World Battered EU centre holds off populist surge in vote
21 countries voted on the final day of the European parliament elections (AFP Photo/EMMANUEL DUNAND)Brussels (AFP) – Europe’s mainstream political parties took a hit in elections on Sunday but held off a strong surge by the populist right of Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and Nigel Farage.In one of the world’s biggest democratic votes, the main centre-right and centre-left groups lost their combined majority in the European Parliament in the face of a challenge by eurosceptic and nationalist forces.The symbolic clash of the campaign saw French far right leader Le Pen’s National Rally on course to come in just ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist movement, damaging his drive for deeper European integration.In Britain, Farage’s one issue Brexit Party appeared to have trounced the main parties and he will send a large contingent of British eurosceptics to a parliament they want to leave in a few months.And in Italy, Salvini’s far-right League achieved a similar result, strengthening its role at the core of a vocal populist faction in the EU’s legislature.The advance of the right was less pronounced in Germany — where a strong showing by the Greens was reflected in a „green wave” in many countries — but the anti-immigrant AfD broke the 10 percent barrier.”We are facing a shrinking centre,” said German conservative Manfred Weber, lead candidate for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission chief.- ‘Big win’ -Turnout EU-wide was estimated at 51 percent, the highest in 20 years, suggesting more than 200 million citizens across the 28-nation bloc voted in a poll billed as a battle between populists and pro-European forces.Across Europe, according to a projection prepared by the parliament, the EPP is on course to have the most seats in the assembly with 180, down sharply from 216 in 2014.With the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) projected to win 152, down from 185, the two mainstream parties will no longer have a majority and will have to reach out to liberals to maintain a „cordon sanitaire” and exclude the far-right from decision making.The various populist, Eurosceptic and right-wing parties won more than 150 seats, but form no coherent coalition.The Europe of Nations and Freedom — composed mainly of the French National Rally and Salvini’s League — saw their share rise from 37 to 55 seats.Salvini tweeted a photo of himself with a sign saying „top party in Italy” while standing in front of a bookshelf featuring a Make America Great Again baseball cap and a picture of Vladimir Putin.The Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy — which includes the Britain’s Brexit Party — went from 42 seats to 53.”It looks like it’s going to be a big win for the Brexit Party,” Farage said, after an election held against a backdrop of disarray including the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May and the postponement of Britain’s EU exit.- ‘Save the EU’ -Each previous EU election since the first in 1979 has seen turnout fall, but turnout figures from across the 28-nation bloc were up, suggesting this year’s culture clash has mobilised both populists and those who oppose them.In Belgium the far-right Flemish separatist Vlaams Belang was on course to triple its previous score.And in Finland, the far-fight Finns Party increased its vote share and retained its two EU seats. The Sweden Democrats were on course to increase their share from 9.67 to 16.9 percent.Dutch anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders was however set to lose all his Freedom Party’s seats, although there was a strong showing by upstart populist Thierry Baudet.In his home country of Poland, European Council chief Donald Tusk expressed confidence that voters would not succumb to „radical political movements” but admitted that the priority was to „save the EU as a project.”In France, Macron had taken it upon himself to act as figurehead for the centrist and liberal parties, and Le Pen took up the 41-year-old’s challenge.”It is up to the president of the republic to draw conclusions, he who put his presidential credit on the line in this vote in making it a referendum on his policies and even his personality,” Le Pen said.An aide to Macron however said the result was „respectable”, with exit polls showing his centrist alliance on 22.5-23.0 percent, just behind Le Pen’s 24-24.2 percent.Another nationalist party, the Fidesz of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was on course for a massive 56 percent victory, according to a poll conducted Sunday.The mainstream parties are vying between themselves for influence over the choice of a new generation of top EU officials, including Tusk and Juncker’s replacements.EU leaders have been invited to a summit on Tuesday to decide how to choose the nominee. The EPP is insisting on Weber for the Commission, but Macron and some others want a higher-profile candidate. burs-dk/dc/mtp
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is tipped to win the most UK seats in the European Parliament elections, with establishment parties forecast to lose their majority across the European Union.
Official exit polls are revealing a tough night for establishment parties across the continent, while voter turnout is at 51 per cent according to the EU Parliament – its highest since 1994.
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the centre-left Social Democratic Union could be on course for their worst result at European elections.
The CDU are polling just 28 per cent of the vote, down from 38 per cent in 2014 – a result which would be a significant blow to Mrs Merkel.
It looks to be an even worse night for the SPD who are polling at just 15.5 per cent, and who could leapfrogged into second place by the Green Party on 22 per cent.
Votes are being counted across 28 EU countries with polls closing at 10pm, and official provisional results for the UK are expected shortly after.
By the early hours of Monday, we should have results from the majority of UK regions, allowing us to see just how seismic a political shift has taken place.
Pre-election polls indicated that the two large establishment blocs in the European Parliament, which comprise a host of allied parties from each country, would lose seats under a tide of both populist and liberal support.
While the centre-Right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and centre-Left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) are likely to remain the largest parliamentary groups, forecasts indicated they would collectively lose dozens of seats.
