial rule.

“I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work … I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” she said in the video. “I call on you to stand with me. To share not only grief and endless pain … I ask you to share with me the rage. The fury, anger, hatred for those who dare to kill our future.”

Navalnaya, an economist, accused the Russian state of poisoning her husband with the nerve agent novichok and hiding his body, blocking access until traces of the poison wore away.

Since taking up the opposition leadership in February, Navalnaya has met a succession of world leaders, including Joe Biden. Last week, a US-based advocacy group, the Human Rights Foundation, named her as its chair, and she said she would use the position to step up the struggle with Putin.

During Russian elections in March this year, Navalnaya called for mass protests against Putin by forming long queues at midday, overwhelming polling stations in a campaign that came to be known as “noon against Putin”.

Navalnaya was a close confidante to her husband and regularly consulted him on his political campaigns and opposition movement. But she is a reluctant public figure and the relentless pressure on the opposition has made it difficult for Navalny’s movement to regain momentum after his death.

Also on Tuesday, the family of Vladimir Kara-Murza, another top critic of Putin, said that he had disappeared in a Russian prison. Supporters said that Kara-Murza, who suffers from complications of poisoning, had last been seen by his lawyers on 2 July. He was reported transferred to a prison hospital on 4 July and has since been held incommunicado. “In the wake of the murder of Alexei Navalny in detention, there are now growing fears that Kara-Murza’s life is in danger,” wrote the Free Russia foundation.

Kara-Murza is serving a 25-year prison sentence for treason and other charges that he has said were motivated by his criticism of Putin. Days after Navalny’s death, Russian journalists warned that Kara-Murza could die if he was held in a Russian prison.

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Israeli strike on Khan Younis shelter kills at least 25 amid surge in Gaza fighting

The IDF is reviewing the airstrike in Abassan after confirming an attack using ‘precision munitions’, which Gaza officials say left a number of women and children dead

  • See all our Israel-Gaza war coverage

An Israeli airstrike on a school-turned-shelter in southern Gaza has killed at least 25 people, according to Palestinian officials, as a stepped-up military offensive in the territory sent thousands fleeing in search of refuge.

The airstrike on Tuesday afternoon hit the tents of displaced families outside a school in the town of Abassan, east of Khan Younis. An Associated Press reporter who counted the bodies at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis said 25 people were killed. Health officials said the dead included at least seven women and children.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement: “A warplane, using precision munitions, attacked a terrorist from the military wing of Hamas who participated in the hideous massacre on October 7th.”

The IDF said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed and that the incident was under investigation.

The area hit was crowded at the time of the attack, according to witnesses who spoke to the BBC, on of whom reported that as many as 3,000 people were packed into the area at the time of the strike.

Another person told the broadcaster there had been no prior warning of a strike.

Tuesday’s strike comes a week after the IDF ordered a mass evacuation of parts of southern Gaza. Much of Khan Younis was destroyed in a long assault this year, but large numbers of Palestinians had moved back to escape another Israeli offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah.

Elsewhere, Palestinians across the territory reported an increase in heavy airstrikes this week, with residents of the central Gaza City describing helicopter strikes, explosions and gun battles, as Israel expanded its two-week-old offensive in Shuja’iya, an eastern neighbourhood, moving tanks into areas of the city where Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters have regrouped.

Ismail Al-Thawabta, the director of the Hamas-run Gaza government media office, said Israeli strikes on central Gaza areas killed 60 Palestinians and wounded dozens of others on Tuesday. The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of several districts in eastern and western Gaza City.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its crews received dozens of humanitarian distress calls from Gaza City but were unable to help due to the intensity of the bombing there.

On Wednesday, Israel announced that a soldier had been killed in fighting in central Gaza. Israeli soldiers were engaged in close-quarter combat with militants in Gaza city, the IDF said in an earlier statement.

