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Stand-in Jose Raul Mulino wins Panama presidential race

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Stand-in Jose Raul Mulino wins Panama presidential race

The stand-in candidate for popular ex-President Ricardo Martinelli has promised to boost the economy.

Jose Raul Mulino, a stand-in for a former president banned from running, has won the country’s presidential elections.

Authorities unofficially called the race late on Sunday after three of Mulino’s closest competitors conceded defeat. The former security minister, who was a late entrant to the race after his mentor President Ricardo Martinelli was removed from power after being convicted of corruption, secured more than a third of the votes cast in the country of 4.4 million people.

At stake for the new leader is the Central American country’s woes with government corruption, a severe drought that has affected maritime traffic in the economically important Panama Canal, as well as US-bound migrants passing through Panama’s jungles in droves.

“Mission accomplished,” Mulino said after the early results were released. “This is perhaps the most important date of my life, and the greatest responsibility of a Panamanian falls on my shoulders and my family to lead the destiny of the nation.”

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Running on the ticket of the Achieving Goals and Alliance parties, the 64-year-old had led opinion polls ahead of the vote as he played up his connections to Martinelli, who was initially his running mate.

The popular ex-president, who oversaw a booming economy from 2009 to 2014, was set to run with Mulino as his deputy. However, he was barred due to a money laundering conviction.

The firebrand politician still dominated much of the race, campaigning for Mulino from inside the Nicaraguan embassy, in which he took refuge on February 8 after receiving political asylum.

Mulino acknowledged Martinelli after his win, saying: “When you invited me to be vice president, I never imagined this.”

More than 77 percent of three million eligible voters cast their ballots for a new president, parliament and local governments for the next five years.

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Anticorruption candidate Ricardo Lombana trailed Mulino in second place, ahead of former President Martin Torrijos and former chancellor Romulo Roux. The three conceded defeat on Sunday evening.

Jose Raul Mulino holds hands with a supporter in Panama City, May 5, 2024 [Matias Delacroix/AP Photo]

Power behind the throne

Mulino, who will serve as head of state and prime minister, for a single five-year term, is set to take office on July 1.

A last-minute Supreme Court decision had validated his bid to stand in for Martinelli after the former president lost an appeal against his conviction.

Mulino’s candidacy had been challenged because he had not won a primary vote or picked a running partner as required under Panama laws.

But the court dismissed that complaint in a ruling welcomed by Martinelli, whose government oversaw an infrastructure boom, including a widening of the Panama Canal and construction of Central America’s first metro line.

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Mulino has promised a return to strong economic growth. Many believe ex-president Martinelli will lead the country from behind the scenes.

Voters were highly concerned about corruption and the economy. The term of outgoing President Laurentino Cortizo of the majority Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) was marred by allegations of widespread official corruption, declining foreign investment and high public debt.

Last year, the country was roiled by protests, targeting a government concession for Canadian miner First Quantum to continue operating the Cobre Panama copper mine.

Critics say that the mine endangers water sources; a particularly sensitive issue in Panama currently. Drought has effectively handicapped trade transit through the Panama Canal.

The country also faces high income inequality, with unemployment close to 10 percent, and gross domestic product (GDP) growth is forecast to slow from 7.3 percent in 2023 to 2.5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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Mulino will also have to tackle migration issues. Some half a million migrants have streamed through the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama. Activists warn that they face the threat of exploitation and physical danger.

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Biden Set to Deliver Commencement at West Point on Saturday

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Biden Set to Deliver Commencement at West Point on Saturday
By Jarrett Renshaw WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – U.S. President Biden will deliver the commencement speech on Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, amid conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. The speech before some 1,000 U.S. Army cadets is part of a push by Biden to highlight the …
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Israel forced to work on Jewish Sabbath as UN court judge calls out colleagues in scathing dissent

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Israel forced to work on Jewish Sabbath as UN court judge calls out colleagues in scathing dissent

A U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ) chided her colleagues on Friday for requiring Israel to work on the Sabbath when responding to a case brought by South Africa to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention.

