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32 Dead In Bangladesh Unrest, Protesters Set Fire To State TV Headquarters

DHAKA, July 18: Bangladeshi students set fire to the country's state broadcaster on Thursday, a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appeared on the network seeking to calm escalating clashes that have killed at least 32 people.

Hundreds of protesters demanding reform of civil service hiring rules fought back and overwhelmed riot police who had fired at them with rubber bullets.

The incensed crowd chased the retreating officers to BTV's headquarters in the capital Dhaka, then set ablaze the network's reception building and dozens of vehicles parked outside.

"Many people" were trapped inside as the fire spread, the broadcaster said in a Facebook post, but an official from the station later said that they had safely evacuated the building.

"The fire is still going on," the official said. "We have come out to the main gate. Our broadcast has been shut down for now."

Hasina's government has ordered schools and universities to close indefinitely as police step up efforts to bring the country's deteriorating law and order situation under control.

The premier appeared on the broadcaster on Wednesday night to condemn the "murder" of protesters and vow that those responsible will be punished regardless of their political affiliation.

But violence worsened on the streets despite her appeal for calm as police again attempted to break up demonstrations with rubber bullets and tear gas volleys.

"Our first demand is that the prime minister must apologise to us," protester Bidisha Rimjhim, 18, said.

"Secondly, justice must be ensured for our killed brothers," she added.

At least 25 people were killed on Thursday in addition to seven killed earlier in the week, according to a tally of casualty figures from hospitals, with hundreds more wounded.

China says halted nuclear arms talks with US over Taiwan weapons sale

BEIJING, July 17: China said Wednesday it had suspended negotiations with the United States on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control in response to Washington's weapons sales to Taiwan.

The US and China in November held rare talks on nuclear arms control, part of a bid to ease mistrust ahead of a summit between leader Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.

Further dialogue had not been publicly announced since, with a White House official in January urging Beijing to respond "to some of our more substantive ideas on risk reduction."

But China's foreign ministry on Wednesday said recent US sales of arms to self-ruled Taiwan were "seriously undermining the political atmosphere for continued arms control consultations between the two sides".

"The US has... continued its arms sales to Taiwan, and taken a series of negative actions that seriously damage China's core interests and undermine political mutual trust," foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said.

"For this reason, China has decided to suspend negotiations with the United States on a new round of arms control and non-proliferation consultations," he added.

The Pentagon in a congressionally mandated report last October said that China was developing its nuclear arsenal more quickly than the United States had earlier anticipated.

China possessed more than 500 operational nuclear warheads as of May 2023 and is likely to have more than 1,000 by 2030, it said.

The United States currently possesses about 3,700 nuclear warheads, trailing Russia's roughly 4,500, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which counts 410 warheads for China.

"China is willing to maintain communication with the United States on international arms control issues on the basis of mutual respect," Lin said.

"But the United States must respect China's core interests and create necessary conditions for dialogue," he warned.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but it has remained Taiwan's most important partner and biggest arms supplier, sparking repeated condemnations from China.

Washington in June approved two military sales to Taiwan worth approximately $300 million in total, mostly of spare and repair parts for the island's F-16 fighter jets.

Indian national among 6 people killed in Oman mosque shooting claimed by ISIS

MUSCAT, JulY 17: An Indian national was killed and three others were injured in a rare shooting attack by the Islamic State militant group near a Shia Muslim mosque in Oman’s capital Muscat that claimed six lives, mostly foreigners.

The shooting on Monday night near the Imam Ali Mosque also claimed the lives of one policeman and four Pakistan nationals, while injuring 28 others.

The Indian Embassy in Muscat on Wednesday identified the Indian national killed in the incident as Basha Jan Ali Hussain. Three Indians were also injured in the attack.

The mission said it was closely following up the well-being of the resident Indian community in the aftermath of the shooting incident on July 15.

Ambassador Amit Narang spoke today with Tausif Abbas, son of Basha Jan Ali Hussain, who unfortunately lost his life in the incident, the Indian embassy said in a post on X.

The envoy assured full support of the embassy for the repatriation of Hussain’s mortal remains back to India and all other support that the family may need.

Embassy officials have visited the three Indian nationals who have sustained injuries and are undergoing treatment at a hospital. Ambassador Narang also spoke with their families and assured full support.

He conveyed his sincere appreciation for the prompt action taken by the Omani security agencies in dealing with the crisis and protecting the lives of innocent civilians “The Embassy conveys its sympathies with the families of those who have tragically lost their lives in this incident and wishes a speedy recovery to all those who have been injured,” the mission said in a post on X.

The three attackers were also killed by Omani security forces during the incident in the al-Wadi al-Kabir area on Monday night, according to a statement.

The Pakistan government said four of its nationals were among those killed in a “terrorist attack” on the Imam Ali Mosque.

The Islamic State (ISIS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

ISIS has repeatedly targeted Shia ceremonies, processions and worshippers in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it has never before claimed an attack in Oman, where the Shia are a minority.

Israeli strike on central Gaza school reportedly kills 22

TEL AVIV, July 15: At least 22 Palestinians were killed and 100 wounded in a strike on Sunday on a UN-run school in central Gaza being used as a shelter by displaced people, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

The Israeli military said it had targeted a number of Hamas “terrorists” operating from Abu Oraiban School in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp.

Witnesses told BBC Arabic there were no armed fighters there and that children were among the casualties.

It was the fifth attack on or near to schools in eight days.

Residents said there were fresh air and artillery strikes in central Gaza on Monday, with five people reportedly killed when a house in Maghazi refugee camp was hit. The Israeli military said its aircraft had struck dozens of “terror targets” across the territory over the past day.

Meanwhile, Hamas said indirect negotiations on a ceasefire and hostage release deal with Israel were “ongoing” in the wake of an air strike in the southern al-Mawasi humanitarian area on Saturday that the health ministry said killed more than 90 people.