The last few days of airstrikes on the blockaded Palestinian territory are some of the fiercest since the war broke out after Hamas attacked southern Israel on 7 October. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, described the fighting as “the most intense in months”.

The new fighting has unfolded as international mediators make headway in ceasefire negotiations after a major concession from Hamas last week, when the group dropped its insistence on a “complete” ceasefire as a prerequisite for talks.

Mediation efforts led by Egypt, Qatar and the US have since accelerated, with Egyptian media reporting that talks are due to continue in Doha and Cairo this week, attended by the CIA director, William Burns, and Israel’s Mossad chief, David Barnea. “There is an agreement over many points,” a senior source told al-Qahera news on Tuesday.

But speaking on Monday night, the group’s Qatar-based political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, said that the “catastrophic consequences” of the latest battles on the ground in Gaza could “reset the negotiation process to square one”. The group has also accused Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of deliberately trying to thwart the truce talks.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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US Gaza aid pier to be permanently dismantled after operating for just 20 days – reports

Pier, which has delivered the equivalent of a single day’s pre-war land aid deliveries in two months, will reportedly be removed in a few days’ time

A US military pier, built two months ago as a way to bring sea-borne humanitarian aid into Gaza, is to be permanently dismantled within a few days, according to a new report.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that the pier, which has had to be moved repeatedly to avoid bad weather, would be reconnected to the Gaza coastline on Wednesday but would operate for just the next few days before being disassembled by the US army and navy.

The AP quoted unnamed officials as saying that the pier would be put back in place only long enough to move humanitarian supplies which have accumulated in Cyprus and on a floating dock offshore since the pier went out of action on 28 June as a result of weather conditions.

The chief Pentagon spokesperson, Maj Gen Pat Ryder, said on Tuesday that the pier was currently at the Israeli port of Ashdod, the haven used during bad weather, but added: “My understanding is that CENTCOM [US Central Command] intends to tentatively re-anchor the pier this week.”

Ryder did not comment on the longer term prospects for the pier. Aid workers familiar with the project had been predicting for weeks that the pier would not survive beyond July.

The pier scheme, first unveiled by Joe Biden in his State of the Union address in March, was always intended to be a temporary measure to complement the meagre amount of aid being allowed across land crossings by Israel, but US officials told Reuters in June it would last until August or September.

The eastern Mediterranean off the Gaza coast had been choppier in the summer months than had been expected with stormy weather making it necessary to move the pier in and out of position repeatedly.

Since it was first manoeuvred into position on 17 May, the pier has been operational for fewer than 20 days, and for most of those days, aid deliveries were simply unloaded on the beach without being distributed around Gaza because of security concerns.

The World Food Programme (WFP) suspended distribution convoys on 9 June, after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted a hostage rescue operation that saved four Israeli hostages but killed 274 Palestinians. Apart from a day’s operations to clear the backlog of humanitarian assistance on the beach, the WFP has continued to suspend its convoys pending a full security review.

Over its two months in operation, about 8,800 metric tons of aid has been unloaded off the pier, about 500 truckloads, equivalent to a single day of deliveries before the war began.

Critics of the scheme warned that the spectacular $230m project would divert attention from the international effort to pressure Israel to open the land crossings into Gaza, the most efficient means of delivering assistance to the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, more than a quarter of whom are in imminent danger of famine.

Land deliveries have dwindled dramatically since Israel launched an offensive on the southern border city of Rafah in May. According to UN figures, the number of trucks entering Gaza through two remaining open crossings, Keren Shalom and Erez West, fell from 840 in May, to 756 in June to only 18 so far in July.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) referred questions about the pier’s future to the defence department but a spokesperson added: “What we continue to focus on is getting urgently needed aid to people in need across Gaza through all available mechanisms.”

“Ashdod port is open for humanitarian deliveries and we expect humanitarians will increasingly use this route,” the spokesperson said.