UK polls show the Brexit Party winning the most seats
In the UK, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is expected to gain the most seats, ahead of the two major parties. This would mark a repeat of his success with Ukip in the 2014 European election.
Labour and the Conservatives were both polling at less than 20 per cent in the run-up to the vote, with some experts predicting that Theresa May’s Tories could fall to their lowest vote share in a national election since they formed in 1834.
The Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK – all backers of a second referendum – collectively had support of 30 per cent of the public in pre-election polls on election day, against no-dealers Ukip and the Brexit Party’s collective 36 per cent.
Polling shows that revoking Article 50 and a no-deal Brexit – the two extremes of the Europe debate – are currently the most popular outcomes among the public, and parties were fighting to claim this political ground ahead of the vote.
The lack of a Remain alliance – with the Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK all competing and splitting the pro-European vote – makes their job of converting votes into seats even harder.
An analysis of regional polling data showed that the Greens, Lib Dems and Change UK would stand to win an additional 10 MEPs at the EU elections if they stood as a single anti-Brexit entity, giving them a total of 18 seats.
In 2014, Nigel Farage’s Ukip topped the polls, securing 27.5 per cent of the national vote and 24 MEPs. Most of these MEPs have now defected to other parties now, including the Brexit Party.
Europe-wide establishment parties expected to lose their majority
At a continent level, the European Union’s established centre-Left and centre-Right blocs were forecast to lose their combined majority in the elections.
The pre-election polls indicated that the two large pan-European blocs, the EPP and the S&D, will lose seats under a tide of both populist and liberal support.
The loss of their combined majority is likely due to the rise of the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and eurosceptic Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).
The latter of these blocs, the populist-Right ENF, is poised to morph into a new group called European Alliance of People and Nations after the election, under Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.
The ALDE and ENF made the largest gains in the election, leading experts to warn that the new Parliament could be more fractious with majorities harder to come by.
(Bloomberg) — The failure of populist parties to score a big win in European Parliament elections is likely to dash the hopes of leading contenders to be next U.K. prime minister that Brussels will soften its stance on Brexit.
Runners to replace Theresa May, including Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, say they want the European Union to reopen negotiations on the U.K.’s withdrawal agreement and grant concessions on the contentious backstop arrangement for the Irish border. Conservative politicians suggested a shake-up in the balance of power in Europe, and a surge in anti-establishment support, would help their cause.
But, while the mainstream center-right and center-left parties have seen their share slump, their votes have largely transferred to other pro-EU groups. Although parties inspired by Brexit, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, scored well domestically, right-wing populist groups will still make up only about a quarter of the new European Parliament.
That means that the center-ground parties of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Council President Donald Tusk will still hold sway and have the loudest voice in the appointment of their successors. They have repeatedly said they will not revise the Brexit deal and nothing in the European Parliament election results suggests that EU unity will start to crack now.
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Opinion polls showed French President Emmanuel Macron’s party slightly behind the far-right RN party before the European election
Paris (AFP) – The fight between President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s European election in France mirrors a larger battle across the continent between competing visions of bloc’s future.
Macron, France’s youngest ever president, and Le Pen have a lot riding on the results of the polls which both have pitched as a re-run of their duel for the presidency two years ago.
The last opinion surveys appeared to show the far-right National Rally (RN) with a slight edge over Macron’s centrist alliance, including his Republic on the Move (LREM) party.
One poll on Friday put the RN on 25 percent, up 1.5 points in a week, with LREM and its allies stable on 22.5 percent.
Analysts say that two years into his five-year term, the EU represents a critical juncture for Macron and might influence whether the 41-year-old can pursue his pro-business reforms domestically.
But his reputation as the champion of more integration among EU member states is also on the line.
„Symbolically, losing European elections in his own country would be seen as a repudiation of someone so pro-European,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors Institute think-tank.
„What is at stake for Emmanuel Macron is to have an influence in the future European parliament. This is not a given.”
Macron has made no secret of the significance he attaches to the polls, telling regional French newspapers last week that the elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an „existential threat”.
He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that exposes him personally if LREM under-performs.
Sources close to Macron say a bad loss to Le Pen’s National Rally could prompt a major cabinet reshuffle, with the job of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in the balance.
– ‘Did not impose himself’ –
After re-branding her party — previously known as the National Front — and overhauling its programme, Le Pen has campaigned since January with the head of state in her sights.
She sees the chance not only to deal a blow to Macron’s faltering presidency, but for her ideas to move further into the political mainstream.
Le Pen has ditched her long-standing policy of wanting to leave the EU — a so-called „Frexit” — and her proposal to abandon the euro common currency.
Instead, she proposes unpicking the bloc from the inside, rolling back its treaties and common rules and turning it into a „union of nation states” who act independently.
She has been heartened by gains for far-right nationalist parties across Europe.
„Everything has changed,” she told AFP in a recent interview.
„Before we were on our own on the European scene… we didn’t have any allies. But in the space of a few months, a whole range of political forces have risen up in spectacular fashion,” she said.
But some projections for the National Rally, with its list led by 23-year-old Jordan Bardella, show it could end up below 2014 levels when the National Front came top with 25 percent.
