Algeria, France urge political solution in Libya to halt terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Algeria, France urge political solution in Libya to halt terrorism

By Hamid Ould Ahmed | ALGIERS

The foreign ministers of Algeria and France on Tuesday urged Libya’s rival armed factions to seek a political solution in the North African country to help stem the spread of militant groups there and potential spillover across its borders.

Algeria has joined with North African neighbor Tunisia to seek support for an inclusive dialogue in Libya, where competing governments and armed supporters have struggled for control since a 2011 civil war ousted veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.

France aims to play a bigger role in bringing Libya’s factions together to end the turmoil that has allowed Islamist militants to gain a foothold and migrant smugglers to flourish in the absence of a strong central government.

“The main objective remains the fight against terrorism in this area of turbulence, where the presence of terrorists is reinforced because of the chaotic situation in Libya,” Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said after talks with France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian, according to state news agency APS.

Le Drian, on a two-day visit to Algiers, described his talks with Messahel as “thorough”.

French officials fear Islamic State militants – who were driven from the coastal city of Sirte last year – and other jihadists are trying to exploit the power vacuum in Libya to regroup after losing substantial ground in Syria and Iraq.

A U.N.-backed Libyan government of national accord has sat in Tripoli for more than a year, but it has struggled to reach agreement with eastern factions, including with powerful commander Khalifa Haftar.

Libya’s neighbors and regional powers have often differed on how to help. Egypt is closer to Haftar and his anti-Islamist militant campaign while Algeria has pushed for an inclusive approach including using the influence of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist.

Last week Le Drian last week held talks with Egypt on how to stabilize Libya and on Monday began a two-day visit to Algiers, where he said he had “thorough” talks with his Algerian counterpart Abdelkader Messahel.

Last year Islamic State was driven out of the Libyan coastal city of Sirte.

“It is this determination which leads us to wish for a political solution in Libya,” APS quoted Le Drian as saying.

Algeria and France have agreed to “combine their efforts to reach an inclusive political solution that allows the integrity of Libyan territory and a peace process”, Le Drian added.

Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt last week expressed support for dialogue in Libya and rejected foreign interference or any military options, days after Egyptian jets carried out strikes against militant camps inside Libya.

The talks between Le Drian and Messahel also included the situation in the Sahel, two years after Algeria helped mediate a peace deal in Mali between the government and Tuareg rebels, in part to help stop Islamist militants gaining ground.

(Editing by Patrick Markey and Gareth Jones)

France: Macron’s likely huge majority a worry for democracy, rivals say

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Macron’s likely huge majority a worry for democracy, rivals say

There will be no room for debate in parliament and democracy will be stifled if French President Emmanuel Macron wins the landslide parliamentary majority pollsters are predicting, his rivals said after Sunday’s first round of voting.

“It is neither healthy nor desirable for a president who gathered only 24 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidentials and who was elected in the second round only by the rejection of the extreme right should benefit from a monopoly of national representation,” said Socialist party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis as results flowed in.

Cambadelis later confirmed he had been eliminated from the competition for his Paris seat, one that was previously a safe one for the Socialists.

It will be contested in next Sunday’s second round by Mounir Mahjoubi, the youngest minister in Macron’s new government, and hard-left candidate Sarah Legrain.

Francois Baroin, who ran the campaign of conservative party The Republicans, echoed these sentiments, saying political power should not be concentrated in the hands of one party and urging supporters to turn out on June 18 for the decisive second round.

Like other senior politicians from established parties not connected with Macron’s meteoric rise to power, Baroin also bemoaned the low turnout, which at around 49 percent was the lowest first round showing since the Fifth Republic was born in 1958.

“Today fewer than half of French people expressed a preference,” he said. “This record level of abstention… bears witness to the continuing fractures in French society… They are neither forgotten nor wiped away.”

Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front (FN) who spoke after she qualified for the June 18 second round of voting, called the huge abstention rate worrying and, like Baroin, called on supporters to turn out in a week’s time.

“There needs to be in parliament lawmakers who will really oppose the disastrous policies Emmanuel Macron is preparing,” Le Pen said, urging voters to mobilise to ensure the FN wins seats.

She won a fifth of the vote in the first round of the presidential election in April, coming second behind Macron by just a few percentage points of the vote, yet pollsters expect she will have just a handful of seats in parliament in contrast to 400 or more for Macron.

Responding to the criticism, a senior party official of Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party said there would be no riding roughshod over alternative views.

“We shall be very respectful of the opposition… There has to be respect for minorities in a debate. This will not be a dominant majority but a responsible majority, said Jean-Paul Delevoye, who was in charge of selecting LREM candidates.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far-left candidate who also scored well in the presidentials, said Macron had won a “circumstantial majority.”

He had campaigned on a platform of protecting workers rights in contrast to Macron’s plan for business-friendly reforms.

“The huge abstention rate shows that there is no majority in this country in favour of destroying the labour code, nor for reducing liberties, nor for ecological irresponsibility, nor to pander to the rich – all things that figure in the president’s programme.