The Israeli military said it had targeted a compound where the head of Hamas’s armed wing, Mohammed Deif, was hiding with the commander of its Khan Younis Brigade, Rafa Salama.

The military has announced that Salama was killed, but said it is too early to conclude whether Deif also died. Hamas has said Deif is in good health.

KP Sharma Oli takes oath as Nepal Prime Minister for fourth time

KATHMANDU, July 15: K P Sharma Oli on Monday was sworn in as Nepal's Prime Minister for the fourth time.

The leader of Nepal's largest communist party was appointed Nepal's Prime Minister on Sunday by President Ram Chandra Paudel to lead a new coalition government that faces the daunting challenge of providing political stability in the Himalayan nation.

Oli, 72, succeeds Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' who lost the vote of confidence in the House of Representatives on Friday, leading to the formation of the new government headed by Oli.

He became the Prime Minister with the support of the Nepali Congress, the largest party in Parliament.

Oli was sworn in by President Paudel at Shital Niwas, the main building of Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Oli now needs to secure a vote of confidence from Parliament within 30 days of appointment according to the constitutional mandate. Oli will need a minimum of 138 votes in the 275-seat House of Representatives (HoR).

Israel Targets Hamas Military Chief, Gaza Officials Say 71 Killed In Strike

CAIRO, July 13: An Israeli airstrike targeted Hamas' military chief Mohammed Deif in Gaza on Saturday, a security official and Israel Army Radio said, in an attack that the enclave's health ministry said had killed at least 71 Palestinians.

It was unclear whether Deif was killed, the security official said. Army Radio said Deif was hiding in a building in the Israeli-designated humanitarian zone Al-Mawasi, west of the southern city of Khan Younis.

Deif was one of the masterminds of Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war in Gaza. He has survived seven Israeli assassination attempts, the most recent in 2021, and has topped Israel's most-wanted list for decades.

The Gaza health ministry said at least 71 Palestinians had been killed in the strike and 289 injured.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was holding special consultations, his office said, in light of "developments in Gaza". It was unclear how the strike would affect ceasefire talks underway in Doha and Cairo.

The Hamas-run media office said at least 100 people had been killed and wounded, including members of the Civil Emergency Service. The Israeli military said it was looking into the report.

A senior Hamas official did not confirm whether Deif had been present and called the Israeli allegations "nonsense".

"All the martyrs are civilians and what happened was a grave escalation of the war of genocide, backed by the American support and world silence," Abu Zuhri told Reuters, adding the strike showed Israel was not interested in reaching a ceasefire deal.

Rising up the Hamas ranks over 30 years, Deif developed the group's network of tunnels and its bomb-making expertise. He is held responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings.

Pakistan Secures $7 Billion Loan Deal With IMF To Boost Faltering Economy

ISLAMABAD, July 13: The International Monetary Fund said it reached a new $7 billion loan deal with Pakistan in a bid to bolster its faltering economy.

Islamabad agreed in exchange to conduct further unpopular reforms, including widening the South Asian nation's chronically low tax base.

Pakistan last year came to the brink of default as the economy shrivelled amid political chaos, catastrophic 2022 monsoon floods and decades of mismanagement -- as well as the global economic downturn.

The nation was saved by last-minute loans from friendly countries, as well as support from the IMF, but its finances remain in dire straits with high inflation and staggering public debts.

The new three-year deal, which still needs approval by the IMF Executive Board, should enable Pakistan to "cement macroeconomic stability and create conditions for stronger, more inclusive and resilient growth", it said in a statement Friday.

IDF says it killed Shejaiya battalion deputy chief, found Hamas command room at UNRWA site

TEL AVIV, July 12: Ayman Shweidah, the deputy commander of Hamas’s Shejaiya Battalion, was killed in a recent airstrike on Gaza City, the Israel Defense Forces announced on Friday, as troops raided an UNRWA facility in the area that the army said was used by the terror group as a command center.

According to the IDF, Shweidah had carried out numerous attacks on troops in Gaza, and was involved in planning in executing the October 7 onslaught, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take 251 hostages, sparking the war in Gaza.

One of the Shejaiya Battalion’s company commanders, Ubadah Abu Hain, was also killed in the strike, the IDF said, describing him as a seasoned and prominent commander who had taken a significant part in the fighting.

Meanwhile, several rockets were fired on Friday from northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun at the Lachish Regional Council area in southern Israel yesterday, setting off sirens in the town of Nir Israel, near Ashkelon.

The IDF said the rockets struck open areas, and in response, airstrikes were carried out against sites belonging to terror groups in the area of the launch.

Palestinian media reported that an airstrike on central Gaza’s Nuseirat killed at least three people. Another airstrike on Khan Younis, in the Strip’s south, was said to have killed four aid workers.

Elsewhere in the Strip’s south, the IDF said soldiers with the 162nd Division had killed numerous gunmen in Rafah in clashes and by calling in airstrikes.

Troops from the IDF’s Commando Brigade have located weapons and a command room used by Hamas at UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City, the army said on Friday.

US envoy: There is no such thing as ‘strategic autonomy’ in times of conflict

NEW DELHI, July 12: Underlining that “no war is distant anymore”, US ambassador to India Eric Garcetti said Thursday there is no such thing as strategic autonomy in times of conflict.

Garcetti, who was speaking at the Defence News Conclave organised by CUTS International, said: “I respect that India likes its strategic autonomy, but in times of conflict, there is no such thing as strategic autonomy. We will, in crisis moments, need to know each other. I don’t care what title we put to it, but we will need to know that we are trusted friends… that in times of need in the next day be acting together, that we’ll know each other’s equipment, that we know each other’s training, we’ll know each other’s systems, and we’ll know each other as human beings as well.”