She has said she would be „disappointed” to finish behind Macron’s party and her reputation as party leader is also in the spotlight.
Her gaffe-ridden performance in the presidential election in 2017, particularly a bungled televised debate, has not been completely forgotten by some party faithful.
Le Pen has also had difficulties finding allies despite her dreams — and those of Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon — of forging a pan-European „supergroup” of ultra-nationalists.
The hard-right eurosceptic ruling party in Poland — PiS — has shunned her over her pro-Russian stance, while Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also spurned her advances.
– ‘Give some oxygen’ –
Sources in Macron’s party say that if the LREM falls behind the RN all eyes will be on the margin to determine the magnitude of the reaction.
„If there is nothing in it, behind or in front, I don’t see a reshuffle. But if we are three to four points behind the RN, or below 20 percent, people within the ruling party will start to ask questions,” said a person close to Macron, who asked not to be named.
„And this will require a change in personnel,” the source told AFP.
A minister, also speaking on condition of anonymity, added: „If we are far behind the RN then things are going to shake. There will be a big reshuffle. I don’t see how we can lose the elections” and not change the prime minister.
For Brice Teinturier from the polling institute Ipsos in France, victory would give the government some „political oxygen”.
London (AFP) – Anti-EU populist Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party triumphed on Sunday and the ruling Conservatives endured a historic blow in European Parliament elections in which Britain was never meant to vote.
The pro-EU Liberal Democrats and the Greens capitalised on their demands for second Brexit vote and made major gains in an election dominated by debates over Britain’s place in Europe.
The poll was held against the backdrop of political disarray in the UK that saw Prime Minister Theresa May announce her resignation after failing to deliver Brexit on time.
Farage hailed the result and demanded for his Brexit Party to be included in a new round of negotiations with Brussels.
The original 2016 Brexit campaign figurehead warned that failure to leave the EU on October 31 — the latest Brexit deadline — would see his party replicate its victory in a general election.
„We are getting ready for it,” Farage warned in Southampton as ballots were being counted his the South East region.
Britain voted to leave the EU by a 52-48 percent margin in a seismic 2016 national poll.
It was supposed to have left the EU on March 29 but got held up by parliamentary deadlock and deep divisions over strategy in May’s government.
Farage’s newly-formed group capitalised on the anger of Brexit voters in dramatic style.
Results with 90 percent of the vote the count showed the Brexit Party winning with 31.6 percent.
May’s bickering Conservative Party — now in the throes of a leadership contest involving much of her current cabinet — did as poorly as many of its leaders had feared.
The partial results showed them on 9.1 percent and trailing in fifth place behind the Greens in fourth on 12.1 and double the 2014 EU election outcome.
Vince Cable’s pro-EU Liberal Democrats surged to 20.3 percent from 6.7 percent in 2014 and were well ahead of the 14.1 percent of the main opposition party Labour Party of socialist Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour leader has been deeply ambiguous on Brexit for much of the past year.
– ‘Get off the fence’ –
The Conservatives knew they were facing a drubbing and barely bothered to campaign.
But Labour was also punished for refusing to spell out whether it still wanted Britain to be in or out of the EU.
Labour lost to the Liberal Democrats in the borough of Islington in London that Corbyn represents in the UK parliament.
And the Conservatives were beaten by the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats in May’s Windsor and Maidenhead constituency in England’s South East.
Labour also collected less than half the votes of the surging Brexit Party in Wales, where the party had lost just once since 1918.
„This issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote,” Corbyn said in a statement.
„Labour will bring our divided country together so we can end austerity and tackle inequality,” he said.
Neither party had a clear European election campaign platform — unlike Farage’s call for a split from the EU at any cost and the Liberal Democrats’ open desire to stop the process in its tracks.
„There is a clear lesson for Labour in tonight’s results: get off the fence,” Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said in a statement
„In trying to please everybody they have pleased nobody.”
– ‘Hard Brexit’ –
The Conservatives must now decide what they intend to do about the long-suffering EU withdrawal deal May reached with Brussels last year.
Parliament rejected the pact three times and was on course to do so again before May quit.
The EU refuses to re-open its text and Conservative leadership favourites such as Boris Johnson want Britain to leave with or without a deal when the twice-delayed departure date arrives on October 31.
„No one sensible would aim exclusively for a no-deal outcome,” Johnson wrote in Monday’s edition of his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph.
„No one responsible would take no-deal off the table.”
Some analysts think the results will force the other UK leadership hopefuls to adopt the same tough line.
„Any swing away from the Conservative Party is being interpreted by pretty much all the party leadership candidates as a push toward a harder, serious, no-deal Brexit,” University of Bedfordshire professor Stephen Barber told AFP.
(Bloomberg) — Romanians turned out in droves to vote in a referendum that could put the brakes on a controversial overhaul of the judiciary, which is torpedoing relations with the European Union.
Citizens flooded ballot booths for both the referendum and the EU Parliament elections, with turnout surpassing 30% almost four hours before the polls closed. That exceeds the threshold required for the measure to be valid.
