France’s Macron Ready To Meet Belarus Opposition Leader

 

President Emmanuel Macron is ready to hold talks with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has requested he act as a mediator in her country’s crisis, a French government spokesman said on Monday.

“What’s happening in Belarus is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that is unable to accept the logic of democracy,” Gabriel Attal said, adding that Macron would meet Tikhanovskaya “if she asks” during a visit to Lithuania, where she has fled.

Belarus has been in turmoil since protests broke out last month after Tikhanovskaya lost to President Alexander Lukashenko in a vote she denounced as rigged.

The opposition leader, whose blogger husband remains in a Belarus prison, also called for EU sanctions against businesses that support Lukashenko’s government.

“The protests are not going to stop,” Tikhanovskaya told AFP in an interview. “People will not accept the regime under which they have lived all these years.”

Ahead of Macron’s visit to Vilnius, he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper it was “clear that Lukashenko has to go”, adding that he had been impressed by the courage of the protesters.

“They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long,” he said.

AFP

Macron Opponents Claim Victory In France Senate Poll

File photo: French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital.  Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP.

 

The right-wing opposition on Monday claimed victory in elections for France’s upper house, underlining the political struggles of the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron.

The Senate’s members are not directly elected by voters, but instead by tens of thousands of local councillors who are themselves elected by the people.

After Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party performed woefully in local elections earlier this year, it was never expected to make any significant impact in the Senate vote.

While the chamber has some authority, especially over constitutional issues, it lacks the power of the National Assembly lower house, which has been controlled by LREM since 2017.

Nevertheless, the leader of the right-wing Republicans Christian Jacob told France Inter radio: “We have renewed ourselves with this victory.”

The party claimed to have upped its Senate seats by 10 to 154 in the 348-seat chamber.

The election showed that the opposition is not complacent, said Bruno Retailleau, head of the Republicans in the Senate.

However, because of the volatile nature of political affiliation in the Senate, the full breakdown will probably only become clear on Thursday when it meets to elect its speaker.

The poll — held every three years for half the chamber’s seats — was not a disaster for the LREM, which was expected to hold on to its current 23 members.

Meanwhile, the Greens said they expected to return at least 10 senators and the Socialist Party was expected to lose some seats but maintain its status as the second biggest faction.

But the health of LREM, and in particular its failure to put down roots at the local level, is a growing headache for Macron as he prepares to seek re-election in 2022.

Roughly two dozen MPs defected from LREM to other groups earlier this year, robbing the party of its overall majority, although the make-up of the National Assembly means it can still pass legislation.

AFP

Macron Party Braces For New Setback In Senate Polls

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a statement as he arrives for a European Union Council in Brussels on July 17, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. (Photo by Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP)

 

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party braced on Sunday for a new setback in elections for France’s Senate upper house, where the right is expected to hold on to its majority.

French Senate members are not directly elected by voters, but instead by tens of thousands of local councillors who are themselves elected by the people.

After Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party performed woefully in the local elections earlier this year, it is not expected to make any significant impact in the Senate vote.

Senate elections take place every three years in France, with half of the chamber’s 348 seats at stake each time.

LREM, dogged by problems in recent months after successfully propelling Macron to the presidency in 2017 elections, currently only has 23 senators.

There is little chance their ranks will swell in Sunday’s polls, while Francois Patriat, the leader of LREM’s Senate group, could even lose his seat.

With 143 seats in the Senate, the right-wing Republicans are expected to keep control of the chamber and continue the historic dominance of the right in the Senate.

But a strong performance in the recent local elections could allow the Greens and Socialists to boost their presence.

While it has some authority especially over constitutional issues, the Senate lacks the power of the National Assembly lower house, which has been controlled by LREM since 2017 legislative elections soon after Macron won the presidency.

But the health of LREM, and in particular its failure to put down roots at the local level, is a growing headache for Macron as he prepares to seek relection in 2022.

Some two dozen MPs earlier this year defected from LREM to other groups, formally robbing the party of its overall majority, although the make-up of the National Assembly means it can still pass legislation.

The party’s number two Pierre Person told the Le Monde daily this month that he was stepping down from his executive post to “give the party a new lease of life”, saying it was in need of an “electric shock”.

AFP

Alarm For Macron As Deputy Party Chief Steps Down

France’s President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a meeting at Winfield House with US President Donald Trump in central London on December 3, 2019. NATO leaders gather Tuesday for a summit to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary but with leaders feuding and name-calling over money and strategy, the mood is far from festive. LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

The number two official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party on Monday stepped down, declaring the movement needed an “electric shock” after a string of electoral routs.

