The Guardian 2024-07-10 20:12:49


Britain’s new prime minister, Keir Starmer, indicated that Ukraine can use long-range missiles supplied by the UK to strike military targets in Russia, AFP reported.

Starmer told reporters that decisions on the use of British-supplied Storm Shadow missiles were for the Ukrainian armed forces.

UK military aid is “for defensive purposes but it is for Ukraine to decide how to deploy it for those defensive purposes,” he said.

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

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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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Zelenskiy says world can stop ‘Russian terror’ after attack on Kyiv children’s hospital

Rescue efforts continue after strikes that killed 38 people, as Ukraine president renews call for more air defences

Rescuers have continued to dig through the rubble of a children’s hospital in Kyiv after a wave of devastating Russian missile strikes across the country on Monday that killed 38 people, including four children.

On the eve of a Nato summit in Washington, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, renewed his call for more air defences and said the world had the “necessary strength” to stop what he called “Russian terror”. The US president, Joe Biden, who is expected to meet Zelenskiy, described the strike as a “horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality”.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said missile fragments recovered from the scene, as well as flight path data, showed Moscow had targeted Okhmatdyt children’s hospital with a Kh-101 cruise missile. It ploughed into a two-storey building, killing a 30-year-old doctor named Svitlana Lukianchuk, a paediatric nephrologist, and the mother of a patient.

The SBU’s chief, Vasyl Maliuk, promised “maximum retribution” against the Russians involved in planning and executing the attacks, which took place in the capital in the middle of the morning, and in the cities of Dnipro and Kryvyi Rih. “A terrorist state is not an abstract concept. There are specific names of murderers. Nothing will save them from justice,” he said.

On Tuesday, volunteers, the fire brigade, police and soldiers continued to sift through a sea of masonry. One wing, home to the hospital’s dialysis unit, was entirely obliterated. Furniture, cuddly toys and desks were piled up on a pavement. Windows in the main building were blown out. The heads of 32 diplomatic missions in Kyiv toured the dust-covered ruins, amid widespread international outrage.

Donations to rebuild the shattered complex have reached £5.7m, Ukrainian media reported.

“We were in the middle of an operation. Our patient was a two-year-old girl,” said Iryna Filimonova, head nurse on the hospital’s urology ward. “There was a huge explosion. We looked at each other and carried on.” Her colleague Liudmyla Puzko said she had sheltered in the corridor, adding: “This was an act of incredible baseness. Children are not guilty of anything.”

The hospital was no longer able to function, Filimonova said. Its 2,000 staff treated children from across Ukraine, with a six-month waiting list for appointments and surgery, she said. On Tuesday, Zelenskiy said all patients had been transferred to other medical institutions. They included children who were being treated for cancer, who took cover in a basement. A maternity hospital nearby was also hit.

Zelenskiy said 190 people had been injured and 64 hospitalised as a result of Monday’s country-wide attacks. “I am grateful to everyone who is rescuing and caring for our people, to everyone involved, and to everyone who is helping,” he wrote on social media, adding: “We continue our work to increase the protection of our cities and communities from Russian terror.”

Kyiv’s mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko, said rescuers on Tuesday found the bodies of two woman buried under the rubble of a residential house. Other local victims were named as 10-year-old Maksym Symaniuk, his nine-year-old younger sister Nastia, and their mother, Zoriana. Makysym was keen on karate, friends said. The family was killed at home in their apartment, the mayor added.

Zelenskiy and other senior Ukrainian officials have expressed frustration at restrictions imposed by the Biden administration on the use of US-supplied weapons at targets inside Russia. The White House in May allowed Kyiv for the first time to attack enemy troops and weapons systems in locations just across the border, in Russia’s Belgorod region, that were used as a staging post for raids into Kharkiv oblast but Ukraine cannot use long-range artillery to take out the Russian military airfields, which took part in Monday’s and other attacks.

