Category Archives: World

Politics news. The world is the totality of entities, the whole of reality, or everything that exists. The nature of the world has been conceptualized differently in different fields. Some conceptions see the world as unique while others talk of a “plurality of worlds”. Some treat the world as one simple object while others analyse the world as a complex made up of parts

US seeks to boost scrutiny on property deals near military facilities

Washington — The United States plans to broaden oversight of foreigners’ real estate transactions on properties close to military installations, the Treasury Department said Monday, as concerns involving Chinese land purchases grow. 

“President [Joe] Biden and I remain committed to using our strong investment screening tool to defend America’s national security, including actions that protect military installations from external threats,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. 

Under a proposed rule, more than 50 facilities will be added to a list of sites where surrounding property transactions may be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — taking the total figure to 227. 

CFIUS’s jurisdiction covers land purchases as well. 

The concern is that a foreigner’s purchase or lease of certain properties could allow them to collect intelligence or “expose national security activities” to foreign surveillance risks, the Treasury noted. 

A senior Treasury official said CFIUS’s jurisdiction was “country-agnostic” and did not specify if the latest rule was aimed at quelling concerns directed at specific countries like China or Russia. 

In May, U.S. authorities announced that a Chinese-owned crypto firm was barred from using land near a strategic U.S. nuclear missile base, over national security concerns. 

MineOne Partners Limited was ordered to divest from land it bought in 2022, which sat less than a mile from Wyoming’s Francis E. Warren Air Force Base — home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

CFIUS had also raised concerns about the installation of “specialized” crypto mining equipment on the land which is “potentially capable of facilitating surveillance and espionage activities.” 

France’s Macron keeps prime minister in place for ‘stability of the country’ after chaotic election

Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron refused the resignation of the country’s prime minister, asking him on Monday to remain temporarily as the head of the government after chaotic election results left the government in limbo.

French voters split the legislature on the left, center and far right, leaving no faction even close to the majority needed to form a government. The results from Sunday’s vote raised the risk of paralysis for the European Union’s second-largest economy.

Macron gambled that his decision to call snap elections would give France a “moment of clarification,” but the outcome showed the opposite, less than three weeks before the start of the Paris Olympics, when the country will be under an international spotlight.

The French stock market fell on opening but quickly recovered, possibly because markets had feared an outright victory for the far right or the leftist coalition.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal had said he would remain in office if needed but offered his resignation Monday morning. Macron, who named him just seven months ago, immediately asked him to stay on “to ensure the stability of the country.” Macron’s top political allies joined the meeting with Attal at the presidential palace, which ended after about 90 minutes.

Attal on Sunday made clear that he disagreed with Macron’s decision to call the surprise elections. The results of two rounds of voting left no obvious path to form a government for either the leftist coalition that came in first, Macron’s centrist alliance, or the far right.

Newly elected and returning lawmakers were expected to gather at the National Assembly to begin negotiations in earnest.

Macron himself will leave midweek for a NATO summit in Washington.

Political deadlock could have far-ranging implications for the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy and Europe’s economic stability. Still, at least one leader said the results were a relief.

“In Paris enthusiasm, in Moscow disappointment, in Kyiv relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a former European Union Council head, wrote late Sunday on X.

According to official results released early Monday, all three main blocs fell far short of the 289 seats needed to control the 577-seat National Assembly, the more powerful of France’s two legislative chambers.

The results showed just over 180 seats for the New Popular Front leftist coalition, which placed first, ahead of Macron’s centrist alliance, with more than 160 seats. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and its allies were restricted to third place, although their more than 140 seats were still way ahead of the party’s previous best showing of 89 seats in 2022.

Macron has three years remaining on his presidential term.

Rather than rallying behind Macron as he’d hoped, millions took the vote as an opportunity to vent anger about inflation, crime, immigration and other grievances — including his style of government.

The New Popular Front’s leaders immediately pushed Macron to give them the first chance to form a government and propose a prime minister. The faction pledges to roll back many of Macron’s headline reforms, embark on a costly program of public spending, and take a tougher line against Israel because of its war with Hamas. But it’s not clear, even among the left, who could lead the government without alienating crucial allies.

“We need someone who offers consensus,” said Olivier Faure, head of the Socialist Party, which joined the leftist coalition and was still sorting out how many seats it won on Monday.

Macron warns that the left’s economic program of many tens of billions of euros in public spending, partly financed by taxes on wealth and hikes for high earners, could be ruinous for France, already criticized by EU watchdogs for its debt.

A hung parliament is unknown territory for modern France and many people reacted with a mix of relief and apprehension.

“What pollsters and the press were telling us made me very nervous so it’s a huge relief. Big expectations as well,” said Nadine Dupuis, a 60-year-old legal secretary in Paris. “What’s going to happen? How are they going to govern this country?”

The political agreement between the left and center to block the National Rally was largely successful. Many voters decided that keeping the far right from power was more important than anything else, backing its opponents in the runoff, even if they weren’t from the political camp they usually support.

“Disappointed, disappointed,” said far-right supporter Luc Doumont, 66. “Well, happy to see our progression, because for the past few years we’ve been doing better.”

National Rally leader Le Pen, who was expected to make a fourth run for the French presidency in 2027, said the elections laid the groundwork for “the victory of tomorrow.”

Racism and antisemitism marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian disinformation campaigns, and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked — highly unusual for France.

Unlike other countries in Europe that are more accustomed to coalition governments, France doesn’t have a tradition of lawmakers from rival political camps coming together to form a majority. France is also more centralized than many other European countries, with many more decisions made in Paris.

UK can improve ‘botched’ Brexit deal, says Starmer

Belfast — Britain’s new Prime Minister Keir Starmer promised on Monday to secure an improved agreement with the European Union on post-Brexit trading rules and revamp the “botched deal” signed by former premier Boris Johnson.

Speaking in Belfast after talks with the leaders of Northern Ireland, where post-Brexit trade rules have dominated politics for years, Starmer said his new government would first need to implement changes under the current agreement to build trust with the European Union.  

“We think we can get a better deal than the botched deal that Boris Johnson brought home and we will work on that,” Starmer, who won a landslide victory last week, told reporters.

“We’re not going to be able to get a better relationship unless we’ve demonstrated commitment to the relationship and the agreements that have already been put in place,” he added.

Labour has ruled out rejoining the EU single market or customs union but has said it is possible to remove some trade barriers with the 27-nation bloc, which Britain left in 2020.

The largest pro-British party in Northern Ireland ended a boycott of the devolved assembly after tweaks to trading rules secured by former prime minister Rishi Sunak in February, but it has since called for more changes.