He said, “No war is distant anymore, and we must not just stand for peace. We must take concrete actions to make sure those who don’t play by peaceful rules that their war machines cannot continue unabated. That’s something the US needs to know and that India needs to know together.”

His comments come days after PM Narendra Modi’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin sparked criticism from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The US State Department has been expressing its concerns about India’s ties with Russia.

“The past three years, we’ve witnessed countries who ignore certain borders. I don’t have to remind India how important borders are. That’s the central principle to peace in our world… Together the world’s two largest democracies can enhance security, stability of our region,” he said.

Nepal PM ‘Prachanda’ loses vote of confidence in Parliament; Oli set to be new PM

KATHMANDU, July 12: Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' on Friday lost a vote of confidence in Parliament after coalition partner CPN-UML withdrew its support to him, a development that will lead to the formation of a new government led by ex-premier K P Sharma Oli.

Prachanda received only 63 votes in the 275-member House of Representatives (HoR) and there were 194 votes against the motion. At least 138 votes are needed to win the vote of trust.

A total of 258 HoR members participated in the voting while one member abstained.

Prachanda, 69, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-MC), had survived four trust votes since he assumed the prime minister's post on December 25, 2022.

He faced the same predicament yet another time because former prime minister Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) withdrew support from the Prachanda-led government last week after inking a power-sharing deal with the largest party in the House – the Nepali Congress (NC).

Earlier, Speaker of the HoR Dev Raj Ghimire put Prachanda’s Vote of Trust for voting according to Article 100 Clause 2 of the Constitution. After voting was completed, he announced that the Vote of Trust proposed by Prime Minister Prachanda was defeated with a majority vote.

Speaker Ghimire will now inform President Ram Chandra Paudel, who in turn, will invite two or more political parties to stake a claim for the new government according to Article 76 Clause 2 of the Constitution.

This paves the way for the NC and the CPN-UML to form a new coalition government.

The NC has 89 seats in the HoR, while CPN-UML has 78. Their combined strength of 167 is much more than the 138 required for a majority in the lower house.

Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba has already endorsed Oli as the next prime minister.

NC president Deuba and CPN-UML chairman Oli inked a 7-point deal on Monday to form a new coalition toppling Prachanda-led government.

According to the agreement, Oli and Deuba will share the premiership during the remaining period of the House of Representatives; in the first phase Oli will become the Prime Minister for one and a half years and then, Deuba will take the seat for the rest of the period.

Prachanda, whose party had 32 seats in the HoR, was elected the Prime Minister for the third time on December 25, 2022, with the backing of CPN-UML.

Prachanda was elected the Prime Minister as per Article 76 Clause 2 of the Constitution of Nepal, which has a provision for electing a Prime Minister with the support of two or more parties.

As the HoR session began in the early afternoon, embattled Prachanda sharply criticised the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML for striking an alliance “out of fear” rather than shared principles and accused them of pushing the nation toward regression.

Prachanda voiced concerns about potential regression and autocracy, asserting that the NC and the CPN-UML had joined forces as good governance began to take root in the country.

Israeli army orders evacuation of battle-torn Gaza City

TEL AVIV, July 10: Israel's army dropped thousands of leaflets over war-torn Gaza City on Wednesday urging all residents to flee a heavy offensive through the main city of the besieged Palestinian territory.

The leaflets, addressed to "everyone in Gaza City", set out designated escape routes and warned that the urban area, which had a pre-war population of over half a million, would "remain a dangerous combat zone".

The warning came as Israeli troops, backed by tanks and aircraft, have fought Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the heaviest combat the city has seen in months in the war raging since October 7.

The United Nations said the latest evacuations "will only fuel mass suffering for Palestinian families, many of whom have been displaced many times".

"The civilians must be protected," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

An Israeli government spokesman said the aim was "to put civilians out of harm's way" as troops battle militants "where they are".

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement came as talks were to resume in Qatar towards a truce and hostage release deal in the war now grinding on into its 10th month.

Hamas official Hossam Badran, asked about the increased military operations, said that Israel was "hoping that the resistance will relinquish its legitimate demands" in truce negotiations.

But "the continuation of massacres compels us to adhere to our demands", he said.

Heavy fighting also raged in Gaza's far-southern Rafah, where witnesses said that Israeli tanks had rumbled into the city centre and unleashed intense fire on buildings.

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by spy chief David Barnea arrived in Doha for truce talks, said a source with knowledge of the sensitive negotiations.

CIA director William Burns was also expected in the Qatari capital after holding talks in Cairo on Tuesday.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile met US President Joe Biden's special envoy for the Middle East, Brett McGurk.

Netanyahu "emphasised his commitment" to a proposed truce plan, "as long as Israel's red lines are preserved", his office said.

NATO countries pledge long-term support for Ukraine

WASHINGTON, July 10: Leaders of NATO member countries release joint declaration at summit in the United States pledging commitment to military alliance and long-term support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.

US President Joe Biden says NATO allies are committed to keeping alliance strong and will work together to “defend every inch of NATO territory”.

Here are some key takeaways from the summit declaration that was just published:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “shattered peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”, with Moscow posing the top threat to members’ security, the NATO countries say.

Ukraine’s “future is in NATO” and the country is on an “irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership”.

China has become a “decisive enabler of Russia’s war against Ukraine” through its “large-scale support for Russia’s defence industrial base”, they say.

NATO country leaders also accuse Iran and North Korea of “fuelling Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine by providing direct military support to Russia”.

More than two-thirds of members have fulfilled their commitment of providing at least 2 percent of their GDP to annual defence spending.
The alliance has “undertaken the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation”, the leaders say.

NATO country leaders issue Washington Summit Declaration

In a 38-point joint summit statement, the leaders say they “stand in unity and solidarity in the face of a brutal war of aggression on the European continent and at a critical time for our security”.

