Biden’s Allies in Senate Demand That Israel Limit Civilian Deaths in Gaza as Congress Debates US Aid

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP)
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Biden’s Allies in Senate Demand That Israel Limit Civilian Deaths in Gaza as Congress Debates US Aid

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP)

As a ceasefire ticked down last week and Israel prepared to resume its round-the-clock airstrikes, Sen. Bernie Sanders and a robust group of Democratic senators had a message for their president: They were done "asking nicely" for Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza.

Lawmakers warned President Joe Biden’s national security team that planned US aid to Israel must be met with assurances of concrete steps from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.

"The truth is that if asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today," Sanders said in a floor speech. It was time for the United States to use its "substantial leverage" with its ally, the Vermont senator said.

"And we all know what that leverage is," he said, adding, "the blank-check approach must end."

With Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs hanging in the balance, the senators’ tougher line on Israel has gotten the White House’s attention, and that of Israel.

Lawmakers of both major political parties for decades have embraced the US role as Israel’s top protector, and it's all but inconceivable that they would vote down the wartime aid. The Democratic lawmakers are adamant that’s not their intent, as strong supporters of Israel’s right of self-defense against Hamas. But just the fact that Democratic lawmakers are making that link signals the fractures in Congress amid the daily scenes of suffering among besieged Palestinian civilians.

Sanders and the Democratic senators involved say they are firm in their stand that Israel's military must adopt substantive measures to lessen civilian deaths in Gaza as part of receiving the supplemental's $14.3 billion in US aid for Israel's war.

The warning from friendly Democrats is a complication for the White House as it faces what had already been a challenging task of getting the supplemental aid bill through Congress. Some Republicans are balking at the part of the bill that provides funding for Ukraine's war against Russia, and the funding for Israel was supposed to be the easy part.

The demand is a warning of more trouble ahead for an Israeli government that's often at odds with the US in its treatment of Palestinians.

"There’s a big difference between asking and getting a commitment" from Netanyahu's government on a plan to reduce civilian casualties and improve living conditions in Gaza, Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told The Associated Press. Van Hollen has been one of the key senators huddling with administration officials on the demands.

"So our goal is to achieve results," Van Hollen said. "And not just set expectations."

Following the senators' warning, the Biden administration has upped its own demands to Israel since late last week, insisting publicly for the first time that Israeli leaders not just hear out US demands to ease civilian suffering in Gaza, but agree to them.

Over the weekend, as an end to the ceasefire brought the return of Israeli bombardment and Hamas rocket strikes, the Israeli military said it had begun using one measure directed by the Biden administration: an online map of Gaza neighborhoods to tell civilians which crowded streets, neighborhoods and communities to evacuate before an Israeli attack.

Heavy bombardment followed the evacuation orders, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off territory. Many of its 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israel ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the war, which was sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says more than 15,500 Palestinians have been killed, with 70% of them women and children.

On social media, Sanders repeated his call for an end to blank checks for Israel as Israeli forces returned to heavy bombing after the ceasefire.

While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said more measures were coming besides the online map, it wasn't clear if any would lessen civilian deaths or satisfy administration and lawmaker demands.

Israel is the top recipient of US military aid over time.

Trying to attach strings to US aid to Israel isn't unheard of, for Congress or for US presidents. Ronald Reagan, for instance, repeatedly suspended or threatened suspensions of fighter jet deliveries to Israel over its military incursions in the region in the 1980s. This time, though, is notable since it is being discussed in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other White House officials huddled with the Senate Democrats over the warning. Israeli diplomats and military officials also rushed to stem such a move, hosting lawmakers for repeated viewings of video of Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7 to make the case for the US military aid.

Netanyahu’s coalition has weathered calls in the past from advocacy groups and individual lawmakers. Objections concerned Palestinian civilian deaths in past Israeli wars against Hamas.

Biden from the start adopted what came to be called his "bear-hug" approach to the Israeli leader — embracing him publicly, and saving any US appeals for changed behavior for private discussions. But when Biden told reporters on Nov. 24 he thought conditioning military aid to Israel was a "worthwhile thought," it helped the proposal gain traction among administration-friendly Democratic senators.

Sanders and the Democrats haven't specified what form the conditions could take, as talks continue. Several Democratic senators contend no additional law is necessary. They say existing US law already mandates that countries receiving US military aid heed human rights concerns.