Asked about the prospect of a referendum on a United Ireland after Irish nationalists Sinn Fein became the province’s largest party in parliament, Starmer said he would “act in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement,” the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence.

Under the deal, a referendum is at the discretion of the British government if “it appears likely” to the minister for Northern Ireland that a majority would favor cutting ties with London.

Starmer, who visited Edinburgh on Sunday, is to continue on a post-election tour of the four nations of the United Kingdom with a visit to Cardiff later on Monday. 

Review of prescribed fires finds gaps in key areas as US Forest Service looks to improve safety 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two years after the U.S. Forest Service sparked what would become the largest and most destructive wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, independent investigators say there are gaps that need to be addressed if the agency is to be successful at using prescribed fire as a tool to reduce risk amid climate change.  

The investigation by the Government Accountability Office was requested by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández after communities in her district were ravaged in 2022 by the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire.  

The congresswoman wanted to know what factors the Forest Service had identified as contributing to the escape of prescribed fires over the last decade and whether the agency was following through with reforms promised after a pause and review of its prescribed burn program.  

The report made public Monday notes there were 43 escapes documented between 2012 and 2021 out of 50,000 prescribed fire projects. That included blazes in national forests in more than a dozen states, from the California-Nevada border to Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, North Carolina and Arkansas.  

With the U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies tapping into federal infrastructure and inflation reduction funding to boost the number of prescribed burn operations over the next 10 years, Leger Fernández said it’s more important than ever to ensure they are doing it safely.  

The congresswoman was visiting northern New Mexico over recent days, appreciating how things have greened up with summer rains. But the forests are still tinder boxes, she said.  

“We need to address our forest, but we need to do it in a responsible way,” she told The Associated Press. “When you play with fire, there is no margin for error.” 

 

The Forest Service ignites about 4,500 prescribed fires each year, reducing fuels on about 1.3 million acres. It’s part of a multi-billion dollar cleanup of forests choked with dead trees and undergrowth.  

There have been mixed results as federal land managers have fallen behind on some projects and skipped over some highly at-risk communities to work in less threatened ones, according to a 2023 AP review of data, public records and congressional testimony.  

However, the Forest Service said in a response to the GAO that it is making progress and generally agrees with the findings made public Monday. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore wrote that his agency will create and implement a corrective action plan to address the gaps.  

Moore also noted 2023 marked a record year for treatments of hazardous fuels on forest lands and his agency was on track to offer more training to build up crews who can specialize in prescribed burn operations.  

“The agency is using every tool available to reduce wildfire risk at a pace and scale which will make a difference within our current means,” Moore wrote.  

The GAO reviewed volumes of documents over several months, interviewed forest officials and made site visits over many months. The investigation found the Forest Service has taken steps toward implementing several immediate recommended changes following the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. That included developing a national strategy for mobilizing resources for prescribed fire projects.  

There were dozens of other actions the agency identified as part of its 2022 review, but the GAO found “important gaps remain” as the Forest Service hasn’t determined the extent to which it will implement the remaining actions, including how or when.  

The GAO is recommending the Forest Service develop a plan for implementing the reforms, set goals, establish a way to measure progress and ensure it has enough resources dedicated to day-to-day management of the reform effort. It also pointed out that the Forest Service in agency documents recognized the reforms will require major changes to practices and culture.  

Leger Fernández said she hopes change will come quickly because wildfires are becoming more expensive and more dangerous.  

“They are killer fires now. They move very fast, and people cannot get out of the way fast enough,” she said. “And I think that kind of massive emergency that they are will lead to faster change than you might normally see in a large federal bureaucracy.” 

France’s allies relieved by Le Pen loss but wonder what’s next 

LONDON/BRUSSELS — Many of France’s allies breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after Marine Le Pen’s far-right failed to win a snap election, but they noted that a messy coalition from a hung parliament could also pose headaches for Europe.

Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) had been favorite to top the polls, raising the risk of France’s first far-right government since World War II and threatening to upend economic and foreign policy in the euro zone’s second-largest economy.

In particular, Ukraine’s allies feared a Le Pen-led government could be soft on Moscow and pare back military aid that Kyiv has relied on since the Russian invasion in 2022, though her party has latterly said Russia was a threat.

The National Rally’s defeat signals at least a temporary pushback against a far-right surge in Europe, but could herald a period of instability with a new government in an uneasy “cohabitation” with President Emmanuel Macron.

“First of all I am quite relieved there was no right-wing landslide,” said Germany’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, lauding efforts to prevent a “drifting towards nationalism and thereby moving Europe into even more difficult waters.”

“But nevertheless the election result will now represent an enormous challenge, especially for France itself, but of course also for Europe, which is currently in the phase of reorganization after the European elections, and also for the German-French relationship,” he added.

Habeck’s government was using contacts with various parties to clarify the challenges ahead, he told reporters in Stuttgart.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk struck a positive tone.

“In Paris enthusiasm, in Moscow disappointment, in Kyiv relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw,” Tusk said on X.

Le Pen’s party meanwhile was set to join a newly minted alliance in the European Parliament led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with the stated aims of fighting illegal immigration and taking powers back from Brussels.

Macron’s gamble

Macron had called the snap poll in an attempt to wrest the initiative back from Le Pen but his own party was left trailing behind an alliance of leftist parties that performed far better than expected to take first place.

A fragmented parliament is set to weaken France’s role in the European Union and further afield, and make it hard for anyone to push through a domestic agenda.

Several early reactions from overseas rejoiced that the immediate threat of a far-right government had been averted.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares told the radio station RNE he was happy to see a defeat for the far right, which he described as “completely contrary to European values.”

Nikos Androulakis, the head of Greece’s Socialist PASOK party, said the French people had “raised a wall against the far right, racism and intolerance and guarded the timeless principles of the French Republic: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”

An EU official called it a “huge relief” but added: “what it means for Europe on a day to day basis remains to be seen though.” A senior EU diplomat also expressed relief that a lurch towards what they called the extreme right was not seen everywhere.

Le Pen has in the past expressed her admiration for President Vladimir Putin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was watching the formation of a new French government with great interest, but added:

“The victory of political forces that would be supporters of efforts to restore our bilateral relations is definitely better for Russia, but so far we do not see such bright political will in anyone, so we do not harbor any special hopes or illusions in this regard.”

Deep divisions

The election left the French parliament split between three large groups – the left, the centrists, and the far right – with different platforms and no tradition of working together.

The left wants to cap prices of essential goods like fuel and food, raise the minimum wage and the salaries of public sector workers, at a time when France’s budget deficit is already at 5.5% of output, higher than EU rules permit.