They also pledged “long-term security assistance for Ukraine” amid Russia’s invasion.

“We affirm our determination to support Ukraine in building a force capable of defeating Russian aggression today and deterring it in the future,” the leaders said.

India, Russia sign 9 agreements during Modi's visit

MOSCOW, July 9: During Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two-day visit to Russia, New Delhi and Moscow signed nine MoUs and agreements in several sectors, including trade, climate and research.

A Joint Investment Promotion Framework Agreement was also signed between Invest India and JSC "Management Company of Russian Direct Investment Fund".

At Modi-Putin Dinner, India's Most Direct Appeal To End Ukraine War

MOSCOW, July 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a two-day official visit to Russia, made a direct appeal to end the Ukraine war which has been going on for over two years.

During an informal meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the latter's official residence in Moscow, Modi told him that no solution can be found on the battleground.

"India has always called for respecting the UN Charter, including territorial integrity and sovereignty. There is no solution on the battlefield. Dialogue and diplomacy is the way forward," Modi is believed to have told Putin during the dinner.

Additionally, Modi raised concerns about Indian nationals deceived into joining the Russian army by unscrupulous travel agents. Sources reported that Russia has committed to repatriating all affected individuals.

Nearly two dozen Indians are believed to have been forced into fighting the war against Ukraine after being tricked by agents into going to the country on the pretext of getting high-paying jobs.

A viral video earlier this year showed a group of men from Punjab and Haryana - wearing army uniforms - claiming they were tricked into fighting the war in Ukraine and doubling down on their request for help.

The PM Modi's first visit to Russia since the country launched its campaign in Ukraine and since he returned to power last month for a record third term. India has shied away from explicit condemnation of Russia ever since and has abstained on United Nations resolutions censuring Moscow.

Congratulating Modi on his third term, Vladimir Putin remarked that his re-election underscores Modi's effectiveness in advancing India's interests: "The results speak for themselves; India now ranks third globally in terms of economy."

The meeting marks the 16th encounter between Modi and Putin in the past decade, with their last face-to-face interaction occurring at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in 2022.

In 2019, Modi was honored with Russia's highest state award, the 'Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First.'

This visit to Russia by Modi is his first since the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv began in 2022.

10 Killed In Strike On School In Gaza, Fourth Attack In 4 Days: Report

GAZA, July 9: A Gaza hospital source said at least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded Tuesday in a strike on a school turned shelter for displaced Palestinians, the fourth such attack in four days.

The strike hit the gate at the Al-Awda school in Abasan, near the southern city of Khan Yunis, said the source at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis where victims were taken.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which has acknowledged carrying out three other strikes since Saturday on Gaza schools used as displacement shelters.

At least 20 people were killed in these attacks, according to officials in the Hamas-run territory.

Israel said all three strikes targeted operatives hiding in the schools.

On Saturday, an Israeli strike hit the UN-run Al-Jawni school in Nuseirat, central Gaza, killing 16 people, according to the territory's health ministry.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.

The following day a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City killed four, according to the civil defence agency.

The Latin Patriarchate, owners of the school, said hundreds of people had packed the grounds.

Another UNRWA-run school in Nuseirat was hit on Monday, with a local hospital saying several people were taken for treatment.

Israel said it targeted "several terrorists" using the school for cover.

Hamas has denied Israeli claims that it uses schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities for military aims.

According to UNRWA, more than 500 people have been killed in schools and other shelters it runs in Gaza since the war started on October 7 with the Hamas attack on Israel.

Israel orders residents to evacuate as tanks storm Gaza City districts

TEL AVIV, July 8: Israeli forces pounded Gaza City early on Monday and columns of tanks advanced into the heart of the city from different directions in what residents said was one of the heaviest attacks since October 7.

The Gaza Civil Emergency Service said it believed dozens of people were killed but emergency teams were unable to reach them because of ongoing offensives in Daraj and Tuffah in the east and Tel Al-Hawa, Sabra, and Rimal further west.

Israeli tanks had so far been stationed in some areas of Tel Al-Hawa and Sabra but hadn't advanced deep into the three other districts, which residents said had been bombed throughout the night into the early morning hours. Several multi-floor buildings have been destroyed, they added.

Israeli strike on Gaza school kills 16, army says targeted Hamas gunmen

TEL AVIV, July 7: At least 16 people were killed in an Israeli strike on a school sheltering displaced Palestinian families in central Gaza on Saturday, the Palestinian health ministry said, in an attack Israel said had targeted militants.

The health ministry said the attack on the school in Al-Nuseirat killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 50.

The Israeli military said it took precautions to minimize risk to civilians before it targeted the gunmen who were using the area as a hideout to plan and carry out attacks against soldiers. Hamas denied its fighters were there.

At the scene, Ayman al-Atouneh said he saw children among the dead. "We came here running to see the targeted area, we saw bodies of children, in pieces, this is a playground, there was a trampoline here, there were swing-sets, and vendors," he said.

Mahmoud Basal, spokesman of the Gaza Civil Emergency Service, said in a statement that the number of dead could rise because many of the wounded were in critical condition.

The attack meant no place in the enclave was safe for families who leave their houses to seek shelters, he said.

Al-Nuseirat, one of Gaza Strip's eight historic refugee camps, was the site of stepped-up Israeli bombardment on Saturday. An air strike earlier on a house in the camp killed at least 10 people and wounded many others, according to medics.

In its daily update of people killed in the nearly nine-month-old war, the Gaza health ministry said Israeli military strikes across the enclave killed at least 29 Palestinians in the past 24 hours and wounded 100 others.

Among those killed in separate air strikes on Saturday were five local journalists, raising the toll of journalists killed since October 7 to 158, according to the Hamas-led Gaza government media office.