Some Senate Democrats express dislike of the use of the term conditions and depict their action as more of a determination to influence an outcome.

No matter what, "we’re going to do a robust aid package for Israel," said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. "But it’s got to be consistent with humanitarian aid, and also efforts to reduce the suffering of Gazans who aren’t part of Hamas."



Putin Allies Tell Macron: Any French Troops You Send to Ukraine Will Suffer Fate of Napoleon’s Army

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a press conference at the end of the conference in support of Ukraine, with European leaders and government representatives, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a press conference at the end of the conference in support of Ukraine, with European leaders and government representatives, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Putin Allies Tell Macron: Any French Troops You Send to Ukraine Will Suffer Fate of Napoleon’s Army

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a press conference at the end of the conference in support of Ukraine, with European leaders and government representatives, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a press conference at the end of the conference in support of Ukraine, with European leaders and government representatives, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)

Allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned French President Emmanuel Macron that any troops he sends to Ukraine would meet the same end as Napoleon Bonaparte's Grande Armee whose 1812 invasion of Russia ended in death and defeat.

Macron opened the door on Monday to European nations sending troops to Ukraine, although he cautioned that there was no consensus at this stage.

His comments prompted a slew of other Western countries, including the United States and Britain, to say they had no such plans, while the Kremlin warned that conflict between Russia and the US-led NATO military alliance would be inevitable if European members of NATO sent troops to fight in Ukraine.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament and a close Putin ally, said Macron appeared to see himself as Napoleon and warned him against following in the footsteps of the French emperor.

"To maintain his personal power, Macron could not think of anything better than to ignite a third world war. His initiatives are becoming dangerous for the citizens of France," Volodin said on his official social media feed.

"Before making such statements, it would be right for Macron to remember how it ended for Napoleon and his soldiers, more than 600,000 of whom were left lying in the damp earth."

Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia made rapid progress initially and captured Moscow. But Russian tactics forced his Grande Armee into a long retreat and hundreds of thousands of his men died as a result of disease, starvation and cold.

The war in Ukraine has triggered the worst crisis in Russia's relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Putin, who controls the world's largest nuclear arsenal, has warned of the dangers of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Macron's statement was welcomed by some outside Russia however, particularly in eastern Europe.

But former President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, suggested Macron had dangerous delusions of grandeur and said his statement was an example of how flawed Western political thinking had become.

"The petty and tragic heirs of Bonaparte, trying on the golden epaulettes torn off 200 years ago, are eager for revenge with Napoleonic magnitude and are spouting fierce and extremely dangerous nonsense," he said.

Medvedev, once seen as a modernizing reformer, has reinvented himself since the start of the Ukraine war as an arch-hawk. He has issued a series of belligerent statements, assailing the West and warning of the risk of a nuclear apocalypse if certain red lines are crossed.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Macron's statement had revealed that other Western countries, unlike Macron, understood the risks of a direct clash between NATO troops and Russia.

"The leaders of many European governments quickly said that they were not and are not planning anything of the kind," she said.

"This shows they understand the danger."


Russia Says It Will Take Military-Technical Steps in Response to Sweden’s NATO Accession

 This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
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Russia Says It Will Take Military-Technical Steps in Response to Sweden’s NATO Accession

 This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)

Russia said on Wednesday it would adopt unspecified military-technical and other counter measures to protect itself against Sweden joining NATO, a move it cast as aggressive and as a mistake.

Sweden cleared a last hurdle towards NATO accession on Monday after Hungary's parliament approved membership of the traditionally neutral Nordic country.

Sweden and Finland both bid to join NATO after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in 2022, setting off Europe's biggest conflict since the Second World War, an attritional battle that grinds on two years later.

"We will closely monitor what Sweden will do in the aggressive military bloc, how it will realize its membership in practice ... based on this, we will build our response with retaliatory steps of a military-technical and other nature," Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said.

"Sweden's accession to NATO is accompanied by the ongoing fueling of anti-Russian hysteria in the country, which, unfortunately, is encouraged by the Swedish political and military leadership, but its main source is abroad. It is not the Swedes themselves who are making the choice; this choice has been made for the Swedes," she said.

Sweden's move to join NATO was fueling tensions and militarization, she added.

Russia's embassy in Stockholm had also spoken of unspecified military and technical counter measures on its Telegram account on Tuesday depending on the extent of NATO troops and materiel deployments inside Sweden.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Russia's comments were not surprising and indicated his country was unfazed.