“Erez West and Kerem Shalom are also open, though insecurity and kinetic operations are constraining onward distributions within Gaza. The United States is actively involved in discussions with Israel, the UN, and other humanitarian organizations to determine ways to overcome these constraints and allow assistance to reach people in desperate need.”

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Japan adds ‘most severe’ category to its heatstroke index amid deadly summer

Hospitals are stretched to their limits during unseasonably early heatwave, as medical authorities liken public health risk to a ‘natural disaster’

Medical experts in Japan are to add a “most severe” category to the current heatstroke index, amid warnings that the extreme heat is straining medical services and causing damage to public health comparable to that in a “natural disaster”.

The Japanese Association for Acute Medicine said it would add a fourth category to the three-level classification later this year in an attempt to reduce deaths from heatstroke.

The announcement came in the same week as authorities in Tokyo said six people had died from the effects of a heatwave that has sent temperatures as high as 40C in some parts of the country – well above the 35C threshold classified by weather officials as “extremely hot”.

The association said the death toll from heat exhaustion had risen from a few hundred a year two decades ago to around 1,500 in 2022. The sheer number of fatalities suggests that heatstroke now poses a danger on par with that of “a major natural disaster”, it said, while urging people not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.

In its index, the least serious classification is mild heatstroke – associated with symptoms such as dizziness and profuse sweating. Next come moderate cases, where symptoms include headaches and vomiting, according to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

The third level is severe, where patients can lose consciousness and experience convulsions, while the new “most severe” category will apply to people with a core temperature of 40C or higher and an inability to communicate.

Tokyo authorities have urged people to avoid physical activity as the environment ministry issued “danger”-level alerts in response to days of temperatures in the upper 30s.

“Cooling shelters” have been set up around the capital to offer respite from the heat and humidity. Hisako Ichiuji, a 60-year-old woman who was taking a break at a shelter near Tokyo Tower, described the heat as “a life-threatening emergency”.

The shelters are part of a scheme adopted this year to allow people to enter libraries and other public buildings equipped with air conditioners to cool off after heat warnings have been issued.

“The temperature wasn’t like this in the past,” Ichiuji said. “I think it’s important to keep ourselves hydrated, and take shelter in a facility like this.”

Around Japan, several people had died since the heatwave intensified last week, according to reports, including an 86-year-old farmer in the country’s south-west whose body was found in a field surrounded by towels and bottles of water.

The fire and disaster management agency said the number of people taken to hospital for heatstroke during the week ending Sunday had quadrupled from the previous week, as Tokyo and other areas experienced record temperatures for this time of the year.

Just over 9,000 people sought emergency care for suspected heatstroke nationwide, the Japan Times reported, citing the agency – more than twice the number during the same period last year.

The extreme heat in Japan – a result of global heating and a strong high-pressure system in the South Pacific – poses a particularly serious threat to the country’s large population of people aged over 64, who accounted for almost 60% of emergency hospital visits for heatstroke last week.

In the capital’s Minato ward, authorities this week sent residents a message warning that the Tokyo fire department, which operates the capital’s ambulance service, was “under pressure”. They added: “Please take care of your health and use ambulances appropriately.”

Tokyo resident Sumiko Yamamoto, 75, said she felt the city had got “drastically hotter” since last year. “I find it difficult to survive without the AC on,” she said. “Using the advice given on TV, I try to stay hydrated. And because I’m old, I’m being careful not to collapse.”

According to the Tokyo fire department, ambulance callouts rise significantly when the temperature is in the 25C-35C range and humidity is between 50% and 80%.

Agencies contributed reporting.

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Samsung Electronics workers to extend strike indefinitely

Campaign for better pay and benefits ramped up, says union representing about 30,000 staff in South Korea

Thousands of workers in South Korea have pledged to extend the first-ever strike at Samsung Electronics indefinitely, ramping up a campaign for better pay and benefits at one of the world’s largest smartphone and AI chip makers.