(This version of the story has been corrected to show Legrain is far-left candidate)

(Reporting by France bureau; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Michel Rose)

Trump irritates allies and returns to brewing crisis in US

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FRANCE 24 TV)

Trump irritates allies and returns to brewing crisis in US

 

 
© Mandel Ngan, AFP | US president Donald Trump flies home after G7 summit in Italy

Text by EMILIE BOYER KING

Latest update : 2017-05-28

President Donald Trump flew back to the United States on Saturday without a much-awaited commitment to fighting climate change, at odds with many of his allies on big policy issues and to a brewing crisis in the White House.

Now back home, Trump is unlikely to get much rest after his gruelling nine-day diplomatic marathon, with Russian controversies and claims that his son-in-law Jared Kushner wanted to set up secret communications with Moscow swirling overhead.

Trump’s first trip abroad as president took him to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Vatican, and Belgium and Italy. He met with heads of state, the pope and attended gatherings of NATO leaders and members of the G-7 industrialised nations.

The royal treatment in Saudi Arabia

Trump is not a conventional president and neither was his first foray into international politics.

From the start, he set a new direction. In many ways, the first leg of his journey in the Middle-east was the easiest for the US leader who made ‘America First’ a cornerstone of his presidency and is still learning the ropes on international diplomacy.

Instead of following presidential tradition by heading to a neighbouring democracy like Canada or Mexico, Trump kicked off his maiden voyage in Saudi Arabia, the repressive desert kingdom, where he sought to win Arab states’ support for fighting extremism.

He was given the royal treatment, and looked delighted as he took part in traditional dances and enjoyed lavish meals. Raising the human rights record of his host, one of the world’s most oppressive governments, was not on his agenda.

“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship,” Trump said.

Instead, the US closed a $110 billion arms sale to show its renewed commitment to the security of the Persian Gulf region and unveiled numerous business agreements, but without going into details.

Trump then travelled to Israel and the West Bank to more rapturous welcome. He looked solemn as he lay a wreath at a holocaust memorial and as he prayed at the sacred western wall in Jerusalem. But while he called for peace in the region he was vague as to what form it should take. Trump stayed clear of calling for ‘a two-state solution’, an option backed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trump chastised the members

Things started to heat up when Trump left the warm climes of the Middle East for Europe, for the NATO summit in Brussels and the most confrontational part of his trip.

On his way, Trump made a short stop in Rome for an audience with Pope Francis. The two men have in the past clashed on issues such as migration, climate change and the Mexico-US wall. After the meeting, the Vatican said, laconically, that there had been an “exchange of views” on international issues.

Trump was more enthusiastic: “Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world,” he tweeted on May 24th after meeting the pontiff.

Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.

The NATO summit in Belgium the next day pitted Trump against the 27 other members of the military alliance. The US president unnerved them by not affirming his commitment to the alliance’s key Article 5 on mutual defense — which states the principle that an attack on any one member is an attack on all. A US administration spokesperson downplayed their fears however and saying the US would adhere to it.

Trump chastised the members for not spending enough on defence and repeated the charge that some members owed “massive amounts of money” from past years, even though allied contributions are voluntary.

A “disaster”

Trump’s appearance in Brussels was particularly frustrating for Germany. In a meeting with senior European Union officials, he said the country was “very bad on trade” despite months of painstaking relationship building between Germany and the US in the run up to the summit.

It is little surprise European officials described the summit as a “disaster”.

Side meetings with other leaders in the Belgium capital provided with some light relief however. A series of “manly” and prolonged handshakes with French President Emmanuel Macron, followed by an apparent snub by Macron in favour of European Union leaders, delighted the twittersphere.

À Bruxelles, unis avec nos alliés de @NATO.

Leaving the EU headquarters and his crestfallen NATO allies behind, Trump ended his diplomatic tour in Italy for the G7 summit with the leaders of the world’s wealthiest industrial nations. This stop was set to be just as acrimonious: four preparatory meetings had failed to clear up differences with the Trump administration on trade, how to deal with Russia and climate change.

Little surprise, but some disappointment

So there was perhaps little surprise, but some disappointment, when after three days of contentious private debate and intense lobbying by other leaders, Trump refused to commit to the hard-fought Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The six other G7 nations reaffirmed their commitment to it in a joint statement issued Saturday.

Trump promised to make a decision in the week ahead on whether the United States will be the first of 195 signatories to pull out.

The leaders reached agreement on some issues however. On trade, Trump bowed to pressure from allies to retain a pledge to fight protectionism. And on Russia, Trump did not insist on removing the threat of additional sanctions for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, as the allies had feared.

‘Someone who is willing to listen and who wants to work’

But despite disagreements over many policy issues, leaders also warmed to the US president.

“I saw someone who is willing to listen and who wants to work,’ said France’s Macron. “I think Donald Trump understood the importance of multilateral discussion and that, along with the pragmatism he demonstrated during his campaign, Trump will now take into account the interests of his friends and partners.”

The Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the G7 summit’s host agreed. “I found him very willing to engage, very curious, with an ability and desire to ask questions and to learn from all his partners,” he said.

At the summit’s close on Saturday, Trump appeared to rate his trip as a success.

“I think we hit a home run no matter where we are,” he said.

Home, where a whole new set of challenges begin.

Macron to become next French president after beating back Le Pen and her populist tide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Macron to become next French president after beating back Le Pen and her populist tide

What Emmanuel Macron’s victory means for France and the world
 
Centrist Emmanuel Macron is on track to win the French presidency defeating Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, a strongly anti-immigrant populist party. Macron, 39, will now become France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte.(Adam Taylor, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)
May 7 at 2:30 PM
France on Sunday shrugged off the siren call of right-wing populism that enchanted voters in the United States and United Kingdom, rejecting anti-E.U. firebrand Marine Le Pen and choosing as its next president Emmanuel Macron, a centrist political neophyte who has pledged to revive both his struggling country and the flailing continent.The result brought to a close a tumultuous and polarized campaign that defied prediction at nearly every turn, though not at the end. Pre-election polls had forecast a sizable Macron victory, and he appeared to have delivered, with projections issued after polls closed showing him with around 65 percent of the vote.

In a statement to the AFP news service, Macron said the country had “turned a new page in our long history. I want it to be a page of hope and renewed trust.”

He was expected to deliver a victory speech later Sunday night in the grand courtyard of Paris’s Louvre Museum, where news of his win spawned raucous cheers among thousands of flag-waving Macron backers.

“I feel relieved,” said Valentin Coutouly, a 23-year-old student who described himself as “European to the core” and who was celebrating on a chilly May night. “I think we were all afraid that Le Pen could actually win. We realized in the end that it was possible.”

France’s Macron votes in crucial presidential poll

 

 
After a tumultuous presidential election campaign filled with scandal and surprises, favorite Emmanuel Macron cast his vote on Sunday, May 7. (Reuters)

At her own gathering at a Paris restaurant, a downcast Le Pen conceded defeat, telling her demoralized supporters that the country had “chosen continuity” and said the election had drawn clear lines between “the patriots and the globalists.”

The outcome will soothe Europe’s anxious political establishment, which had feared a Le Pen victory would throw in reverse decades of efforts to forge continental integration.

But it instantly puts pressure on Macron to deliver on promises made to an unhappy French electorate, including reform of two institutions notoriously resistant to change: the European Union and the French bureaucracy.

At 39, the trim, blue-eyed and square-jawed Macron will become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon when he is inaugurated this weekend, and his election caps an astonishing  rise.

With a background in investment banking and a turn as economy minister under a historically unpopular president, he may have seemed an ill fit for the anti-establishment anger coursing through Western politics.

But by bucking France’s traditional parties and launching his own movement – En Marche, or Onward — Macron managed to cast himself as the outsider the country needs. And by unapologetically embracing the European Union, immigration and the multicultural tableau of modern France, he positioned himself as the optimistic and progressive antidote to the dark and reactionary vision of Le Pen’s National Front.

Le Pen, 48, has long sought to become the first far-right leader elected in Western Europe’s post-war history. Sunday’s vote frustrated those ambitions, but is unlikely to end them.

By winning around 35 percent of the vote, she nearly doubled the share won by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2002 election, the only other time the National Front’s candidate has made it to the second round. The result seemed to cement the party’s long march from the political fringe to the center of the nation’s unhappy political discourse, if not the pinnacle of its power.

Struggling with chronically high unemployment and recurrent terrorist attacks, France’s mood on the day of its presidential vote was reflected in the dark clouds and chilly spring rains that blanketed much of the country.

Nonetheless, the public voted at a rate that would be the envy of many Western democracies: From the chic neighborhoods of Paris to the struggling post-industrial towns of the French countryside, turnout nationwide was expected to reach 75 percent, down slightly from previous votes.

No matter whom French voters picked, the choice was bound to be historic.

The dominant two parties of France’s Fifth Republic were both eliminated in the first round. The center-left Socialists were decimated, brought low by the failure of current President Francois Hollandeto turn around the economy or to prevent a succession of mass-casualty terrorist attacks.

The center-right Republicans, meanwhile, missed what was once seen as a sure-fire bet at returning to power after their candidate, former prime minister Francois Fillon, was hobbled by a series of corruption allegations.

The two candidates who remained, Le Pen and Macron, both traced an outsider’s path as they sought residence at the Élysée Palace.

Of the two, Macron had the more direct route. But his campaign still had to overcome all the usual challenges of a start-up, plus some extraordinary ones — including the publication online Friday night of thousands of hacked campaign documents in a cyber-attack that aroused suspicions of Russian meddling.

The outcome of Sunday’s vote will have profound implications not only for France’s 67 million citizens, but also for the future of Europe and for the political trajectory across the Western world.

After a pair of  dramatic triumphs for the populist right in 2016 – with Brexit in the U.K., and Donald Trump in the U.S. – France’s vote was viewed as a test of whether the political mainstream could beat back a rising tide.