Iranian IRIS Sahand warship sinks in Persian Gulf

TEHRAN, July 7: Sahand was docked in Bandar Abbas, a southern Iranian port on the Persian Gulf’s coast. The mysterious sinking left the frigate lying on its left side, with only portions of the starboard side and conning tower visible above the waterline. While the Iranian media have acknowledged the “incident,” they have yet to provide detailed explanations, referring to it merely as an accident.

Notably, IRIS Sahand [F-74] is relatively new, having joined the fleet on December 1, 2018. Constructed at the Shahid Darvishi Marine Industries shipyard in Bandar Abbas, right on the Strait of Hormuz, Sahand is the third vessel in the Mowj project lineup, following its predecessors, Jamaran and Damavand.

Historically, the IRIS Sahand [F-74] carries the legacy of the volcano it’s named after. This name previously belonged to a British-built Vosper Mk. 5 light frigate that was lost during combat with American forces in Operation Praying Mantis in 1988. Notably, the current IRIS Sahand made headlines in 2021 by completing a journey from the Persian Gulf to the Baltic Sea, where it participated in the Main Naval Parade of the Russian Navy.

The IRIS Sahand [F-74] is an Iranian frigate from the Moudge-class, a series of warships produced domestically in Iran. It was launched in November 2012 and entered service in December 2018, proudly bearing the name of Iran’s Sahand mountain.

Measuring about 94 meters [308 feet] in length and 11 meters (36 feet) in beam, the IRIS Sahand has a draft of approximately 3.25 meters [10.7 feet]. These dimensions allow it to perform a range of naval operations across different maritime environments.

The IRIS Sahand’s propulsion system features four diesel engines that power the vessel, allowing it to reach speeds of up to 30 knots. This setup provides a range of about 3,700 nautical miles when cruising at 15 knots, making it a capable asset for extended missions.

With a displacement of around 1,500 tons, the IRIS Sahand is classified as a light frigate. Despite its smaller size, it packs a punch with various advanced systems and weaponry, ensuring it remains a versatile and formidable part of the Iranian Navy.

This frigate is outfitted with an array of systems, including radar, sonar, and electronic warfare capabilities. These systems enhance its ability to detect, track, and engage various threats effectively. Additionally, advanced communication systems enable seamless coordination with other naval units.

Typically, the crew of the IRIS Sahand comprises around 140 personnel, including officers, sailors, and specialized technicians responsible for operating and maintaining the ship’s diverse systems and weaponry. This crew size is designed to ensure efficient operations and readiness for various missions.

When it comes to armaments, the IRIS Sahand is well-equipped. It boasts anti-ship missiles like the Noor and Qader, capable of striking enemy vessels over long distances. For defense against aerial threats, the frigate is armed with torpedoes, naval guns, and surface-to-air missiles. Additionally, it features close-in weapon systems [CIWS] for point defense against incoming missiles and aircraft.

Hamas Accepts US Proposal On Talks Over Releasing Israeli Hostages: Report

DOHA, July 7: Hamas has accepted a US proposal to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages, including soldiers and men, 16 days after the first phase of an agreement aimed at ending the Gaza war, according to a senior Hamas source.

The Hamas group has dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, the source said on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts had said the proposal could lead to a framework agreement if embraced by Israel and would end the nine-month-old war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

A source in Israel's negotiating team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Friday there was now a real chance of achieving agreement. That was in sharp contrast to past instances in the nine-month-old war in Gaza, when Israel said conditions attached by Hamas were unacceptable.

A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. On Friday his office said talks would continue next week and emphasised that gaps between the sides still remained.

The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked southern Israeli cities on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostages, according to official Israeli figures.

The new proposal ensures that mediators would guarantee a temporary ceasefire, aid delivery and the withdrawal of Israeli troops as long as indirect talks continue to implement the second phase of the agreement, the Hamas source said.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza have intensified over the past few days with active shuttle diplomacy among Washington, Israel and Qatar, which is leading mediation efforts from Doha, where the exiled Hamas leadership is based.

A regional source said the US administration was trying hard to secure a deal before the presidential election in November.

Netanyahu said on Friday that the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency had returned from an initial meeting with mediators in Qatar and that negotiations would continue next week.

Some families of hostages on Saturday gave a statement to reporters ahead of a weekly hostage rally in Tel Aviv, in which they called on Netanyahu to go through with the deal.

"For the first time in many months, we feel hope," said Einav Zangauker, the mother of Matan Zangauker, 24, who was abducted from his kibbutz home on Oct. 7. "This is an opportunity that cannot be missed," she said.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces stepped up military strikes across the enclave, killing at least 29 Palestinians in the past 24 hours, and wounding 100 others, the territory's health officials said.

Among those killed in separate air strikes were five local journalists, raising the death count of journalists since Oct 7 to 158, according to the Hamas-led Gaza government media office.

Israeli forces, which have deepened their incursions into Rafah, near the border with Egypt, killed four Palestinian policemen and wounded eight others, in an air strike on their vehicle on Saturday, health officials said.

A statement issued by the Hamas-run interior ministry said the four included Fares Abdel-Al, the head of the police force in western Rafah neighbourhood of Tel Al-Sultan.

The Israeli military said forces continued "intelligence-base operations" in Rafah, destroyed several underground structures, seized weapons and equipment, and killed several Palestinian gunmen.

Israel said its operations in Rafah aimed to eradicate the last Hamas armed wing battalions.

In the central Al-Nuseirat camp, one of the enclave's eight historic refugee camps, an Israeli air strike on a house killed 10 Palestinians, medics said.

The Israeli military said it eliminated a Hamas rocket cell that operated from inside a humanitarian-designated area. It said it carried out a precise strike after taking measures to ensure civilians were unharmed. Hamas denies Israeli accusations it uses civilian properties for military purposes.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said fighters attacked Israeli forces in several areas of the enclave by anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs.

