The future of Twitter seemed to hang in the balance Friday after its offices were locked down and key employees announced their departures in defiance of an ultimatum from new owner Elon Musk.Fears grew that a fresh exodus would threaten the very existence of one of the world's most influential internet platforms, which serves as a key communication tool for the world's media, politicians, companies and celebrities.According to ex-employees and US media, hundreds of employees chose "no" to Musk's demand that they either be "extremely hardcore" or leave the company."So my friends are gone, the vision is murky, there is a storm coming and no financial upside. What would you do?" tweeted Peter Clowes, who refused Musk's final warning.Musk, also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has come under fire for radical changes at the California-based firm, which he bought less than a month ago for $44 billion.He had already fired half of Twitter's 7,500 staff, scrapped a work-from-home policy and imposed long hours, all while his attempts to overhaul the company face backlash and delays.His stumbling attempts to revamp user verification with a controversial subscription service led to a slew of fake accounts and pranks, and prompted major advertisers to step away from the platform.On Friday, Musk appeared to be pressing on with his plans and reinstated previously banned accounts, including that of comedian Kathy Griffin, which had been taken down after she impersonated him on the site.Musk however did not welcome back former US president Donald Trump, banned for inciting last year's attack on the Capitol by a mob seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election."(The) Trump decision has not yet been made," he said.- 'Not super worried' -Fevered talk of the site's imminent demise was driving record high engagement on Twitter, according to Musk.In a tweet, the South African-born billionaire said: "Record numbers of users are logging in to see if Twitter is dead, ironically making it more alive than ever!"Musk added that the "best people are staying, so I'm not super worried."Despite Musk's assurances, entry to Twitter's offices were temporarily closed until Monday, even with a badge, according to an internal message seen on US media.In leaked emails reported in The New York Times, Musk asked engineers critical to the site's functioning to make their way to Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Friday to meet him in person.Twitter did not respond to AFP requests for comment on the new measure.In the ultimatum sent Wednesday, Musk had asked staff to follow a link to affirm their commitment to "the new Twitter" by 5:00 pm New York time (2200 GMT) on Thursday.If they did not do so, they would have lost their jobs, receiving three months of severance pay.Signs that government regulators were becoming impatient with Musk's handling of Twitter also grew on Friday, especially over the platform's ability to moderate content with a severely reduced headcount.A group of US senators on Thursday said Musk's plans for the site "undermined the integrity and safety of the platform... despite clear warnings those changes would be abused for fraud, scams, and dangerous impersonation."A top regulator for the European Union meanwhile said that Musk should be increasing the number of moderators in Europe, not reducing them.Musk "knows perfectly well what the conditions are for Twitter to continue operating in Europe," EU commissioner Thierry Breton told French radio.A spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the government was watching developments at Twitter "with growing concern" and reviewing its presence on the platform.
A baby born somewhere on Tuesday will be the world's eight billionth person, according to a projection by the United Nations. "The milestone is an occasion to celebrate diversity and advancements while considering humanity's shared responsibility for the planet," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. The UN attributes the growth to human development, with people living longer thanks to improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine. It is also the result of higher fertility rates, particularly in the world's poorest countries - most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa - putting their development goals at risk. How many is too many? Population growth has also magnified the environmental impacts of economic development. But while some worry that eight billion humans is too many for planet Earth, most experts say the bigger problem is the overconsumption of resources by the wealthiest people. "Some express concerns that our world is overpopulated," said United Nations Population Fund chief Natalia Kanem. "I am here to say clearly that the sheer number of human lives is not a cause for fear." Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University's Laboratory of Populations told AFP the question of how many people Earth can support has two sides: natural limits and human choices. Our choices result in humans consuming far more biological resources, such as forests and land, than the planet can regenerate each year. The overconsumption of fossil fuels, for example, leads to more carbon dioxide emissions, responsible for global warming. "We are stupid. We lacked foresight. We are greedy. We don't use the information we have. That's where the choices and the problems lie," said Cohen. However, he rejects the idea that humans are a curse on the planet, saying people should be given better choices. Slowing growth The current population is more than three times higher than the 2.5 billion global headcount in 1950. However, after a peak in the early 1960s, the world's population growth rate has decelerated dramatically, Rachel Snow of the UN Population Fund told AFP. Annual growth has fallen from a high of 2.1 percent between 1962 and 1965 to below 1 percent in 2020. That could potentially fall further to around 0.5 percent by 2050 due to a continued decline in fertility rates, the United Nations projects. The UN projects the population to continue growing to about 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and peaking around 10.4 billion in the 2080s. Other groups have, however, calculated different figures. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated in a 2020 study that the global population would max out by 2064, without ever reaching 10 billion, and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100. Black Death Since the emergence of the first humans in Africa over two million years ago the world's population has ballooned, with only fleeting pauses to the increasing number of people sharing Earth. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, who had few children compared to later settled populations in order to maintain their nomadic lifestyle. The introduction of agriculture in the Neolithic era, around 10,000 BC, brought the first known major population leap. With agriculture came sedentarization and the ability to store food, which caused birth rates to soar. From around six million in 10,000 BC, the global population leapt to 100 million in 2,000 BC and then to 250 million in the first century AD, according to the French Institute for Demographic Studies. As a result of the Black Death, the human population dropped between 1300 and 1400, from 429 to 374 million. Other events, like the Plague of Justinian, which hit the Mediterranean over two centuries from 541-767, and the wars of the early Middle Ages in western Europe, also caused temporary dips in the number of humans on Earth. From the 19th century on, the population began to explode, due largely to the development of modern medicine and the industrialization of agriculture, which boosted global food supplies. Since 1800, the world's population has jumped eight-fold, from an estimated one billion to eight billion. The development of vaccines was key, with the smallpox jab particularly helping zap one of history's biggest killers.
Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping tried to take some heat out of their simmering superpower rivalry yesterday, during a three-hour summit that found common ground on Ukraine but left little doubt that stark differences remain. Biden emerged from the meeting proclaiming there need not be a new Cold War, as both leaders spoke of the desire to prevent high tensions from spilling over into conflict. Xi told Biden that the two countries “share more, not less, common interests”, according to a Chinese account of the meeting, sounding more conciliatory than the last three pandemic-filled years without face-to-face presidential meetings would suggest. “The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship,” Xi told him. Trying to scotch the notion that China is bent on usurping the United States and remaking the world in its own authoritarian image, Xi reportedly said Beijing does not seek to challenge the United States or “change the existing international order”. On the pressing issue of Russia’s war in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats to use nuclear weapons, the pair agreed that nuclear war should not be fought and cannot be won, according to the White House. They “underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” the US added. That common cause is likely to give Putin pause as he weighs how to turn the tide of a war that his regime’s survival could hinge on. But Biden and Xi’s meeting was no kumbaya summit. The two leaders notably clashed on the question of Taiwan’s future. Tensions have risen sharply over Taiwan, with China in August conducting major military exercises after a visit to the self-governing democracy, which it claims, by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Xi told Biden that Taiwan is the “first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations,” according to the Chinese foreign ministry statement. Biden told Xi he opposed any changes on Taiwan — after the US leader repeatedly indicated that Washington was ready to defend the island militarily. And he raised US “objections” to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardise global prosperity,” the White House said. Biden also nudged China to rein in ally North Korea after a record-breaking spate of missile tests has raised fears that Pyongyang will soon carry out its seventh nuclear test, and said he was “confident China’s not looking for North Korea to engage in further escalation”. In a sign of thawing ties, Biden announced that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China “to follow up on their discussions”. A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the two countries were working “to schedule a visit tentatively planned for early next year”. Xi’s last in-person meeting with a US president was in 2019 with Donald Trump, who along with Biden identified China as a top international concern and the only potential challenger to US primacy on the world stage. Although the meeting was the first time Xi and Biden have met as presidents, the pair have an unusually long history together. By Biden’s estimation, he spent 67 hours as vice president in person with Xi including on a 2011 trip to China aimed at better understanding China’s then-leader-in-waiting, and a 2017 meeting in the final days of Barack Obama’s administration.
US President Joe Biden will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in person today for the first time since taking office, with US concerns over Taiwan, Russia’s war in Ukraine and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions on top of his agenda. The long-awaited in-person meeting comes as relations between the superpowers have sunk to their lowest in decades. The two will meet on the Indonesian island of Bali ahead of the annual Group of 20 (G20) summit gathering leaders of the world’s major developed and emerging economies. Biden goes into the meeting on the back of a major domestic victory with Democrats clinching control of the Senate, a development acknowledged by global leaders, while Xi secured an unprecedented third term in office last month. “I know I’m coming in stronger but I don’t need that. I know Xi Jinping, I spent more time with him than any other world leader.” Biden told reporters in Cambodia yesterday after the Senate results. “There’s never any miscalculation about ... where each of us stands.” The US president, who is on a whirlwind trip with stops at an international climate summit in Egypt and an Asean meeting and the East Asia Summit in Cambodia ahead of G20, is hoping to build a “floor for the relationship” with China and ensure there are rules that bound competition between the two nations. Biden recently said he was unwilling to make any fundamental concessions when he meets Xi, and that he wanted both leaders to lay out their “red lines” and resolve areas of conflict. The meeting is unlikely to produce concrete results and no joint statement is expected, the White House has said, but it could help stabilise ties marked by growing tensions over issues from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, coercive trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology. Biden and Xi, who have held five phone or video calls since Biden took office in January 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration. Strains flared especially after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the meeting could run for two hours or more, and Biden would be “totally straightforward and direct” in the conversation. “The president sees the United States and China as being engaged in a stiff competition, but that competition should not tip over into conflict or confrontation,” Sullivan told reporters, promising Biden comments afterwards. He said Biden would also look for areas where the United States and China could work together, including climate change or public health.
US President Joe Biden yesterday referred to Cambodia, which is hosting an international summit led by Southeast Asian leaders, as Colombia. “Now that we’re back together here in Cambodia, I look forward to building even stronger progress than we’ve already made, and I want to thank the Prime Minister of Colombia for his leadership as Aseanchair and for hosting all of us,” Biden said while meeting his counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh. He was referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, who is currently chairing the 10-member regional bloc. The president, who is on a whirlwind trip with stops at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, Asean in Phnom Penh and the G20 summit in Indonesia, made a similar slip-up while speaking to reporters at the White House recently. The Democratic president, who turns 80 on November 20, this week said he intends to run for re-election in 2024, with a final decision likely early next year. Biden’s occasional verbal stumbles and tendency to meander off script during live appearances have been seized on by his Republican critics as proof he’s too old for the job. Supporters call that ageism and say the president, who overcame a childhood stutter, has been ad-libbing in public speeches for decades.
• Musk warns of Twitter bankruptcy as more senior executives quit Twitter moved yesterday to curb fake accounts that have proliferated since Elon Musk’s takeover, suspending sign-ups for a new paid checkmark system and reinstating a gray “official” badge on some accounts. The U-turn was the latest of a string of chaotic developments at the social network, which has lurched back and forth on the question of account verification since Musk’s $44bn buyout late last month. The @TwitterSupport account tweeted early yesterday that a gray checkmark indicating an “official” account was coming back, only days after it was introduced – then almost immediately scrapped. “To combat impersonation, we’ve added an ‘Official’ label to some accounts,” the profile announced. The rollout of the label appeared inconsistent: it appeared briefly then disappeared from the network’s own account, @Twitter. By morning yesterday the firm had also disabled sign-ups for Twitter Blue, the feature touted by free-speech proponent Musk as bringing “power to the people” by offering ordinary users a verified blue tick – until then reserved for prominent accounts – for $8 per month. An internal memo for Twitter staff, obtained by US media including the Washington Post, confirmed that the feature had been temporarily disabled to “help address impersonation issues”. In introducing the paid blue-check verification system, Musk had warned that Twitter would suspend fake accounts not clearly marked as parody. However, accounts impersonating public figures and businesses had continued to spread – with NBA star LeBron James and former British prime minister Tony Blair among those targeted. US drugmaker Eli Lilly was forced to issue an apology on Thursday after a fake account – stamped with a purchased blue tick – tweeted that insulin was to be made available for free. The fake account was removed, and the company put out a statement of apology. The turmoil at Twitter has raised concerns about the potential for serious damage, should nefarious actors successfully pose as official representatives of powerful companies or government entities. And the disarray – which saw two more top security executives quit on Thursday – drew a rare warning from the Federal Trade Commission which said it was tracking the developments with “deep concern”. The same day, Musk informed Twitter staff that the site was burning through cash fast, raising the spectre of bankruptcy if the situation was not turned around. The warning came a week after he fired half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees. The billionaire on his first mass call with employees said that he could not rule out bankruptcy, Bloomberg News reported, two weeks after buying it for $44bn – a deal that credit experts say has left Twitter’s finances in a precarious position. Earlier in the day, in his first company-wide e-mail, Musk warned that Twitter would not be able to “survive the upcoming economic downturn” if it fails to boost subscription revenue to offset falling advertising income, three people who have seen the message told Reuters. Musk added in the e-mail to workers that remote work would no longer be allowed and that they would be expected in the office for at least 40 hours per week.
