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Populist Wilders says right-wing government agreed in the Netherlands

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Amsterdam, May 15 (IANS/DPA) The far-right Dutch populist Geert Wilders says he has agreed on a coalition government with three other right-wing parties nearly six months after the Netherlands held parliamentary elections.

“We have an agreement,” Wilders said in The Hague on Wednesday as last-minute coalition talks continued ahead of a midnight (2200 GMT Wednesday) deadline.

No candidate for prime minister has yet been agreed on, Wilders said.

The controversial politician’s Party for Freedom (PVV) won a clear victory in November’s election, taking 37 of 150 seats, but Wilders proved unable to secure enough support to replace Mark Rutte as prime minister.

The coalition is set to include Rutte’s liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, Pieter Omtzigt’s conservative New Social Contract (NSC) and the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB).

The content of the agreement was not yet available on Wednesday afternoon.

The coalition’s parliamentary groupings have to give their approval of the deal before the midnight deadline.

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–IANS/DPA

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UN Middle East envoy calls for resumption of Israel-Hamas talks

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United Nations, May 21 (IANS) UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, has called for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

“I urge the parties to redouble all efforts and return to the negotiating table immediately and in good faith,” Wennesland told the UN Security Council on Monday.

“If talks do not resume, I fear for the worst for the beleaguered and terrified civilians in Rafah, for the hostages held in unimaginable conditions for more than 225 days, and for an overstretched humanitarian operation that remains on the brink inside the (Gaza) Strip,” he said as quoted by Xinhua news agency report.

Just two weeks ago negotiations were taking place in Cairo with the support of Egypt, Qatar, and the US. However, those talks ended on May 9 without agreement, he noted.

“Regrettably we face yet another precipice of further catastrophe in Gaza amid stalled talks between the parties to secure the release of all hostages held in Gaza and a cease-fire to provide much-needed relief to the civilian population,” he said.

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Wennesland reiterated the United Nations’ full support to the mediators and its willingness to support the implementation of a deal between Israel and Hamas.

Since the first week of May, the security situation in Rafah has been rapidly worsening as the Israeli military operations and maneuvers in and around Rafah intensified, he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, alongside numerous international partners and concerned neighbours, has voiced serious objection to a military operation in Rafah amid clear indications of its devastating consequences for the civilian population, he added.

“Saving lives and addressing the critical needs in Rafah and Gaza more broadly must remain our immediate priority. I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian cease-fire,” Wennesland said.

“At the same time, we must not lose sight of the risks that these immediate threats pose to prospects for a resolution to this conflict and for longer-term peace and stability in the region.”

He voiced concern that the failure to reach a cease-fire in Gaza and a large-scale military operation in Rafah exacerbates the risk of escalating regional tensions. He reiterated that there can be no long-term solution in Gaza that is not fundamentally political.

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The devastation and misery of the past seven months have reinforced a simple truth.

Palestinians and Israelis can no longer wait to establish a viable political horizon to end the conflict and establish a two-state solution, he said.

“Day after day we are witnessing the deadly consequences of inaction. Now is the time to lay the foundations for a better future for Palestinians, Israelis, and the broader region.”

–IANS

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UK PM apologises for infected blood scandal cover-up

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London, May 21 (IANS) The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised for the infected blood scandal on behalf of successive governments and declared it was a “day of national shame”.

Addressing the House of Commons following the publication of the inquiry, Sunak said on Monday: “I want to make a whole-hearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice.”

He also promised to pay “comprehensive compensation” to those infected and those affected by the scandal, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Whatever it costs to deliver this scheme, we will pay it,” he said, adding that details will be set out on Tuesday.

Earlier on Monday, a damning 2,527-page inquiry concluded that the contaminated blood scandal in the UK which has caused more than 3,000 deaths, “could largely, though not entirely, have been avoided.”

The report said that “a catalogue of failures” by successive governments and doctors caused the “calamity,” in which tens of thousands of patients with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses after receiving infected blood and blood products between the 1970s and early 1990s.