Officials from Brussels say the judiciary reforms curb courts’ independence — mirroring similar charges aimed at Hungary and Poland — an allegation the government in Bucharest denies. The EU this month warned Romania, which currently holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, over the possibility of sanctions if it doesn’t reverse course.
It’s not just the EU that opposes the revamp. President Klaus Iohannis is behind Sunday’s plebiscite, which takes place alongside elections for the European Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have turned out since 2017 in a bid to halt the reforms.
Voters are being asked whether they agree with possible amnesty and pardons for officials in trouble over corruption, and whether the government should be allowed to continue approving changes to the criminal legislation through emergency decrees.
“If it’s validated, it will give Iohannis a power boost to counter any attempts to dismantle the judiciary,” said Liliana Popescu, a professor at the Bucharest Political Science University. “If it’s not, he’ll also face a significant backlash because it would show peoples’ apathy ahead of presidential elections” later this year.
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By Radu-Sorin Marinas and Luiza Ilie
BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanians overwhelmingly rejected measures seen as making it harder to tackle rampant state corruption in a non-binding referendum on Sunday, dealing a double blow to the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) who also lost support in European elections.
The double ballot was the first big popularity test for the PSD whose overhaul of the judiciary and changes to anti-graft legislation have drawn strong criticism from the European Union and the United States.
The referendum, called by centrist President Klaus Iohannis, who has often clashed with the PSD over judicial and economic policies, asked voters to decide whether the government should be banned from altering judicial legislation via emergency decrees – as it can do now – and whether they want a national ban on any amnesty and pardoning for graft-related crimes.
According to data from the national election bureau, voter turnout stood at 41 percent when polling stations closed at 1800 GMT, above the 30 percent required for it to be valid. Analysts expect the turnout to equate with a big vote in favor of the anti-graft drive.
„The referendum succeeded with flying colors. Thank you Romanians. This is a clear vote for correct politics, for true justice. No politician can ignore your clear vote for an independent judiciary,” Iohannis said.
Exit polls for the European Parliament election, also held on Sunday, showed both the opposition centrist National Liberal Party and the ruling PSD on 25.8%, with the latter falling sharply below the 45% it won in the last national ballot in 2016.
A new alliance of opposition parties, USR-Plus, secured third place with 24% of votes.
The two ballots have mobilized voters fed up with graft in Romania, a nation of 20 million people which joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. Popular musicians and actors urged people to vote, and bookshops and cafes offered discounts for voters.
„(The referendum result) is a clear victory against the Social Democrat Party,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, a political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University.
„The referendum was called to stimulate the anti-PSD vote … ahead of the presidential election.”
Romania will hold a presidential election later this year, with Iohannis in pole position to win a new five-year term. Parliamentary elections are due in December 2020.
Prosecutors have secured a spate of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, including Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea. Their investigations have exposed conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce a verdict on Monday in Dragnea’s appeal against a jail sentence imposed for inciting others to commit abuse of office.
(Editing by Jane Merriman and Gareth Jones)
Romanians living abroad faced long queues at polling stations across Europe. West Midlands Police said they were called to a polling station in Birmingham, England due to the size of the crowd. Romanian voters received three voting slips – one for the EU parliamentary vote, two for a national referendum. The country’s state broadcaster said there was a request for polling hours to be extended abroad, which was turned down by the authorities.
By Katanga Johnson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp will not have to immediately hand over the financial records of U.S. President Donald Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, according to a court filing on Saturday.
The filing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York followed an appeal submitted on Friday by Trump and his affiliates against an existing order from a federal judge allowing the banks to hand over financial records to Democratic lawmakers.
Amid an ongoing legal battle between the Republican president and Democrats in Congress, the agreement to hold off for now on enforcing the subpoenas for Trump’s financial records was a rare accord between Trump’s attorneys, the banks and the House Intelligence and the Financial Services Committees.
„The parties have reached an agreement regarding compliance with and enforcement of the subpoenas” while the appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is pending, the filing said.
Parts of the subpoenas have been included in court filings. The subpoena on Deutsche Bank seeks records of accounts, transactions and investments linked to Trump, his three oldest children, their immediate family members and several Trump Organization entities, as well as records of ties they might have to foreign entities.
Deutsche Bank has long been a principal lender for Trump’s real estate business and a 2017 disclosure form showed that Trump had at least $130 million of liabilities to the bank.
The subpoena on Capital One seeks records related to multiple entities tied to the Trump Organization’s hotel business. It followed an informal request to the bank by Democratic lawmakers in March seeking records related to potential conflicts of interest tied to Trump’s Washington hotel and other businesses.
A lawyer for the Trumps argued earlier this week that the subpoenas exceeded the authority of Congress and were „the epitome of an inquiry into private or personal matters.”
U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, however, found that they were allowed under the broad authority of Congress to conduct investigations to further legislation.
(Reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
Before President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at their historical summits, they lobbed attacks at each other through speeches and social media, with Kim calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and Trump calling Kim “a madman” and “Little Rocket Man.” Now they “agree” on an assessment of Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden as a “low IQ” person.
“I think they agree in their assessment of former Vice President Joe Biden,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders about Trump and Kim on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted from Japan, where he is meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?