The health of Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party, created for his successful 2017 presidential campaign, is a growing headache for the president as he prepares to seek relection in 2022.

The party’s number two Pierre Person, who will remain a member, told the Le Monde daily that he was stepping down from his executive post to “give the party a new breath”.

He said he wanted to create an “electric shock” as “cosmetic changes are not going to be enough”, with the party still stuck in its logic that dated from the 2017 presidential election campaign.

The resignation of Person, 31, a former leader of a LREM youth wing who came from the Socialist Party, comes after the party suffered a series of reverses at the ballot box.

Person was also reported to have tense relations with the number one party official Stanislas Guerini.

Local elections earlier this year were a disaster for the LREM, with the party failing to take control of a single major city hall.

More bad news came in six by-elections for vacant parliament seats at the weekend where no LREM candidate has made it to the second round.

Person said in the interview that the LREM “needs to have its own reason to exist” rather than just “copy and pasting the message of the government”.

Some two dozen MPs earlier this year defected from the LREM to other formations, formally robbing the party of its overall majority, although the make-up of the National Assembly lower house means it can still pass legislation.

Many analysts expect the 2022 elections to be a two-horse race between Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

And Macron has in the last months notably shifted the tone to the right, talking tough particularly on security and against Islamic extremism.

A cabinet reshuffle this July saw right-wingers Jean Castex and Gerald Darmanin appointed as prime minister and interior minister respectively. Both had originally come from the Republicans (LR) right-wing party.

AFP

Iran’s Khamenei Says Mohammed Cartoons ‘Unforgivable’

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting with school and university students in the capital Tehran on November 3, 2019. Iran’s supreme leader again ruled out negotiations with Washington, a day before the 40th anniversary of the hostage crisis at the former US embassy in Tehran.
IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER’S WEBSITE / AFP

 

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tuesday that cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that were republished by a French satirical magazine last week were “unforgivable”.

“The grave and unforgivable sin committed by a French weekly in insulting the luminous and holy personality of (the) Prophet revealed, once more, the hostility and malicious grudge harboured by political and cultural organisations in the West against Islam and the Muslim community,” Khamenei said in an English-language statement.

“The excuse of ‘freedom of expression’ made by some French politicians in order not to condemn this grave crime of insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam is completely unacceptable, wrong, and demagogic.”

During a visit to Beirut last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said Charlie Hebdo had broken no law in republishing the cartoons to mark the September 2 opening of the trial into a deadly 2015 attack on its offices by Islamist extremists.

“There is… in France a freedom to blaspheme that is linked to freedom of conscience,” Macron said.

“It is my job to protect all these freedoms.”

Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were killed on January 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi went on a gun rampage at the magazine’s Paris offices.

The perpetrators were killed in the aftermath of the massacre but 14 alleged accomplices in the attacks, which also targeted a Jewish supermarket, went on trial.

Despite its outrage at the cartoons, Iran condemned the attack on the paper’s offices.

 

Supporters of hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry placards and shout slogans during a protest against the reprinting cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020. – Satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the target of a massacre by Islamist gunmen in 2015, reprinted the controversial caricatures this week to mark the start of the trial of the alleged accomplices in the attack. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

 

-AFP

Macron To Meet Embattled Ivory Coast Leader Friday

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a statement as he arrives for a European Union Council in Brussels on July 17, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet in Paris on Friday with his Ivory Coast counterpart Alassane Ouattara, whose surprise decision last month to seek a third term has thrown his country into turmoil.

France had welcomed the “historic decision” last March by Ouattara, 78, not to run for re-election, hoping the move would encourage other longstanding African leaders to embrace more democratic regimes.

But the death of his prime minister, who many say was poised to succeed him, prompted a reversal that has sparked weeks of deadly clashes between supporters of rival parties.

Macron has not commented publicly on Ouattara’s move, but a source in the French presidency said Thursday that his hope for a generational change in Ivory Coast remains firm.

On Monday, supporters of the country’s former president Laurent Gbagbo as well as Ouattara’s former ally Guillaume Soro both filed their candidacies in what will likely be tense elections next month.

The move came even though both Gbagbo and Soro had been barred by the electoral commission from running due to convictions in the country’s courts.

The crisis has revived fears of the fierce post-election violence that saw some 3,000 people killed ten years ago, when Gbagbo refused to recognise Ouattara’s election victory.