Many of Europe’s mainstream leaders — both center-right and center-left – lined up to cheer Macron on after he punched his ticket to the second round in a vote last month. The endorsements were a break from protocol for presidents and prime ministers who normally stay out of each other’s domestic elections.

But they reflected the gravity of the choice that France faced. A victory by Le Pen was seen as a possible market-rattling death blow to decades of efforts to draw Europe more closely together, with the country’s new president expected to lead campaigns to take the country out of both the E.U. and the euro.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama had also endorsed Macron, and the young French politician often appeared to be trying to emulate the magic of Obama’s 2008 campaign with speeches that appealed to hope, change and unity — while eliding many of the details of his policies.

The current White House occupant, Trump, was  cagey about his choice, saying before the first round that Le Pen was “the strongest on borders and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” He predicted that she would do well, but stopped short of endorsing her.

On the campaign trail this spring, Le Pen’s rhetoric had often echoed Trump’s, with vows to put “France first” and to defend “the forgotten France.” She also condemned globalist cosmopolitans – Macron chief among them — who she said did not have the nation’s interests at heart.

But she had distanced herself from Trump since his inauguration, often declining to mention him by name, and analysts said her association with the unpopular American president may have hurt her among French voters.

Macron shares almost nothing with Trump except one key fact: Like the New York real estate tycoon, Macron became president of his country on his first run for elective office.

The son of doctors who was raised in the northern city of Amiens, Macron had to teach himself the basics of campaigning on the fly in the white-hot glare of a presidential race.

Vowing repeatedly during the campaign to borrow from both left and right, he will now have to learn how to govern a country without the backing of any of its traditional parties.

Instead, he has a movement that he built from scratch, and now faces the immediate challenge of getting En Marche allies elected to the National Assembly.

That vote, due next month, will determine whether Macron has the parliamentary support he needs to enact an agenda of sweeping economic reforms, many of which are likely to unsettle the country’s deeply entrenched labor unions.

Despite his victory, pre-election polls showed that most of Macron’s supporters saw themselves voting against Le Pen rather than for him.

That was reflected on the streets Sunday, with voters even in well-to-do and heavily pro-Macron neighborhoods of Paris saying they felt more resigned than excited.

“On the one hand you have a far-right party that will take us straight to disaster,” said Gilbert Cohen, a retired 82-year-old engineer who cast his ballot amid the vaulted ceilings of Paris’s 17th century Place des Vosges, a former royal residence that was also home to Victor Hugo. “On the other, you have the candidate who’s the only reasonable choice we have.”

Cohen described Macron as “brilliant.” But, he said, the new boy wonder of French politics “can’t govern by himself.”

Elsewhere in France, the mood was even more markedly downbeat. In Laon, a small and struggling city 90 miles north of Paris, many voters said they were so disillusioned by the choice that they would cast a blank ballot.

Others said their disenchantment had led them to Le Pen – and a hope that, despite the polls, she could still eke out a victory that would bring the radical break for France that they crave.

“We’ve had 50 years of rule from the left and the right,” said Francis Morel, a 54-year-old bread maker who cast his ballot for Le Pen. “Nothing has changed.”

The mood was considerably more upbeat Sunday night at the Louvre, where Macron supporters gathered in what was once the seat of French kings for their candidate’s victory celebration.

Stéphanie Ninel, 31, a technician, said she had been at the Louvre since just after lunchtime, braving the chilly weather to snag a prime position in the crowd.

“I’ve been old enough to vote in three elections now,” she said. “But this is the first time I feel I’ve been able to vote for someone with actual conviction. He’s a new person, and he demands a new politics.”

Stanley-Becker reported from Laon and McAuley from Paris. Benjamin Zagzag in Laon and Virgile Demoustier in Paris contributed to this report.

Did Marine Le Pen’s Mouth Show The French People Her True Soul?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Emmanuel Macron in Albi, France, on Thursday. Marine Le Pen, his presidential opponent, described him in a debate on Wednesday as “the privileged child of the system and the elites.” CreditBenoit Tessier/Reuters

PARIS — A milestone in French politics was reached in the country’s verbally violent presidential debate Wednesday night, but not the expected one.

The shock in the post-debate commentaries, in print and across the airwaves, was revealing: France had never witnessed such a brutal political confrontation in real time.

The consensus was that, far from being the knockout blow Marine Le Pen needed and many anticipated, the result was the opposite. The candidate of the far-right National Front had not improved her already difficult position against the centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron.

With her sneering mockery of Mr. Macron, her aggressive tone, and her use of epithets, she had revealed something essential about herself despite years of effort to soften her party’s image, in the view of commentators.

Continue reading the main story

“I was myself surprised, as she revealed herself as what is worst about the far right in France,” Gérard Grunberg, a veteran political scientist at the Institut d’Études Politiques, known as Sciences-Po, said in an interview.

Even her own father, the National Front patriarch and founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, declared that she “wasn’t up to it” during the two-and-half-hour debate, though he still supports her election. A poll taken immediately after for BFMTV found that 63 percent of viewers thought Mr. Macron had carried the day. His polling lead in the election Sunday is around 20 points.