A campaign aide for Biden responded to the original tweet, in which Trump misspelled Biden’s last name: “I would say the tweet speaks for itself, but it’s so unhinged and erratic that I’m not sure anyone could even say that with a straight face.”
Sanders told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, “The president doesn’t need somebody else to give him an assessment of Joe Biden. He’s given his own assessment a number of times. I think you’ve seen it. I’m sure you’ve covered it on your program. The president watched him and his administration with President Obama fail for eight years.”
In the past week, North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, bashed Biden, calling him, in language similar to Trump’s, a “fool of low IQ,” and an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.”
“He is self-praising himself as being the most popular presidential candidate. This is enough to make a cat laugh,” the agency wrote. “Explicitly speaking, we will never pardon anyone who dare provoke the supreme leadership of the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] but will certainly make them pay for it.”
KCNA lashed out after Biden, during a campaign rally in Philadelphia last Saturday, called Kim a tyrant and criticized Trump’s relationship with the North Korean dictator. Biden’s campaign said North Korea would prefer Trump “remain in the White House.”
“As Vice President Biden said in Philadelphia, Donald Trump ‘embraces dictators and tyrants like Putin and Kim Jong Un’ while alienating our closest allies. That is antithetical to who we are and it has to change,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, in response to KCNA’s attacks Wednesday.
“Trump has also been repeatedly tricked into making major concessions to the murderous regime in Pyongyang while getting nothing in return,” he said. “Given Vice President Biden’s record of standing up for American values and interests, it’s no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House.”
It was in March when Trump added Biden to his list of low IQ individuals. Sanders said that Trump has “cleaned up a lot of the messes that were left behind” by Biden and former President Barack Obama.
“We shouldn’t even be in the position that we’re in to have to deal with North Korea at the level we are if they had done their job in the first place,” said Sanders.
“The previous administration did nothing,” she continued. “They failed with Iran, they failed with North Korea, they failed on trade. And we finally have a president that’s being tough with these countries. We’ve put tougher sanctions on North Korea than the Obama administration ever did. But at the same time, the president wants to develop that relationship, and he wants to actually get something done.”
Sanders added: “I think if anybody needs help with an assessment it’s Joe Biden, and whether or not he should be trying to get an upgrade when he failed to do the job in the number two slot.”
Sanders set aside concerns about North Korea’s recent missile tests, saying they weren’t “bothering” the president. The tests come about three months after Trump abruptly ended talks at their February summit after failing to settle on a nuclear disarmament deal with Kim, a move Biden applauded at the time, saying, “The president did the right thing by walking away. A bad deal is worse than no deal.”
“Some of the activity that’s taken place, as you can see from the president’s Twitter, isn’t something that’s bothering the president,” said Sanders on “Meet the Press.” “He still feels good about the relationship that he has and about Chairman Kim’s commitment that he made to the president.”
But Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said that there was “no doubt” the short-range missile tests in early May violated U.N. resolutions and argued that sanctions against North Korea remain in place.
“U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from firing any ballistic missiles,” Bolton told reporters Saturday in Tokyo. “In terms of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions, there is no doubt about that.”
Japan’s Abe, with whom Trump was playing golf when he tweeted that “North Korea fired off some small weapons,” has also decried the tests as a violation, calling them “extremely regrettable” last week.
When asked if Trump agrees with “the prime minister of Japan and his own national security adviser that North Korea has violated a U.N. resolution with these tests,” Sanders said, “Look, the president’s focus in all of this process is on continuing the very good relationship that he has with Chairman Kim. And he feels good that the chairman will stay firm with the commitment that he made to the president and move towards denuclearization.”
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, is set to offer himself as a mediator amid the escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran.
Mr Trump landed in Tokyo on Saturday for a four-day visit during which Mr Abe will discuss the proposal with him, and seek his consent.
The Japanese leader is considering a visit to Tehran net month to mediate with President Hassan Rouhani, according to media reports in Japan, and a final decision may depend on the results of his talks with Mr Trump.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, visited Japan earlier this month.
Shortly before his Japan trip Mr Trump ordered 1,500 extra US troops, along with fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft, and missile defence batteries to the Persian Gulf.
The Pentagon called it a “defensive” deployment intended to protect US troops in the region from Iran. Mr Zarif said the new US deployment “threatens international peace”.
For the first time the US also publicly accused Iran of carrying out a sabotage attack against oil tankers off the coast of the UAE, and said it had evidence Iran planned to load cruise missiles onto small ships, and use Shia militias to attack US forces in Iraq.
As tensions escalated Mr Trump also used national emergency powers to sweep aside objections in Congress and push through £6.3 billion in arms sales to US allies Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan.
Both Democrats and Republicans had been holding up the arms sales because of concerns over the civilian death toll caused by Saudi and UAE airstrikes in Yemen, as well as the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the threat from Iran justified the use of emergency powers and sidelining Congress.
He said: „These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Chris Murphy, a Democrat senator, said: „President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove.
„There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there.”
Japan has longstanding ties with Iran and opposed Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Before US sanctions on Iran, Japan was a major importer of Iranian oil.