AFP

Macron In High-Stakes Lebanon Reform Drive

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C-R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (C-L), both wearing face masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, during a welcome ceremony at Beirut International airport. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron pressed his “risky” drive for political change in Lebanon Tuesday, as the former French mandate marked its centenary while teetering on the brink of the abyss.

Macron has set an ambitious goal for his second visit since a deadly August 4 explosion ravaged Beirut: to press for change without being seen as a meddler.

He kicked off his trip on Monday, not by visiting political leaders, but by spending more than an hour with singing legend Fairuz, who at 85 is a rare unifying figure in Lebanon.

Macron ticked off more symbols to mark 100 years Tuesday since French mandate authorities proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon.

In the Jaj forest northeast of Beirut, he planted a cedar tree — Lebanon’s national symbol — to express “confidence in the future of the country,” his office said in a statement.

The French air force flew overhead leaving a trail of red, white and green smoke — the colours of the country’s flag.

Macron then returned for a second visit to Beirut port, ground zero of the colossal blast that killed more than 180 people, wounded at least 6,500 others and laid waste to entire districts of the capital.

He oversaw the distribution of aid from the French helicopter carrier Tonnerre which arrived in Beirut on August 14.

Macron also met with some 400 French soldiers working with the Lebanese army to clear thousands of tonnes of debris from the port, vital for a country whose food is 85 percent imported.

– ‘Demanding without interfering’ –

Macron will then begin the most sensitive and anticipated leg of his visit: difficult discussions with under-fire political leaders widely blamed for the explosion, which was caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had languished in the port for years.

Upon his arrival on Monday, Macron said his position towards Lebanon’s political establishment “is unchanged: demanding without interfering”.

For this position to be deemed credible by disenchanted Lebanese as well as by the rest of the international community, Macron must obtain swift results.

This is why on Monday evening he called for a so-called “mission government” to spearhead reforms just hours after Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated Mustapha Adib as the country’s new prime minister.

The French president said it was not his place to “approve” of the designation of Adib — a little known 48-year-old diplomat who since 2013 had served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany.

But if Lebanon hopes to unlock desperately needed international assistance, political leaders must enact “real reforms” long demanded by donors, Macron said.

“If we do not do this, the Lebanese economy will collapse” and “the only victim will be the Lebanese people (…) who cannot go into exile”, he warned on Friday.

– ‘Risky’ –

Adib was named on Monday by political leaders widely seen as inept and corrupt by demonstrators who have taken to the streets in mass protests since October 17 against the entire political class.

The protest camp has already rejected the choice of Adib as premier, charging that he is too close to established political circles.

“No cabinet by or with the murderers” said posters brandished by demonstrators who waited for Macron outside Fairouz’s home.

Late on Monday, Macron also met with former prime minister Saad Hariri at the Ottoman-era residence of the French ambassador, from whose porch 100 years ago Greater Lebanon was proclaimed.

After a lunch with Aoun in the presidential palace on Tuesday, he will meet with representatives of the country’s top nine political blocs in the second such talks since the blast.

Representatives of the powerful Hezbollah movement, designated by the US as a terrorist group, will be among those meeting Macron.

The French president has justified his openness to “talk with everyone”, including Hezbollah, by saying the Iran-backed group is “a political force that is represented in parliament”.

With the protest camp warning against giving another lease of life to a hereditary ruling class that will only pay lip service to reform, Macron admitted in an interview that his brokering drive was a gamble.

“It’s a risky bet I’m making, I am aware of it… I am putting the only thing I have on the table: my political capital,” he told Politico.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday his movement was “open” to a proposal made by Macron on his previous visit for a new political pact for the country.

Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri have followed suit by backing calls for the formation of a “secular” state.

AFP

Macron To Hold Top-Level Talks In Baghdad Wednesday – Iraq Officials

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a statement as he arrives for a European Union Council in Brussels on July 17, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. – The EU has been plunged into a historic economic crunch by the coronavirus crisis, and EU officials have drawn up plans for a huge stimulus package to lead their countries out of lockdown. (Photo by Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP)

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will make his first official trip to Iraq on Wednesday, government sources in Baghdad told AFP, to signal solidarity with the crisis-hit country.

The one-day visit following his trip to Lebanon will make Macron the most senior foreign official to travel to Iraq since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ascended to power in May.

“He will meet the Iraqi prime minister and president and is hoping to hold talks with a range of political actors,” an Iraqi government source told AFP.

Two other Iraqi officials confirmed the visit. Macron’s office has yet to publically confirm the trip.

The focus, the Iraqi sources said, would be on “sovereignty” — insisting Baghdad carve out an independent path away from the tug-of-war between its two main allies, Washington and Tehran.