Most significantly, many saw in Ms. Le Pen’s principal debate tactic an unwelcome guest: the big lie.

Mr. Macron repeatedly called her a liar during the debate, and newspaper commentaries on Thursday backed him up. “Marine Le Pen: The Strategy of the Lie,” was the banner headline on Le Monde’s front page, which went on to say that the “deliberate tactic was largely inspired by what Donald Trump practiced in the American campaign.”

The newspaper detailed “The 19 lies of Marine Le Pen” during the debate about topics including “Brexit,” the euro, the European Union and terrorism. On all these subjects the newspaper demonstrated that Ms. Le Pen had put forward half-truths and outright falsehoods.

She was revealed as “the heir of a practice of politics that has always been based on denigration and threat,” Le Monde said in its front-page editorial. “The imitator, besides, of Donald Trump, piling on, just like the American president, lying insinuation.”

Mr. Macron’s campaign has been quick to pick up on the (negative) parallel between President Trump and Ms. Le Pen, posting a video on Twitter in which American and British citizens express regret about voting for Mr. Trump and for Brexit, and warning that “this Sunday France will have to make a choice. The worst is not impossible.”

Ms. Le Pen herself has significantly backed away from her early enthusiastic declarations in favor of Mr. Trump since his chaotic beginnings. Meanwhile, former President Barack Obama announced Thursday he was supporting Mr. Macron, in a video posted on Mr. Macron’s Twitter feed.

One “insinuation” from Ms. Le Pen in the Wednesday debate may wind up costing her. At the end she suggested that Mr. Macron might have “an offshore account,” later acknowledging she had no proof.

Photo

Marine Le Pen in Ennemain, France, on Thursday. A leading historian of her party, the National Front, said Wednesday’s debate was “transformed into a fight.” CreditMichel Spingler/Associated Press

Such an accusation is extremely serious for public figures in France, especially in the court of public opinion. The Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation into whether fake news is being used to influence the election, and Mr. Macron has announced a lawsuit against right-wing websites over the suggestion.

Ms. Le Pen’s tactics on Wednesday, eschewing any kind of detailed exposition of policies and instead relying on epithet-slinging — Mr. Macron was “the privileged child of the system and the elites,” and the “representative of subjugated France” — would have been familiar to anyone attending her rallies across France this election season. Her supporters roar at these verbal sallies.

But such language is not normally part of mainstream political discourse in France. And that fact set up the collision of Wednesday night, and the tone of dismay and shock in the commentaries on Thursday.

The second-round presidential debate has become almost a sacred ritual in French politics. Fifteen years ago, Jacques Chirac, the former president, refused to dignify Ms. Le Pen’s father in a debate when he unexpectedly made the second round. That Ms. Le Pen was not given that treatment in 2017, commentators suggested, meant that she had been accepted as a legitimate partner in the democratic process.

But on Thursday, French media and academic commentators suggested she had violated that trust by her “violence,” as many put it. “Maybe she wanted to reassure her electorate,” Marc Lazar, a historian, said in an interview, “or maybe she was just showing her true nature.”

“She has wanted to show that she has ‘undemonized’ the party,” Mr. Lazar continued, referring to the effort Ms. Le Pen has undertaken to distance the National Front from the hate-filled declarations of her father. “But in the end, she just proved that she is her father’s daughter. I think there were a lot of people who were surprised, because they thought she had really changed.”

Even experienced Front-watchers were taken aback by Ms. Le Pen’s actions on Wednesday night. “It was transformed into a fight, not a debate,” said Valérie Igounet, the Front’s leading historian. “The way she spoke was pretty unsettling. I was astonished, too. She was so aggressive.”

Numerous political figures said the debate had made a big voter turnout for Mr. Macron all the more urgent. It was not expected to come from the far left, which continues to evince extreme hostility to Mr. Macron, seeing him as the hated representative of capitalism and finance — precisely Ms. Le Pen’s depiction of him.

The far-left leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has suggested that there is an equivalence between the two candidates. Some two-thirds of his voters will cast blank votes or abstain on Sunday, according to an internal party survey.

On Thursday, one of Mr. Mélenchon’s more prominent supporters, a filmmaker named François Ruffin, wrote in an op-ed in Le Monde addressed to Mr. Macron in the wake of the debate: “You are detested already, before even having set foot in the Élysée,” referring to the presidential residence.

Mr. Ruffin, who made a film that tracked the corporation-mocking efforts of Michael Moore, continued: “You are hated” by those whom Mr. Mélenchon represents “because they see in you, and they are right, the arrogant elite,” Mr. Ruffin wrote. “You are hated, you are hated, you are hated.”

More typical of Thursday’s reactions, though, was that of the editorial in the southern La Dépêche du Midi, in Toulouse. “The ‘decisive’ debate was above all a revelatory debate. Through lies and incessant interruptions, striking proof was given last night that it is difficult, if not impossible, to debate with the far right, in conditions of minimal democratic respect.”

