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News24.com | Finland Announces ‘historic’ NATO Bid, As Sweden Holds Key Meet

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Finland has officially announced their intention to join NATO.The move is a stunning reversal of Finland’s 75-year-old policy on military non-alignment.Sweden is expected to follow with a similar announcement.

The Finnish government officially announced its intention to join NATO on Sunday, as Sweden’s ruling party held a decisive meeting that could pave the way for a joint application.

Less than three months after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the move is a stunning reversal of Finland’s policy on military non-alignment dating back more than 75 years.

Sweden, which has been militarily non-aligned for more than two centuries, is expected to follow suit with a similar announcement, possibly on Monday.

“This is a historic day. A new era is opening”, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told reporters at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Sunday.

NATO membership needs to be approved and ratified by all 30 members of the alliance.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed last-minute objections, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday that Ankara was not opposed to the two countries’ bids.

READ | Turkey says it’ll block Finland, Sweden’s NATO applications, says home to ‘terrorist organisations’

“Turkey made it clear that its intention is not to block membership,” Stoltenberg told reporters virtually after alliance foreign ministers met in Berlin.

“I am confident we’ll be able to find common ground, consensus on how to move on membership issues,” Stoltenberg said, adding that he was in touch with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu meanwhile lauded Finland’s conciliatory approach in their talks, but criticised Sweden’s foreign minister for “provocative” statements.

Turkey’s objections, directed in particular at Stockholm, focus on what it considers to be the countries’ leniency towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken nonetheless insisted he was “very confident that we will reach consensus” on the two countries’ NATO bids.

Niinisto said he was “prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised”.

Finlands President Sauli Niinisto.

Getty Images Frank Augstein – WPA Pool

Overwhelming Finnish support 

Finland’s parliament will convene to debate the membership proposal on Monday.

“We hope the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate”, premier Marin said.

A vast majority of Finnish MPs back the decision after Marin’s Social Democratic Party on Saturday said it was in favour of joining.

“Hopefully, we can send our applications next week together with Sweden,” Marin had said on Saturday.

The two Nordic countries broke their strict neutralities after the end of the Cold War by joining the EU and becoming partners to NATO in the 1990s, solidifying their affiliation with the West.

But the concept of full NATO membership was a non-starter in the countries until the war in Ukraine saw public and political support for joining the alliance soar.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia, has been leading the charge, while Sweden appears anxious at being the only non-NATO country around the Baltic Sea.

Finland is also Sweden’s closest defence cooperation partner.

READ | Siya Khumalo: Plot twist in Russia vs Ukraine crisis as Sweden and Finland broach NATO membership

Many Swedish politicians have said their support is conditional on Finland joining.

On Saturday, the Finnish head of state phoned his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin to inform him of his country’s desire to join NATO, in a conversation described as “direct and straightforward”.

Moscow has repeatedly warned both countries of consequences if they join the alliance.

Putin warned Niinisto that joining “would be a mistake since there is no threat to Finland’s security”, according to a Kremlin statement.

Niinisto said Sunday that while Helsinki is prepared for a Russian response, “little by little, I’m beginning to think that we’re not going to face actual military operations.”

“After the phone call with Putin, I think so even more.”

No other choice 

Former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb told the BBC on Sunday that Putin was “the reason we’re joining” NATO.

“We could easily call it Vladimir Putin’s NATO enlargement”, he said.

According to recent polls, the number of Finns who want to join the alliance has risen to over three-quarters, almost triple the level seen before the war in Ukraine.

In Sweden, support has also risen dramatically, to around 50 percent — with about 20 percent against.

Sweden’s Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, were meeting Sunday to decide whether the party should abandon its historic stance against joining, last reaffirmed at the party’s annual congress in November.

A green light from the party would secure a firm parliamentary majority in favour of joining.

Stoltenberg meanwhile reiterated on Sunday that NATO would look at providing security guarantees for Finland and Sweden during the interim period from their application for membership to accession.

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News24.com | Thousands Protest in Madrid Against NATO Summit

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A crowd demonstrates against NATO.

Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto

Carrying the hammer and sickle flags of the former Soviet Union, thousands protested in Madrid on Sunday against a NATO summit which will take place in the Spanish capital next week.