US President Joe Biden told the COP27 climate conference in Egypt yesterday that global warming posed an existential threat to the planet and promised the United States would meet its targets for fighting it. His speech at the summit in the seaside resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh was intended pump up global ambition to prevent the worst of climate change, even as a slew of other crises – from a land war in Europe to rampant inflation – distract international focus. A quartet of protesters briefly interrupted Biden’s speech by howling and trying to unfurl a banner before UN police removed them. “Carbon offsetting is a false solution,” one of them – apparently an indigenous man from Latin or North America – shouted as he was escorted away from the venue. He was referring to a US scheme whereby business can compensate for CO2 pollution by investing in developing world climate projects that reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. “We are headed toward impended climate collapse, and Jeff Bezos will not save us,” the man said. The Energy Transition Accelerator carbon offset unveiled by US special climate envoy John Kerry this week in Sharm el-Sheikh is backed by the Rockefeller Fund and the Amazon founder through his Bezos Earth Fund. The use of so-called voluntary carbon markets to drive down CO2 pollution remains highly controversial, with many analysts saying such difficult-to-monitor practices do not give business a strong enough incentive to reduce their own emissions. During the 22-minute speech in COP27’s packed plenary hall, the climate activists howled like coyotes and were unfurling a banner when UN police stopped them. It is not known whether the protesters were arrested, escorted out of the conference venue or simply released. “The climate crisis is about human security, economic security, environmental security, national security, and the very life of the planet,” Biden told a crowded room of delegates at the UN summit. “I can stand here as president of the United States of America and say with confidence, the United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030,” he said, outlining steps being taken by the world’s second-biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Prior to his arrival, Biden’s administration unveiled a domestic plan to crack down on the US oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. The move defied months of lobbying by drillers. Washington and the EU also issued a joint declaration alongside Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore and Britain pledging more action on oil industry methane. That declaration was meant to build on an international deal launched last year and since signed by 119 nations to cut economy-wide emissions 30% this decade. “Cutting methane by at least 30% by 2030 can be our best chance keep within reach 1.5° Celsius,” Biden said, referring to the central goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature rise. Biden said global crises, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, were not an excuse to lower climate ambition. “Against this backdrop, it’s more urgent than ever that we double down on our climate commitments. Russia’s war only enhances the urgency of the need to transition the world off its dependence on fossil fuels,” he said. The announcements come under a cloud of scepticism that world governments are doing enough to address the climate challenge. A United Nations report released last week showed that global emissions are on track to rise 10.6% by 2030 from 2010 levels, even as devastating storms, droughts, wildfires and floods are already inflict billions of dollars in damage worldwide. Scientists say emissions must instead drop 43% by that time to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures as targeted by the Paris Agreement of 2015. Above that threshold, climate change risks start spinning out of control. Many countries, including the US and members of the European Union, have also been calling for a near-term increase in the supply of fossil fuels to bring down consumer energy prices that spiked after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Washington has repeatedly said its calls to boost oil and gas production do not conflict with its longer-term ambition to decarbonise the US economy. During his speech, Biden also promised an increase in funding to help other countries embrace the energy transition and adapt and prepare for the impacts of a warmer world. That issue has been a sore point at the talks: wealthy nations have so far failed to fully deliver $100mn promised annually for climate adaptation. Last year’s transfer came to only about $83bn. “He announced a slew of new climate programmes, but he couldn’t deliver what the developing world most wants – enough money to adapt to climate extremes,” said Alice Hill of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and a former Obama administration official. She pointed out that Biden will need the US Congress to boost that funding, which could become more difficult after his Democratic party lost seats in this week’s midterm elections. Harjeet Singh, head of policy and advocacy group Climate Action Network International, also criticised Biden for not providing clear support for a proposal to have wealthy nations pay for climate damage in poor countries. “It’s radio silence on loss and damage finance,” Singh said, calling the US president “out of touch with the reality of the climate crisis”.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu yesterday ordered his troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the face of Ukrainian attacks near the southern city of Kherson, a significant retreat and potential turning point in the war. Ukraine reacted with caution to the announcement, saying some Russian forces were still in Kherson. “Until the Ukrainian flag is flying over Kherson, it makes no sense to talk about a Russian withdrawal,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a statement to Reuters. Kherson city was the only regional capital Russia had captured since its invasion in February and the abandonment of such a strategic prize would be a major setback for what Moscow terms its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Kherson is the main city of the region of the same name — one of four that President Vladimir Putin declared in September he was incorporating into Russia “for ever”, and which Moscow said had now been placed under its nuclear umbrella. In televised comments, General Sergei Surovikin, in overall command of the war, reported to Shoigu that it was no longer possible to supply Kherson city. He said he proposed to take up defensive lines on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. Shoigu told Surovikin: “I agree with your conclusions and proposals. For us, the life and health of Russian servicemen is always a priority. We must also take into account the threats to the civilian population. “Proceed with the withdrawal of troops and take all measures to ensure the safe transfer of personnel, weapons and equipment across the Dnipro River.” The news followed weeks of Ukrainian advances towards the city and a race by Russia to relocate tens of thousands of its residents. “We will save the lives of our soldiers and fighting capacity of our units. Keeping them on the right (western) bank is futile. Some of them can be used on other fronts,” Surovikin said. Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on a visit to London, welcomed the news from Kherson, and noted the substantial military help the alliance was providing to Kyiv. “The victories, the gains the Ukrainian armed forces are making belongs to the brave, courageous Ukrainian soldiers but of course the support they receive from... Nato allies and partners is also essential,” said Stoltenberg. If Ukrainian forces take the entire west bank of the Dnipro, their US-supplied long range artillery and HIMARS multiple rocket launchers would be able to strike Russian logistics bases and positions on the east bank defending the approaches to the annexed Crimea peninsula, according to military experts. But the Ukrainians may face numerous booby traps and could be targeted by intense Russian artillery barrages. Stoltenberg also struck a note of caution. “... we should not underestimate Russia, they still have capabilities,” he told Sky News. “We have seen the drones, we have seen the missile attacks, it shows that Russia can still inflict a lot of damage.” Compounding the sense of Russian disarray in Kherson, Moscow’s number two official there, Kirill Stremousov, was killed yesterday in what Moscow said was a car crash. Stremousov was one of the most prominent faces of Russia’s occupation. Ukraine viewed him as a collaborator and a traitor. In a video statement only hours before his death, Stremousov denounced what he called Ukrainian “Nazis” and said the Russian military was in “full control” of the situation in the south. Earlier yesterday, the main bridge on a road out of Kherson city was blown up. Photos on the internet showed the span of the Darivka bridge on the main highway east out of Kherson completely collapsed into the water of the Inhulets River, a tributary of the Dnipro. Reuters verified the location of the images. Ukrainians who posted photos of the destroyed bridge speculated that it had been blown up by Russian troops in preparation for a retreat. Vitaly Kim, the Ukrainian governor of the Mykolaiv region, which borders Kherson, suggested Ukrainian forces had pushed some Russians out. “Russian troops are complaining that they have already been thrown out of there,” Kim said on his Telegram channel.
