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Mark Rutte offers deal to Viktor Orbán as he seeks to clinch Nato top job

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Mark Rutte offers deal to Viktor Orbán as he seeks to clinch Nato top job

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Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has promised to give Hungary’s Viktor Orbán an opt-out of Nato activities supporting Ukraine if he is made secretary-general of the military alliance, in a pledge aimed at securing Budapest’s support after months of vetoing his proposed appointment.

Rutte, who is backed by 29 of Nato’s 32 member countries to become the next secretary-general — including the US, UK, France and Germany — has had his path blocked by Hungary’s prime minister, the alliance’s most pro-Russia member.

Rutte and Orbán, who have clashed several times in the past, met on the sidelines of an EU leaders’ dinner in Brussels on Monday night, raising expectations Budapest’s block on the Nato appointment — which requires unanimity among alliance members — could soon be lifted.

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The Dutch prime minister promised that under his tenure, Hungary would have a right to opt out of Nato activities in support of Ukraine and taking place outside the territory of its members, according to two people briefed on the discussions.

Orbán has long argued against western support for Ukraine as Kyiv seeks to defend itself against Russia’s full-scale invasion.

A spokesperson for Rutte said he and Orbán had a “good conversation” on Monday evening, and primarily discussed the outcome of a meeting last week between Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and the Hungarian prime minister.

“PM Rutte will confirm to PM Orbán in writing what they have discussed. It was a good and open conversation and the two agreed to focus on the future,” the spokesperson added.

A Hungarian government spokesperson declined to comment.

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Stoltenberg told Orbán last week that Hungary could opt out of Nato activities to support Ukraine, such as a plan for the alliance to take more control of military supplies to Kyiv and training of Ukrainian troops, as well as long-term financial support.

“I think that’s a good solution that will enable us to move forward on more support for Ukraine within the Nato framework without Hungary blocking,” Stoltenberg said at the time.

In the meeting between Rutte and Orbán on Monday evening, which took place as the EU’s 27 leaders discussed who would fill the bloc’s top jobs for the next five years, the Dutch prime minister did not apologise for past remarks about Orbán at Brussels summits, one of the people briefed on the discussions said.

Rutte has clashed with Orbán over the latter’s hardline views on homosexuality and Hungary’s judicial reforms.

The Dutch prime minister, who is likely to leave office in July after a new government is formed in The Hague, already has the backing of US President Joe Biden for the post of Nato secretary-general.

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In addition to Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, whose president Klaus Iohannis has campaigned for the Nato job, have yet to publicly back him.

Rutte said the planned new Dutch government, which involves his liberal party but also far-right leader Geert Wilders, would continue to support Ukraine.

“When it comes to foreign policy, the new cabinet will fully continue its course in Europe and Nato with Ukraine,” he added. “There will be no change.”

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More Democratic lawmakers call for Joe Biden to withdraw from election race

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More Democratic lawmakers call for Joe Biden to withdraw from election race

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Eight more Democratic lawmakers, including a third US senator, have called for Joe Biden to withdrawn from this year’s White House presidential race, deepening the peril for his campaign for re-election.

In a joint statement on Friday morning, four US House members — Jared Huffman, Mark Pocan, Chuy Garcia and Marc Veasey — said it was time for the 81-year-old president to “pass the torch to a new generation of Democratic leaders”.

“We must face the reality that widespread public concerns about your age and fitness are jeopardising what should be a winning campaign,” the politicians added. House Democrats Sean Casten, Greg Landsman and Zoe Lofgren also called on Biden to drop out on Friday morning.

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Meanwhile, New Mexico senator Martin Heinrich became the third Democratic member of the upper chamber of Congress to urge Biden to drop out, joining Jon Tester of Montana and Vermont’s Peter Welch.

“This moment in our nation’s history calls for a focus that is bigger than any one person,” Henrich said, adding it was “in the best interests of our country” for the president to end his campaign.

