France’s Macron will keep centrist caretaker government on through Olympics

Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday he will keep a centrist caretaker government on through the Olympics to avoid “disorder,” brushing aside an 11th-hour prime minister nomination by the country’s leftist coalition.

Macron made his widely expected announcement in a TV interview late Tuesday. Just prior to that appearance, the leftist coalition that won the most votes in this month’s parliamentary elections selected little-known civil servant Lucie Castets as their choice for prime minister.

But Macron told the France 2 network that the current government, who resigned last week to take on a purely caretaker role, would “handle current affairs during the Olympics,” which are being staged in Paris and elsewhere in France through Aug. 11.

“Until mid-August, we’re not in a position to be able to change things because it would prompt disorder,” Macron said. “I have chosen the stability” to safeguard the Games, which will soon gather about 10,500 athletes and millions of fans.

Party leaders in the leftist coalition immediately slammed Macron’s unwillingness to immediately consider their prime minister candidate.

There is no firm timeline for when Macron must name a new prime minister, following legislative elections that left the National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament, with no dominant political bloc in power for the first time in France’s modern Republic.

Asked about the leftist coalition’s choice, Macron said “the issue is not a name provided by a political group,” adding that there must be a parliamentary majority behind the candidate to “pass reforms, pass a budget and move the country forward.”

France has been on the brink of government paralysis since the National Assembly elections resulted in a split among three major political blocs: the leftist New Popular Front, Macron’s centrist allies and the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen.

Macron, who has a presidential mandate until 2027, has the ultimate say in who is appointed prime minister. However, that person would need enough support from lawmakers to avoid a no-confidence vote.

Macron urged politicians from both the moderate left, the center and the moderate right to “work together” during the summer, arguing that with no outright majority, none of the main blocs can implement their political platforms.

He said “compromises” are needed.

Macron said he’d like to form a government as soon as possible, but that “Obviously, until mid-August, we need to be focused on the Games.”

The leftist coalition has repeatedly demanded the right to form a government after it won the most seats in the National Assembly, yet deep internal divisions have prevented its members from agreeing on a prime minister candidate for more than two weeks. The coalition is composed of three main parties — the hard-left France Unbowed, the Socialists and the Greens.

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Russia bans entry of top Japanese executives

TOKYO — Russia has banned the head of Toyota and 12 other senior Japanese business figures from entering the country, prompting a protest by Tokyo on Wednesday.

The list published by Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday includes Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, Rakuten chief Hiroshi Mikitani and Akihiko Tanaka, president of the government-backed Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The decision was a “response to Japan’s ongoing sanctions against our country in connection with the special military operation,” the foreign ministry statement said, using Moscow’s term for its invasion of Ukraine.

It did not explain how individuals were chosen for the list, which did not include the heads of major Japanese firms like Mitsubishi, Honda and Sony.

Japan has strongly backed the Western position on Ukraine, providing Kyiv with financial and material support and sanctioning Russian individuals and organizations.

Japan’s pacifist constitution restricts it from exporting weapons, but in December, Tokyo loosened arms export controls to enable it to sell domestically made Patriot missiles to the United States.

The move was aimed at replenishing U.S. inventories of the air defense missile systems that have run low because of supplies sent to Ukraine.

“Measures announced by Russia this time will restrict fair activity by Japanese companies, and are absolutely unacceptable,” Japanese government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said Wednesday.

He said Tokyo had lodged a protest and that “all of our sanctions stem from Russia’s Ukraine invasion, which is a clear violation of international law.”

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UK royal family sets out plan to reach net zero

LONDON — Britain’s royal family on Wednesday set out its latest plans to reduce its carbon footprint, including the installation of heat pumps at the centuries-old Windsor Castle near London.

Other environmentally friendly initiatives include the electrification of the royal family’s luxury fleet of vehicles, including the Bentley State Limousines.

King Charles III, a life-long environmentalist, famously owns a 1970 Aston Martin DB6 that he had converted to run on biofuel produced from surplus English white wine and whey from cheese manufacturing.

The sports car was a gift from his mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, for his 21st birthday.

Under the net-zero plans, set out in the family’s annual report and accounts for the financial year of April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024, jet fuel for helicopters and chartered aircraft will be replaced with sustainable aviation fuel.

Royal properties in central London such as Buckingham Palace would also be connected to heat networks.

These are considered a more efficient way of providing heat by producing and distributing heat from a central source, rather than relying on individual boilers.

“These projects … have substantial potential to reduce the royal household’s GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions,” the report said.

The first solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, have been installed at the 900-year-old Windsor Castle, one of Charles’s main residences.

The report published alongside annual accounts revealed that profit from the royal family’s land and property holdings, the Crown Estate, more than doubled last year to a record $1.4 billion, driven by a short-term boost from offshore wind farms.

