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Europe's voters elect new parliament as nationalism mounts

European parliament elections reach their climax on Sunday as last 21 nations go to the polls amid battle over EU unity.

Pivotal elections for the European Union parliament reach their climax on Sunday as the last 21 nations go to the polls and results are announced in a vote that boils down to a continent-wide battle between Eurosceptic populists and proponents of closer EU unity.

Right-wing nationalists who want to slash immigration into Europe and return power to national governments are expected to make gains, though mainstream parties are tipped to hold onto power in the 751-seat legislature that sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg.

Leading the challenge to the established order is Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, head of the League party, who is assembling a group of like-minded parties from across Europe.

“We need to do everything that is right to free this country, this continent, from the illegal occupation organised by Brussels,” Salvini told a rally in Milan last weekend that was attended by the leaders of 11 nationalist parties.

Projections released by the European Parliament last month show the centre-right European People’s Party bloc losing 37 of its 217 seats and the centre-left S&D group dropping from 186 seats to 149.READ MORE

All you need to know about the European Parliament elections

On the far right flank, the Europe of Nations and Freedom group is predicted to increase its bloc from 37 to 62 seats.

Proponents of stronger EU integration, led by French President Emmanuel Macron, argue that issues like climate change and reining in immigration are simply too big for any one country to tackle alone.

Macron, whose country has been rocked in recent months by the populist yellow vest movement, has called the elections “the most important since 1979 because the (European) Union is facing an existential risk” from nationalists seeking to divide the bloc.

Sunday promises to be a long day and night for election watchers – the last polls close at 11pm (21:00 GMT) in Italy but the European Parliament plans to begin issuing estimates and projections hours earlier with the first official projection of the makeup of the new parliament at 11:15pm (21:15 GMT).

As the dust settles on four days of elections, European leaders will begin the task of selecting candidates for the top jobs in the EU’s headquarters in Brussels. The leaders will meet for a summit over dinner on Tuesday night.

Current European politicians’ terms end on July 1 and the new members of parliament will take their seats in Strasbourg the following day.


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US troop move to Middle East ‘extremely dangerous’: Zarif

Increased US presence in the region threatens international peace, Iran’s foreign minister says.25 May 2019 08:32 GMT

Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was deployed to the Gulf earlier this month [Jeff Sherman/US Navy via AP Photo]
Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was deployed to the Gulf earlier this month [Jeff Sherman/US Navy via AP Photo]

A US move to send more troops to the Middle East after accusing Tehran of being behind attacks on tankers in the region is “extremely dangerous … [for] international peace”, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been quoted as saying.

“Increased US presence in our region is extremely dangerous and it threatens international peace and security, and this should be addressed,” state news agency IRNA quoted Zarif as saying on Saturday.

The United States on Friday announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defences against Tehran as it accused Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for the tanker attacks earlier this month.

On May 12, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said four commercial ships off the coast of Fujairah, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs, were “subjected to sabotage operations”.

The attack caused “significant damage to the structure of the two vessels”, according to Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih.READ MORE

US to send more troops to the Middle East

US officials said initial assessments suggested Iran was involved in the attack, without offering evidence supporting the claim. Iran has denied it had anything to do with the incident.

‘Mostly protective’

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn shortly before departing for a trip to Japan on Friday, US President Donald Trump said the purpose of the deployment was “mostly protective” and was meant to increase the security of forces already in the region.

“We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops,” Trump said.

“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight. And I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” he added.

The Trump administration had notified Congress earlier on Friday about the troop plans.

According to a copy of the notification obtained by the Associated Press news agency, the forces would number “roughly” 1,500 and would be deployed in coming weeks “with their primary responsibilities and activities being defensive in nature”.

At a Pentagon news briefing on Friday, officials said the US planned to send 900 more forces, including engineers and a fighter aircraft squadron, to the Middle East to bolster US defence and extend the deployment of some 600 personnel manning Patriot missiles.

‘Radical elements’

Meanwhile, a senior Iranian military commander said on Saturday that “rational Americans and experienced US commanders” were likely to rein in Washington’s “radical elements” and prevent a war with Iran.READ MORE

What we know about the ‘sabotage’ attacks off UAE’s coast

“We believe rational Americans and their experienced commanders will not let their radical elements lead them into a situation from which it would be very difficult to get out, and that is why they will not enter a war,” Brigadier General Hassan Seifi, an assistant to Iran’s army chief, told Mehr, the country’s semi-official news agency on Saturday.

On Friday, Zarif reiterated his country’s rejection of the US’s increase in military deployments to the region while on a visit to Pakistan.

Iran “will see the end of Trump, but he will never see the end of Iran,” Zarif was quoted by state news agency Fars as saying, during his trip to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, before the US announced the troop increase.

Zarif held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“War is not in anyone’s interest and all sides need to make efforts to keep conflict away from the region,” General Bajwa said, according to a Pakistani military statement.

Earlier this month, the US sent a carrier attack group and bomber taskforce to the Middle East, citing a “credible threat” from Tehran.

The news came after acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan denied earlier reports that the Trump administration was planning to send as many as 10,000 troops to the region.

Shanahan, however, said that sending additional troops was an option they were considering.




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