Iran Reformist Pezeshkian Defeats Hardliner Jalili In Presidential Polls

TEHRAN, July 6: Iran's reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian on Saturday won a runoff presidential election against ultraconservative Saeed Jalili, the interior ministry said.

Pezeshkian received more than 16 million votes and Jalili more than 13 million out of about 30 million votes cast, electoral authority spokesman Mohsen Eslami said, adding that voter turnout stood at 49.8 percent.

The number of spoiled ballots was reported to be over 600,000.

Pezeshkian said the vote was the start of a "partnership" with the Iranian people.

"The difficult path ahead will not be smooth except with your companionship, empathy, and trust. I extend my hand to you," Pezeshkian said in a post on social media platform X, after on Tuesday saying he would "extend the hand of friendship to everyone" if he won.

The election, called early after the death of ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, followed a first round marked by a historically low turnout last week.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority, had called for a higher turnout in the runoff, emphasising the importance of the election.

He said the first round turnout was lower than expected, but added that it was not an act "against the system".

The ballot comes against a backdrop of heightened regional tensions over the Gaza war, a dispute with the West over Iran's nuclear programme, and domestic discontent over the state of Iran's sanctions-hit economy.

In last week's first round, Pezeshkian, who was the only reformist allowed to stand, won the largest number of votes, around 42 percent, while Jalili came second with around 39 percent, according to figures from Iran's elections authority.

Only 40 percent of Iran's 61 million eligible voters took part in the first round -- the lowest turnout in any presidential election since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The candidacy of Pezeshkian, a relative unknown until recently, has raised the hopes of Iran's reformists after years of dominance by the conservative and ultraconservative camps

Iran's main reformist coalition supported Pezeshkian, with endorsements by former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, a moderate.

Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has called for "constructive relations" with Western countries to revive the nuclear deal in order to "get Iran out of its isolation".

Jalili, 58, is Iran's former nuclear negotiator who is widely recognised for his uncompromising anti-West stance.

During his campaign, he rallied a substantial base of hardline supporters and received backing from other conservative figures.

Ahead of Friday's runoff, Pezeshkian and Jalili took part in two televised debates during which they discussed the low turnout, as well as Iran's economic woes, international relations and internet restrictions.

Pezeshkian vowed to ease long-standing internet restrictions and to "fully" oppose police patrols enforcing the mandatory headscarf for women, a high-profile issue since the death in police custody in 2022 of Mahsa Amini.

Israel-Hamas talks to resume, raising hopes of a Gaza ceasefire

TEL AVIV, July 5: Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza and de-escalation on the boundary between Israel and Lebanon were raised on Friday, as Israel’s intelligence chief was dispatched by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Qatar to resume stalled negotiations as Hamas reportedly told its Lebanese ally Hezbollah it had accepted a ceasefire proposal.

An official for the Lebanese group, which said on Thursday that it had fired 200 rockets into Israel in retaliation for a strike that killed one of its top commanders, also said that the group would cease fire as soon as any Gaza ceasefire agreement takes effect, echoing previous statements.

“If there is a Gaza agreement, then from zero hour there will be a ceasefire in Lebanon,” the official said.

The efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held for nearly nine months gained momentum this week as Hamas put forward a revised proposal outlining the terms of an agreement, and Israel expressed readiness to resume discussions that had previously come to a standstill.

The head of the Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, travelled alone on Friday to Doha to meet Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, to study proposals from Hamas to pause the nearly nine-month war, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing senior Israeli officials.

The United States appears to hold high expectations regarding the recently resumed contact between Israel and Hamas, with the White House describing the latest Hamas ceasefire proposal as a “breakthrough” establishing a framework for a possible hostage deal.

‘‘I think the framework is now in place and we have to work out the implementation steps,” a senior US official said. “What we got back from Hamas was a pretty significant adjustment to what had been their position, and that is encouraging. We have heard the same from the Israelis.”

The main obstacle in negotiations until this week had been widely differing views on how the agreement would move from its first phase to its second.

The first phase involves the release by Hamas of elderly, sick and female hostages during a six-week truce, an Israeli withdrawal from cities in Gaza, and the release of Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

The second phase would involve the release of all remaining hostages as well as the bodies of those who have died, a permanent end to hostilities and a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Phase three would mark the start of Gaza’s reconstruction.

The transition from the first to the second phase was to be negotiated during the first six-week truce, and the ceasefire would continue as long as good-faith negotiations continued, but Hamas wanted stronger guarantees over the path to a permanent ceasefire.

Netanyahu had publicly cast doubt on whether that would happen, vowing to complete the destruction of the group, which had run Gaza for nearly two decades before it launched its surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts said the new Hamas proposal could lead to a framework agreement if it is embraced by Israel.

He said Hamas was no longer demanding as a pre-condition an Israeli commitment to a permanent ceasefire before the signing of an agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout a first six-week phase.

The White House said Biden and Netanyahu had on Thursday discussed the response received from Hamas on the possible terms of a deal, and that Biden had welcomed Netanyahu’s decision on resuming the stalled talks “in an effort to close out the deal”.

A source in the Israeli negotiating team said: “There’s a deal with a real chance of implementation.”

A Gaza ceasefire could also allow for the de-escalation between Hezbollah and Israel on the Lebanese boundary. Hezbollah has declared its attacks on Israel to be in support of Hamas and indicated its willingness to halt its assaults if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza.

A Hamas delegation headed by the group’s deputy leader, Khalil al-Hayya, briefed Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah about the latest developments at a meeting in Beirut, the sources said.

Its deputy secretary general Naim Qassem on Friday publicly indicated that the group is not anticipating a full-scale war with Israel, but remains prepared for any extreme scenarios, in an interview with Russian outlet Sputnik.