The Crown Estate is an independently run business whose profits go to the government, which hands a small portion of the money to the monarchy to support official duties of the royal family.

The estate owns the vast majority of Britain’s seabed, stretching up to 12 nautical miles from the mainland, and leases part of it to wind farm operators.

The surge in profits was mainly the result of option fees — payments made by companies to reserve a patch of the seabed to eventually build their wind turbines.

The most recent round of offshore wind leasing saw licenses granted for three wind farms in the North Sea and three in the Irish Sea.

Last week, the new Labour government announced plans to widen the investment powers of the Crown Estate, giving it more scope to borrow for investments including offshore wind projects.

The government said that in doing so, 20 to 30 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind would be created by the end of the decade.

It has also proposed boosting investment in sustainable aviation fuel plants across the country.

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Rights groups criticize efforts to displace migrants ahead of Paris Olympics

Rights groups accuse French authorities of “social cleansing” ahead of the Paris Olympics by uprooting migrants, sex workers and others around the capital — undermining promises of making these Games the most inclusive ever. The government says it’s simply trying to address a longstanding problem. Lisa Bryant has more from the French capital.

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Зеленський заявив про «хорошу динаміку» ракетної програми України

«Поступово ми наближаємося до можливості застосовувати свої ракети, а не лише покладатися на ракети в постачанні від партнерів» – Володимир Зеленський

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Hungary’s foreign minister indifferent to shift of EU meeting away from Budapest

Budapest, Hungary — Hungary’s foreign minister voiced indifference on Tuesday over a decision by the European Union’s top diplomat to shift an EU ministers’ meeting from Budapest to Brussels in a sign of disapproval over Hungary’s initial use of the EU presidency.

“It was all the same to me in the beginning, and it’s all the same to me now,” Peter Szijjarto said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell acted after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban began a self-styled Ukraine peace mission by holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Orban, a nationalist who has often been at odds with broader EU policy, embarked on his quest without coordinating it with other EU government leaders or Ukraine just days after Hungary took on the 27-bloc’s rotating presidency on July 1.

“We have to send a signal, even if it is a symbolic signal,” Borrell told reporters in Brussels on Monday after the last meeting of EU foreign ministers before the summer break.

Borrell said there had been no consensus among EU members over whether to attend the ministerial meeting in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, planned for Aug. 28-29  and a gathering of defense ministers afterwards.

He said he opted to switch both meetings to Brussels given that a majority of countries wanted to send a message to Hungary over Orban’s outreach to Russia, which is subject to EU sanctions over its nearly two-and-a-half-year-old invasion of Ukraine.

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China, Russia push back over Washington’s Arctic warning 

Washington — Russia and China on Tuesday pushed back against a U.S. warning over their increasing military and economic cooperation in the Arctic, where climate change is opening up greater competition.

Russia has in recent years beefed up its military presence in the Arctic by reopening and modernizing several bases and airfields abandoned since the end of the Soviet era, while China has poured money into polar exploration and research.

“We’ve seen growing cooperation between the PRC and Russia in the Arctic commercially, with the PRC being a major funder of Russian energy exploitation in the Arctic,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told journalists Monday, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.

There is also growing military cooperation, “with Russia and China conducting joint exercises off the coast of Alaska,” Hicks said as the department released its 2024 Arctic strategy.

“All of these challenges have been amplified because the effects of climate change are rapidly warming temperatures and thinning ice coverage, and it’s enabling all of this activity,” she said.

The rapid melting of polar ice has sent activity in the inhospitable region into overdrive as nations eye newly viable oil, gas and mineral deposits as well as shipping routes in an area with a complex web of competing territorial claims.

Moscow is heavily promoting its Northern Sea Route, an alternative cargo route for vessels travelling between Europe and Asia.

‘Discord and tension’

China and Russia both defended their policies in the region on Tuesday.

Beijing said it acts on the “principles of respect, cooperation, mutual wins and sustainability,” adding it was “committed to maintaining peace and stability” in the region.

“The United States distorts China’s Arctic policy and makes thoughtless remarks on China’s normal Arctic activities [which are] in accordance with international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia “does its part to ensure that the Arctic does not become a territory of discord and tension.”

He told reporters that Russia’s cooperation with China “contributes to an atmosphere of stability and predictability” in the Arctic and their actions were not targeted against other countries.

Washington’s Arctic strategy describes the area as “a strategically important region” for the United States that includes “the northern approaches to the homeland” and “significant US defense infrastructure.”

It says climate change could result in the Arctic experiencing its first “practically ice-free summer by 2030.”

“Increases in human activity will elevate the risk of accidents, miscalculation, and environmental degradation,” and US forces “must be ready and equipped to mitigate the risks associated with potential contingencies in the Arctic.”