"That's what they said when Finland joined NATO," as well," news agency TT reported Kristersson as saying on Wednesday during a trip to the town of Trollhatten in southern Sweden.

"It is well known that Russia doesn't like the fact of either Sweden or Finland being NATO members, but we make our own decisions."

He said Sweden was "on its toes" to meet any response from Russia. "We are well prepared and we see what they are doing," he said.


Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Pleads for More Ammunition at Albania Summit of Southeastern European Nations

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience during a joint press conference with Albania's Prime Minister, as part of the "Ukraine Southeast Europe Summit" in Tirana on February 28, 2024. (AFP)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience during a joint press conference with Albania's Prime Minister, as part of the "Ukraine Southeast Europe Summit" in Tirana on February 28, 2024. (AFP)
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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Pleads for More Ammunition at Albania Summit of Southeastern European Nations

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience during a joint press conference with Albania's Prime Minister, as part of the "Ukraine Southeast Europe Summit" in Tirana on February 28, 2024. (AFP)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience during a joint press conference with Albania's Prime Minister, as part of the "Ukraine Southeast Europe Summit" in Tirana on February 28, 2024. (AFP)

Ukraine’s president pleaded Wednesday for more ammunition to repel Russian advances as he co-hosted a summit with Albania's government to build further support for Kyiv among southeastern European countries while signs of war fatigue grow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that increasing the supply of armaments, and especially ammunition, was paramount for Ukraine just over two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion. “I think this is the question of: Will we stand or not,” he said during his speech to the summit.

His impassioned plea comes as Russian troops have seized the initiative on the battlefield in Ukraine amid worsening shortages of weapons and soldiers for Ukraine's military. Western analysts and observers say the Russians are attacking in strength along four parallel axes in the northeast, aiming to press deeper into the Ukraine-held western part of the Donetsk region and also penetrating into the Kharkiv region north of it.

Russia took the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka earlier this month by overwhelming Ukrainian forces with large numbers of troops and superior air and artillery firepower. Fierce fighting has continued with Russia pushing Kyiv’s forces out of another three villages to the city’s west in the last few days.

Zelenskyy arrived in Albania overnight to join a summit of eleven countries from southeastern Europe, along with officials from the European Union and other international organizations. It was the latest stop in an international tour that saw him in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to push for a peace plan and the return of prisoners of war from Russia.

Zelenskyy sought to build solidarity among his country and those of the Western Balkans, saying that all of them deserved to be members of the European Union and NATO if they choose.

“The European Union and NATO have provided Europe with the longest and most reliable era of security and economic development, and we are all equally worthy of being a part of the European and Euro-Atlantic communities,” Zelenskyy said.

Securing further support is key to Ukraine’s leader while his country faces battlefield challenges. Zelenskyy on Sunday announced that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action since Russia’s invasion — the first time that Kyiv had confirmed the number of its losses.

He acknowledged, again, in Tirana that “the problems with the supply of ammunition" were impacting the situation on the battlefield.

Russia’s tactics in Avdiivka, including its use of dozens of glide bombs to obliterate Ukrainian positions in the city, has raised concerns it could replicate the same methods elsewhere along the frontline if Western aid to support air-defense systems and supplies of long-range weapons and artillery do not come through soon.

Around Bakhmut, which fell to Russia last May after the longest battle since the full-scale invasion began, Russian troops are trying to push towards Chasiv Yar, according to a spokesman for the operational group overseeing the eastern front line. Illia Yevlash said Tuesday that Russia is reinforcing its troops with assault units, using air attacks, and that heavy fighting was ongoing on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, further north on the frontline, Russian troops are pressing forward around Lyman and Kupiansk, in the Kharkiv region that borders Russia.

Ukraine has urged Western leaders to increase the joint production of weapons and ammunition, improve Ukrainian air defenses and put new pressure on Russia via expanded sanctions.

Not all the countries at the meeting are in full support for Ukraine in its war against Russia. Kremlin ally Serbia is the only European country that has refused to align with EU sanctions following Russia’s invasion. It continues signing cooperation agreements with Moscow.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he insisted that the summit statement should not include any call for sanctions on Russia and should not include proposed wording about Russia's negative influence in the Balkan region.