Anton Geraschenko, a former adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, said Putin had ordered the strikes to send a message to western leaders. It told them they were “weak” and said the Nato summit would “not change anything”. It also reinforced the idea Ukraine should capitulate since “nobody will protect you,” he suggested.

Russia’s state media largely ignored the attack on the children’s hospital. There was criticism by Zelenskiy of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who met Putin on Monday. Modi appeared to offer a rebuke of sorts, saying that the death of innocent children was painful and terrifying. But he stopped short of criticising Moscow, or blaming it directly.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, claimed a Ukrainian interceptor missile was responsible for the hospital strike, even though video footage clearly shows a Russian Kh-101 missile moments before impact. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, said Ukraine was staging “a PR operation steeped in blood” ahead of the Nato summit.

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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 31 amid surge in Gaza fighting

IDF reviewing airstrike after confirming an attack using ‘precision munitions’, which Gaza officials say killed eight children

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An Israeli airstrike on the entrance of a school-turned-shelter in southern Gaza has killed at least 31 people 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. Officials at the nearby Nasser hospital said on Wednesday that 31 people had been killed, including eight children, and more than 50 wounded.

Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera showed children playing football in the school’s yard when a sudden boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

The Israeli military said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with “precise munition” a Hamas fighter who took part in the 7 October raid on Israel that precipitated the Israeli assault on Gaza.

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

Further Israeli strikes in the early hours of Wednesday morning killed at least 20 Palestinians. Associated Press reported that 12 people had been killed in the Nuseirat refugee camp and eight at a home in Deir al-Balah, an area that is located within the “humanitarian safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinians to seek refuge as it conducts offensives in multiple parts of the Gaza Strip.

Last week, the the Israel Defence Forces (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.

The militant group Hamas said the renewed Israeli campaign had killed more than 60 Palestinians across the territory on Tuesday alone.

This week, Israeli troops have also been waging a new ground assault in Gaza City in the north of the territory – its latest effort to battle Hamas militants regrouping in areas the army previously said had been largely cleared.

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.

“The fighting has been intense,” Hakeem Abdel-Bar, who fled Gaza City’s Tuffah district to the home of relatives in another part of the city, told the Associated Press. Israeli warplanes and drones were “striking anything moving” and that tanks had moved into central districts, he said.

According to the United Nations’ humanitarian office, ‘‘only 13 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning, and those only partially’’.

“People have been observed fleeing in multiple directions, not knowing which way may be safest,” the agency said in a statement. It said the largest UN bakery in the city was forced to close, and that the fighting had blocked aid groups from accessing warehouses.

The Israeli military said that one overnight attack in Gaza City targeted Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets operating from inside the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinians, Unrwa. The agency has not had control of the building since October. Israeli forces said in February they had found a Hamas tunnel underneath the headquarters.

The military said the militants were “operating inside Unrwa’s headquarters in the area and using it as a base to conduct attacks on IDF troops in the central Gaza Strip”.

It said that militants had been “eliminated” and “large amounts of weapons” found.

Unrwa had no immediate comment on the attack, but has said it has “no way to verify” claims that its facilities are being used by Hamas and its allies.

The last few days of airstrikes on the blockaded Palestinian territory are some of the fiercest since the war broke out. 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 led by Egypt, Qatar and the US make a renewed effort to push through a proposed ceasefire deal. Talks are due to continue in Doha and Cairo this week, attended by the CIA director, William Burns, and the Mossad chief, David Barnea. “There is an agreement over many points,” a senior source told al-Qahera news on Tuesday.

However, Hamas has again 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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Move to reduce Lords retirement age to 80 is not about Joe Biden, says Keir Starmer

Ahead of UK-US bilateral talks, PM says primary driver for cutting peers’ retirement age is size of Lords chamber

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Keir Starmer has denied that his decision to bring in a retirement age of 80 for the House of Lords means he believes Joe Biden should stand down as US president.

Ahead of his first bilateral talks with Biden at the White House, the UK prime minister said the “primary driver” for bringing in a retirement age for peers was the size of the second chamber.