A union representing about 30,000 staff – about a quarter of its employees in South Korea – said members were extending industrial action that was originally meant to last only three days, after management failed to give any indication that it would hold talks with them.

“We haven’t spoken to management since we started the strike on Monday,” the National Samsung Electronics Union vice-president, Lee Hyun-kuk, said.

Members are demanding a 3.5% increase in base salary and a day off to mark the union’s founding. Lee said management previously offered a 3% rise in base salary but the union is pushing for an extra 0.5% to reflect inflation.

Lee said about 6,500 workers had been taking part in the strike this week, and the union was holding training sessions to encourage more to join. The union said it was already disrupting production on certain chip lines, with some equipment running more slowly.

“We are confident of our victory,” the union statement said.

However, Samsung denied the claims, saying there had been no impact on production at the leading subsidiary of the South Korean group. “Samsung Electronics will ensure no disruptions occur in the production lines. The company remains committed to engaging in good faith negotiations with the union,” the company said in a statement.

Rounds of talks were held between union members and management earlier this year but failed to result in an agreement. It resulted in some union members using their annual leave to hold a one-day walkout in June that was believed to be the first labour strike at Samsung Electronics.

It comes amid a fresh wave of union activity at major tech multinationals that have been in tense standoffs with workers over working conditions.

That includes Amazon, where workers at its Coventry warehouse in the UK started voting in a “historic” trade union recognition ballot that could allow employees of the online retailer in Britain to bargain collectively for rights and pay for the first time.

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Samsung Electronics workers to extend strike indefinitely

Campaign for better pay and benefits ramped up, says union representing about 30,000 staff in South Korea

Thousands of workers in South Korea have pledged to extend the first-ever strike at Samsung Electronics indefinitely, ramping up a campaign for better pay and benefits at one of the world’s largest smartphone and AI chip makers.

A union representing about 30,000 staff – about a quarter of its employees in South Korea – said members were extending industrial action that was originally meant to last only three days, after management failed to give any indication that it would hold talks with them.

“We haven’t spoken to management since we started the strike on Monday,” the National Samsung Electronics Union vice-president, Lee Hyun-kuk, said.

Members are demanding a 3.5% increase in base salary and a day off to mark the union’s founding. Lee said management previously offered a 3% rise in base salary but the union is pushing for an extra 0.5% to reflect inflation.

Lee said about 6,500 workers had been taking part in the strike this week, and the union was holding training sessions to encourage more to join. The union said it was already disrupting production on certain chip lines, with some equipment running more slowly.

“We are confident of our victory,” the union statement said.

However, Samsung denied the claims, saying there had been no impact on production at the leading subsidiary of the South Korean group. “Samsung Electronics will ensure no disruptions occur in the production lines. The company remains committed to engaging in good faith negotiations with the union,” the company said in a statement.

Rounds of talks were held between union members and management earlier this year but failed to result in an agreement. It resulted in some union members using their annual leave to hold a one-day walkout in June that was believed to be the first labour strike at Samsung Electronics.

It comes amid a fresh wave of union activity at major tech multinationals that have been in tense standoffs with workers over working conditions.

That includes Amazon, where workers at its Coventry warehouse in the UK started voting in a “historic” trade union recognition ballot that could allow employees of the online retailer in Britain to bargain collectively for rights and pay for the first time.

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Ukraine’s emergency services have reported that in the last day they attended 23 fires in the Kherson region which were the result of enemy attacks.

Deforestation in Colombia falls to lowest level in 23 years

Government reports 36% decrease, with most gains in Amazon forest where conservation efforts are focused

Deforestation in Colombia fell sharply in 2023 to its lowest level in 23 years, the country’s environment ministry has said.

The amount of forest loss fell from 1,235 sq km in 2022 to 792 sq km in 2023 – a 36% decrease, official figures revealed.

Most of the environmental gains were in the Amazon rainforest, where the Colombian government is focusing much of its conservation efforts.

“It is a truly iconic year in this fight against deforestation,” Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister, told journalists in Bogotá.