“Bye-bye European deficit limits! (The government) will crash in no time. Poor France. It can console itself with (Kylian) Mbappé,” said Claudio Borghi, senator from Italy’s right-wing League party, referring to the French soccer star.

Other hard-right politicians expressed frustration.

Andre Ventura, leader of Portugal’s far-right party Chega, called the result a “disaster for the economy, tragedy for immigration and bad for the fight against corruption.”

A note by Capital Economics said France may have avoided the “worst possible outcomes” for investors, of an outright majority for either Le Pen or the leftists.

A fractious parliament means however it will be difficult for any government to pass the budget cuts that are necessary for France to comply with the EU’s budget rules, it said.

“Meanwhile, the chance of France’s government [and the governments of other countries] clashing with the EU over fiscal policy has increased now that the bloc’s budget rules have been re-introduced,” it said.

NATO secretary general: Quickest way to end Ukraine war is to lose it; but won’t bring peace

WASHINGTON — As NATO prepares to convene on Tuesday a three-day summit in Washington to celebrate its 75th birthday, the alliance is reinforcing its support for Ukraine in the ongoing war with Russia.

During a news conference with a handful of reporters Sunday previewing the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said all NATO members want peace, and that can be achieved if Russian President Vladimir Putin understands he cannot win on the battlefield.

“The quickest way to end this war is to lose the war,” he said. “But that that will not bring peace. That will bring occupation.”

Stoltenberg outlined key measures NATO would take, including the establishment of a dedicated command in Germany, enhanced financial and military aid, and bilateral security agreements.

Stoltenberg emphasized these initiatives while addressing the complexities of Ukraine’s potential NATO membership and the alliance’s united front against Russian aggression.

The precise language of the final agreement of the summit regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership is still under negotiation, he said.

In April, Stoltenberg said the alliance did not expect to offer Ukraine NATO membership during the summit, but rather a “bridge” to membership.

At the summit, that “bridge” will encompass five essential components:

Security assistance command: NATO is setting up a new command in Germany, with logistical hubs in Eastern Europe, to coordinate international security assistance for Ukraine. This will involve 700 personnel led by a three-star NATO general, according to Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg said there have been differences among allies about “the approach or types of weapons Ukraine should be delivered.” Those differences create bureaucratic delays, and the goal is to make delivery faster and easier.

“This new command will have a very robust mandate, so there will be no need for consensus on each and every delivery,” he said.

Financial pledge: Since February 2022, NATO allies have provided around $43 billion annually in military support to Ukraine. The upcoming summit is expected to extend this commitment for another year, laying a foundation for future support.

Immediate weapon deliveries: Announcements on delivering more weapons and ammunition, particularly air defense systems, are anticipated at the summit to bolster Ukraine’s defense.

While the secretary general did not offer specifics, a senior U.S. official indicated that announcements can be expected from NATO allies this week regarding the provision of F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.

Bilateral security agreements: Twenty NATO allies will have signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine by the start of the summit, offering additional security guarantees and reinforcing collaborative defense efforts.

Interoperability: Efforts are underway to align Ukrainian armed forces with NATO standards, including a joint training center in Poland and programs on military acquisitions and procurement.

Hungary won’t participate or obstruct

Stoltenberg addressed concerns about Hungary’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine and its potential to block NATO decisions.

He recounted a recent visit to Budapest, where he secured an agreement with Prime Minister Viktor Orban ensuring that Hungary will not obstruct the proposed support measures for Ukraine.

Budapest will not participate in the new NATO security assistance command for Ukraine but will fulfill its other NATO obligations and contribute to the common budget, Stoltenberg said.

The secretary general highlighted NATO’s diverse engagements with Moscow even after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He noted a recent conversation between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, underscoring the routine nature of such contacts.

Stoltenberg said NATO must function cohesively in developing new defense strategies, emphasizing unity despite differing perspectives, such as those represented by leaders like Orban.

Future relationship with the US

Stoltenberg is confident that the United States would continue to be a staunch NATO ally regardless of future election outcomes, attributing past criticisms by former president Donald Trump primarily to defense spending issues rather than NATO itself.

He emphasized that any secretary general must be able to work with all leaders within the alliance, comparing NATO to a big family that every now and then has arguments and disagreements.

Stoltenberg recounted his experience working with presidents Barak Obama, Trump, and Joe Biden, noting that despite differing political leadership, the U.S. has remained a steadfast and committed NATO ally.

US troops leave Niger base at Niamey

Niamey, Niger — U.S. troops have completed a withdrawal from their base in Niger’s capital of Niamey and will fully depart from Agadez in the north before a Sept. 15 deadline set by the country’s military rulers, both countries said Sunday.

Niger’s military leaders scrapped a military cooperation deal with Washington in March, after seizing power in a July 2023 coup.

The United States had around 650 soldiers in Niger as part of anti-jihadist missions in several Sahel nations of West Africa, including a major drone base near Agadez.

“The defense ministry of Niger and the U.S. Defense Department announce that the withdrawal of American forces and equipment from the Niamey base 101 is now completed,” the two countries said in a statement.

A final flight carrying U.S. troops was due to leave Niamey late Sunday.

The U.S. presence had stood at around 950 troops, and 766 soldiers have left Niger since the military ordered their departure, AFP learned at a ceremony at the base attended by Niger’s army chief of staff Maman Sani Kiaou and US General Kenneth Ekman.

“American forces are now going to focus on quitting airbase 201 in Agadez,” the statement said, insisting that the withdrawal would be completed by September 15 as planned.

Niger had already ordered the withdrawal of troops from France, the former colonial power and traditional security ally, and has strengthened ties with Russia which has provided instructors and equipment.

On Saturday, Germany’s defense ministry also said it would end operations at its airbase in Niger by August 31 following the breakdown of talks with military leaders.

A similar shift has taken place in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, which are also ruled by military leaders and faced with violence from jihadist groups.

Hungary PM Orban in Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrived in Beijing Monday for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Orban’s press chief told state news agency MTI.

“Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s peace mission continues,” Bertalan Havasi was quoted as saying.

This is Orban’s third surprise overseas trip since Hungary took over the European Union’s rotating presidency at the beginning of July, after he traveled to Ukraine and Russia last week on what he called a “peace mission.”

His trip to Moscow drew strong rebukes from his allies.

Hungary, under right-leaning Orban, has become an important trade and investment partner for China, in contrast with some other European Union nations seeking to become less dependent on the world’s second-largest economy.