Amid tight security, leaders of the member countries will meet in Madrid between 29-30 June as the organisation faces the unprecedented challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is expected to consider the bid, opposed by alliance-member Turkey, for Finland and Sweden to join.

The Nordic nations applied in the wake of the Russian assault on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a special military operation he says in part responds to the accession to NATO of other countries near post-Soviet Russia’s borders since the 1990s.

READ | Biden said Putin’s goal of weakening NATO by invading Ukraine backfired spectacularly

“Tanks yes, but of beer with tapas,” sang demonstrators, who claimed an increase in defence spending in Europe urged by NATO was a threat to peace.

“I am fed up (with) this business of arms and killing people. The solution they propose is more arms and wars and we always pay for it. So, no NATO, no (army) bases, let the Americans go and leave us alone without wars and weapons,” said Concha Hoyos, a retired Madrid resident, told Reuters.

Another protester, Jaled, 29, said NATO was not the solution to the war in Ukraine.

Organisers claimed 5,000 people joined the march, but authorities in Madrid put the number at 2 200.

READ | Pandor says Finland’s bid to join NATO indicates a decline in international security

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that the summit would also focus on the threat from Europe’s southern flank in Africa, in which he said Russia posed a threat to Europe.

“The foreign ministers’ dinner on the 29th will be centred on the southern flank,” he told El Pais newspaper.

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News24.com | Turkey Police Break up Istanbul Pride March, Detain Dozens: AFP

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Hakan Akgun/dia images

Turkish police on Sunday forcibly intervened in a Pride march in Istanbul, detaining dozens of demonstrators and an AFP photographer, AFP journalists on the ground said.

The governor’s office had banned the march around Taksim square in the heart of Istanbul but protesters gathered nearby under heavy police presence earlier than scheduled.

Police detained protesters, loading them into buses. AFP journalists saw two buses of people who had been held, including AFP’s chief photographer Bulent Kilic, who had been handcuffed from the back.

Kilic, who was also detained last year during the Pride march, is currently in police custody.

Hundreds of protesters carrying rainbow flags pressed ahead with the rally in defiance of police.

Although homosexuality has been legal throughout the period of the modern Turkish republic, LGBTQ individuals point to regular harassment and abuse.

Istanbul Pride has taken place every year since 2003.

The last march which took place without a ban – in 2014 – drew tens of thousands of participants in one of the biggest LGBTQ events in the majority Muslim region.

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News24.com | NASA Blasts Off From Australian Outback in ‘historic’ Launch

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NASA’s first-ever launch from a commercial site outside of the United States blasted off from Australia’s Outback late Sunday, in a “historic” moment for the country’s space industry.

In the first of three planned launches from the Arnhem Space Centre, the rocket, carrying technology likened to a “mini Hubble” telescope, lifted off — blasted about 350 kilometres (218 miles) into the night sky.

“It is a momentous occasion for us as a company in particular, but it’s historic for Australia,” Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Michael Jones told AFP ahead of the lift-off.

Jones, whose company owns and operates the launch site in the far north of Australia, described it as a “coming out” party for the country’s space industry and said the chance to work with NASA was a milestone for commercial space firms in the country.

After a series of rain and wind delays, the suborbital sounding rocket soared into the sky to study x-rays emanating from the Alpha Centauri A and B systems.

After reaching its apogee, the rocket’s payload was to capture data on the star systems before parachuting back to earth.

READ | NASA is slowly powering down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 photos from its 45-year mission.

According to NASA, the launch offers a unique glimpse of the distant systems and unlocked fresh possibilities for scientists.

“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the Southern Hemisphere and see targets that we can’t from the United States,” Nicky Fox, NASA’s Heliophysics Division director in Washington, said on announcing the mission.

Jones said the unique location had made preparations hard, with years of work to get regulatory approval and the need to haul rockets on barges to the launch site – about 28 hours drive from Darwin in northern Australia.

“I think for the team, it’s gonna be, you know, a huge relief that it’s done,” he said.

READ | ‘Giant leap forward’ – South Korea space rocket launch puts satellites in orbit

But with the next launch already looming on July 4, the break would be short-lived.

“We need to, you know, dust ourselves off, take a day off and then get back into it in readiness for the next launch because it’s just as important.”

It is the first NASA rocket to launch from Australia since 1995, and the project was hailed as the start of a “new era” for the country’s space industry by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

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