Deforestation in Colombia rose to a record high in 2017 after the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Farc, demobilised, leaving a power vacuum in the country’s forests.

Runaway deforestation has since been reined in and reversed under Gustavo Petro’s government, the first leftist administration in Colombia’s history.

The Petro government has made conserving the Amazon through increased surveillance and launching new sustainable projects a key priority and called for rich nations to cancel foreign debt in exchange for slowing climate change.

The two main successes in protecting Colombia’s forests have been reaching agreements where farmers are paid to protect the land and negotiations with armed groups who are the de facto authority in deforestation hotspots.

“We have identified that there is a direct association between peace and the outcome of deforestation. Peaceful conditions lead to reduced deforestation,” Muhamad told reporters.

Last year marked the second successive year of falling deforestation in Colombia. Official figures show forest loss has decreased 54% between 2021 and 2023, well above the national target of 20%.

The Andean nation, which is the world’s second most biodiverse, is seeking to position itself as a global leader in the fight to halt climate change and will host the Cop16 biodiversity conference in the city of Cali this year.

Muhamad said that the figures for 2024 did not look as promising due to the El Niño phenomenon that causes hotter, drier conditions in the Amazon, and has been pushing deforestation higher this year.

Equally concerning, say experts, is the breakdown of negotiations with the Central General Staff (EMC), a key group of armed rebels which controls vast swathes of the rainforest.

The armed rebels U-turned on their policy of outlawing deforestation in November, instead permitting and even encouraging the practice.

“We will see this reflected in the deforestation figures for this year as the EMC have been limiting access of state officials into the forests and pressuring local communities to cut down trees,” said Angelica Rojas, a liaison officer for the Guaviare department at the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS), a Colombian environmental thinktank.

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Man in China caught smuggling 100 live snakes in his trousers

Traveller stopped by customs as he sought to slip out of Hong Kong into the border city of Shenzhen

A man has been caught trying to smuggle more than 100 live snakes into mainland China by cramming them into his trousers, according to the country’s customs authority.

The unnamed traveller was stopped by customs officers as he sought to slip out of semi-autonomous Hong Kong and into the border city of Shenzhen, China Customs said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Upon inspection, customs officers discovered that the pockets of the trousers the passenger was wearing were packed with six canvas drawstring bags and sealed with tape,” the statement said.

“Once opened, each bag was found to contain living snakes in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours,” it added.

The statement said officers seized 104 of the reptiles, including milk snakes and corn snakes, many of which were non-native species.

An accompanying video showed two border agents peering into transparent plastic bags filled with squirming red, pink and white snakes.

China is one of the world’s biggest animal trafficking hubs, but authorities have cracked down on the illicit trade in recent years.

The country’s biosecurity and disease control laws forbid people from bringing in non-native species without permission.

“Those who break the rules will be … held liable in accordance with the law,” the customs authority said, without specifying the man’s punishment.

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Record number of journalists killed in Pakistan already this year

Seventh and most recent victim was ambushed while driving, as most cases thought likely to be work-related

Seven reporters have been killed in Pakistan in the first six months of 2024, a record annual number with half a year still to go.

The most recent victim was Khalil Jibran, a former president of a local press club in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan. He died in June when the car he was driving was ambushed by two men who dragged him out and shot him multiple times.

Adil Jawad, who works for an organisation that investigates journalist killings, said at least four of the seven cases – which involved traditional journalists and citizen reporters – were likely to have been work-related.

Most of the deaths have taken place in smaller towns and cities, where the role of social media in amplifying the profile of professional journalists and giving a platform to citizen reporters has been most keenly felt.

Jawad said the attacks were taking place in the context of “widespread impunity” for perpetrators.

The Freedom Network, which advocates for press freedoms, said 53 journalists were killed because of their work between 2012 and 2022, and that over the same time frame only two cases resulted in culprits being punished.