Orban’s visit also came days before a NATO summit that will address further military aid for Ukraine against what the Western defense alliance has called Russia’s “unprovoked war of aggression.”

Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, was accompanying Orban on the China trip, according to photographs on Szijjarto’s Facebook page.

The foreign ministry canceled late last week a meeting for Monday in Budapest with Germany’s foreign minister and Szijjarto, a German foreign ministry official said Friday.

Orban, a critic of Western military aid to Ukraine who has the warmest relations of any EU leader with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said last week he recognized he had no EU mandate for the trip to Moscow, but that peace could not be made “from a comfortable armchair in Brussels.”

New Orleans Essence Festival wraps up 4-day celebration of Black culture

New Orleans, Louisiana — For 30 years, the Essence Festival of Culture has brought together people from all walks of life and from around the world to connect through conversation, shared experiences and, of course, music.

The nation’s largest annual celebration of Black culture was set to end Sunday with musical performances by Janet Jackson and a special tribute to Frankie Beverly & Maze, the soul band that closed the event for the festival’s first 15 years. Beverly, now 77, has said he is stepping away from performing live, and the group has been on a farewell tour.

Others scheduled to perform included Victoria Monet, Teedra Moses, Tank and the Bangas, Dawn Richard, SWV, Jagged Edge, Bilal and Anthony Hamilton.

Barkue Tubman-Zawolo, chief of staff, talent and diasporic engagement for Essence Ventures, told The Associated Press the festival helps connect the global Black community.

“Historically, as Black people, sometimes we’re not sure where our heritage comes from,” Tubman-Zawolo said. “America is just one place. But within America there’s a melting pot of different Black cultures: Africa, Latin, Europe, the Caribbean. Understanding that allows our power to be even greater.”

Tubman-Zawolo said those connections could be seen throughout this year’s Film Festival, held at the city’s convention center, where fans heard from storytellers from Nigeria, Ghana and the Caribbean “who are targeting our stories about us, for us, globally.”

She noted similar connections through the Food and Wine stage, where discussions highlighted Caribbean and African cuisine; the Soko Market Place, where vendors from all over the world shared their craft; and on the Caesars Superdome stage, which spotlighted Caribbean and African artists including Machel Montano of Trinidad and Ayra Starr of Nigeria.

“All of that occurred over four days,” Tubman-Zawolo said. “But the beauty of it is, it doesn’t stay here. (Fans) take it with them.”

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell said this year’s “We Love Us” theme was appropriate.

“This whole ‘We Love Us’ theme brought us together to build communities,” she said.

The festival’s impact on the city and state has surpassed $300 million, with more than 500,000 people visiting since 1994.

Essence started the festival as a way to celebrate 25 years of the magazine’s history.

“The locals are being incorporated in a manner that we can see and touch and feel and smell. That has been a part of the evolution of Essence,” Cantrell said.

The event’s current contract ends in 2026, but Essence Ventures CEO Caroline Wanga has said the festival’s “forever home” is New Orleans.

“That’s what we believe as well,” Cantrell said. “We have a foundation that’s been laid over 30 years. The city is always ready and prepared to host this event and more. I think staying in New Orleans is the best fit and best marriage, the best partnership.”

Chinese Premier Li congratulates new British PM Starmer

Beijing — Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Sunday congratulated new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer on his election, state media reported, the first senior leader in Beijing to do so publicly.

China is “willing to work with the new U.K. government to consolidate mutual political trust and expand mutually beneficial cooperation,” Li told Starmer, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Their call came after days of silence from top officials in Beijing, with the Chinese foreign ministry saying only that it noted the results of the U.K. election. 

By comparison, Chinese leader Xi Jinping congratulated Iran’s incoming President Masoud Pezeshkian just hours after his election Saturday.

China was Britain’s fifth-largest trading partner as of 2023, according to the U.K. Department for Business and Trade.

But diplomatic relations between the two countries have been icy in recent years, with Beijing and London sparring over tightening communist control in former British colony Hong Kong.

The two sides have also traded accusations of espionage, with Beijing saying last month that MI6 had recruited Chinese state employees to spy for the U.K.

Xinhua reported Sunday that Li told Starmer that the “strengthening of bilateral coordination and cooperation was in the interests of both sides.”

US envoy expresses regret over alleged military sex crimes in Okinawa

Tokyo — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel expressed regret Saturday for the handling of two cases of sexual assaults allegedly committed by American military personnel on Okinawa, which have again stoked resentment of the heavy U.S. troop presence on the strategic island in Japan’s far southwest.

The issue broke out late last month, triggering an uproar over reports that two American service members had been charged with sexual assaults months earlier.

Both cases were first reported in local media in late June. In one arrest made in March, a member of the U.S. Air Force was charged with the kidnapping and sexual assault of a teenager, and while in May a U.S. Marine was arrested on charges of attempted rape resulting in injury. Further details about the alleged victims were not released.

Okinawa police said they did not announce the cases out of privacy considerations related to the victims. The Foreign Ministry, per police decision, also did not notify Okinawa prefectural officials.

The cases are a reminder to many Okinawans of the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. service members, which sparked massive protests of the U.S. presence. It led to a 1996 agreement between Tokyo and Washington to close a key U.S. air base, although the plan has been repeatedly delayed due to protests at the site designated for its replacement on another part of the island.

Emanuel said he deeply regretted what happened to the individuals, their families and their community, but fell short of apologizing. “Obviously, you got to let the criminal justice process play out. But that doesn’t mean you don’t express on a human level your sense of regret.”

“We have to do better,” he said, adding that the U.S. military’s high standards and protocols for education and training of its troops was “just not working.”

Emanuel said the U.S. may be able to propose measures to improve training and transparency with the public at U.S.-Japan foreign and defense ministers’ security talks expected later this month in Tokyo.

On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said the Japanese authorities would do their utmost to provide more prompt disclosures of alleged crime related to U.S. military personnel on Okinawa while protecting victims’ privacy.

The cases could be a setback for the defense relationship at a time when Okinawa is seen increasingly important in the face of rising tensions with China.

Some 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Japan under a bilateral security pact, about half of them on Okinawa, where residents have long complained about heavy U.S. troop presence and related accidents, crime and noise.

Emanuel commented on the issue while visiting Fukushima, on Japan’s northeast coast.

Earlier Saturday, the ambassador visited the nearby town of Minamisoma to join junior surfers and sample locally-caught flounder for lunch, aiming to highlight the safety of the area’s seawater and seafood amid ongoing discharges of treated and diluted radioactive water from the tsunami-ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

China has banned Japanese seafood over the discharges, a move Emanuel criticized as unjustified.