“The simple fact is that our House of Lords is massive. It is the second biggest political chamber in the world. I think it’s only the Chinese who have a bigger political chamber than our House of Lords. We have to reduce it.

“That is the primary driver of the retirement at 80. You can see why that needs to be done. We’ve got 800-plus members of the Lords, it’s simply too big. We need to reduce it.

“So it doesn’t reflect on how other elected representatives are chosen in other countries, it’s to do with the size of the House of Lords.”

After Biden’s disastrous performance in his first debate against Donald Trump boosted concerns about his age and fitness for office, the president has faced calls to stand down as the Democratic nominee this November.

The bilateral talks came as Starmer admitted that his ministers will need to use the Nato summit in Washington to help reset the UK’s relationship with European neighbours after years of tensions as a result of Brexit.

The prime minister has been joined on his first overseas trip by Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has been given the newly created job of European relations minister, as well as the defence and foreign secretaries.

Starmer’s administration wants to repair the damage to relations with Europe caused by the Brexit wrangles and strike a better deal with the EU on issues including security and trade.

“It has provided a really important window of opportunity for me and my team … to strengthen our relations with various Nato leaders and others obviously that are there, including EU leaders,” Starmer told reporters on the plane to Washington.

“I want to make sure we take full advantage of this opportunity. These are meetings that would probably take months and months for us to fit in as a team, if we were not taking advantage of this summit.

“The central purpose is obviously all about Nato, but it is a very important opportunity to strengthen those relations.”

The Guardian revealed this week that Labour is seeking a sweeping joint declaration with the EU to usher in a wide-ranging security pact covering defence, energy, the climate crisis, pandemics and even illegal migration.

“This is really important to us. I do think there is scope for a significant improving of our defence and security relationship with the EU,” Starmer said.

“This is complementary with Nato. Nato is still the cornerstone of defence in Europe and our approach on defence has always been Nato first. I do see scope for complementing that. That is why we are wanting to advance the defence and security pact or agreement with the EU.”

The UK is hosting about 50 leaders from across Europe next week at the fourth meeting of the European Political Community at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

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Samsung Electronics workers to extend strike indefinitely

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

Thousands of workers in South Korea have pledged to extend indefinitely the first strike at Samsung Electronics, 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 stepped up, says union representing about 30,000 staff in South Korea

Thousands of workers in South Korea have pledged to extend indefinitely the first strike at Samsung Electronics, 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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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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It is 12.45pm. Here is what we know so far …

  • Police are seeking a 26-year-old man, Kyle Clifford, in connection with what they described as a triple murder which took place yesterday evening in Bushey in Hertfordshire

  • Hertfordshire police say they were called to a home in Ashlyn Close in Bushey just before 7pm on Tuesday and discovered three women who had suffered serious injuries. The women are believed to be related and all three died at the scene. Police have not identified them, but have given their ages as 25, 28 and 61.

  • Police believe Clifford may be armed with a crossbow, and have warned the public not to approach him but to call 999 instead. They believe he may be in Hertfordshire or in Enfield in north London, where he lives. Neighbours have reported that his Enfield home was raided by armed officers at 8am Wednesday morning

  • Local policing commander Jon Simpson made a direct appeal to Clifford, to contact the police himself via 999. In a press conference at Hatfield police station he described the murders as “a horrific incident involving what is currently believed to be a crossbow, but other weapons may also have been used”

  • The police described it as a targeted incident

  • Police have also appealed to anyone who was in or around Ashlyn Close between lunchtime and 7pm on Tuesday to contact them if they believe they saw anything that could help their investigation

  • Det Supt Rob Hall, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit, earlier said: “This is an incredibly difficult incident for the victims’ family and we would ask that their privacy is respected as they come to terms with what has happened”

  • Police are carrying out door-to-door inquiries in the area and forensic officers are working at the scene

  • New home secretary Yvette Cooper has described the deaths as “truly shocking”, and said that she is being kept informed

Syrian asylum seeker in UK says he ‘lost everything’ after Rwanda roundup

People held before planned removal from UK under Sunak government face disruption and relocation after release

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A Syrian asylum seeker who was one of 220 people arrested and detained in preparation for forced removal to Rwanda says he has lost everything after his release.