Chris Lefkow with Gerard Martinez in Atlanta and Romain Fonsegrives in Phoenix Republicans appeared poised yesterday to eke out a slim majority in the US House of Representatives but their hopes of a “red wave” in midterm elections were dashed as President Joe Biden’s Democrats outperformed expectations. It was a disappointing night for Donald Trump, who was counting on a powerful Republican showing to boost his expected 2024 run to return to White House. He also saw his main rival for the party’s presidential nomination, Ron DeSantis, record a thumping victory to remain governor of Florida. With three key races yet to be called after Tuesday’s vote, the Senate remained in play but it was leaning Democratic and control may hinge on a runoff election in the southern state of Georgia in December. Republicans seemed on track to reclaim the 435-member House for the first time since 2018, but by a handful of seats, a far cry from their predictions. Top Republican Kevin McCarthy, who had forecast a pickup of as many as 60 House seats, put on a brave face after the underwhelming showing. “It is clear that we are going to take the House back,” said McCarthy, who hopes to be the lower chamber’s next speaker. While the night saw wins by more than 100 Republicans embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” that Biden stole the 2020 election, several high-profile acolytes of the former president came up short. “Many of the candidates he endorsed underperformed and cost their party a chance at picking up seats that should have been winnable,” said Jon Rogowski, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. “Not only did voters reject many of Trump’s candidates, but they also rejected his policies,” Rogowski said, citing abortion as an example. Aiming to deliver a rebuke to Biden against a backdrop of sky-high inflation and bitter culture wars, Republicans needed just one extra seat to wrest control of the evenly divided Senate. But by yesterday the only seat to change hands went to the Democrats, with John Fetterman, a burly champion of progressive economic policies, triumphing in Pennsylvania over Trump-endorsed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, bluntly conceded to NBC that the election is “definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure.”
Polls opened Tuesday in crucial US midterm elections that could decide the political future of both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump - who has all but announced he will seek the White House again in 2024. Biden's Democrats are facing a gargantuan struggle to hang on to Congress, after a race the president has cast as a "defining" moment for US democracy - while Trump's Republicans campaigned hard on kitchen-table issues like inflation and crime. Trump - who has been heavily hinting at a new run - grabbed the election eve spotlight to flag "a big announcement" on November 15, while Biden made a final appeal to Democrats to turn out en masse at the polls. "The power's in your hands," Biden told a rally near the capital. "We know in our bones that our democracy is at risk and we know that this is your moment to defend it." With polls showing Republicans in line to seize the House of Representatives, the increasingly far-right party eyed snarling the rest of Biden's first term in aggressive investigations and opposition to spending plans. Returning to the White House Monday night, Biden told reporters he believed Democrats would win the Senate - though conceding "it's going to be tough" to retain the House and that his life in Washington may become "more difficult." If both the House and Senate flip, Biden would be left as little more than a lame duck. With Congress out of Democrats' hands, he would see his legislative agenda collapse. That would raise questions over everything from climate crisis policies, which the president will be laying out at the COP27 conference in Egypt this week, to Ukraine, where Republicans are reluctant to maintain the current rate of US financial and military support. An influx of far-right Trump backers in Congress would also accelerate the shift that has been taking place inside the Republican Party since the former real-estate tycoon stunned the world by defeating Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2016. Despite facing criminal probes over taking top secret documents from the White House and trying to overturn the 2020 election, Trump has been using the midterms to cement his status as the de facto Republican leader and presumptive presidential nominee. In a typically dark, rambling speech to fans in Dayton, Ohio, Trump said, "if you support the decline and fall of America, then you must, you absolutely must vote for the radical left, crazy people." "If you want to stop the destruction of our country, then tomorrow you must vote Republican in a giant red wave," he said -- before teasing his 2024 announcement. Second Biden run? Across the country voters called on their fellow citizens to cast their ballot in the midterms, which historically have low turnout. "I would emphasize vote, vote, vote," 24-year-old student Luke Osuagwu told AFP in Atlanta, Georgia. "If you're not voting, you can't really stand for society or anything like that," agreed Alethia McClenton, a 45-year-old Georgia Aquarium employee. "It's very important that everybody goes out to do their part." More than 40 million ballots were cast through early voting options, meaning the outcome had already begun to take shape before election day. Polls started to open on the East Coast at 6:00 am (1100 GMT), and begin closing 12 hours later. Up for grabs are all 435 House seats, a third of the 100 Senate seats, and a slew of state-level posts. Four states are also holding referendums on abortion - California, Vermont, Kentucky and Michigan. Senate races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio have narrowed to projected photo finishes, and any one of them could swing the balance of power. But final results may not be known until days - or in some cases even weeks - after election day, setting the stage for what promise to be acrimonious challenges. Trump has already claimed baselessly that swing state Pennsylvania "rigged" the midterms - reprising his playbook from the 2020 election which he falsely asserted was stolen by Biden. Citing growing support for voter conspiracy theories among Trump and his Republicans, Biden has warned that democracy and basic rights are at stake on Tuesday. Republicans have countered that a vote for Democrats means more soaring inflation and rising violent crime, seeking to make the midterms a referendum on the president. The outcome will likely determine whether Biden, who turns 80 this month and is the oldest president ever, will seek a second term in 2024 - or step aside.
Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini called for renewing the agency's mandate for an additional three years. This came in the annual report that Lazzarini presented to the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonisation), "Let us stay strong in our commitment to the human rights and wellbeing of Palestine refugees," Lazzarini said, as the 75th anniversary of the UN agency that was designed to be temporary approached. "Palestine refugees await with immense anticipation the confirmed support and solidarity of the international community at the General Assembly. They await a sign of hope and a message that they are not abandoned," he said, adding "This last year has been difficult for Palestine refugees across the region, with increased challenges to the fulfillment of their basic rights." In Gaza, Lebanon and Syria 80 to 90% of Palestine refugees now live under the poverty line, he said. "Their poverty was made worse by the socio-economic ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine on employment, prices and soaring inflation," Lazzarini underlined. He appealed to the Committee that it will continue to strongly support Palestine refugees' human development, respond to their humanitarian needs and promote their right to a dignified life until there is a just and lasting solution to their plight. He added that a growing number of competing crises over the last decade has sadly increased the indifference towards the plight of Palestine refugees. "For too long, UNRWA has tried to reconcile three opposing sources of pressure; the first of which is the General Assembly's mandate which requires the Agency to deliver public sector-like services; the second, the chronic lack of sufficient voluntary funding from Member States and the unpredictable nature of most of the funding; and lastly, the inability to change the scope or mode of service delivery because any change to the way UNRWA operates is perceived by the Palestine refugee community with suspicion and as an attempt to weaken the mandate, an attempt to weaken the rights of Palestine refugees." Over the last 10 years, and despite active and continuous outreach, an annual underfunding of around 100 million USD has forced the Agency to operate within very strict financial constraints, Lazzarini said, adding "The funding gap has slowed us down, especially in areas that require constant upgrading and rolling out of new models."
Republicans and Democrats traded final blows yesterday ahead of midterm elections that could upend Joe Biden’s presidency, weaken Western support for Ukraine and even open the door to a comeback bid by Donald Trump. More than 40mn ballots have been cast through early voting options, meaning the outcome was already taking shape with hours to go before polls open nationwide today. In a typically attention-grabbing move, Elon Musk used his newly purchased Twitter social media site to endorse a Republican takeover of Congress. “Shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties,” the world’s richest person tweeted to his 114mn followers.”Therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the presidency is Democratic.” Adding to tensions — and a reminder of Moscow’s murky role throughout Trump-era US politics — Kremlin-connected oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin boasted that Russia was trying to tilt the outcome. “We interfered, we are interfering and we will interfere...carefully, precisely, surgically and the way we do it, the way we can,” said Prigozhin, a pivotal figure in the Ukraine invasion where his Wagner military contractor group is on the front lines. Biden, who has framed his closing argument as a warning that American democracy is on the line, ended days of frantic campaigning for Democratic candidates with a rally yesterday evening near Baltimore. Trump — using the midterms to repeatedly tease a possible 2024 White House run, even as he faces criminal probes over taking secret documents and trying to overturn the 2020 election — held a rally in Ohio. With polls showing Republicans in line to seize the House of Representatives, the increasingly far-right party eyed snarling the rest of Biden’s first term in aggressive investigations and opposition to spending plans. Kevin McCarthy, who would likely become speaker of the House — placing him second in line to the president — also refused to rule out impeachment proceedings. “We will never use impeachment for political purposes,” McCarthy told CNN.”That doesn’t mean if something rises to the occasion, it would not be used at any other time.” One key question remained whether the US senate would also flip, leaving Biden as little more than a lame duck. With Congress out of Democrats’ hands, Biden would see his legislative agenda collapse. That would raise questions over everything from climate crisis policies, which the president will be laying out at the COP27 conference in Egypt this week, to Ukraine, where Republicans are reluctant to maintain the current rate of US financial and military support. While insisting he supports Ukraine’s struggle, McCarthy told CNN there could be no “blank check” — a nod to the isolationist, far-right Trump wing of his party and a signal likely sending shivers through Kyiv. Just how bad today goes will also likely determine whether Biden, who turns 80 this month and is the oldest president ever, will seek a second term or step aside, plunging his party into fresh uncertainty. Up for grabs are all 435 House seats, a third of the 100 Senate seats, and a slew of state-level posts. Popular former president Barack Obama and other Democratic stars have been racing from campaign to campaign in hopes of seeing off the predicted Republican “red wave.” But the political landscape has been tilting away from Democrats since the summer, as Republican messaging about high inflation, crime and illegal immigration overwhelmed the incumbents. “This is going to be a wake-up call to President Biden,” was the bullish weekend prediction of Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s Republican governor and a rising star being touted as a possible party alternative to Trump in 2024.
UN climate negotiations yesterday offered a sliver of hope and “solidarity” for developing countries battered by increasingly costly impacts of global warming, in agreeing to discuss the thorny issue of money for “loss and damage”. Countries least responsible for planet-heating emissions — but hardest hit by an onslaught of weather extremes — have been ramping up the pressure on wealthy polluting nations to provide financial help for accelerating damages. But in a sign of how contentious the issue is among richer nations fearful of open-ended climate liability, the issue was only added to the formal agenda to the UN’s COP27 climate summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh after two days of last-ditch negotiations. This “reflects a sense of solidarity and empathy for the suffering of the victims of climate induced disasters,” Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, the COP27 president, said to applause. At last year’s UN summit in Glasgow, the European Union and the United States rejected calls for a separate financial mechanism. Instead, negotiators agreed to start a “dialogue” extending through 2024 on financial compensation. The issue has grown ever more urgent in recent months as nations were slammed by a crescendo of disasters, such as the massive flooding that put a third of Pakistan under water in August. Senegal’s Madeleine Diouf Sarr, who represents the Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc, said climate action across the board had been far too slow. “Lives are being lost. Climate change is causing irreversible loss and damage, and our people carry the greatest cost,” she said, adding that an agreement on funding arrangements must be reached in Egypt. Appeals for more money are bolstered by a field known as event attribution science, which now makes it possible to measure how much global warming increases the likelihood or intensity of an individual cyclone, heat wave, drought or heavy rain event. “Today, countries cleared an historic first hurdle toward acknowledging and answering the call for financing to address increasingly severe losses and damages,” said Ani Dasgupta, head of the World Resources Institute, a climate policy think tank. But he said that getting negotiators to agree to discuss the issue was only an initial step. “We still have a marathon ahead of us before countries iron out a formal decision on this central issue for CO27,” he said. Wrangling over loss and damage has unfolded against the backdrop of an unmet promise by rich nations to provide $100bn a year starting in 2020 to help the developing world green their economies and anticipate future impacts, called “adaptation” in UN climate lingo. That funding goal is still $17bn short. Rich nations have vowed to hit the target by the end of 2023, but observers say the issue has severely undermined trust. The UN Environment Programme has said the goal – first set in 2009 – has not kept up with reality, and estimates that funding to build resilience to future climate threats should be up to 10 times higher. Meanwhile, countries are far off track to reach the Paris deal goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The UN says the world is currently heading to 2.8C of warming, or a still-catastrophic 2.4C even if all national pledges under the Paris treaty are fulfilled. Depending on how deeply the world slashes carbon pollution, loss and damage from climate change could cost developing countries $290-580bn a year by 2030, reaching $1-1.8tn in 2050, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London. The World Bank has estimated the Pakistan floods alone caused $30bn in damages and economic loss. Millions of people were displaced and two million homes destroyed. Simon Stiell, the UN’s climate change executive secretary, said vulnerable countries are “tired” and “frustrated”. “Here in Sharm el-Sheikh we have a duty to speed up our international efforts and turn words into action to catch up with their lived experience,” he said. Up to now, poor countries have had scant leverage in the UN wrangle over money. But as climate damages multiply, patience is wearing thin. The AOSIS negotiating block of small island nations told AFP that they would like to see the details for a dedicated loss-and-damage fund worked out within a year. “There’s not enough support for us to even to begin to prepare for the loss and damage that we are expected to face,” said AOSIS lead negotiator on climate finance Michai Robertson.