‘Despicable Me 4’ debuts, raking in $122.6 million since opening Wednesday

New York — After a historically bad first half of the year, the box office is suddenly booming.

“Despicable Me 4,” the Illumination Animation sequel, led the way over the holiday weekend with $75 million in ticket sales Friday through Sunday and $122.6 million since opening Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The Independence Day holiday weekend haul for the Universal Pictures’ release further extends the considerable box-office reign of the Minions, arguably the most bankable force in movies today. And it also kept a summer streak going for Hollywood.

Though overall ticket sales were down more than 40% from levels prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, heading into the summer moviegoing season, theaters have lately seen a succession of hits. After Sony’s “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” outperformed expectations, Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” rapidly cleared $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide, making it the first release since “Barbie” to reach that mark. Last weekend, the Paramount prequel “A Quiet Place: Day One” also came in above expectations.

With “Deadpool & Wolverine” tracking for a $160 million launch later this month, Hollywood’s summer is looking up.

“If you look at the mood of the industry about eight weeks ago, very different than today,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. “The song says what a difference a day makes. What a difference a month has made.”

It helps to have the Minions at your disposal. Since first debuting in the 2010 original “Despicable Me,” each entry of the franchise — including two sequels and two “Minions” spinoffs — has seemingly guaranteed to gross around $1 billion. The four previous movies all made between $939 million (2022’s “Minions: Rise of Gru”) and $1.26 billion (2015’s “Minions”) globally.

That run has helped give Illumination founder and chief executive Chris Meledandri one of the most enviable track records in Hollywood. “Despicable Me 4,” directed by Chris Renaud and Patrick Delage, returns the voice cast led by Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig and doubles down on more Minion mayhem. Reviews (54% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) weren’t particularly good for the latest installment, which includes a witness protection plot and a group of Minions transformed into a superhero squadron. But in their 12-year run, little has slowed down the Minions.

“This is one of the most beloved franchises, quite frankly, in the history of film, and certainly animation,” said Jim Orr, distribution chief for Universal. “Chris Meledandri and Illumination have their finger on the pulse of what families and audiences around the world want to see.”

Family movies are powering the box office. “Despicable Me 4” performed strongly despite the still considerable drawing power of “Inside Out 2.” In its fourth weekend of release, the Pixar sequel added another $30 million domestically and $78.3 million overseas.

“Inside Out 2,” with $1.22 billion in ticket sales thus far, is easily the year’s biggest hit and fast climbing up the all-time ranks for animated releases. It currently ranks as the No. 5 animated release worldwide.

Instead of cannibalizing the opening weekend for “Despicable Me 4,” “Inside Out 2” may have helped get families back in the habit of heading to theaters.

“What happened, I think, is the release calendar finally settled into a nice rhythm,” said Dergarabedian, referencing the jumbled movie schedule from last year’s strikes. “It’s all about momentum.”

The continued strong sales for “Inside Out 2” were enough to put the film in second place for the domestic weekend. Last week’s top new film, “A Quiet Place: Day One,” slid to third with $21 million in its second weekend, with another $21.1 million from overseas theaters. That was a steep decrease of 60%, though the Paramount prequel has amassed $178.2 million worldwide in two weeks.

The run of hits has caused some studios to boost their forecasts for the summer movie season. Heading into the most lucrative season at theaters, analysts were predicting a $3 billion summer, down from the more typical $4 billion mark. Now, closer to $3.4 billion appears likely.

The weekend’s other top new release was Ti West’s “MaXXXine,” the third in a string of slasher films from A24 starring Mia Goth. In 2,450 locations, “MaXXXine” collected $6.7 million in ticket sales, a franchise best. The film, which follows “X” and “Pearl” (both released in 2022), stars Goth as a 1980s Hollywood starlet being hunted by a killer known as the Night Stalker.

Angel Studios, which last year released the unexpected summer hit “Sound of Freedom,” struggled to find the same success with its latest Christian film, “Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot.” It debuted with $3.2 million.

Kevin Costner’s big-budget gamble, “Horizon: An American Saga,” didn’t do much to turn around its fortunes in its second weekend. The first chapter in what Costner hopes will be a four-part franchise – including a chapter two Warner Bros. will release in August – earned $5.5 million in its second weekend. The film, which cost more than $100 million to make, has grossed $22.2 million in two weeks.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Despicable Me 4,” $75 million.

  2. “Inside Out 2,” $30 million.

  3. “A Quiet Place Day One,” $21 million.

  4. “MaXXXine,” $6.7 million.

  5. “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” $6.5 million.

  6. “Horizon: An American Saga, Chapter 1,” $5.5 million.

  7. “Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot,” $3.2 million.

  8. “Kaiki 2898,” $1.8 million.

  9. “The Bikeriders,” $1.3 million.

  10. “Kinds of Kindness,” $860,000.

Beryl bears down on Texas, where it’s expected to hit Monday and regain hurricane strength 

MATAGORDA BAY, TEXAS — The outer bands of Beryl brought rain and intensifying winds to Texas on Sunday as coastal residents boarded up windows, left beach towns under evacuation orders and braced for the tropical storm that forecasters expected to strengthen back into a hurricane before landfall.

Much of Texas’ shoreline was under a hurricane warning and landfall was expected early Monday. Officials in several coastal counties urged tourists along the beach for the Fourth of July holiday to leave.

The earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, Beryl caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean on its way to Texas. The storm ripped off doors, windows and roofs with devastating winds and storm surge fueled by the Atlantic’s record warmth.

“We’re seeing the outer bands of Beryl approach the Texas coast now and the weather should be going downhill especially this afternoon and evening,” Eric Blake, a senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said Sunday morning. “People should definitely be in their safe space by nightfall and we’re expecting the hurricane to make landfall somewhere in the middle Texas coast overnight.”

Beryl would be the 10th hurricane to hit Texas in July since 1851 and the fourth in the last 25 years, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

Three times in its one week of life, Beryl has gained 56 kilometers per hour in wind speed in 24 hours or less, the official weather service definition of rapid intensification.

Beryl’s explosive growth into an unprecedented early whopper of a storm shows the literal hot water of the Atlantic and Caribbean, and what the Atlantic hurricane belt can expect for the rest of the storm season, experts said.

Texas officials warned people along the entire coastline to prepare for possible flooding, heavy rain and wind. The hurricane warning extended from Baffin Bay, south of Corpus Christi, to Sargent, south of Houston.

Beryl lurked as another potential heavy rain event for Houston, where storms in recent months have knocked out power across the nation’s fourth-largest city and flooded neighborhoods. A flash flood watch was in effect for a wide swath of the Texas coast, where forecasters expected Beryl to dump as much as 25 centimeters of rain in some areas.