Albania, a NATO member since 2009 and a candidate for EU membership, has voiced its full support for Kyiv against Russia’s invasion. It has provided military assistance in the form of ammunition and training of Ukrainian military. It was among the first countries offering shelter to Ukrainian refugees. It has joined international sanctions against Russian officials and institutions.

As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in the last two years, Albania joined the US in initiating resolutions against Russia’s invasion.

Zelenskyy said all of the countries at the summit must remain vigilant over what Russian President Vladimir Putin does next.

“The interaction between us, between neighbors, between neighboring regions, between all partners, has become a factor that along with the resilience of our people in Ukraine, does not allow Putin to prevail,” Zelenskyy said.


Germany Hosts Peace Talks Between Armenia and Azerbaijan 

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock looks on during a stake out at the Human Rights Council at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock looks on during a stake out at the Human Rights Council at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Germany Hosts Peace Talks Between Armenia and Azerbaijan 

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock looks on during a stake out at the Human Rights Council at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock looks on during a stake out at the Human Rights Council at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)

Germany is hosting two days of peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia five months after Azerbaijan recaptured its Karabakh region from its ethnic Armenian majority, prompting a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians.

Azerbaijan has been increasingly hostile to outside involvement in brokering an agreement, with President Ilham Aliyev accusing the United States of jeopardizing relations by siding with Armenia.

But German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock travelled to the two countries in November. And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference this month.

In December, the South Caucasus neighbors issued a joint statement saying they want to reach a peace deal.

Armenia and Azerbaijan first went to war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988. After decades of enmity, Azerbaijan in September recaptured Karabakh, controlled by its ethnic Armenian majority since the 1990s despite being internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The offensive prompted most of the region's 120,000 ethnic Armenians to flee to neighboring Armenia.

Armenia described the offensive as ethnic cleansing. Azerbaijan denied that and said those who fled could have stayed on and been integrated into Azerbaijan.

The German Foreign Ministry is hosting the talks. Baerbock will meet separately with her Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts on Wednesday before hosting a trilateral meeting.

She is expected to give a statement around 1330 (1230 GMT).

Among the outstanding issues between the two neighbors is the lack of agreement over their shared border, with each holding small enclaves surrounded by the other's territory.

The United States, the European Union and Russia have all tried for decades to mediate between the two sides.


Spokesperson: Navalny's Funeral to be Held on March 1 in Moscow

Flower and a pictures are left as a tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, near to the Russian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
Flower and a pictures are left as a tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, near to the Russian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
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Spokesperson: Navalny's Funeral to be Held on March 1 in Moscow

Flower and a pictures are left as a tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, near to the Russian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
Flower and a pictures are left as a tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, near to the Russian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's funeral and farewell ceremony will be held on March 1 in Moscow, Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on the X social network.

The funeral will be held at the Borisovskoye cemetery after a farewell ceremony at a church in the Maryino district, she said.

A lawyer for the Russian opposition politician, who accompanied Navalny's mother last week as she fought to get authorities to hand over his body, was briefly detained on Tuesday in Moscow, Russian news media said.
The lawyer, Vasily Dubkov, later told independent news outlet Verstka that he had been released. Verstka said he did not comment on the reason for his detention but said it was an obstruction of his activity as a lawyer.
With Dubkov's help, Navalny's mother Lyudmila succeeded in obtaining the release of her son's body last Saturday, eight days after he died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony.
She had earlier accused investigators of trying to "blackmail" her by withholding the body unless she agreed to bury it without a public funeral, which she refused to accept.


North Korea’s First Spy Satellite Is ‘Alive’, Can Maneuver, Expert Says 

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un visits the Pyongyang General Control Centre of the National Aerospace Technology Administration to inspect operational readiness of the reconnaissance satellites and view aerospace photographs, in this picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on November 25, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un visits the Pyongyang General Control Centre of the National Aerospace Technology Administration to inspect operational readiness of the reconnaissance satellites and view aerospace photographs, in this picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on November 25, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)
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North Korea’s First Spy Satellite Is ‘Alive’, Can Maneuver, Expert Says 

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un visits the Pyongyang General Control Centre of the National Aerospace Technology Administration to inspect operational readiness of the reconnaissance satellites and view aerospace photographs, in this picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on November 25, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un visits the Pyongyang General Control Centre of the National Aerospace Technology Administration to inspect operational readiness of the reconnaissance satellites and view aerospace photographs, in this picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on November 25, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)

North Korea's first spy satellite is "alive," a Netherlands-based space expert said on Tuesday, after detecting changes in its orbit that suggest Pyongyang is successfully controlling the spacecraft - although its capabilities are still unknown.

