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Australia's deputy prime minister pledges support to Solomon Islands during visit to Honiara

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Australia's deputy prime minister pledges support to Solomon Islands during visit to Honiara
News

News

Australia's deputy prime minister pledges support to Solomon Islands during visit to Honiara

2024-05-21 15:11 Last Updated At:15:30

NEWCASTLE, Australia (AP) — Australia's deputy prime minister pledged support to the Solomon Islands during a visit to the archipelago nation on Tuesday, as Canberra intensifies efforts to counter China's growing influence in the South Pacific.

Richard Marles’ trip to the capital, Honiara, was the first by an Australian government minister since Jeremiah Manele was elected Solomon Islands' new prime minister earlier this month.

Marles pledged to provide healthcare and border control support to the island nation and said at a news conference his visit provided an opportunity to discuss Solomons' “priorities and the way in which Australia can help and contribute.”

“Australia sought to be the Solomons’ go-to security partner and had to work to earn that right. Hence, going to Solomon Islands quickly,” said Marles, who is also Australia's defense minister.

Marles said Australia had pledged 50 million Australian dollars ($33.3 million) for border management and a health center for mothers to access pre- and post-natal care.

The high-level visit comes at a time of increased competition for influence in the South Pacific. The Solomons became the first regional nation to sign a major policing pact with China in July, sparking concern among the island’s traditional partners including Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Solomon Islands lawmakers elected Manele as prime minister on May 2. The move was largely seen as a sign the country will maintain close ties with China that were developed under pro-Beijing former leader Manasseh Sogavare.

Manele has indicated the pact would remain under his government and that as leader he would put his nation’s interests first.

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles looks on during a welcome ceremony ahead of the Australia and South Korea Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting in Melbourne, Australia, May 1, 2024. Marles pledged support to the Solomon Islands during a visit to the archipelago nation on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, as Canberra intensifies efforts to counter China's growing influence in the South Pacific. (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Pool Photo via AP)

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles looks on during a welcome ceremony ahead of the Australia and South Korea Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting in Melbourne, Australia, May 1, 2024. Marles pledged support to the Solomon Islands during a visit to the archipelago nation on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, as Canberra intensifies efforts to counter China's growing influence in the South Pacific. (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Pool Photo via AP)

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Ursula von der Leyen pledged to be a strong leader for Europe in a time of crisis and polarization as she made her final leadership pitch in a speech to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote Thursday afternoon on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission.

The secret ballot at the 720-seat parliament comes hot on the heels of strong gains by the far right in last month's election for the European Parliament. Voting gets underway at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) and results are expected by 3 p.m. (1300 GMT).

“I will never let the extreme polarization of our societies become accepted. I will never accept that demagogues and extremists destroy our European way of life. And I stand here today ready to lead the fight with all the Democratic forces in this house,” von der Leyen said.

If a majority of the lawmakers reject her candidacy, it would leave leaders of the 27-nation bloc scrambling to find a replacement as Europe grapples with crises ranging from the war in Ukraine to climate change.

In a speech that sought to shore up support from across the political spectrum, von der Leyen pledged to strengthen the EU economy, its police and border agencies, tackle migration and pursue policies tackling climate change while also helping farmers who have staged protests against what they call stifling EU bureaucracy and environmental rules.

She also took a swipe at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his recent visit to Russia shortly after his country took over the rotating six-month EU presidency.

"This so-called peace mission was nothing but an appeasement mission,” von der Leyen said as she vowed that Europe would remain shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine.

One radical right lawmaker, Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca of Romania, was escorted out of the parliament's chamber for heckling a speaker during the debate following von der Leyen's speech. Iovanovici-Sosoaca briefly wore what appeared to be a muzzle and held up religious icons before being led out of the room.

Over the past five years, von der Leyen has steered the bloc through a series of crises, including Britain’s exit from the EU, the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She has also pushed a Green Deal aiming to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050.

As the debate ended, she told lawmakers: "I hope to have your trust and confidence for the next years. Long live Europe."

Von der Leyen's election came as newly elected U.K. Prime Minister Keir Starmer was welcoming some 45 heads of government to discuss migration, energy security and the threat from Russia as he seeks to restore relations between the U.K. and its European neighbors.

The leaders signed off on the conservative German von der Leyen at a summit meeting late last month. The 65-year-old von der Leyen’s bid was boosted when the European People's Party, which includes von der Leyen’s Christian Democratic Union, remained the largest group at the EU Parliament after the elections.

But her reelection is not a foregone conclusion as some lawmakers within her own center-right European People’s Party could still vote against her. She needs a straight majority of 361 votes to secure a second term

The German politician has been praised for her leading role during the coronavirus crisis, when the EU bought vaccines collectively for its citizens. But she also found herself receiving sharp criticism for the opacity of the negotiations with vaccine makers.

The EU general court ruled Wednesday that the commission did not allow the public enough access to information about COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreements it secured with pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic.

Following the elections for EU Parliament, European Union leaders agreed on the officials who will hold the key positions in the world’s biggest trading bloc in the coming years for issues ranging from antitrust investigations to foreign policy. At the side of von der Leyen will be two new faces: Antonio Costa of Portugal as European Council president and Estonia’s Kaja Kallas as the top diplomat of the world’s largest trading bloc.

While Costa’s nomination only needed the leaders’ approval, Kallas will also need to be approved by European lawmakers later this year. The Estonian prime minister is a staunch supporter of Ukraine and a fierce critic of Russia within the European Union and NATO.

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Associated Press Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed.

Member of European Parliament Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca, center, holds a religious image during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Member of European Parliament Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca, center, holds a religious image during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Member of European Parliament Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca, rear center right, holds a muzzle on her face during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Member of European Parliament Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca, rear center right, holds a muzzle on her face during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Member of European Parliament Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca, center right, wears a muzzle on her face during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Member of European Parliament Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca, center right, wears a muzzle on her face during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, greets European commissioners as she arrives in the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, greets European commissioners as she arrives in the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the plenary at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, speaks with European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, third left, and other European commissioners as she arrives in the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, speaks with European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, third left, and other European commissioners as she arrives in the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, July 18, 2024. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

FILE - President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen listens during a session at the European Parliament, Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Strasbourg, eastern France. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday, July 18, 2024 to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

FILE - President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen listens during a session at the European Parliament, Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Strasbourg, eastern France. Ursula von der Leyen was making her final pitch Thursday, July 18, 2024 to lawmakers at the European Parliament ahead of a vote on whether to grant her a second five-year term as president of the European Union's executive commission. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

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