Potential storm surges between 1.2 and 1.8 meters above ground level were forecast around Matagorda. The warnings extended to the same coastal areas where Hurricane Harvey came ashore in 2017 as a Category 4 hurricane, which was far more powerful than Beryl’s expected intensity by the time the storm reaches landfall.

In Port Lavaca, Jimmy May was boarding up his business Jimmy Hayes Electric on Sunday to protect the glass, “in case we get a little bit too much wind, too much trash blowing,” he said. He said he wasn’t concerned about the forecasted high winds or possible storm surge in town but people in lower-lying areas “need to get out of there.”

Those looking to catch a flight out of the area could find that option more difficult as Beryl closes in on the Texas coast. While the majority of flights from Houston’s two major commercial airports were leaving on time as of midday Sunday, more than 65 flights had been delayed and another four canceled, according to FlightAware data.

In Corpus Christi, officials asked visitors to cut their trips short and return home early if possible. Residents were advised to secure homes by boarding up windows if necessary and using sandbags to guard against possible flooding.

Traffic was nonstop for the past three days at an Ace Hardware store in the city as customers bought tarps, rope, duct tape, sandbags and generators, employee Elizabeth Landry said Saturday.

“They’re just worried about the wind, the rain,” she said. “They’re wanting to prepare just in case.”

Ben Koutsoumbaris, general manager of Island Market on Corpus Christi’s Padre Island, said there has been “definitely a lot of buzz about the incoming storm,” with customers stocking up on food and drinks, particularly meat and beer.

The White House said Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had sent emergency responders, search-and-rescue teams, bottled water, and other resources along the coast.

Some coastal cities called for voluntary evacuations in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding, banned beach camping and urged tourists traveling on the Fourth of July holiday weekend to move recreational vehicles from coastal parks. In Refugio County, north of Corpus Christi, officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for its 6,700 residents.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is traveling in Taiwan, issued a preemptive disaster declaration for 121 counties.

Beryl this past week battered Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane, toppling trees but causing no injuries or deaths before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Before hitting Mexico, Beryl wrought destruction in Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados. Three people were reported dead in Grenada, three in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, three in Venezuela and two in Jamaica.

An Alaska tourist spot will vote whether to ban cruise ships on Saturdays to give locals a break

JUNEAU, Alaska — Each year, a crush of tourists arrives in Alaska’s capital city on cruise ships to see wonders like the fast-diminishing Mendenhall Glacier. Now, long-simmering tensions over Juneau’s tourism boom are coming to a head over a new voter initiative aimed at giving residents a respite from the influx.

A measure that would ban cruise ships with 250 or more passengers from docking in Juneau on Saturdays qualified for the Oct. 1 municipal ballot, setting the stage for a debate about how much tourism is too much in a city that is experiencing first-hand the impacts of climate change. The measure would also ban ships on July 4, a day when locals flock to a downtown parade.

The “ship-free Saturdays” initiative that qualified last week will go to voters unless the local Assembly enacts a similar measure by Aug. 15, which is seen as unlikely.

Juneau, accessible only by water or air, is home to the Mendenhall Glacier, a major draw for the cruise passengers who arrive on multi-story ships towering over parts of the modest downtown skyline. Many residents of this city of about 32,000 have concerns about increased traffic, congested trails and the frequent buzz of sight-seeing helicopters transporting visitors to the Mendenhall and other glaciers.

Deborah Craig, who has lived in Juneau for decades, supports ship-free Saturdays. Craig, who lives across the channel from where the ships dock, often hears their early-morning fog horns and broadcast announcements made to passengers that are audible across the water.

The current “overwhelming” number of visitors diminishes what residents love so much about Juneau, she said.

“It’s about preserving the lifestyle that keeps us in Juneau, which is about clean air, clean water, pristine environment and easy access to trails, easy access to water sports and nature,” she said of the initiative.

“There’s this perception that some people are not welcoming of tourists, and that’s not the case at all,” Craig said. “It’s about volume. It’s about too much — too many in a short period of time overwhelming a small community.”

The current cruise season runs from early April to late October.

Opponents of the initiative say limiting dockings will hurt local businesses that rely heavily on tourism and could invite lawsuits. A voter-approved limit on cruise passenger numbers in Bar Harbor, Maine, another community with a significant tourism economy, was challenged in federal court.

Laura McDonnell, a business leader who owns Caribou Crossings, a gift shop in Juneau’s downtown tourist core, said she makes 98% of her annual revenue during the summer season.

Tourism is about all the “local businesses that rely on cruise passengers and our place in the community,” said McDonnell, who is involved in Protect Juneau’s Future, which opposes the initiative.

Some schools recently closed due to factors including declining enrollment, while the regional economy faces challenges, she said.

“I think that as a community, we really need to look at what’s at stake for our economy,” she said. “We are not in a position to be shrinking our economy.”

The cruise industry accounted for $375 million in direct spending in Juneau in 2023, most of that attributable to spending by passengers, according to a report prepared for the city by McKinley Research Group LLC.

After a two-year pandemic lull, cruise passenger numbers rose sharply in Juneau, hitting a record of more than 1.6 million in 2023. Under this year’s schedule, Sept. 21 will be the first day since early May with no large ships in town.

The tourism debate is polarizing, and the city has been trying to find a middle ground, said Alexandra Pierce, Juneau’s visitor industry director. But she noted there also needs to be a regional solution.

If the Juneau initiative passes, it will impact other, smaller communities in southeast Alaska because the ships, generally on trips originating in Seattle or Vancouver, Canada, will have to go somewhere if they can’t dock in Juneau on Saturdays, she said.

Some residents in Sitka, south of Juneau, are in the early stages of trying to limit cruise visitation to that small, island community, which is near a volcano.

Juneau and major cruise lines, including Carnival Corp., Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Group, agreed to a limit of five large ships a day, which took effect this year. They more recently signed a pact, set to take effect in 2026, seeking a daily limit of 16,000 cruise passengers Sundays through Fridays and 12,000 on Saturdays.

Pierce said the overall goal is to keep total cruise passenger visitation around 1.6 million, and to even out daily numbers of visitors that can spike to about 18,000 on the busiest days and feel “a bit suffocating.” Juneau traditionally has been the most popular cruise port in the state.

A number of projects around Juneau are expected to help make existing cruise numbers feel less impactful. Those include plans for a gondola at the city-owned ski area and increased visitor capacity at the Mendenhall Glacier recreation area, she said.