After two fiery failures, North Korea successfully placed the Malligyong-1 satellite in orbit in November. Pyongyang's state media claimed it has photographed sensitive military and political sites in South Korea, the United States, and elsewhere, but has not released any imagery. Independent radio trackers have not detected signals from the satellite.

"But now we can definitely say the satellite is alive," Marco Langbroek, a satellite expert at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, wrote in a blog post.

From Feb. 19-24, the satellite conducted maneuvers to raise its perigee, or the lowest point in its orbit, from 488 km to 497 km, Langbroek said, citing data from the US–led Combined Space Operations Center.

"The maneuver proves that Malligyong-1 is not dead, and that North-Korea has control over the satellite - something that was disputed," he said.

South Korea's Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Monday, Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said the satellite was not showing any signs of performing other tasks or engaging in reconnaissance.

"While we indeed currently can not be sure whether the satellite does successfully take imagery, it at least performs orbital maneuvers, so in that sense it is functional," Langbroek wrote of Shin's comments.

The orbit-raising maneuver was a surprise as the presence of an onboard propulsion system is unexpected, and previous North Korean satellites never maneuvered, he said.

"Having the capacity to raise the satellite's orbit is a big deal," Langbroek said.

That means that as long as there is fuel in the satellite, North Korea can prolong the satellite's lifetime by raising its altitude when it gets too low because of orbital decay, he concluded.

Nuclear-armed North Korea has vowed to launch three more spy satellites in 2024.


Michigan Takeaways: Presidential Primaries Show Warning Signs for Trump and Biden 

A voter stands in a voting booth at polling site located at Warren E. Bow Elementary School during voting in the 2024 presidential primary election in Detroit, Michigan, US, 27 February 2024. (EPA)
A voter stands in a voting booth at polling site located at Warren E. Bow Elementary School during voting in the 2024 presidential primary election in Detroit, Michigan, US, 27 February 2024. (EPA)
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Michigan Takeaways: Presidential Primaries Show Warning Signs for Trump and Biden 

A voter stands in a voting booth at polling site located at Warren E. Bow Elementary School during voting in the 2024 presidential primary election in Detroit, Michigan, US, 27 February 2024. (EPA)
A voter stands in a voting booth at polling site located at Warren E. Bow Elementary School during voting in the 2024 presidential primary election in Detroit, Michigan, US, 27 February 2024. (EPA)

Joe Biden and Donald Trump easily won their party’s primaries in Michigan, but Tuesday’s results showed that both candidates have cause for concern in their bid to win the swing state in November.

An “uncommitted” vote in Michigan's Democratic primary was the first indication of how backlash over President Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza might impact his reelection campaign. Trump won his primary by a large margin, but support for rival Nikki Haley once again showed that some Republican voters may have misgivings about giving the former president another four years in the general election.

Here are some takeaways from Michigan:

Biden, Trump each move closer to party's nomination Michigan was the last major primary state before Super Tuesday, and both sides were watching closely for implications for the November general election in one of the few genuine swing states left in the country.

Biden has now cruised to victories over lesser known candidates in South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, which he won in a write-in campaign. Tuesday's results show that his standing is still strong in Michigan, which Biden returned to the Democratic column in 2020.

Trump has swept all five of the early state contests, including South Carolina, the home state of rival Haley. He now heads into Super Tuesday, when 15 states and one territory hold Republican nominating contests, as the overwhelming favorite to lock up the Republican nomination.

Michigan was one of three so-called blue wall states, including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Trump won in 2016. He predicted a big win beforehand.

Just 16 of Michigan’s 55 Republican presidential delegates will be determined by the primary results, while the remaining delegates will be allocated during a March 2 convention. Trump’s anticipated dominance at the state convention, where grassroots activists will play a key role, will decide the allocation of the remaining 39 GOP delegates.

Some Democrats express anger over Gaza with “uncommitted” vote Michigan has become the focal point of Democratic frustration regarding the White House’s actions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. It has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation.

That anger came through loud and clear on Tuesday as some voters marked “uncommitted” on their ballot in the Democratic primary. Biden still dominated the primary, but the result could be a concern in a state he won by less than 3% in 2020 and likely can’t afford to lose this year.