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

France has killed more than 20 militants hiding in a forest near the border between the West African countries of Mali and Burkina Faso this weekend, its regional force said in a statement.

The operation followed the death of a French soldier nearby earlier this month. It involved both air and ground strikes, the statement said. It did not identify the militant group.

Mali has been regularly hit by Islamist militant violence, despite a 2013 French-led operation to drive them out of key northern cities they had seized. It extended a state of emergency by six months this weekend.

But violence in its southern neighbor, Burkina Faso, began to intensify last year with an attack in the capital that killed dozens. Burkinabe officials believe a new Islamist militant group called Ansar al-Islam led by a local preacher was using the Foulsare Forest as a base for launching attacks elsewhere.

France has deployed some 4,000 soldiers to fight Islamist militants in the region.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Larry King)

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

Story highlights

  • France finds common elements in samples from Khan Sheikhoun and a 2013 Syria attack
  • French Foreign Ministry says there’s “no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime”

(CNN) France has said that it has proof that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this month that killed 89 people.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that samples taken from the attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun matched those from a previous incident.
“We have definite sources that the procedure used to make the Sarin sampled is typical of the methods developed in Syrian laboratories,” he said. “This method bears the signature of the regime, and that is what has allowed us to establish its responsibility in this attack.”
French laboratories had stored samples taken from other chemical attacks in Syria and so were able to compare them, he said.
A tweet posted by the French Foreign Ministry said: “There’s no doubt that Sarin was used. There is also no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime.”
The attack has been widely blamed by Western powers on the Syrian government, which is supposed to have given up its chemical weapon stockpile in 2013 following an attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus that activists say killed 1,400 people.
International chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last week they had found “incontrovertible” evidence that Sarin, or a similar substance, was used in the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, but did not apportion responsibility.
UK scientists had already found that Sarin or a similar chemical had been used in the attack, having tested samples smuggled from the site.

Assad denies chemical attack in interview

Assad denies chemical attack in interview
However, Damascus denies it had anything to do with the Khan Sheikhoun attack, instead blaming “terrorist” groups. It also denies it has any chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key Syrian ally, has suggested meanwhile that the attack was carried out by “forces” trying to frame the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow also questioned the impartiality of the OPCW.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia would not change its position regarding the Khan Sheikhoun attack in light of the French assessment.
“The Kremlin and President Putin still believe that conducting an impartial international investigation is the only way to find out the truth,” state-run TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

‘Common elements’

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 5.

The French Foreign Ministry said its independent investigation, declassified so it could be shared with the world, supported “with certainty” the conclusions also reached by the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and the OPCW.
Analysis by French experts of samples from the April 4 attack site and the blood of one of the victims confirmed the use of Sarin, its report said. Those samples were compared with samples from an attack on the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in April 2013, in which three grenades containing Sarin were dropped by a helicopter, one of which failed to explode, it said. According to the French army, only the Syrian regime had helicopters so it had to be behind the attack.

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province, on April 5, 2017.

Scientists established the presence of the same chemical compounds in samples taken from Saraqeb in 2013 and from Khan Sheikhoun, the French Foreign Ministry said. “The Sarin present in the weapons used on April 4 was produced according to the same manufacturing method as that used in the Sarin attack carried out by the Syrian regime in Saraqeb.”
The report also cited the French military’s assessment that a warplane had been deployed from the Syrian regime’s Shayrat airbase on the morning of April 4 and had carried out up to six airstrikes in the Khan Sheikhoun area. “Only the regime has such air assets,” said Ayrault.

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack
“The French intelligence services believe that only Bashar al-Assad and some of the most influential members of his entourage are empowered to give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report added.
The report also describes the claim that rebel forces in the area had Sarin as “not credible.”
It casts doubt on the Syrian regime’s promised destruction of its chemical stockpile, saying that French intelligence services believe “important doubts remain about the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal.”

Missile strike

The chemical attack in Syria prompted the United States to launch its first military strike on the Syrian regime in the six-year war, causing a major rift between Washington and Moscow.
On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase, US officials said.
The Khan Sheikhoun incident has led to renewed calls for Assad to be forced from power, as international ceasefire and peace talks continue to end a conflict which has killed 400,000 people, according to UN data.

France Throws the Bums Out and Votes for a New Political Reality

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

France Throws the Bums Out and Votes for a New Political Reality

Apr 23, 2017
No matter whether centrist economist Emmanuel Macron or far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen wins France’s presidency in two weeks’ time, Sunday’s first-round election made history in France — ripping up the political system that has governed for generations over the world’s sixth biggest economy and a powerhouse of the European Union.

Both the ruling Socialists and the conservative Republicans suffered crushing defeats, as millions of French voters expressed years of exasperation, fear and disillusion by voting for insurgent or extremist candidates. The runoff round between Macron and Le Pen — Sunday’s two top vote getters — is on May 7.