Mr Abe first visited Iran in a personal capacity in 1983 and has continued links with the country’s leadership.
Reacting to the idea of him mediating Akihisa Nagashima, a former Japanese defence minister, said: „This is what we call quiet diplomacy.”
It was unclear how Mr Trump would react to the offer, and Mr Abe would have to overcome the hurdle that no Japanese prime minister has visited Tehran officially since before the Islamic Revolution.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said Mr Rouhani had invited Mr Abe “a while ago” but suggested such a visit was unlikely in the near future.
On Monday Mr Trump will become the first head of state to meet Emperor Naruhito since he ascended to the Japanese throne this month.
During his largely ceremonial visit to Japan he will also attend a sumo competition, play golf with Mr Abe, and discuss trade issues.
Hours after arriving Mr Trump warned Japan over its „substantial edge” in trade and joked: „Maybe that’s why you like me so much.”
The two countries are locked in trade talks and the visit is part of Mr Abe’s ongoing charm offensive aimed at fending off US tariffs.
Mr Trump has been threatening potentially devastating tariffs on Japanese cars unless he wins concessions, including for US farmers.
Speaking to Japanese business leaders, including executives from Toyota, Nissan and Honda, Mr Trump warned it was time to „address the trade imbalance”.
He also called on Japan to buy more US military equipment because „the world is changing”.
Lawrence J. Korb
Security, Middle East
One can only hope that an isolated incident or an alleged attack does not spark a retaliation that could lead to a Vietnam-style conflict with Iran, one that could necessitate sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East.
The Iran War Crisis: Are We Headed Towards a Gulf of Tonkin Incident?
Many analysts have argued that the rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf region, especially the claims by the United States that Iran is increasing its military capabilities bear disturbing similarities to the run up to the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, when the Bush administration falsely hyped Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. While this analogy may be correct, the events are actually more similar to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which occurred in August 1964—something I remember well.
On August 2, 1964, the destroyer Maddox—which was part of a carrier battle group deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin to conduct reconnaissance and intercept North Vietnamese communications in support of attacks by South Vietnamese patrol boats on North Vietnamese coastal targets—was approached by three North Vietnamese torpedo patrol boats. As they drew near, the Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese responded with torpedoes and machine gun fire. The Maddox returned fire, eventually expending 280 shells and damaging the North Vietnamese torpedo boats. These attacks also killed four North Vietnamese sailors and wounded six more. There were no U.S. casualties and the Maddox was essentially unscathed.
DUBAI, May 25 (Reuters) – Iran can sink U.S. warships sent to the Gulf region using missiles and „secret weapons,” a senior Iranian military official was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency Mizan on Saturday.
The United States on Friday announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran as it accused the country’s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for this month’s tanker attacks.
„America.. is sending two warships to the region. If they commit the slightest stupidity, we will send these ships to the bottom of the sea along with their crew and planes using two missiles or two new secret weapons,” General Morteza Qorbani, an adviser to Iran’s military command, told Mizan.
The U.S. actions were the latest by the Trump administration as it highlights what it sees as a threat of potential attack by Iran, and follows decisions to speed the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as send bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East.
Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its missile program and particularly its long-range ballistic missiles. (Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alexander Smith)
BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in the Mideast amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):
Iraq’s foreign minister says Baghdad wants to mediate between the United States and Iran and will work to find a resolution to the crisis between its two allies.
Mohammed al-Hakim made his comments on Sunday during a joint news conference in Baghdad with his visiting Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif says Iran „did not violate the nuclear deal” signed with world powers in 2015 and urged European nations to exert efforts to preserve the deal after the U.S. withdrew from the agreement last year.
The unraveling of the deal has spiked regional tensions and escalated a war of words between Tehran and Washington.
Speaking about the rising tensions, Zarif says Iran will be able to „face the war, whether it is economic or military through the steadfastness and its forces.”
Zarif called for the singing of a non-aggression agreement between Iran and Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region.
Iran’s president has suggested the Islamic Republic could hold a referendum over the country’s nuclear program amid the unraveling deal with world powers and heightened tensions with the United States, Iranian media reported Sunday.
According to the official IRNA news agency, President Hassan Rouhani, who was last week publicly chastised by the country’s supreme leader, made the suggestion in a meeting with editors of major Iranian news outlets on Saturday evening.
Rouhani said he had previously suggested a referendum to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2004, when he was a senior nuclear negotiator for Iran.
At the time, Khamenei approved of the idea and though there was no referendum, such a vote „can be a solution at any time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying.
A referendum could provide political cover for the Iranian government if it chooses to increase its enrichment of uranium, prohibited under the 2015 deal with world powers.
Last year, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal that capped Iran’s uranium enrichment activities in return to lifting sanctions. Trump has argued that the deal failed to sufficiently curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias throughout the Middle East that the U.S. says destabilize the region, as well as address the issue of Tehran’s missiles, which can reach both U.S. regional bases and Israel.
In recent weeks, tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated over America deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran. The U.S. also plans to send 900 additional troops to the 600 already in the Middle East and extending their stay amid the tensions.
Rouhani’s remarks could also be seen as a defense of his stance following the rare public chastising by the supreme leader.