Biden insisted on Friday that he would remain in the race, saying in a statement he “look[ed] forward to getting back on the campaign trail next week to continue exposing the threat of Donald Trump’s Project 2025 agenda”.

The president has been isolating at his holiday home in Delaware since testing positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said on Friday that Biden’s symptoms had “improved meaningfully” and he would continue taking Paxlovid, the antiviral drug.

The new wave of lawmakers calling for Biden to quit comes as Democratic party grandees such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the megadonors crucial to funding his campaign, heap pressure on him behind the scenes.

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The Financial Times reported on Thursday that donors and other senior party operatives believe Biden is very close to a decision to exit.

Chris Coons, the Democratic senator and close Biden ally, said on Friday that the president was getting the necessary advice to make a decision about his political future.

“I am confident he is hearing what he needs to hear,” he said while speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum.

But Coons — who insisted Biden was “strong” and “capable” enough to carry on — acknowledged the unease within the Democratic party, saying: “There is a lot of concern and anxiety because the stakes are so significant.”

The latest interventions came a day after Trump formally accepted the Republican party’s nomination for president, less than a week after he narrowly escaped assassination in Pennsylvania.

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The former president has surged ahead of Biden in the polls despite his recent criminal convictions, building a lead across the crucial swing states that will decide November’s vote.

About 30 members of Congress have now said Biden needs to drop his re-election bid, a view shared privately by many more who have not yet gone public.

However, some Democrats, including many progressives, have supported him. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used an Instagram livestream in the early hours of Friday to fiercely defend the president and accuse “donors” and “elites” of trying to cast him and vice-president Kamala Harris aside.

Biden’s disastrous debate performance against Trump last month sparked panic in the Democratic party over his age and fitness for office. After testing positive for Covid in Nevada he was seen apparently struggling to ascend a staircase into Air Force One to return home.

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Escaped prisoner found in Georgia 30 years later, using the identity of a dead child

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Escaped prisoner found in Georgia 30 years later, using the identity of a dead child

Steven Johnson escaped from Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Ore., during a prison work detail in 1994. He was arrested on Tuesday in Macon, Ga., where had had assumed the identity of a dead child.

Oregon Department of Corrections/Bibb County Sheriff’s Office


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Oregon Department of Corrections/Bibb County Sheriff’s Office

An Oregon fugitive that escaped from prison 30 years ago was arrested at his apartment on Tuesday afternoon in Macon, Ga. According to authorities, he had been living under the identity of a dead child.

Steven Craig Johnson, 70, fled from a prison work detail at the Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Ore., in 1994. He was serving a state prison sentence for three counts of sex abuse and one count of attempted sodomy.

Johnson was listed on the Oregon Department of Corrections “Most Wanted” list. He was described as a pedophile who “presents a high probability of victimizing pre-teen boys.”

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At the time of his arrest, Johnson was using the alias William Cox. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, Johnson stole the identity of a child who died in Texas in 1962 after obtaining the child’s birth certificate and Social Security number in 1995.

Johnson secured a Georgia driver’s license in 1998, and had been living in Macon since 2011. The Oregon Corrections Department requested the U.S. Marshals to take on the search for Johnson in 2015. After pursuing multiple leads, new technology used by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service helped uncover new leads this year.

The facility Johnson escaped from was a minimum-security prison with no fence around it. Mill Creek prison closed in June 2021 under an order from former Gov. Kate Brown.

Johnson was booked into Bibb County Jail after arrest. He currently awaits extradition to Oregon.

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Video: Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

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Video: Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

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Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

Former President Donald J. Trump concluded the Republican National Convention on Thursday with a speech that ran for more than an hour and a half.

[music: “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood] I am running to be president for all of America, not half of America. Because there is no victory in winning for half of America. So tonight, with faith and devotion, I proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States. Thank you. We will very quickly make America great again. Thank you very much.

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