Renée Limoge Reeve, vice president of government and community relations for the trade group Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, said the agreements signed with the city were the first of their kind in Alaska.

The best strategy is “ongoing, direct dialogue with local communities” and working together in a way that also provides a predictable source of income for local businesses, she said.

Protect Juneau’s Future, led by local business leaders, said the success of the ballot measure would mean a loss of sales tax revenue and millions of dollars in direct spending by cruise passengers. The group was confident voters would reject the measure, its steering committee said in a statement.

Karla Hart, a sponsor of the initiative and frequent critic of the cruise industry, said the threat of litigation has kept communities from taking steps to limit cruise numbers in the past. She was heartened by legal wins this year in the ongoing fight over the measure passed in Bar Harbor, a popular destination near Maine’s Acadia National Park.

She believes the Juneau initiative will pass.

Ukrainian drone triggers warehouse explosions in Russia as war of attrition grinds on 

Kyiv — A village in western Russia’s border region was evacuated Sunday following a series of explosions after debris from a downed Ukrainian drone set fire to a nearby warehouse, local officials said.

Social media footage appeared to show rising clouds of black smoke in the Voronezh region while loud explosions could be heard in succession.

Gov. Aleksandr Gusev said that falling wreckage triggered the “detonation of explosive objects.” No casualties were reported, but residents of a nearby village in the Podgorensky district were evacuated, he said. Roads were also closed with emergency services, military and government officials working at the scene.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not address the strike in their morning briefing, but said that air defense systems had destroyed a Ukrainian drone over the Belgorod region.

Authorities in Russia’s Krasnodar province on Saturday said a fire at an oil depot had also been caused by falling drone debris. Russia’s emergency services said the blaze was extinguished Sunday morning. 

The strikes come after a Ukrainian military spokesperson told The Associated Press Thursday that Kyiv’s troops had retreated from a neighborhood on the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a strategically important town in Ukraine’s Donetsk region that has been reduced to rubble under a monthlong Russian assault.

Russian forces have for months tried to grind out gains in Ukraine’s industrial east, in an apparent attempt to lock its defenders into a war of attrition. In a joint investigation published Friday, independent Russian news outlets Meduza and Mediazona reported that Moscow’s forces were losing between 200 and 250 soldiers in Ukraine each day.

Military analysts say Chasiv Yar’s fall could also compromise critical Ukrainian supply routes and put nearby cities in jeopardy, bringing Russia closer to its stated aim of seizing the entire Donetsk region. 

Russia sent overnight into Sunday two ballistic missiles and 13 Shahed drones, Ukrainian air force officials said. All were shot down but the officials did not elaborate on the impact of the missiles.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, 14 people died after a bus collided with a cargo vehicle, leaving a single survivor, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said Saturday evening. The victims included a 6-year-old child.

Torrid heat bakes millions of people in large swaths of US, setting records and fanning wildfires

Las Vegas — Roughly 130 million people were under threat over the weekend and into next week from a long-running heat wave that broke or tied records with dangerously high temperatures and is expected to shatter more from East Coast to West Coast, forecasters said.

Ukiah, north of San Francisco, hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius) on Saturday, breaking the city’s record for the date and tying its all-time high. Livermore, east of San Francisco, hit 111 F (43.8 C), breaking the daily maximum temperature record of 109 F (42.7 C) set more than a century ago in 1905.

Las Vegas tied the record of 115 F (46 C), last reached in 2007, and Phoenix topped out at 114 F (45.5 C), just shy of the record of 116 F (46.7 C) dating to 1942.

The National Weather Service said it was extending the excessive heat warning for much of the Southwest through Friday.

“A dangerous and historic heatwave is just getting started across the area, with temperatures expected to peak during the Sunday-Wednesday timeframe,” the National Weather Service in Las Vegas said in an updated forecast.

In Las Vegas, where the mercury hit 100 F (37.7 C) by 10:30 a.m., Marko Boscovich said the best way to beat the heat is in a seat at a slot machine with a cold beer inside an air-conditioned casino.

“But you know, after it hits triple digits it’s about all the same to me,” said Boscovich, who was visiting from Sparks, Nevada to see a Dead & Company concert Saturday night at the Sphere. “Maybe they’ll play one of my favorites — ‘Cold Rain and Snow.’”

In more humid parts of the country, temperatures could spike above 100 F (about 38 C) in parts of the Pacific Northwest, the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, said Jacob Asherman, a weather service meteorologist.

Heat records shattered across the Southwest

Meteorologists predicted that temperatures would be near daily records in the region through most, if not all, of the coming week, with lower desert highs reaching 115 to 120 degrees F (46.1 to 48.8 C).

Rare heat advisories were extended even into higher elevations including around Lake Tahoe, on the border of California and Nevada, with the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, warning of “major heat risk impacts, even in the mountains.”

“How hot are we talking? Well, high temperatures across (western Nevada and northeastern California) won’t get below 100 degrees (37.8 C) until next weekend,” the service posted online. “And unfortunately, there won’t be much relief overnight either.”

Indeed, Reno hit a high of 104 F (40 C) on Saturday, smashing the old record of 101 F (38.3 C).

More extreme highs are in the near forecast, including 129 F (53.8 C) for Sunday at Furnace Creek, California, in Death Valley National Park, and then around 130 F (54.4 C) through Wednesday.

The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134 F (56.67 C) in July 1913 in Death Valley, eastern California, though some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130 F (54.4 C), recorded there in July 2021.

The worst is yet to come across the West and mid-Atlantic

Triple-digit temperatures are likely in the West, between 15 and 30 F (8 and 16 C) higher than average into next week, the National Weather Service said.

The Eastern U.S. also was bracing for more hot temperatures. Baltimore and others parts of Maryland were under an excessive heat warning as heat index values could climb to 110 F (43 C), forecasters said.

“Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors,” read a National Weather Service advisory for the Baltimore area. “Young children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances.”

Deaths are starting to mount

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, there have been at least 13 confirmed heat-related deaths this year, along with more than 160 other deaths suspected of being related to heat that are still under investigation, according to a recent report.

That does not include the death of a 10-year-old boy last week in Phoenix who suffered a “heat-related medical event” while hiking with family at South Mountain Park and Preserve, according to police.

California wildfires fanned by low humidity, high temperatures

Firefighters dispatched aircraft and helicopters to drop water or retardant on a series of wildfires in California.

In Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, the Lake Fire has scorched more than 19 square miles (49 square kilometers) of grass, brush and timber. Firefighters said the blaze was displaying “extreme fire behavior” and had the “potential for large growth” with high temperatures and low humidity.