The dissenting opinion from ICJ Vice President Julia Sebutinde came in a nine-page document, issued in response to the court’s order for Israel to end its military offensive in the southern city of Rafah in Gaza. That ruling stems from South Africa’s request, which accuses Israel of genocide in its ongoing war with Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Israel has vehemently denied these charges. 

Among her disagreements with her colleagues, Sebutinde, who is Ugandan, objected to the court’s handling of South Africa’s request, and the “incidental oral hearings.” 

Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), speaks next to Judge Julia Sebutinde, vice president of the ICJ, at the start of a hearing in The Hague Netherlands, on May 16. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

“In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s Request and engage counsel,” Sebutinde wrote, noting that the Israel’s preferred Counsel was not available on the dates scheduled by the Court. 

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“It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a Member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath,” Sebutinde said. “The Court’s decision in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the Parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.” 

Sebutinde also argued that the court’s initial ruling “does not entirely prohibit the Israeli military from operating in Rafah.” She also urged the court, to maintain its judicial integrity, to “avoid reacting to every shift in the conflict and refrain from micromanaging the hostilities in the Gaza Strip, including Rafah.” 

LINDSEY GRAHAM TELLS UN INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE TO ‘GO TO HELL’ OVER RULING AGAINST ISRAEL

Sebutinde clarified that the ruling operates to “partially restrict Israel’s offensive in Rafah to the extent it implicates rights under the Genocide Convention.” She warned that the ruling is “susceptible to ambiguity and could be misunderstood or misconstrued as ordering an indefinite, unilateral cease-fire, thereby exemplifying an untenable overreach on the part of the Court.” 

Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 19, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP via Getty Images)

The judges’ ruling on Friday stopped short of ordering a full cease-fire across the entire Palestinian territory, and Israel is unlikely to comply with the court’s ruling. Friday’s decision comes just days after Norway, Ireland, and Spain said they would recognize the Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor of a separate international court sought arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as leaders of Hamas.

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Since Oct. 7, Israeli bombardments and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Israel launched its war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

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At least 24 people, including children, killed in a fire in India’s Gujarat

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At least 24 people, including children, killed in a fire in India’s Gujarat

The fire broke out at a family entertainment venue in Gujarat’s Rajkot district.

At least 24 people, including many children, have died in a fire that broke out at a family entertainment venue in the western Indian state of Gujarat, a government official said.

With rescue efforts continuing at the scene on Saturday evening in the Rajkot district, the local mayor told the Reuters news agency that the death toll was expected to rise.

“Our focus is on rescue operations and saving lives. We will ensure strict action is taken against the people who are responsible for this incident,” Mayor Nayana Pedhadiya said.

More than 300 people were in the two-storey structure at the TRP amusement and theme park when the blaze broke out as it was a holiday weekend, Rajkot fire officer Ilesh Kher told reporters.

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“People got trapped as a temporary structure at the facility collapsed near the entrance, making it difficult for the people to come out,” he said.

“The flames spread rapidly because of its flammable material,” he added.

Television images showed a massive fire engulfing the TRP game zone and thick clouds of smoke emanating from the site. The entire structure was gutted in the blaze.

A police official at the local civil hospital said some of the bodies were also charred beyond recognition.

Meanwhile, the district’s chief fire officer, IV Kher, said firefighters had almost brought the fire under control.

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“The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained,” he told Reuters.

Gujarat Chief Minster Bhupendra Patel said that an investigation into the incident had been handed to a Special Investigation Team (SIT), and television reports added that two people had been detained by Rajkot police in connection with the incident.

Gujarat is the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a post on the social media platform X, Modi said that he was “extremely distressed by the fire mishap in Rajkot” and added that the local administration was working to provide assistance to those affected.

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