The message will echo that of France’s top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian during a trip to Iraq in July, when he insisted Baghdad “should dissociate itself from regional tensions”.

On August 27, French Defence minister Florence Parly held talks in Baghdad and Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Unlike most foreign officials visiting Iraq, Macron will not stop over in Arbil, and is instead hoping Kurdish leaders will come to Baghdad to meet him.

Iraq has been rocked by a series of crises this year, starting with a US drone strike in January that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iran retaliated with strikes against US troops in western Iraq, and Tehran-backed groups are suspected of launching volleys of rockets on American diplomatic, military and commercial interests in recent months.

As OPEC’s second biggest crude producer, Iraq was hit hard by the collapse in oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic forced the country’s fragile economy to sink even further.

AFP

Lebanon To Choose New Prime Minister As Macron Visits, Again

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020 two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury.  Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020 two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP

 

Lebanon’s under-fire political leaders scrambled into action as French President Emmanuel Macron was expected Monday for a fresh visit aimed at pushing change in the crisis-hit country.

Macron was due to return less than a month after a landmark visit following the deadly Beirut port blast that traumatised Lebanon and renewed calls for a radical overhaul of the political system.

Parliamentary consultations at the presidential place on a new prime minister started on Monday morning, with most of the ruling elite’s top barons apparently settling on a little-known diplomat, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany Mustapha French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020 two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP.

Already dismissed by the opposition as a product of Lebanon’s reviled sectarian-based politics, Adib faces the daunting task of steering the state through one of the deepest crises of its troubled 100-year history.

The Beirut blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, is widely blamed on government greed and incompetence and compounds the collapse of Lebanon’s economy over the past few months.

A vast stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had languished at Beirut’s port for years blew up on August 4, killing at least 188 people, wounding thousands and laying waste to large parts of the capital.

Macron demanded “deep change” when he visited Beirut on August 6 and warned then he would check on progress when he returns for the September 1 ceremony marking the centenary of Greater Lebanon.

President Michel Aoun and his political ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, both expressed willingness in separate speeches Sunday to change the way Lebanon is governed.

New premier

The 85-year-old Aoun, a hate figure in the protest camp who regards him as deaf to calls for change, even urged the proclamation of a secular state.

Suspicion was rife however that Lebanon’s long-serving heavyweights were only paying lip service to reform ahead of Macron’s visit, expected to start around 1700 GMT.

“When the political class talks about the introduction of the civil state, it reminds me of the devil talking about virtue, it doesn’t make sense,” said political science professor Hilal Khashan.

“There is a big difference between raising a slogan and really putting it to work,” said the academic from the American University of Beirut.

A file photo taken on July 18, 2013, shows Lebanon's ambassador to Berlin Mustapha Adib (Adib-Abdul-Wahed) posing for a picture, upon his appointment to the position, in Bellevue Castle in the German capital Berlin. WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP
A file photo taken on July 18, 2013, shows Lebanon’s ambassador to Berlin Mustapha Adib (Adib-Abdul-Wahed) posing for a picture, upon his appointment to the position, in Bellevue Castle in the German capital Berlin. WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP

 

Adib’s designation “will not usher in a new period in Lebanese history and I don’t think it will put Lebanon on the road of genuine political development.”

Adib emerged as a consensus option on Sunday.

The 48-year-old diplomat and close aide to former prime minister Najib Mikati received backing from the country’s Sunni Muslim political heavyweights.

Adib still needs to be formally approved during Monday’s consultations, but enough major factions endorsed him for his nomination to go through.

The only major dissenting voice within the political establishment came from the Lebanese Forces party which backed instead Nawaf Salam, an independent diplomat who also served as a judge at the International Court of Justice.

Under multi-confessional Lebanon’s political system, the premier must be a Sunni, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian and the post of parliamentary speaker goes to a Shiite.

No grace period

A majority of lawmakers must decide on whom to name as premier before Aoun tasks the candidate with forming a new government, a process that can take months.

Lebanon’s last government, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned after the massive explosion.

The deadly blast, blamed on decades of negligence and corruption by the country’s ruling elite, revived calls at home and abroad for radical revamp of the state.

It also sparked demands for an international probe into the blast, which were however met with objections from political leaders.

Lebanese protesters hurl rocks towards security forces during clashes in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

Those who have taken to the streets in mass protests since October 17 against the politicians they deem corrupt and inept have already rejected any name that might emerge from the parliamentary consultations.

Despite promises of change, the process of forming the new government follows the same blueprint that has chronically mired Lebanon in political deadlock.