Khamenei last week named Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — relative moderates within Iran’s Shiite theocracy who had struck the nuclear deal — as failing to implement his orders over the accord, saying it had „numerous ambiguities and structural weaknesses” that could damage Iran.
Earlier last week, Iran said it quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity though Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the deal, making it usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.
Zarif, the foreign minister, was in the Iraq capital on Sunday for talks with officials. On Saturday, Mohamad Halbousi, the parliament speaker in Iraq, a key Iranian ally, said Baghdad is ready to mediate between the United States and Iran if it is asked to do so.
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will visit the Solomon Islands next week, two sources familiar with the plans said on Monday, as Western nations seek to rein in China’s influence on the tiny Pacific island.
With the United States and its allies keen to ensure China does not increase its foothold in the Pacific, protecting diplomatic recognition for self-ruled Taiwan has emerged as a flashpoint in regional ties.
„China is the Solomon Islands’ largest trading partner and this is adding a lot of pressure on lawmakers to switch allegiances,” said Jonathan Pryke, Pacific Islands program director at the think-tank, the Lowy Institute.
The Solomon Islands is one of a handful of Pacific countries to recognize Taiwan, a policy now in question after recent elections. China views as Taiwan as a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties.
On Friday, a senior U.S. official said Washington would help Pacific countries in the face of China’s attempts to influence them.
Those remarks threaten to inflame tension between the U.S. and China already heated by their trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
Morrison’s first overseas trip since winning re-election this month will also be the first time an Australian prime minister has visited the Solomon Islands since 2008.
Australia and China have been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.
Keen to undercut China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Australia has directed ever larger amounts of its foreign aid to the region.
In 2018, Australia said it would spend $139 million to develop undersea internet cable links to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, amid national security concerns about China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
That year, Australia became the first country to ban the world’s largest maker of telecom network gear from its nascent broadband network, a step the United States followed this year by effectively banning U.S. firms from doing business with Huawei.
In November, Australia offered Pacific countries up to A$3 billion in grants and cheap loans in build infrastructure, as Morrison declared the region was „our patch”.
Australia has won favor through its spending commitments but its support of its dominant coal industry is a sore point for many in the region.
„There is little doubt that many Pacific islands will have been unhappy with the re-election of Morrison,” said Peter Chen, a political science professor at the University of Sydney. „He will need to find common ground to repair that relationship.”
($1=1.4438 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
* MP began hunger strike in November to protest Ocalan’s isolation
* Ankara allowed lawyers to visit him for first time since 2011
* Minister denies link to looming Istanbul election
* Ocalan says ready to play „positive role” on Syria (Adds Ocalan, Guven comments, background)
By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL, May 26 (Reuters) – Several Kurdish lawmakers and thousands of prison inmates in Turkey have ended their hunger strike, heeding a call from jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, MPs said on Sunday, 200 days after the protest was launched.
The decision removed a source of tension in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey after Ankara let Ocalan meet his lawyers this month for the first time since 2011, triggering speculation about possible fresh efforts to end conflict in the region.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Leyla Guven began a hunger strike in November in a bid to end Ocalan’s years of isolation by securing him regular access to his family and lawyers.
„Comrades who have committed themselves to hunger strikes and death fasts, I expect you to end your protest,” Ocalan said in a statement read out by one of his lawyers at a news conference in Istanbul on Sunday morning.
Ocalan has been held in an island prison since Turkish special forces captured him in Kenya in 1999 and is revered among Kurdish HDP supporters who see him as key to any peace process.
On Wednesday, the lawyers visited him for the second time this month. Authorities had repeatedly rejected earlier requests to visit him, citing reasons including ship repairs and poor weather.
In Diyarbakir, the southeast’s largest city, a hunger-striking MP announced the end of the protest at a news conference. Hunger strikers’ mothers, wearing white headscarves, applauded and chanted in Kurdish „long live the prison resistance.”
The lawyers’ visits resumed a month before a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election and prompted speculation of steps towards a new peace process four years after Ankara’s talks with Ocalan on ending conflict in southeast Turkey fell apart.
However, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul has denied there is any connection.
Some commentators have suggested the decision to allow lawyers to visit Ocalan could be an attempt to win over Kurdish voters by the AK Party.
In March’s Istanbul mayoral election, the HDP supported the opposition candidate who narrowly beat President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party candidate.
Election authorities annulled the vote, citing irregularities. The HDP has indicated it will again support the opposition in the June 23 election re-run.
Kurds make up around 15 percent of Istanbul’s population of more than 15 million and mostly vote for either the pro-Kurdish HDP or the AK Party.
OCALAN OFFERS ROLE ON SYRIA
Before being transported to hospital by ambulance, Guven said the hunger strike had achieved its goal.
„But our struggle against isolation and our struggle for social peace will continue in all areas. This struggle must lead to an honorable peace,” she said in a written statement.
Ocalan is the founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States.
His lawyer Newroz Uysal cited him as saying Ankara’s permission for lawyers to meet him did not mean there was a negotiation process. But Ocalan said he was ready to play a positive role on issues concerning Syria.