“The possibility of expanding the war is not at hand at the moment but the organisation is prepared for the worst,” he said.

Labour Party wins UK election in a landslide; Keir Starmer Appointed PM

LONDON, July 5: Labour Party chief Keir Starmer replaced Rishi Sunak as the Britain's Prime Minister, with election results pointing at a crushing loss for the Conservatives.

Labour party won 412 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons – the lower house of Britain’s parliament. Conservatives won 121.

The first month of a Keir Starmer premiership will be a whirlwind of international diplomacy including meetings with US President Joe Biden and European leaders.

Labour, out of power since 2010, has pledged a foreign policy of "progressive realism", seeing a more volatile world "as it is not as we would want it to be", said David Lammy, who is expected to become foreign secretary.

The party has also pledged to "make Brexit work" and seek "an ambitious" security pact with the European Union.

Another key aspect of Starmer's foreign policy agenda will be strengthening UK-India relations. Acknowledging historical missteps, particularly Labour's stance on issues like Kashmir, Starmer has pledged to forge a new strategic partnership with India. His commitment to a free trade agreement (FTA) and enhanced bilateral cooperation in technology, security, education, and climate change underscores his ambition to elevate relations with one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

His manifesto included a commitment to pursue a "new strategic partnership" with India, emphasizing the trade agreement.

In a bid to repair strained ties with the Indian diaspora in the UK, Starmer during his campaign embarked on domestic outreach efforts, denouncing Hinduphobia and celebrating cultural festivals like Diwali and Holi. These gestures are aimed at fostering greater trust and inclusion within British-Indian communities, a demographic vital to Labour's electoral calculus.

However, challenges loom on the path to realising Starmer's ambitious foreign policy goals, particularly concerning immigration policies and trade agreements. With bipartisan consensus on the need to reduce immigration, negotiations on temporary visas for Indian workers in the UK service industry present a delicate balancing act for Labour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's last-minute attempt to sway voters appears to have fallen short. The Conservatives warned voters that opting for Labour would lead to higher taxes. Led by Keir Starmer, the Labour Party is currently ahead on 403 seats, while Rishi Sunak's party has won just 109. To secure victory, a party needs to win 326 seats in the 650-member House of Commons.

Israeli strike kills senior Hezbollah commander in Lebanon

BEIRUT, July 3: Hezbollah says one of its senior commanders has been killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon.

Mohammed Nimah Nasser is the latest senior member of the Iran-backed Lebanese armed group to be targeted by Israel during almost nine months of cross-border violence which have raised fears of an all-out war.

Hezbollah said it had launched 100 rockets and missiles at Israeli military positions “as part of the response to the assassination”. No injuries were reported.

The Israeli military said Nasser commanded a unit responsible for launching rockets from south-western Lebanon and accused him of directing a “large number of terror attacks”.

It also described him as “the counterpart” of Taleb Sami Abdullah, the commander of another unit whose killing last month prompted Hezbollah to launch more than 200 rockets and missiles into northern Israel in a single day.

Since then, there has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions, with the UN and US warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a war that could also draw in Iran and other allied groups.

There have been almost daily exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border since the day after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on 7 October.

Hezbollah has said it is acting in support of the Palestinian group that is also backed by Iran. Both are proscribed as terrorist organisations by Israel, the UK and other countries.

So far, more than 400 people have been reported killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them Hezbollah fighters, and 25 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.

Tens of thousands from communities on both sides of the border have also been displaced.

China, Philippines hold crucial talks post chaotic clashes in disputed South China Sea

MANILA, July 3: China and the Philippines held a crucial meeting Tuesday to try to ease escalating tensions following their worst confrontation in the disputed South China Sea that sparked fears of a wider conflict that could involve Manila’s ally the United States.

There was no mention of any major agreement to try to prevent a repeat of the chaotic June 17 clash at Second Thomas Shoal that caused injuries to Filipino navy personnel and damaged two military boats.

The shoal off the northwestern Philippines has emerged as the most dangerous flashpoint in the disputed waters, which China claims virtually in its entirety. Chinese naval and civilian vessels have surrounded the Philippine marines aboard a grounded ship, tried to prevent their resupply and demanded the Philippines pull out.

The Chinese and Philippine delegations “affirmed their commitment to de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement late Tuesday. “There was substantial progress on developing measures to manage the situation at sea, but significant differences remain."

Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro told her Chinese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong, “that the Philippines will be relentless in protecting its interests and upholding its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction” in the South China Sea, according to the Philippine side.

An agreement was signed to improve communications during emergencies at sea and both sides agreed to continue talks on enhancing ties between their coast guards, but no details were provided. There was also another confidence-building plan to convene an academic forum among scientists and academics to improve marine scientific cooperation.

Ahead of the meeting, the Philippines planned to formally ask China's delegation to return at least seven rifles that Chinese coast guard personnel seized during the June 17 faceoff at the shoal and pay for damage, a Philippine official said on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss the sensitive matter publicly.

The Asian neighbours agreed to hold what they call the Bicameral Consultative Mechanism meetings, first held in 2017, to peacefully manage their conflicts. But the high-sea confrontations have persisted especially under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who, unlike his predecessor, has nurtured closer military and defense ties with the United States as a counterweight to China.

Apart from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also lay overlapping claims to the strategic sea, which has rich fishing areas and potentially more deposits of gas than what has been found mostly in the fringes by a few coastal states so far.

Sporadic confrontations have flared between Chinese forces and those of Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past, but the Southeast Asian nations have resisted aggressively confronting China for fear of destabilizing their substantial economic ties.

Under Marcos, who took office in 2022, the Philippines launched a campaign to expose aggressive Chinese actions by making public videos and photographs and allowing journalists to join coast guard patrol ships, which have figured in dangerous faceoffs with Beijing’s forces.

