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Philippines’ Marcos, Robredo set for rousing final rallies as presidential vote looms

Philippines presidential candidates geared up for final rallies on Saturday to galvanize support and win over undecided voters, two days from an election plagued by misinformation campaigns and the rekindling of a bitter rivalry dating back decades.

Up to 65 million Filipinos are eligible to cast ballots on Monday to decide on the successor to President Rodrigo Duterte after six years in power, plus thousands of other posts, from lawmakers and governors to city mayors and councilors.

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A two-horse presidential race has emerged between Vice President Leni Robredo and frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of a strongman whose two-decade rule ended with his overthrow in a 1986 “people power” uprising.

Tens of thousands of supporters gathered in the capital Manila at rallies for Robredo and Marcos, braving the scorching afternoon heat hours before candidates were due to arrive.

The location of Robredo’s rally was symbolic, held along Ayala Avenue, where a huge march took place in 1983 after the assassination of senator Benigno Aquino, an icon of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.

The rally exuded a festival-like atmosphere, where supporters in bright pink, Robredo’s campaign colour, handed out ice cream, drinks, T-shirts and flags.

“Robredo has helped many people and they appreciate her,” said Mary Ann Ileto Fernandez, who was celebrating her 27th birthday at the rally.

“While many people do not openly show support, we know they will vote for her.”

If opinion surveys are accurate, Robredo, 57, will need a late surge, or a low turnout if she is to win the presidency, with Marcos, a former congressman and senator, leading her by over 30 points having topped every poll this year.

If that deficit holds, Marcos, 64, could be the first Philippines president to be elected with a majority vote since the end of his father’s rule.

Marcos Jr was due to address what was expected to be a huge crowd at a casino resort alongside Manila Bay, which his camp said was an event to show appreciation for an outpouring of public support.

Marcos’s lead has been attributed to his team’s astute use of use of social media to reach younger voters, to discredit Robredo and present what political experts say is a counter narrative to historical accounts of his father’s rule. Marcos recently praised his father as a “genius.”

Monday will be a rematch of the 2016 vice presidential election which Marcos had also looked set to win, before losing by just 200,000 votes to Robredo. He fought hard to overturn the result, which the Supreme Court upheld.

Saturday’s rallies are expected to collectively draw hundreds of thousands of supporters, with candidates using celebrities and social media influencers personalities to energize supporters.

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Hundreds of stolen cars recovered in global Interpol operation funded by the UAE

A United Arab Emirates-funded global police operation targeting stolen vehicle trafficking has led to the recovery of hundreds of cars, trucks and motorbikes and almost half a million stolen cigarettes in just two weeks, Interpol announced on Wednesday.

Operation Carback saw frontline police at seaports and land border crossings in 77 countries use Interpol’s secure global police communications network – I-24/7 – to check vehicles and their owners against Interpol’s databases and instantaneously detect potential criminals or criminal activity.

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Interpol launched its ‘Reducing Vehicle Crime and Theft’ Program in 2016 with funding from the United Arab Emirates via Interpol’s ‘Foundation for a Safer World’, which financed Operation Carback 2022.

Since May 2016, the foundation has been supporting seven key Interpol initiatives by donating $52 million over a period of five years, as part of a contribution agreement between the Foundation and the UAE government.

In just over two weeks, Operation Carback led to the identification of 1,121 stolen cars and 64 motorcycles, the arrest or detention of 222 suspected stolen vehicle traffickers, the detention of eight suspected people smugglers, the detection of 26 fraudulent vehicle documents and the seizure of 480,000 stolen cigarettes.

Officers raided chop shops – places where stolen vehicles are dismantled into parts that are smuggled or sold online – with confiscations triggering further investigations into car crime gangs globally.

Interpol supported the operation by crosschecking information collected in the field against its international databases, with Frontex also supporting the European leg of frontline operations.

Experts from Interpol’s Stolen Motor Vehicles Unit were deployed to key locations to assist national law enforcement with database checks in the field as well as in exchanging, analyzing and acting on operational data.

With the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) typically removed from stolen cars, on-the-ground assistance from Interpol enabled national law enforcement to connect with car manufacturers to identify vehicle origin.

Because stolen vehicles are frequently trafficked to finance and carry out crime ranging from drug trafficking, arms dealing and people smuggling to corruption and international terrorism, the Interpol General Secretariat headquarters is analyzing intelligence gathered during Operation Carback to identify links with other crime areas.

“With vehicles usually smuggled beyond borders and ending up thousands of miles away from where they were stolen, an international operation like Carback is crucial to enabling police to tackle the networks behind global car trafficking,” said Ilana de Wild, Interpol’s director of organized and emerging Crime.

“The main key to the success of Operation Carback is the wealth of information contained in Interpol’s Stolen Motor Vehicle database, and the fact that throughout the operation police in the field were able to access this crucial data.”

Last year, Interpol identified some 248,000 stolen vehicles thanks to the SMV database. More than 130 countries shared their national data with Interpol, and carried out more than 280 million searches.

The UAE has close links with Interpol and in November it was announced that the country’s Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, of the UAE’s interior ministry, had been elected as the new President of Interpol.

The senior police official will serve the four-year term in Lyon, France.

The new appointment makes him the first candidate from the Middle Eastern region to be elected into the position since the global crime fighting agency was founded in the 1920s.

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‘If Putin was a woman, there would be no Ukraine war’: UK’s Johnson

Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“If Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn't, but if he were, I really don't think he would've embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has,” Johnson told German broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening.

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Putin's invasion of Ukraine is “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”, he said, calling for better education for girls around the world and for “more women in positions of power”.

The British Prime Minister acknowledged that “of course people want the war to end”, but for the moment “there's no deal available. Putin isn't making an offer of peace”.

Western allies must support Ukraine to enable it to be in the best possible strategic position in the event that peace negotiations with Moscow do become possible, he added.

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Spain begins natural gas exports to Morocco following diplomatic row

Natural gas has started flowing from Spain toward Morocco through a pipeline that stopped flowing in November amid a diplomatic row between Morocco and Algeria, data from Spanish gas grid operator Enagas showed on Wednesday.
Algeria decided last year not to extend a deal to export gas through a pipeline running through neighboring Morocco to Spain, halting nearly all of Morocco’s gas supply, as relations between Rabat and Algiers worsened.
In April, Algeria warned Madrid not to re-export Algerian gas supplies to its Southern neighbor after Energy Minister Teresa Ribera confirmed plans to reverse the flow of the Maghreb Europe pipeline and begin exportation of natural gas to Morocco.
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“A certification process guarantees that this gas is not of Algerian origin,” a spokesperson for Enagas said on Wednesday.
In March, Spain angered its main gas supplier Algeria by supporting a Moroccan plan to offer autonomy to Western Sahara, prompting Algiers to suspend its 20-year-old friendship treaty with Madrid and causing a diplomatic crisis.
The shift was well received in Rabat as Morocco decided to return its ambassador to Spain after almost a year of absence following a long diplomatic dispute.
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