Earlier in May, Ocalan called on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to resolve disputes in Syria without conflict. Ankara views the YPG militia, which forms the core of the U.S.-backed SDF, as part of the PKK.
Guven was joined on hunger strike by three more MPs, around 3,000 inmates in prisons across Turkey and activists abroad, according to her party, the third largest in parliament.
The HDP said seven people, six in Turkish prisons and one in Germany, had killed themselves in March in protest against Ocalan’s isolation. Guven had been consuming water, vitamins and sugar during the hunger strike.
The PKK launched a separatist insurgency in southeast Turkey in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in fighting since, mostly Kurds.
In November 2012, Ocalan made a similar call to end a hunger strike by prisoners. A month later it emerged that he was in talks with Ankara on a peace process.
Those talks and a ceasefire broke down in 2015, unleashing some of the worst violence since the insurgency began. Erdogan’s AK Party has since formed an alliance with nationalists who revile Ocalan and who fiercely opposed the peace process. (Additional Reporting by Bulent Usta Writing by Daren Butler Editing by Keith Weir/Kirsten Donovan/Jane Merriman)
Terrifying: Watch Iran Practice a Missile Attack on Israel
War Is Boring
The National Interest•May 25, 2019
REP https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/watch-iran%E2%80%99s-simulated-missile-attack-israel-55752 5/24/2019 WKD-BUZZ-JDG done Terrifying: Watch Iran Practice a Missile Attack on Israel https://pictures.reuters.com/archive/IRAN-GM1E74I1BXR01.html Cou
War Is Boring
Security, Middle East
Could it happen for real?
Terrifying: Watch Iran Practice a Missile Attack on Israel
So what we can conclude from this, other than Iran has successfully mastered the ability to use Google Earth and to create computer graphics that look the 1993 video game Doom? It’s interesting that the missiles in the video appear to be solid-fueled weapons like the Sejjil, instead of liquid-fueled rockets like the Shahab, which take longer to launch and thus are easier to destroy.
(This article by Michael Peck originally appeared at War is Boring in 2013.)
The video excerpt begins with an Iranian missile in a silo, then shifts to what looks like a battery of mobile launchers raising missiles into launch position. As stirring music plays in the background, missile after missile roars into the sky. The video moves to an orbital views as the missiles soar into space, then shows the coastline of Israel, then the Tel Aviv skyline.
Air New Zealand said Monday it had ordered eight Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft in what it described as a „multi-billion dollar investment”.
It said the first of the wide-bodied, long-range aircraft would be delivered from 2022-27, replacing the airline’s ageing complement of eight 777-200 jets.
Air New Zealand said it had secured a „significant discount” on the $US2.7 billion list price of the eight new aircraft but would not be publicly releasing how much it was paying.
Chief executive Christopher Luxon said the 787-10 was „perfect” for the airline’s Pacific Rim focus.
„In connecting New Zealand with the world, we naturally offer a high proportion of long-haul flights, and these state-of-the-art aircraft will ensure we continue to operate one of the world’s youngest and most efficient jet fleets,” he said.
The airline is believed to have selected the 787-10 over the Airbus A350XWB.
The new aircraft will be powered by General Electric engines, rather than the Rolls Royce Trent ones used in Air NZ’s existing fleet of 787-9s, which have experienced maintenance issues.
Luxon said Air New Zealand had purchased options to increase the order from eight to up to 20 aircraft if required.
A little rain never hurt anybody, right?
Owners of a more than 500-foot-long replica of Noah’s Ark would beg to differ.
Ark Encounter, the company behind the massive vessel, is suing their insurers over rain damage. Those who know the story of Noah will recall that the Old Testament figure built the ark to survive 40 days and 40 nights of rain.
Ark Encounter filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court on Wednesday, May 22, according to legal documents. In the suit, Ark Encounter asks for compensatory and punitive damages, claiming that heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on the attraction’s access road, the lawsuit states.
The company claims that its five insurers allegedly refused to pay roughly $1 million in damages.
The Ark, which sits in Williamstown, Kentucky, was built in 2016.
“We are not going to comment to the press on this case,” said Ark Encounter’s lawyer Amanda Brooke Stubblefield, of the Cincinnati firm Keating, Muething & Klekamp, to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Stubblefield could not be reached for comment by PEOPLE on Friday night.
“The lawsuit speaks for itself. We don’t have anything to add at this time, other than to say that we are highly confident of the merits of our case as we seek a fair resolution to the matter,” said Melany Ethridge, a spokeswoman for the park, to the outlet. Ethridge did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
However, the statement also said that hours of operation were not affected and that guests have not been affected by roadwork in the wake of the landslide.
Allied World Assurance Co. Holdings, which is named in the suit along with three other carriers, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Ark Encounter’s boat is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, and was built according to the dimensions mentioned in the Bible, Ark Encounter explains on their website.
The park invites attendees to “travel back in time on a mile-long scenic bus ride and ascend in view of the massive Ark. Next, take a wild adventure and soar across gorgeous valleys on a zip line tour. Then spot some exotic animals at Ararat Ridge Zoo, or relax with your friends and family at our casual two-story restaurant.”