Critics described the high-profile mass roundups before the local elections in May as a “stunt” that needlessly disrupted the lives of many.

The prime minister, Keir Starmer, announced last week the policy was “dead and buried”.

However, in a high court case this week, the home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said she would set out her position about the Rwanda legislation and guidance on 1 October.

Mohammed*, 27, arrived in the UK from Syria in July 2022 and was detained in May this year under the Rwanda policy, before being released in June.

“I was arrested and locked up as part of the last government’s attempt to win votes. I had committed no crime. When I was released from detention I had lost my accommodation and all my belongings. I lost everything,” he said.

Those arrested in raids by immigration enforcement teams were seized in haste. Although some were able to return to their previous accommodation after being released from detention, others were moved to areas far from their support networks.

“I was living in a shared house in Hull with other asylum seekers who were very nice,” Mohammed said. “We all ate halal food and there was no drinking or smoking in the house. We kept the place very clean. Now I’ve lost everything. The Home Office moved a new person into my room.

“A charity organised for me to stay with an English woman in a village, which is two bus rides away. She is very nice but I miss my friends and my support network in Hull.”

A second man who was attending college in Newcastle and was due to take exams was moved to Sheffield so has to restart his studies from scratch.

On Monday the Rwandan government issued its first statement acknowledging the prime minister’s intention to scrap the scheme.

It said Rwanda “takes note” of the intention of the UK government to terminate the partnership, adding that the “crisis of irregular migration” was an issue for the UK not Rwanda.

It is not known if Rwanda will repay the £270m handed over by the UK as part of the deal. Under the terms of the agreement the country has no obligation to refund this money.

So far this year, more than 13,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats, which is a record. There were no crossings in the first few days of the new government owing to poor weather conditions but on Monday 65 people crossed in one boat. On Wednesday 419 people crossed in six boats.

James Wilson, the director of Detention Action, a charity that supported dozens of those detained, said: “After being detained unlawfully and then released and relocated, many asylum seekers have now lost any stability they had managed to find. It is vital that the government now processes their claims and finally allows them to get on with rebuilding their lives.”

Shirley Hart, of the charity Welcome House in Hull, said: “Rounding hundreds of people up for Rwanda and detaining them was just a stunt by the last government. As a result of being detained all of the asylum seekers have lost the trust we had spent so long building up. One of the asylum seekers we support, who was detained for Rwanda, is absolutely broken by his experience.”

Mohammed said: “I am very angry about being detained. I feel I was subjected to a great injustice. I lived in a war in my country from the age of 13. I can live without my house and my clothes but I cannot live without dignity and a sense of security, which the last government took away from us.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All individuals previously detained pending removal to Rwanda have now been bailed.”

* Not his real name.

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Rio’s ‘narco-pentecostal’ gangsters accused of ordering Catholic churches to close

Bible-bashing drug boss accused of targeting Afro-Brazilian religions and Catholic congregations

Reports that a powerful Rio drug lord known for his extremist religious beliefs ordered Catholic churches near his stronghold to close have spooked worshipers and security experts and exposed the advent of a “narco-pentecostal” movement made up of heavily armed evangelical drug traffickers.

Claims emerged in the Brazilian press over the weekend that Álvaro Malaquias Santa Rosa – a notorious gang boss known as Peixão (Big Fish) – had determined that three places of worship should shut down in and around the agglomeration of favelas that he controls in northern Rio.

Since Peixão – whose nickname comes from the ichthys “Jesus” fish – took power in 2016 of five favelas that have become known as the Complexo de Israel, an allusion to the evangelical belief that the return of Jews to the Holy Land is a step towards the second coming of Christ and Armageddon.