The U.S. has no claims to the contested waters, but it has deployed warships and fighter jets for patrols that it says aim to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and to reassure allies like the Philippines and Japan, which also has territorial disputes with China over islands in the East China Sea.

After last month’s confrontation in Second Thomas Shoal, where Chinese forces were caught on video brandishing machetes, an axe and improvised spears, Washington renewed a warning that it’s obligated to help defend the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty if Filipino forces, including the coast guard, come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

Marcos said the Chinese actions would not activate the treaty because no shots were fired.


Israel Issues New Southern Gaza Evacuation Warning

TEL AVIV, July 1: The Israeli army on Monday issued a new evacuation order for parts of Khan Yunis and Rafah in southern Gaza, with witnesses reporting that many were fleeing.

Hundreds of thousands had already left Rafah ahead of and during a ground offensive launched by Israeli troops on the southernmost city since early May.

The warning for Al-Qarara, Bani Suhaila and other towns in the two governorates, made on social media and in an official statement, came hours after Israel said 20 "projectiles" were fired into Israel from the Khan Yunis region.

The attack was claimed by the armed wing of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. Israel had already staged air strikes in Rafah on Monday.

"Fear and extreme anxiety have gripped people after the evacuation order," said Bani Suhaila resident Ahmad Najjar. "There is a large displacement of residents."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's spokesman said "it just shows yet again, that no place is safe in Gaza, more efforts need to be made to protect civilians".

"It's another stop in this deadly circle of movement that the population in Gaza has to undergo on a regular basis," added the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Since launching its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27, Israeli forces progressively moved south in the Palestinian territory, seeking to destroy Hamas battalions, though fighting has restarted in the north.

18 troops hurt, one seriously, in Hezbollah drone strike in north

TEL AVIV, July 1: Eighteen Israeli soldiers were wounded, including one seriously, in a Hezbollah drone attack in northern Israel on Sunday, the military said.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, several drones were launched from Lebanon on Sunday afternoon, setting off sirens in the Galilee Panhandle and northern Golan Heights.

The IDF said that one explosive-laden drone struck the Merom Golan area, injuring 18 troops. One of the soldiers was seriously wounded, and the rest were listed in good condition.

Hezbollah in recent months has increasingly been deploying explosive-laden drones, alongside anti-tank guided missiles and barrages of rockets.

The terror group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted an Israeli military site in the area in response to IDF strikes against it earlier in the day.

Separately, one heavy rocket was launched by Hezbollah at the Beit Hillel area. The IDF said the projectile struck an open area, causing no injuries or damage.

On Sunday morning, the military said Hezbollah operatives spotted at sites used by the terror group in southern Lebanon were struck.

In one incident, the IDF said a Hezbollah member was seen entering a building in the town of Houla, where other operatives were gathered. A short while later, a fighter jet struck the building.

In a separate attack, a Hezbollah operative was spotted at a building used by the terror group in Kafr Kila, and a short while later, it was also struck, the military said.

Hezbollah announced the death of one member following the Sunday morning strikes.

Later on Sunday, the IDF said it struck another series of Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, including operation posts in Markaba, and a rocket launcher in Ayta ash-Shab that had been used in an attack earlier in the day.

Israeli fighter jets struck several more Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon overnight, the IDF said Sunday morning. The targets included a building used by the terror group and other infrastructure in Taybeh and Rab al-Thalathine, according to the military.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the terror group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid Israel’s war against Hamas.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 356 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon, with some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 65 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel has warned that it can no longer tolerate Hezbollah’s presence along its border, with tens of thousands of Israelis displaced from their homes in the north due to the rocket and drone attacks, and has warned that, should a diplomatic solution not be reached, it will turn to military action to push Hezbollah northward.

While the political leadership has not yet made a decision on launching an offensive in Lebanon and turning the Gaza Strip into the secondary front, the IDF has said it continues to target Hezbollah commanders who were behind attacks on Israel.

3-Way Run-Offs And Horse-Trading: What Happens Next In French Elections

PARIS, July 1: Here's how the second round of France's parliamentary election on July 7 will work and the possible scenarios after exit polls showed Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) party had won Sunday's first round.


Elections for the 577 seats in France's National Assembly are a two-round process.

In constituencies where no candidate won outright in the first round, the top two candidates, as well as any candidate with more than 12.5% of the total number of registered voters in that constituency, move to a second round.

Whoever gets the most votes in the second round wins the seat.

The high turnout on Sunday means some 300 constituencies are now facing potential three-way run-offs which, in theory, favour the RN.

To prevent these three-way run-offs and block the RN, France's centre-right and centre-left politicians have long practiced what they call a "republican front," whereby the third-placed candidate drops out of the race and urges voters to rally behind the second-placed candidate.

All candidates through to the run-off have until Tuesday evening to decide whether to stand down or run the second round.


Many political leaders gave guidance to candidates and voters on Sunday evening.

President Emmanuel Macron urged a "wide-ranging rally behind republican and democratic" candidates for the second round, effectively guiding against both the far-right Nationaly Rally and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party.

His former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, explicity called on the candidates from his party to drop out if they were in third position and rally behind candidates from the centre-left to the centre-right, excluding the RN and LFI.

On the left, the Socialist and LFI leaders also called on their third-placed candidates to drop out to block the RN.

The conservative Republicans party, which split ahead of the vote with a small number of its lawmakers joining forces with the RN, gave no guidance.


The effectiveness of the "republican front" has weakened over the years, and many voters no longer heed the advice of party leaders.

It is also possible that candidates will refuse to drop out despite guidance from political HQs in Paris.

But talks over the next 48 hours will be crucial and could swing the results significantly, potentially deciding whether the RN reaches an outright majority in parliament or not.

That makes the result of the second round extraordinarily hard to predict. Even pollsters have urged caution on their own seat projections.


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