Andrea Bambino with Frankie Taggart in Washington US President Joe Biden and his two predecessors converged on the state of Pennsylvania on Saturday, making closing pitches in a key battleground state for next week’s midterm election. Biden was set to rally alongside his old boss Barack Obama as the Democrats deployed their big guns to build the energy they hope will spread nationwide and reverse the late rightward-shift in polling. And in a split-screen preview of a potential rematch of the 2020 presidential contest, the midwestern state is also playing host to Biden’s predecessor and bitter political rival Donald Trump. Obama was the first to appear yesterday, lashing out before a crowd in Pittsburgh at what he said were Republican plans to cut government spending. “They want to gut social security. They want to gut medicare. They want to give rich folks and big corporations more tax cuts,” Obama said. Obama — still the party’s most bankable star six years after leaving the White House — threw his support behind Democratic candidate John Fetterman, who is in a dead heat against Republican TV physician Mehmet Oz in their crucial Senate race. Biden and Obama were to appear later in the day in Philadelphia, the historic cradle of US independence where the 44th and 46th presidents will woo voters from the suburbs that make for a crucial base of Democratic support. Hours before the rally was scheduled to begin, hundreds of people lined up to enter the Liacouras Center to attend the event. “It’s very important that democrats stay in the position they’re already in,” said Jennifer Hahn, 57, a clinical psychologist from the town of Audubon, outside Philadelphia. “The biggest issues facing us are climate change, gun violence and our rights being stripped away.” The Keystone State backed Trump over Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 but preferred Biden to Trump in 2020. Strategists from both parties believe the side that wins the post vacated by retiring Republican Pat Toomey will hold the majority in the upper chamber of Congress next year. Fetterman and Oz sparred for an hour in state capital Harrisburg 10 days ago, with Fetterman still struggling with communication issues after a stroke in May upended his campaign. “The month-to-month shifts in support for Oz are not statistically significant,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “The overall trend suggests he has been chipping away with some voters who have not been completely comfortable with him, but that mainly happened prior to the debate.” Just a few miles east of Pittsburgh in Latrobe, Trump — the one-term 45th president with ambitions to return as the 47th — will seek to firm up support in a region that delivered him big margins in 2016 and 2020. Pennsylvania is seen as a must-win not just for control of the Senate, but also for the balance of power among the country’s 50 state governors, influential officials that weigh in on most aspects of voters’ lives, from education and health care to voting rights. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro has been spotlighting the fringe views of state senator Doug Mastriano, his far-right opponent who was involved in Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. A victory for Trump-backed Mastriano would give the prominent election denier oversight of the state’s voting system for the 2024 presidential race. Like Biden, Trump has visited Pennsylvania twice this year, rallying for Oz and Mastriano most recently in Wilkes-Barre in early September. The 76-year-old tycoon has already claimed baselessly that the state’s elections have been “rigged,” echoing his false claims that his own 2020 defeat was the result of widespread fraud. “As Biden’s approval rating plummets, Pennsylvania crime spikes, and Pennsylvanians grapple with a 74% hike in heating oil, coupled with record inflation, just weeks away from winter,” Trump’s office said in a statement. “The America First Movement offers the Keystone State an alternative vision for America: safe streets, cheap gas, low inflation, and a thriving American economy.”
They have been shadowboxing at separate campaign stops across the United States for weeks but the Democratic and Republican leaders find themselves on the same battlefield Saturday as they make closing pitches in Pennsylvania for next week's midterm election. President Joe Biden will rally alongside his old boss Barack Obama as the Democrats deploy their big guns to build the energy they hope will spread nationwide and reverse the late rightward-shift in polling. And in a split-screen preview of a potential rematch of the 2020 presidential contest, the midwestern state is also playing host to Biden's predecessor and bitter political rival Donald Trump. Obama - still the party's most bankable star six years after leaving the White House - begins the day in Pittsburgh with Democratic candidate John Fetterman, who is in a dead heat against Republican TV medic Mehmet Oz in their crucial Senate race. Biden and Obama then appear in Philadelphia, the historic cradle of US independence where the 44th and 46th presidents will woo voters from the suburbs that make for a crucial base of Democratic support. The Keystone State backed Trump over Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 but preferred Biden to Trump in 2020. Strategists from both parties believe the side that wins the post vacated by retiring Republican Pat Toomey will hold the majority in the upper chamber of Congress next year. Fetterman and Oz sparred for an hour in state capital Harrisburg 10 days ago, with Fetterman still struggling with communication issues after a stroke in May upended his campaign. 'Chipping away' "The month-to-month shifts in support for Oz are not statistically significant," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. "The overall trend suggests he has been chipping away with some voters who have not been completely comfortable with him, but that mainly happened prior to the debate." Just a few miles east of Pittsburgh in Latrobe, Trump - the one-term 45th president with ambitions to return as the 47th - will seek to firm up support in a region that delivered him big margins in 2016 and 2020. Pennsylvania is seen as a must-win not just for control of the Senate, but also for the balance of power among the country's 50 state governors, influential officials that weigh in on most aspects of voters' lives, from education and health care to voting rights. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro has been spotlighting the fringe views of state senator Doug Mastriano, his far-right opponent who was involved in Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election. A victory for Trump-backed Mastriano would give the prominent election denier oversight of the state's voting system for the 2024 presidential race. Like Biden, Trump has visited Pennsylvania twice this year, rallying for Oz and Mastriano most recently in Wilkes-Barre in early September. The 76-year-old tycoon has already claimed baselessly that the state's elections have been "rigged," echoing his false claims that his own 2020 defeat was the result of widespread fraud. "As Biden's approval rating plummets, Pennsylvania crime spikes, and Pennsylvanians grapple with a 74 percent hike in heating oil, coupled with record inflation, just weeks away from winter," Trump's office said in a statement. "The America First Movement offers the Keystone State an alternative vision for America: safe streets, cheap gas, low inflation, and a thriving American economy."