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Байден повідомив, що залишиться на посаді президента США до кінця терміну

«Я присвятив своє президентство тому, щоб довести це, і я продовжуватиму робити це сьогодні, завтра і кожного дня, поки маю честь бути вашим президентом»

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New US Arctic strategy focused on Russian, Chinese inroads

washington — The United States is looking to boost intelligence collection in the Arctic and enhance cooperation with allies in the region, to prevent Russia and China from exploiting the cold and icy northern region at America’s expense.

The mandate, part of the Pentagon’s just-released 2024 Arctic Strategy, comes as U.S. defense officials warn climate change is melting Arctic ice that used to keep adversaries at bay, and there are indications of growing Russian-Chinese cooperation in the region.

“In the Arctic, the strategic can quickly become tactical,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, briefing reporters at the Pentagon.

“Ensuring that our troops have the training, the gear and the operating procedures for the unique Arctic environment [may] be the difference between mission success and failure,” she added.

The newly unveiled strategy calls for expanding the types of surveillance and intelligence capabilities that the U.S. military employs elsewhere in the world to the far north, where frigid temperatures can interfere with their operation.

Specifically, the strategy outlines the need for more ground-based sensors, space-based sensors and long-range radar to better pick up on activity by U.S. adversaries.

The U.S. is also looking to increase its unmanned aerial reconnaissance capabilities and its communication capabilities.

Hicks said the U.S. has already invested tens of millions of dollars in such capabilities, but that more is needed.

“The Arctic’s vast distances, especially in North America, make supporting infrastructure vital for Arctic operations and presence,” according to the new strategy. “However, much of the legacy Cold War-era infrastructure has declined over time due to the harsh environment, lack of investment, and climate change-driven permafrost thawing and coastal erosion.”

One bonus for the new Arctic strategy, according to U.S. defense officials, is the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, which means every Arctic nation except for Russia is now part of the Western alliance.

U.S. officials have repeatedly praised Swedish and Finnish capabilities in the Arctic, and the strategy envisions additional joint exercises and cooperation, which could be required to counter an uptick in Russian and Chinese activities in the region.

“It’s very noticeable and concerning,” Hicks said.

“The Russians, of course, have, even as they’ve continued their operation, their war in in Ukraine, they’ve been continuing to invest in their infrastructure throughout the Arctic region that they can access,” she said. “And then we’ve seen much more PRC [People’s Republic of China] activity, both in terms of so-called research, but because of their civil fusion, we always have concern that there’s a military aspect to that.”

There have also been signs of increased cooperation between Russia and China.

The two countries conducted a joint naval patrol near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands last August, prompting the U.S. to deploy four naval destroyers and patrol aircraft as a precaution.

But Iris Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Arctic, told reporters Monday that those types of Russian and Chinese efforts are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We’ve seen an uptick, an uptick in their cooperation over the last couple of years,” Ferguson said. “We see China investing in a lot of Russian energy in order to not only have them supply that energy to the PRC, but also that is helping embolden some of Russia’s activity in Ukraine.”

Ferguson sought not to overplay the threat, saying Russian-Chinese cooperation in the Arctic is “somewhat superficial in nature still, especially from a military perspective.”

However, Pentagon officials expect the Russian-Chinese military relationship to evolve, noting the growing level of Chinese military research in the Arctic and Beijing’s attempts to “internationalize” and influence the region as a whole.

“We see them operating more regularly in the last several years from a military perspective. Even just a couple of weeks ago, there were several Chinese warships off of the coast of Alaska,” Ferguson said. “They are our long-term pacing challenge and I think that that includes in the Arctic.”

The Russian and Chinese embassies in Washington have yet to respond to requests for comment.

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Belarus frees head of banned party as Lukashenko slowly releases some political prisoners

TALLINN, Estonia — The head of a banned Belarusian opposition party who had been behind bars for two years was released on Monday as the authoritarian country frees a trickle of political prisoners, according to the respected human rights group Viasna.

Mikalai Kazlou, who led the United Civic Party, was serving a 2½-year sentence on allegations of organizing actions violating the public order. His arrest came amid a harsh crackdown on the opposition that began as mass demonstrations gripped the country.

Those protests followed a presidential election in 2020 whose disputed results gave Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term.

Many prominent opposition figures were imprisoned in the crackdown and others fled the country, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was Lukashenko’s prime challenger in the election.

The Belarusian Supreme Court banned the United Civic Party a year after Kazlou’s arrest.

Lukashenko announced an amnesty in early July for some seriously ill political prisoners, and 19 have been released so far. But 1,377 remain imprisoned, according to Viasna. The prisoners include the group’s founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski.

Activists say authorities have created conditions akin to torture in prisons, depriving political prisoners of medical care, transfers and meetings with lawyers and relatives.

Lukashenko’s release of ill political prisoners indicates he may be trying to improve relations with the West ahead of seeking reelection next year, Belarusian analysts suggest. He also recently dropped visa requirements for European Union citizens arriving by rail and road.

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