Festival revelers meet the heat with cold water and shade

At the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon, music fans coped by drinking cold water, seeking shade or freshening up under water misters. Organizers of the weekend revelries also advertised free access to air conditioning in a nearby hotel.

Angelica Quiroz, 31, kept her scarf and hat wet and applied sunscreen.

“Definitely a difference between the shade and the sun,” Quiroz said Friday. “But when you’re in the sun, it feels like you’re cooking.”

 

Pope deplores state of democracy, warns against ‘populists’

Vatican City — Pope Francis decried the state of democracy and warned against “populists” during a short visit to Trieste in Italy’s northeast on Sunday ahead of a 12-day trip to Asia — the longest of his papacy.

“Democracy is not in good health in the world today,” Francis said during a speech at the city’s convention center to close a national Catholic event.

Without naming any countries, the pope warned against “ideological temptations and populists” on the day that France holds the second round of a snap parliamentary vote that looks set to see the far-right National Rally party take the largest share of the vote.

“Ideologies are seductive. Some people compare them to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: they seduce but lead you to deny yourself,” he said in reference to the German fairytale.

Ahead of last month’s European parliament elections, bishops in several countries also warned about the rise of populism and nationalism, with far-right parties already holding the reins to power in Italy, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Francis also urged people to “move away from polarizations that impoverish” and hit out at “self-referential power.”

After Venice in April and Verona in May, the half-day trip to Trieste, a city of 200,000 inhabitants on the Adriatic Sea that borders Slovenia, marked the third one within Italy this year for the 87-year-old pontiff, who has suffered increasing health problems in recent years.

Since travelling to the French city of Marseille in September 2023, the Argentine Jesuit has limited himself to domestic travel.

But he plans to spend nearly two weeks in Asia in September visiting Indonesia, Singapore and the islands of Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

He arrived in Trieste shortly before 9 a.m. and was due to meet with various groups from the religious and academic spheres, along with migrants and the disabled.

The papal visit is due to conclude with a Mass in the city’s main public square before he departs for the Vatican in the early afternoon. 

Bardella, 28, could become youngest French prime minister

NICE, France — At just 28 years old, Jordan Bardella has helped make the far-right National Rally the strongest political force in France. And now he could become the country’s youngest prime minister.

After voters propelled Marine Le Pen’s National Rally to a strong lead in the first round of snap legislative elections on June 30, Bardella turned to rallying supporters to hand their party an absolute majority in the decisive round on Sunday. That would allow the anti-immigration, nationalist party to run the government, with Bardella at the helm.

Who is the National Rally president?

When Bardella replaced his mentor, Marine Le Pen, in 2022 at the helm of France’s leading far-right party, he became the first person without the Le Pen name to lead it since its founding a half-century ago.

His selection marked a symbolic changing of the guard. It was part of Le Pen’s decadelong effort to rebrand her party, with its history of racism, and remove the stigma of antisemitism that clung to it in order to broaden its base. She has notably distanced herself from her now-ostracized father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who co-founded the party, then called the National Front, and who has been repeatedly convicted of hate speech.

Bardella is part of a generation of young people who joined the party under Marine Le Pen in the 2010s but likely wouldn’t have done so under her father.

Since joining at age 17, he has risen quickly through the ranks, serving as party spokesperson and president of its youth wing, before being appointed vice president and becoming the second-youngest member of the European Parliament in history, in 2019.

“Jordan Bardella is the creation of Marine Le Pen,” said Cécile Alduy, a Stanford University professor of French politics and literature, and an expert on the far right. “He has been made by her and is extremely loyal.”

On the campaign trail, Le Pen and Bardella have presented themselves as American-style running mates, with Le Pen vying for the presidency while pushing him to be prime minister, Alduy said. “They are completely in line politically.”

How did he become the movement’s poster child?

It wasn’t only having a different last name that made Bardella an attractive prospect for a party seeking to widen its appeal beyond its traditionally older, rural voter base.

Bardella was born in the north Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis in 1995 to parents of Italian origin, with Algerian roots on his father’s side — and far from seeking to deny these roots, he has used them to soften the tone (if not the content) of his party’s anti-immigration stance and its hostility to France’s Muslim community.

Although Bardella attended a semi-private Catholic school and his father was fairly well-off, party-sanctioned accounts have stressed his upbringing in a rundown housing project beset by poverty and drugs. Never having finished university, Bardella’s relatively modest background set him apart from the establishment.

What’s more, he could tell people directly — and crucially young voters — about it. With over 1.7 million followers on TikTok and 750,000 on Instagram, Bardella has found an audience for his slick social media content, which ranges from more traditional campaign material to videos mocking Macron and seemingly candid glimpses into the life of the National Rally’s would-be prime minister.

With a neat, clean-shaven look and social media savvy, he has posed for selfies with screaming fans. While his rhetoric is strong on hot-button issues like immigration — “France is disappearing” is his tagline — he has been relatively blurry on specifics.

What is he proposing for France?

It was Bardella who in a post on X called on Macron to dissolve the parliament and call early elections after the president’s centrist group suffered a crushing defeat by the National Rally at European elections in June.

When Macron did just that, Bardella, often wearing a suit and tie, hit the campaign trail, toning down his popstar image to seem more statesman-like despite his lack of experience in government.

In recent months, the National Rally has softened some of its most controversial positions, including pedaling back some of its proposals for more public spending and protectionist economic policies, and taking France out of NATO’s strategic military command.

Laying out the party’s new program, Bardella said that as prime minister he would promote law and order, tighter regulation of migration and restricting certain social benefits, such as housing, to French citizens only. He said that dual citizens would be barred from some specific key jobs, such as state employees in the defense and security field. He promised to cut taxes on fuel, gas and electricity, and pledged a rollback of Macron’s pension changes. His law-and-order minded government would also extend to the nation’s public schools, extending the ban on cellphones to high schools.

Rivals say his policies could do lasting damage to the French economy and violate human rights.

On the international front, Bardella has aimed to counter allegations that Le Pen’s party has long been friendly toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin. He said he regards Russia as “a multidimensional threat both for France and Europe,” and said he would be “extremely vigilant” of any Russian attempts to interfere with French interests. Although he supports continued deliveries of French weaponry to Ukraine, he would not send French troops to help the country defend itself. He would also not allow sending long-rage missiles capable of striking targets within Russia.

For voters with low incomes or who feel left out of economic successes in Paris or the globalized economy, Bardella offers an appealing choice, Alduy said.

“The feeling of vulnerability people have to factors that are beyond their control, calls for a radical change in the minds of many voters,” she said. “He has a clean slate and comes with no baggage of the past.”