As the polls closed at 8 p.m., the results appeared to be a collective cri de coeur against the establishment. “This is huge,” says Pierre Haski, political columnist for the news magazine L’Obs, speaking to TIME after the vote. “The two parties that have dominated the political landscape for three or four decades have collapsed.”

The next President of France now seems highly likely to be Macron, who captured the most votes among 11 candidates on Sunday. That itself is a stunning new reality. Macron, just 39, would be France’s youngest-ever president by far if he is inaugurated in the ornate Élysée Palace on May 15.

What is more, he has never held elective office and has no traditional political party to call his own; he quit President François Hollande’s government as Economy Minister last September to create his own political movement, called En Marche! (On the Go!), and drafted thousands of young French to knock on doors across the country, polling 100,000 people about how they wanted their country to change.

It was a gamble that seems to have paid off — and now, it could catapult this newcomer into power. It is hard to overstate the extraordinary and surprising nature of that accomplishment.

Emmanuel Macron speaks after winning the lead percentage of votes in the first round of the French presidential elections in Paris on April 23, 2017. He faces off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on May 7. Emmanuel Macron speaks after winning the lead percentage of votes in the first round of the French presidential elections in Paris on April 23, 2017. He faces off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on May 7 Mustafa Yalcin—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“In one year we have changed the face of French politics,” Macron told his ecstatic supporters at his victory party in Paris late Sunday night, saying that his win brought “new hope for our country, and for Europe.” Amid the crowd of giddy supporters were many young French voting for the first time, who said in interviews they had been drawn to a candidate that appeared young and modern — a striking change from the fairly small group of grandees who have run the country for many years.

The preliminary results Sunday night put Macron at 23.9%, Le Pen at 21.7% and the Republicans’ candidate François Fillon around 19%. The Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon polled a disastrous 6% — a potential death knell for the party that has ruled France for five years. Fillon and Hamon, in somber concession speeches, admitted they were facing an entirely new political situation as outsiders. Both called on supporters to back Macron in the second round vote on May 7.

Standing in a hall in southern Paris, hundreds of Macron’s young campaign volunteers broke into wild applause and cheers of “Macron Président!” as Fillon, projected on a large-screen monitor on stage, said, “I will be voting for Emmanuel Macron.”

Indeed, Macron’s lead over Le Pen on Sunday could potentially increase once all the votes are counted. That is because the early estimates do not include big cities like Paris, which are bastions of support for the former Rothschild investment banker, who is intent on modernizing the country and unraveling generations of state-heavy intervention.

When TIME profiled Macron last July, while he was still serving in Hollande’s Cabinet, he said he believed the current system was “sclerotic” and could not survive. “I am a newcomer,” he told us then. “I want to remain a newcomer. It is in my DNA.”

Read more: Emmanuel Macron Has Big Plans for France. Is It Ready for Them?

Now, however, he will need to become the ultimate insider: Piecing together a coalition to smash Le Pen’s National Front in the runoff round, and then to force through an agenda that could well spark violent protests. That includes loosening the way companies hire and fire employees, cutting back on steep wealth taxes for the richest French and luring hundreds of thousands of French expats back home; those include countless high-skilled professionals in Silicon Valley and London’s financial hub, who left France in recent years, frustrated by the lack of growth.

Macron’s ability to push through his programs will depend heavily on the parliamentary elections in June. His political movement, which currently has no representation, has scrambled in recent weeks to find candidates for the June vote. “En Marche! has received 15,000 people who want to be deputies,” Macron campaign spokeswoman Laurence Haim told TIME earlier this week. “We have commissions that are looking at each candidate, and we want parity and diversity, to completely transform the face of political life in France.”

That is just one challenge, however: Le Pen.

The 48-year-old won the biggest-ever support for the National Front in Sunday’s election. She has spent six years remaking the party from her father’s far more rabidly racist and anti-Semitic movement into an electable force. In some ways, she succeeded in that on Sunday.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, exits a polling booth after marking her ballot during the first round of the French presidential election in Henin Beaumont on April 23, 2017.Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, exits a polling booth after marking her ballot during the first round of the French presidential election in Hénin-Beaumont, France, on April 23, 2017 Marlene Awaad—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tapping into deep unease over the migrant crisis and the terrorist threat, Le Pen stormed through the country arguing that France needed to close its borders and virtually halt all immigration, promising to hold a referendum to pull France out of the E.U. and drop the use of the Euro. Speaking to her supporters on Sunday night after the vote, Le Pen vowed she would take her support all the way to the Élysée.”Globalization puts our country in danger,” she thundered, to a packed hall in the northern France town of Hénin-Beaumont.

That message clearly hit home with millions of voters on Sunday. When TIME traveled the hard-hit Rust Belt of Northern France in February, many Le Pen supporters said they believed global free trade, which Macron supports, had failed French workers. “We don’t think that finding workers that are cheaper and cheaper, with worse working conditions, is a good thing for the people of the world,” National Front activist Éric Richermoz, 24, told TIME then. “The National Front is the only party that gives people hope in these elections,” he said in the northern town of Amiens.