A neon Star of David has been erected at the top of the complex and at night can be seen for miles around – an unmissable symbol of Peixão’s force and his faith. The roofs of the favelas’ redbrick houses are dotted with blue and white Israel flags demarcating the territory the gangster controls. When police raided one of his hideouts in 2021 they found a swimming pool framed by a mural of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem and the words: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

In the past, Peixão’s troops have been accused of ransacking Afro-Brazilian temples and banning Afro-Brazilian celebrations in the Complex of Israel, where more than 100,000 people live. But this week’s reports were the first relating to Catholic places of worship.

The first inkling that something was amiss came on Saturday when staff at the Our Lady of Conception and Saint Justin Martyr parish told parishioners that meetings and mass were suspended “until further notice”. The social media post was later deleted but, according to local newspapers, word quickly spread among churchgoers that the order had come from Peixão.

The broadsheet O Globo said there were subsequent reports that armed men on motorbikes had visited two other local churches, Saint Hedwig and Saint Cecilia, and decreed that weddings or christenings should not take place. Those churches also published messages announcing their temporary closure.

The Archdiocese of Rio denied the media reports, insisting their churches were operating as normal. In a statement, Rio’s public security secretary attributed the reports to online rumours and claimed no such order had been given.

But the civil police’s anti-intolerance and racism unit is reportedly investigating. On Monday morning, military police launched an operation to remove barricades blocking roads leading into Peixão’s domain, where Bible-themed murals carry quotations from Psalms. The government said police had been deployed to prevent “instability in the region and ensure that churches can operate and that residents are safe”.

Whatever the truth, the drama has alarmed churchgoers and highlighted the growing influence of Bible-bashing bandits known as “narco-pentecostals” who now control large swaths of Rio.

“They call themselves evangelicals but I refuse to use this term. In reality, [Peixão] is a narco-religious-fundamentalist,” said the commentator and former newspaper editor Octavio Guedes on the television network GloboNews.

Experts say the backdrop to the rise of narco-pentecostalism is the breakneck spread of evangelical churches through Brazil in the almost four decades since 37-year-old Peixão was born in Rio’s dilapidated northern suburbs.

Since then, Brazil’s evangelical community has exploded, from less than 7% of the population in 1980 to 22% in 2010 and about 30% today. The Catholic congregation, meanwhile, has shrunk dramatically. In 1991, 83% of Brazilians identified as Catholic, compared with about 50% today.

The evangelical revolution has been particularly fervid in Rio, especially in deprived suburbs and favelas where preachers provide crucial support to downtrodden residents whose relatives face unemployment, alcoholism and drug addiction.

But a byproduct has been the disturbing melding of Christian extremism and members of the drug factions who govern many such communities. Some observers credit preachers with reducing levels of violence by embracing Rio’s drug lords and trying to convince them to spill less blood.

But others fear they have radicalized highly dangerous outlaws such as Peixão – a fugitive who is reportedly wanted for crimes including trafficking, murder and concealment of a human corpse – with dire consequences for religious freedom.

Cecília Olliveira, a security expert whose group, Fogo Cruzado, tracks armed violence, said it was common to hear of incidents in which radicalized traffickers attacked Afro-Brazilian temples called terreiros or banned favela residents from wearing religious necklaces known as guias or white clothes.

But Olliveira had never heard of Catholic churches facing similar repression, which she called the consequence of longstanding religious intolerance from sectors of the neo-pentecostal church.

“What it shows us, above all, is the extent to which the state does not have formal control over certain areas,” Olliveira said of the gangster’s alleged order to close the churches.

“Democracy never reached certain parts of the country and this [order] is crystal-clear proof of this because it infringes one of the most basic rights … which is having the right to profess your faith. And it’s becoming clearer by the day that in fact, no, you don’t have this right,” she said.

Olliveira suspected the government’s denial of the situation was a reflection of how mortifying this reality was. “If you admit that this has happened, then you are admitting that you have failed,” she said.

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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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