Donald Trump is planning to ride a wave of Republican victories in next week’s midterm elections by announcing a run for the presidency, US media reported on Friday, as Democrats braced for a punishing night even in the most liberal corners of America. The one-term president has hinted for almost two years a potential third tilt at the White House after losing to Joe Biden, but aides are firming up plans for an announcement on November 14, according to Axios. Trump sent his clearest signal yet that he intends to announce his 2024 candidacy soon, as he addressed a rally on Thursday in Iowa, the first state to hold its Republican nominating contest in presidential elections. “In order to make our country successful and safe and glorious, I will very, very, very probably do it again, OK? Very, very, very probably,” Trump teased to rapt applause at the event in Sioux City. “Get ready. That’s all I’m telling you. Very soon. Get ready. Get ready.” His remarks came with polling pointing to a re-emerging “red wave” that will likely see the tycoon’s party dismantling the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the House and possibly retaking the Senate. Republicans are confident they can flip the one state they need for the upper chamber and are expecting gains in the House of 12 to 25 seats, easily enough to overcome the Democrats’ eight-member advantage. The final weeks of the campaign have seen bullish Republicans even looking beyond the country’s swing states to Democratic bastions that once looked out of reach. Strategists from both parties are seeing districts across New York, Oregon and Connecticut that went for Biden by double digits in 2020 coming back into play. Hillary Clinton campaigned on Thursday in New York to boost the faltering fortunes of Governor Kathy Hochul, while former president Barack Obama speaks in Pennsylvania today. With Democrats being dragged down by Biden’s underwater approval ratings, particularly on inflation, the president was due to pitch his party as the choice for growth and innovation at a tour of a San Diego communications company. Ahead of the visit, Biden hailed new figures for October showing the economy adding 261,000 jobs and unemployment at low levels. “I’ve got a plan to bring costs down, especially for health care, energy, and other everyday expenses ... the Republican plan is very different,” he said in a statement. “They want to increase prescription drug costs, health insurance costs, and energy costs, while giving more tax breaks to big corporations and the very wealthy.” Trump had initially considered announcing before next Tuesday to get ahead of the field in the Republican primary. However, he was persuaded by close ally Kellyanne Conway that the move would leave him open to blame in the event of a bad night for Republicans.
Twitter Inc will tell employees by email on Friday about whether they have been laid off, temporarily closing its offices and preventing staff access, following a week of uncertainty about the company's future under new owner Elon Musk. The social media company said in an email to staff it would alert employees by 9 a.m. Pacific time on Friday (12 p.m. EDT/1600 GMT) about staff cuts. "In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday," said the email sent on Thursday, seen by Reuters. Musk, the world's richest person, is looking to cut around 3,700 Twitter staff, or about half the workforce, as he seeks to slash costs and impose a demanding new work ethic, according to internal plans reviewed by Reuters this week. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter said in the email that its offices would be temporarily closed and all badge access suspended in order "to help ensure the safety of each employee as well as Twitter systems and customer data." The company said employees who were not affected by the layoffs would be notified via their work email addresses. Staff who had been laid off would be notified with next steps to their personal email addresses, the memo said. Some employees tweeted their access to the company's IT system had been blocked and feared whether that suggested they had been laid off. "Looks like I’m unemployed y’all. Just got remotely logged out of my work laptop and removed from Slack," tweeted a user with the @SBkcrn account, whose profile is described as former senior community manager at Twitter. A class action lawsuit was filed on Thursday against Twitter by its employees, who argued the company was conducting mass layoffs without providing the required 60-day advance notice, in violation of federal and California law. The lawsuit also asked the San Francisco federal court to issue an order to restrict Twitter from soliciting employees being laid off to sign documents without informing them of the pendency of the case. Musk has directed Twitter's teams to find up to $1 billion in annual infrastructure cost savings, according to two sources familiar with the matter and an internal Slack message reviewed by Reuters. He had already cleared out the company's senior ranks, firing its chief executive and top finance and legal executives. Others, including those sitting atop the company's advertising, marketing and human resources divisions, departed throughout the past week. Musk's first week as Twitter's owner has been marked by chaos and uncertainty. Two company-wide meetings were scheduled, only to be canceled hours later. Employees told Reuters they were left to piece together information through media reports, private messaging groups and anonymous forums. The layoffs, which were long expected, have chilled Twitter's famously open corporate culture that has been lauded by many of its employees. "If you are in an office or on your way to an office, please return home," Twitter said in the email on Thursday. Shortly after the email landed in employee inboxes, hundreds of people flooded the company's Slack channels to say goodbye, two employees told Reuters. Someone invited Musk to join the channel, the sources said.
Taylor Swift made music history this week, becoming the first artist ever to simultaneously pinch all 10 spots on the top US song chart after the release of her album Midnights. Anti-Hero led the charge, taking the Billboard Hot 100's top spot. It's the first time in the chart's 64-year history that a single artist has claimed the entire top 10, Billboard said in a tweet. The last artist to come close was Drake, who took nine of the coveted spots in September 2021. "10 out of 10 of the Hot 100??? On my 10th album??? I AM IN SHAMBLES," tweeted Swift, with a nod to her devoted fan base's love of searching for hidden clues in her content including titles, numbers and dates. Swift released the highly anticipated Midnights -- her 10th studio album -- on October 21, which also debuted at the top of Billboard's main albums chart with the biggest week for a release since Adele's 25 in 2015. The release of Midnights crashed Spotify for hours, but it still set a record as the most-streamed album in a day, according to the platform. The album's 13 songs tell "the story of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life," Swift said. Together, they form "a full picture of the intensities of that mystifying, mad hour." The three songs off Midnights not in the top 10 also charted, as did seven more tracks from the extended "3 am edition." Swift's latest album sees her returning to pop and recalling some of her earliest hits after two pandemic albums, Folklore and Evermore, leaned into folk. Swift also announced her next tour 'The Eras Tour'. "A journey through the musical eras of my career (past & present!) The first leg of the tour will be in stadiums across the US, with international dates to be announced as soon as we can!" she tweeted.
Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro yesterday avoided conceding defeat in his first public remarks since losing Sunday’s election, saying protests since then were the fruit of “indignation and a sense of injustice” over the vote. His chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira, speaking after Bolsonaro’s brief public address, said Bolsonaro had authorised him to begin the transition process with representatives of leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It took Bolsonaro more than 44 hours to make his first public remarks since the election was decided by electoral authorities, making him the first Brazilian president to lose a re-election bid. He has still not spoken with Lula. Amid his silence, supporters blocked highways to protest his defeat, with some calling for a military coup to stop former president Lula from returning to power. Bolsonaro’s delay in recognising Lula’s election raised fear that he would contest the narrow result of the election. In a national address yesterday that lasted just a few minutes, Bolsonaro thanked Brazilians who voted for him and reiterated that he would follow the country’s constitution, which stipulates a transition of power on January 1. He referred to the demonstrations as a “popular movement” and said they should avoid destroying property or “impeding the right to come and go.” That may not be enough to defuse the protests across Brazil by small groups of his supporters, which have begun to cause economic disruptions draw calls from farm and retail groups for Bolsonaro to begin a transition. Close political allies, including his chief of staff and Vice President Hamilton Mourao, have begun to make contact with the Lula camp to discuss a transition. Others, including the speaker of the lower house of Congress, called on the Bolsonaro government to respect the election result. The powerful agricultural lobby CNA, representing farmers who were important campaign donors for Bolsonaro, said it was ready for conversations with the incoming government, which will take office on Jan. 1. Before Sunday’s vote, Bolsonaro repeatedly made baseless claims the electoral system was open to fraud and accused electoral authorities of favouring his leftist adversary. Lula’s victory represents a stunning comeback for the 77-year-old former metalworker, spent 19 months in jail for corruption convictions before they were annulled last year. Lula has vowed to overturn many of Bolsonaro’s policies, including pro-gun measures and weak protection of the Amazon rainforest.
Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called for "peace and unity" after narrowly winning a divisive runoff election Sunday, capping a remarkable political comeback by defeating far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro -- who has yet to accept defeat. The victory marks a stunning turnaround for the charismatic but tarnished leftist heavyweight, who left office in 2010 as the most popular president in Brazilian history, fell into disgrace when he was imprisoned for 18 months on controversial, since-quashed corruption charges, and now returns for an unprecedented third term at age 77. All eyes will now be on how Bolsonaro and his supporters react to the result after months of alleging -- without evidence -- that Brazil's electronic voting system is plagued by fraud and that the courts, media and other institutions had conspired against his far-right movement. "This country needs peace and unity," Lula said to loud cheers in a victory speech in Sao Paulo. "The challenge is immense," he said of the job ahead, citing a hunger crisis, the economy, bitter political division, and deforestation in the Amazon. He later addressed a tightly packed crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters who flooded the city center clad in Workers' Party red, vowing: "democracy is back." 'He hasn't called yet' Bolsonaro, 67, was silent in the hours after the result was declared. "Anywhere in the world, the losing president would already have called to admit defeat. He hasn't called yet, I don't know if he will call and concede," Lula told the massive crowd. Some Bolsonaro supporters, gathered in the capital Brasilia, refused to accept the results. "The Brazilian people aren't going to swallow a faked election and hand our nation over to a thief," said 50-year-old teacher Ruth da Silva Barbosa. Electoral officials declared the election for Lula, who had 50.9 percent of the vote to 49.1 percent for Bolsonaro with more than 99.9 percent of polling stations reporting, in the closest race since Brazil returned to democracy after its 1964-1985 dictatorship. Bolsonaro, the vitriolic hardline conservative dubbed the "Tropical Trump," becomes the first incumbent president not to win re-election in the post-dictatorship era. With no word from Bolsonaro, some of his key allies appeared in public to accept the results. They included the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Arthur Lira, who said it was time to "extend a hand to our adversaries, debate, build bridges." 'Restore peace' Congratulations for Lula poured in from US President Joe Biden, France's Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as leaders from across Latin America. The European Union's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, also joined the list of international well-wishers. Lula supporters around the country erupted into celebration Sunday evening. "We've had four years of a genocidal, hateful government," said Lula voter Maria Clara, a 26-year-old student, at a victory party in downtown Rio. "Today democracy won, and the possibility of dreaming of a better country again." In Brasilia, the tearful crowd of Bolsonaro supporters -- outfitted in green and yellow, the colors of Brazil's flag which the ex-army captain has adopted as his own -- fell to their knees to pray. Bolsonaro surged to victory four years ago on a wave of outrage with politics as usual, but came under fire for his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic -- which left more than 680,000 dead in Brazil -- as well as a weak economy, his polarizing style and attacks on democratic institutions. Regardless of how the incumbent reacts, Lula will face huge challenges when he is inaugurated on January 1. Bolsonaro's far-right allies scored big victories in legislative and governors' races in the first-round election on October 2, and will be the largest force in Congress. On Sunday, Bolsonaro's former infrastructure minister Tarcisio de Freitas clinched the governorship of Sao Paulo, the most populous and the wealthiest state in the country. 'Zero deforestation' In his victory speech, Lula touched on gender and racial equality and the urgent need to deal with a hunger crisis affecting 33.1 million Brazilians. "Today we tell the world that Brazil is back," he said, adding that the country is "ready to reclaim its place in the fight against the climate crisis, especially the Amazon." He vowed to "fight for zero deforestation." Lula inherits a deeply divided country, with a hugely difficult global economic situation that looks nothing like the commodities "super-cycle" that allowed him to lead Latin America's biggest economy through a watershed boom in the 2000s. Lula's win is "one of the biggest comebacks in modern political history," tweeted Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly. But the president-elect will face a hostile Congress and have "a weak government," Winter told AFP. None of that mattered for the time being to elated Lula supporters. "Brazil is starting to stand upright again after four years of darkness. We were going through so many problems, so much fear," Larissa Meneses, a 34-year-old software developer, told AFP at a joyful victory party in Sao Paulo. "Now with Lula's victory, I really believe things will start getting better. This is a day to laugh a lot."