Now, Macron will need to reckon with that fury—even if he succeeds in winning the presidency. And there is fury too on the other side of the political spectrum: 19.2% voted for the far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fought to nationalize major industries and to reconsider France’s E.U. membership.

“He has to take into account the anger of people who voted for Le Pen and Mélenchon,” Haski says. In addition, he says, Le Pen has attempted to cast herself as France’s Trump — the candidate of change — vs. a Hillary Clinton–type opponent — the embodiment of an old establishment. She has said frequently, including to TIME in recent months, that she regarded Trump’s victory as a sign that she too could prevail against all odds.

“She portrays this election as a replay of the U.S. election, Trump vs. Clinton,” Haski says. “That is a trap that Macron does not want to fall into.”

French Elections: Marcon 24%: Le Pen 21.8%: Presidential Election Set For May 7th

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen will face a relative novice, the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, in the final round of the country’s presidential election, early projections suggest.

According to estimates from CNN affiliate BFMTV and polling company Elabe, newcomer Macron secured 24% of the vote, with National Front leader Le Pen close behind on 21.8%.
The result, if confirmed, is a comprehensive rejection of traditional French politics. Neither candidate hails from the establishment parties that have dominated France for decades.
BFMTV and Elabe suggest scandal-hit conservative François Fillon and far-left wildcard Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 19.9% and 19.3% of the vote respectively, and have been knocked out of the closely-fought race.
Speaking to supporters in Henin-Beaumont, anti-immigration, anti-European Union candidate Le Pen hailed the result: “It is time to free French people from arrogant elites … I am the people’s candidate.”
“The French people must seize this opportunity, because the enormous challenge of this election is the wild globalization that puts our civilization at risk,” Le Pen said.
“Either we continue to disintegrate without any borders, without any controls, unfair international competition, mass immigration and the free circulation of terrorists, or you choose France with borders,” she added.

French presidential candidate for the En Marche! movement Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with supporters after casting his vote in Le Touquet.

A huge cheer went up at Macron’s campaign headquarters as news of the results came through. “France’s political map is tonight redrawn,” said CNN’s Melissa Bell, who was at the scene.
“It’s a political earthquake in this country and in Europe,” veteran journalist Christine Ockrent told CNN. “Macron’s is a remarkable achievement, because he represents optimism.”
Sunday’s first round contest was held under tight security after a terror attack in Paris Thursday night disrupted the final day of campaigning Friday.
By 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) 69.42% of France’s 47 million registered voters had cast their ballots, according to the Interior Ministry — a marginally lower turnout than at the same point in 2012.
With 11 names on the ballot, no one candidate had been expected to win an outright majority; instead the top two candidates will face a second and final ballot on May 7.

Who is Marine Le Pen?

Who is Marine Le Pen?01:47
The incumbent President, socialist François Hollande, whose approval ratings have remained in the doldrums for several years, made the unusual decision not to run for a second term.
As the results became clear, French politicians and several of the defeated candidates appeared to throw their support behind Macron — or to speak out against Le Pen.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve tweeted an appeal to all voters to back Macron in the second round, “to combat the National Front’s disastrous project to take France backwards and to divide the French people.”
The Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoît Hamon secured just 6.3% of the vote, according to BFMTV-Elabe estimates.
Speaking at his campaign headquarters, Hamon said he took full responsibility for the poor result, and urged his supporters to vote for Macron to defeat Le Pen in the second round, “even if he is not left-wing.”
Fillon, the mainstream Republican candidate, was an early favorite for the presidency, but his campaign stumbled because of a scandal over claims he paid his wife and children for work they did not do. He denies any wrongdoing.
He told his supporters, “we have to choose what is preferable for our country, and I am not going to rejoice. Abstention is not in my genes, especially when an extremist party is close to power.”
“The party created by Jean-Marie Le Pen has a history known for its violence and intolerance,” Fillon said. “Its economic and social program will lead our country to failure … I promise you, extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France.”
Independent centrist Macron, 39, a former banker, has never held elected office, though he served as economy minister under Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

What to know about Emmanuel Macron

What to know about Emmanuel Macron 01:26
But he attracted support from left and right with promises to boost the economy and improve security. His party, “En Marche!” which was only created in September, now has more than 200,000 members and his meetings have attracted vast crowds.
Far-right National Front leader Le Pen, 48, is best known for her anti-immigration rhetoric; she told supporters her first move as president would be to impose a temporary ban on legal immigration to France. She has also vowed to take France out of the EU.
Far-left firebrand Mélenchon has so far refused to concede defeat, insisting it is too early to accept the results.
“We do not recognize the score announced on the basis of opinion polls,” he wrote on Facebook. “The results of the larger towns and cities are not yet known,” he added, calling for “restraint” and urging commentators to “be cautious.”
Mélenchon‘s popularity surged in the final weeks of the race, following impressive performances in the candidates’ television debates.

France on edge as presidential vote looms

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Voting begins in overseas territories in first round of elections, with Sunday’s tight four-way race coming shortly after terror attack

Source: France on edge as presidential vote looms

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