Organizers of the “uncommitted” movement had purposely kept expectations low, having only seriously begun their push a few weeks ago. The “Listen to Michigan” campaign that organized the push said they were hoping for 10,000 votes, pointing to Trump’s win of less than 11,000 votes in 2016 to show the significance of that number.

When Barack Obama ran for reelection in 2012, the last time a Democratic presidential incumbent sought re-election, the “uncommitted” option received close to 21,000 votes — or 11 percentage points.

The “uncommitted” vote totals would need to be between 20 and 30 percentage points for Democrats to worry about their impact in November, said Richard Czuba, a pollster who has long tracked Michigan politics.

“Twenty percent gets my attention. If it rises to 25%, that gets a lot more attention and if it rises above 30%, I think that’s a signal that Joe Biden has pretty substantial issues in his base,” said Czuba.

Much of the “uncommitted” vote was expected to come from the east side of the state, in communities such as Dearborn and Hamtramck, where Arab Americans represent close to half of the population. Biden won Dearborn by a roughly 3-to-1 advantage in 2020 and Hamtramck by a 5 to 1 margin.

Some Republicans still oppose Trump Despite Trump's clear victory in Michigan, Haley still saw significant support from the swing state's Republicans.

Some of her best results came in Oakland and Kent counties, where Democrats have been gaining ground in recent years, contributing to their recent statewide success. She also performed better in counties where the state’s largest universities are located, Washtenaw and Ingham counties.

Trump has dominated in primaries with help from his base but his strength among general election voters remains unclear. The former president has appeared in Michigan regularly in the eight years since he became president, while Haley only began stumping in the state over the weekend.

AP VoteCast reveals that a large portion of Trump’s opposition within the Republican primaries has come from voters who abandoned him before this year.

All three statewide Republican candidates that Trump endorsed in the 2022 midterms were crushed by Democratic incumbents.


Türkiye Arrests Members of Cell Suspected of ISIS Links

A photo showing a raid by the Turkish security forces on ISIS members (File)
A photo showing a raid by the Turkish security forces on ISIS members (File)
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Türkiye Arrests Members of Cell Suspected of ISIS Links

A photo showing a raid by the Turkish security forces on ISIS members (File)
A photo showing a raid by the Turkish security forces on ISIS members (File)

Turkish security forces arrested on Tuesday 20 ISIS members suspected of establishing a terrorist cell in the capital.

The Public Prosecution Office in Ankara said the arrest is part of an investigation launched by its Terrorism Crimes Office, against a group suspected of links to the terrorist organization ISIS.

In a statement, the Office added the suspected group was active in Ankara, noting that investigations into the suspects are currently continuing in the Anti-Terrorism Division.

Turkish police have stepped up operations against suspected ISIS militants particularly after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul early this month.

Türkiye has detained 17 members of the ISIS Khorasan Province in an operation in Istanbul. Investigations revealed that they were involved in the attack on the Santa Maria Catholic Church, and of planning to establish a cell to train ISIS militants and send them to Middle Eastern countries.

The Turkish Counter-terrorism forces have also detained 147 people suspected of having ties to ISIS in operations across 33 provinces.

Last month, ISIS renewed its activities in the country after a pause of seven years.

Early in February, one Turkish citizen was killed by two ISIS gunmen at the Italian Santa Maria Catholic Church in Istanbul.

Authorities have already announced the arrest of 25 suspects in connection with the shooting.

Among the 25 remanded in custody were two suspected gunmen, previously captured by police, who are believed to be tied to ISIS. The first one is Amirjon Khliqov from Tajikistan and the other David Tanduev from Russia.

They were charged with being members of an illegal organization and aggravated intentional homicide. Another nine suspects were released pending trial.

Security sources said members of the ISIS Khorasan branch conducted activities against Türkiye and were in connection with the attack of the church.

ISIS claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Türkiye between 2015 and 2017, which killed more than 300 and wounded dozens. Türkiye designated the group as terrorist in 2013.


Iran Elections Shadowed by Economic Crisis

An Iranian student walks past election posters at the entrance of Tehran University. (EPA)
An Iranian student walks past election posters at the entrance of Tehran University. (EPA)
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Iran Elections Shadowed by Economic Crisis

An Iranian student walks past election posters at the entrance of Tehran University. (EPA)
An Iranian student walks past election posters at the entrance of Tehran University. (EPA)

Iranians are more worried about their tough living conditions than about picking the right candidate in upcoming elections.