Citizen journalism has grown significantly in Pakistan in recent years, fuelled by the rise of social media and curbs on the mainstream press. Laypeople have taken it upon themselves to cover the worsening law and order situation and corruption in the ruling elite.

In late May, Nasrullah Gadani, a journalist known for holding local politicians, land owners and feudal lords to account in his reporting, was killed in the Badin district of Sindh province, setting off a wave of protests. His brother Yaqoob Gadani alleged that Khalid Lund, a local member of parliament, masterminded the killing. Lund has denied the allegations.

Just three days before Gadani’s death, another journalist, Kamran Dawar, was killed in the North Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Responding to those deaths, Anthony Bellanger, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said at the time: “Journalists and media workers in Pakistan have a constitutional right to freedom of expression, however this is undermined by targeted attacks, assaults, and killings. Authorities must ensure that the media is free to work without fear of retribution and ensure that these killings are subject to an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation.”

Pakistan dropped two places in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, to 152 out of 180 countries. The index said Pakistan was “one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished”.

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Hip-hop band Cypress Hill makes 1996 Simpsons joke come true

London Symphony Orchestra to play Black Sunday album at Royal Albert Hall decades after featuring on TV show

They might be more used to Rachmaninov and Brahms, but on Wednesday night the London Symphony Orchestra’s musicians will be showcasing their perfect crescendos while playing Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain.

The orchestra is making a Simpsons joke from 1996 finally a reality, by playing the US hip-hop trio Cypress Hill’s acclaimed Black Sunday album at the Royal Albert Hall.

The evening will riff on a joke featured in a Simpsons episode, in which Cypress Hill speculated that they had mistakenly booked the London Symphony Orchestra “possibly while high”.

After years of fan pressure, the group tweeted the clip with “what if” posted underneath to the LSO over social media and struck a deal for a one-night performance in London, in which the LSO will perform its most famous songs, including Insane in the Brain and I Wanna Get High.

Considered pioneers of the West Coast hip-hop scene in the 1990s, Cypress Hill have sold more than 20m albums worldwide. Their hit Black Sunday album sold more than 3m copies in the US and spent a year in the UK charts.

B-Real (real name Louis Mario Freese) told the BBC: “It’s been something that we’ve talked about for many years since the Simpsons episode first aired. So it’s very special for us. And it’s coming off the heels of our 30th anniversary for our Black Sunday album.

“We’ve played a lot of historical venues throughout our career and stuff like that, but nothing as prestigious as this.”

B-Real added that Cypress Hill had always reached for experimental collaborations as “out-of-the-box artists”, including combining hip-hop with rock or metal or punk or reggae or electronic music.

He added: “We salute the Simpsons because if they had not written that episode, we probably wouldn’t be doing this.”

In the Simpsons episode, titled Homerpalooza, Homer tries to impress Bart and Lisa by going to the Hullabalooza music festival – a play on the Lollapalooza music festival held in Chicago – and hanging out with 1990s rap and rock stars including Cypress Hill and The Smashing Pumpkins.

In the episode, a crew member calls “somebody ordered”, adding “possibly while high … Cypress Hill, I’m looking in your direction”. This is followed by a rendition of Insane in the Brain, complete with the classic orchestral backing.

Cypress Hill have also invited the UK musician Peter Frampton, who features in the episode as the person trying to book the orchestra, although they are still waiting for a reply.

The LSO first violin and board vice-chair, Maxine Kwok, told the BBC that it was an important cultural reference and that “people are beyond excited at the idea of these diverse musicians mixing on the stage”.

She said: “Being a child of the 90s I remember the episode well.”

At rehearsals there have been cultural differences, for example the LSO understood the word “glock” to mean the percussion instrument the glockenspiel, rather than a gun.

The Simpsons has previously predicted future events, including Trump’s presidency, a tiger attack on the Las Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy, and the US beating Sweden to win its first Winter Olympic Curling gold.

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