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“It may also be surprising that the questions why so many deaths and infections occurred have not had answers before now,” the report added.

The scandal has been called “the worst treatment disaster” in the history of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

The report also revealed that there has been “a hiding of much of the truth” by the government and the NHS “to save face and to save expense”.

Such a cover-up was “not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications,” it said.

The scandal was linked to supplies of a clotting factor imported from the US, which used blood from high-risk paid donors.

The government announced the establishment of a UK-wide public inquiry in 2017 to examine the circumstances that led to individuals being given contaminated blood and blood products.

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In 2022, the government made interim compensation payments of 100,000 British pounds (about $127,000) to about 4,000 infected individuals and bereaved partners who were registered with the country’s infected blood support schemes.

–IANS

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Schools in Pakistan's Punjab to remain closed for 7 days from May 25 amid heatwave

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Islamabad, May 21 (IANS) In the wake of a surge in temperature and heatwave in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, all public and private schools will remain closed for seven days on May 25-31, local authorities said.

“However, schools will be allowed to conduct examinations as scheduled, with necessary precautions to ensure the safety of students,” the School Education Department of the Punjab government said on Monday in a notification.

Last week, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said that due to the presence of high pressure in the upper atmosphere, heatwave conditions are likely to develop over most parts of the country, especially over Punjab and the southern Sindh province from May 21, Xinhua news agency reported.

This will likely convert to severe heatwave conditions on May 23-27, it added.

The PMD advised the public to avoid unnecessary exposure to direct sunlight, requesting judicious use of water in all aspects of life.

Extreme dry and heatwave conditions may trigger bushfires and forest fires in vulnerable areas of Punjab and other parts of the South Asian country, according to the PMD.

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–IANS

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Spain to send Leopard 2 tanks & Patriot missiles to Ukraine in June

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Madrid, May 21 (IANS/DPA) Spain will deliver a further batch of German-made Leopard 2A4 battle tanks, along with Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and other ammunition to Ukraine, by the end of June, said the Defence Ministry in Madrid .

Defence Minister Margarita Robles had confirmed the delivery during a video conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Ministry said on Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government sent 10 Leopard 2A4s last year, and in March announced that a further 19 would be delivered this year, with the first 10 promised by the end of June and the remaining nine following in September.

Spain had around 100 Leopard 2A4s in stock along with considerably more than 200 Leopard 2A6s. The latter are being retained for the Spanish army.

On Monday, Robles stressed the “significant efforts” that Spain was making to support Ukraine in fighting off the Russian invasion. She mentioned in particular the training given to Ukrainian troops.

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Spain would support Ukraine for as long as necessary, she said.

–IANS/DPA

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UNRWA says land crossings mostly feasible, effective way to deliver aid to Gaza

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Gaza, May 21 (IANS) The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has said that land crossings are the most feasible and effective way to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip.

“While we welcome the arrival of the first shipments to the newly-anchored floating aid pier, land roads remain the most feasible, effective, efficient, and safe way to deliver aid,” said UNRWA in a brief statement on Monday on X.

The statement indicated that only 69 trucks arrived in southern Gaza since May 6, stressing the necessity of reopening the crossings and providing safe access to them to avoid the continuation of the disastrous humanitarian conditions, Xinhua news agency reported.

Local Palestinian sources told Xinhua that a ship carrying humanitarian aid had reached the shores of the Strip while smaller boats began unloading and delivering the cargo to the aid pier west of the city.

The Palestinian sources added that dozens of trucks carried humanitarian aid and transported it to warehouses belonging to the World Food Program in the southern regions of the Strip.

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In March, the US Department of Defense announced its plans to build a temporary floating dock on the coast of the Gaza Strip to facilitate humanitarian aid delivery to the Gaza Strip, which suffers from severe shortages of food, medicine, and other life necessities, according to local and international health sources.

–IANS

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