In the minds of many voters, economic hardship is indeed the most burning issue as the country suffers under punishing international sanctions and rapid inflation.

Iranians will head to the polls for legislative and other elections on Friday, and candidates are promising them on campaign posters to “fight corruption” and “fix the economy.”

At Tehran’s storied Grand Bazaar, many shoppers are simply wandering the warren of aisles without buying anything, as prices have skyrocketed in recent years.

Many doubt that a quick solution is in sight -- among them 62-year-old retiree Aliasghari, who told AFP he wished the politicians would “stop the empty slogans.”

“The economic situation is extremely troubling,” said the pensioner walking through the labyrinthine market, who asked not to be fully named as he discussed the sensitive issue.

Citizens “are hearing a lot of fabrications and they have lost their trust in voting,” he said, adding that “none of my family members are willing to take part in the elections.”

Voters are due to pick new members of Iran's 290-seat legislature and the Assembly of Experts, a key body that appoints the country’s supreme leader.

As usual, Tehran's market is crowded with people of all ages and backgrounds in the weeks leading up to Nowruz.

However, they “just look at the prices and stalls without buying anything” because “the economic situation is causing serious worries,” according to Aliasghari.

Experts believe voter turnout could hit its lowest level in 45 years since the republic’s founding.

In the 2020 legislative elections, turnout was 42.57% nationwide, dropping to about 23% in Tehran, the country's largest electoral district with 30 out of 290 parliamentary seats.

Throughout Iran, the tough economic conditions have intensified political dissatisfaction.

A survey by Iranian state TV revealed that over half of Iranians aren't interested in voting, despite calls from top officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, urging everyone to participate.

But for many in Iran, with a population exceeding 85 million, the big worry is the soaring annual inflation, nearing 50%, along with rising prices and a weak currency.


Pakistan: Jailed ex-PM Khan and Wife Indicted on Graft Charges

Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his third wife Bushra Bibi (File/AP)
Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his third wife Bushra Bibi (File/AP)
TT

Pakistan: Jailed ex-PM Khan and Wife Indicted on Graft Charges

Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his third wife Bushra Bibi (File/AP)
Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his third wife Bushra Bibi (File/AP)

A Pakistani court has indicted jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his third wife Bushra Bibi on charges that they allegedly received land as a bribe by misusing his office during his premiership, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, said.

The latest charges follow a string of convictions against Khan in the months leading up to the Feb. 8 national election, where his supporters won the most seats overall.

Khan, 71, has been in jail since August in connection with other cases, and has previously denied the allegations.

He had already been convicted in four cases with sentences of as much as 14 years in prison - including two on graft charges, that also disqualified him from taking part in politics for 10 years.

His trials are being held on a jail's premises on security grounds.

Khan's PTI party said on Tuesday the couple pleaded not guilty to the indictment charges.

The latest indictment is related to Al-Qadir Trust, which is a non-governmental welfare organization set up by Khan and his third wife Bushra Bibi in 2018 when he was still in office.

Prosecutors say the trust was a front for Khan to receive a valuable 60 acres of land in a district outside Islamabad and another large piece of land close to Khan's hilltop mansion in the capital as a bribe from a real estate developer, Malik Riaz Hussain, who is one of Pakistan's richest and most powerful businessmen.

Hussain has denied any wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, the PTI condemned the indictment.

“Trials conducted behind prison walls (are) only meant to pave the way for miscarriage of justice,” it said in a statement, terming them politically motivated cases to keep Khan behind bars.

Pakistan’s powerful military fell out with Khan before he was ousted in a parliament vote of confidence in April 2022.

He has alleged that generals backed his ouster to bring his opponents to power, a charge the army and the opposition deny.

Separately, Pakistani authorities arrested a prominent journalist for alleged “malicious campaign” against state institutions, in what rights activists described as a blatant attack on the freedom of expression.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had arrested on Monday Asad Ali Toor, known for his criticism of the country’s powerful military, over allegations of running a malicious campaign against state institutions.

A case under the country’s controversial law, the prevention of electronic crime act, has been filed against Toor.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) demanded his immediate release and removal of any curbs on freedom of expression.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement, also demanded his release.

On his blog account, Toor had criticized Chief Justice Qazi Faez over the court’s decision to remove the cricket bat symbol of Imran Khan’s party before the elections.