Social media networks abounded with posts questioning whether a government formed by Adib would be any more effective than Diab’s, which was formed in January but failed to lift the country out of crisis.

Hassan Sinno, a member of the Massirat Watan opposition group, said the political class’s new choice for the job of prime minister would not be given the same grace period Diab enjoyed.

“We won’t give him the time, like some of us made the mistake of doing for Hassan Diab,” he told AFP. “We can’t afford it this time.”

On the eve of Lebanon’s sombre centenary, many citizens were planning to leave the country and asked whether Lebanon would live to be 101.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian argued last week that only serious reforms could save Lebanon, warning that “the risk today is of Lebanon disappearing”.

 

AFP

Macron, Merkel Meet With Turkey, Belarus, COVID-19 On The Agenda

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrives at Fort de Bregancon, in Bormes-les-Mimosas, south-east of France, on August 20, 2020. – French President Emmanuel Macron meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel to try to strengthen the understanding of the Franco-German couple on the many hot European and international issues. Christophe SIMON / POOL / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron received German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his Mediterranean holiday retreat on Thursday to discuss a long list of burning issues including the coronavirus pandemic, post-election unrest in Belarus and growing tensions with Turkey.

The pair have a packed agenda for their meeting at the Fort de Bregancon, with challenges raised by Britain’s departure from the European Union, climate change, the coup d’etat in Mali, and the consequences of the devastating blast in Lebanon also set to loom large.

Macron welcomed Merkel for her first-ever visit to the presidential summer residence with a Namaste-style greeting, palms pressed together and bending at the waist, in observance of social-distancing guidelines against coronavirus spread.

According to the Elysee Palace, a priority of the talks will be to push ahead with a coronavirus recovery fund for Europe which the pair had piloted and was agreed at an EU summit last month.

“The international agenda is particularly full,” the French presidency said ahead of the talks which are to be followed by a news conference and a working dinner.

It added that Paris and Berlin shared “a high level of convergence” on the issues.

The allies will look to coordinate policy on the mass protests in Belarus following President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election win which the opposition had denounced as a fraud.

– ‘Destabilising factor’ –

They will also discuss mounting tensions between Greece and Turkey over disputed Mediterranean waters, with Macron taking a tough line against Ankara.

In an interview with Paris Match published earlier Thursday, the French president said his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan was conducting an “expansionist policy that mixes nationalism and Islamism, which is not compatible with European interests”.

He also accused Turkey of being a “destabilising factor”.

Germany, for its part, is seeking to mediate between Turkey and Greece in a growing row over gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

Also on this issue, “there is no contradiction on the substance” between Paris and Berlin, said the Elysee.

Macron and Merkel last saw each other at a marathon five-day EU summit that ended on July 21 with member states agreeing to a 750-billion-euro ($858-billion) rescue plan for economies left shattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany and France strongly backed the package, which enables joint borrowing by the 27 members of the bloc to help virus-hit countries, particularly Spain and Italy.

The deal was a special victory for Macron, who came to office in 2017 committed to strengthening the European Union but has struggled to deliver.

AFP

France Considers Making Masks Mandatory Indoors As COVID-19 Cases Rise Again

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
File: French president Emmanuel Macron takes part in a videoconference with World Health Organization (WHO) general director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Elysee Palace on april 8, 2020 in Paris. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that face masks could soon be required in public indoor spaces to curtail the coronavirus outbreak, acknowledging that infections were again on the rise.

His comments, in a television interview marking Bastille Day, came after he oversaw the traditional military ceremony that was drastically downsized because of the pandemic.

“I would like to make masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces,” Macron said in the interview, a Bastille Day tradition he had shunned since taking office three years ago.

“We have indications that (the outbreak) is accelerating a bit.”

The virus reproduction rate, the “R” ratio, has again risen above one in France, he said, meaning that a single person infected with COVID-19 is likely spreading the disease to others.

Face masks, which have been mandatory on public transport for months, could be required for entering shops, offices and other indoor spaces from August 1, Macron said.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) and French Prime Minister Jean Castex both wearing a protective facemask react at the end of the annual Bastille Day military ceremony on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on July 14, 2020. Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron (C) and French Prime Minister Jean Castex both wearing a protective facemask react at the end of the annual Bastille Day military ceremony on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on July 14, 2020. Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP

 

Macron’s comments come as doctors have warned of a potential second wave of infections, possibly in the coming weeks, which could again overwhelm hospitals and require new lockdowns that could further hammer the economy.

“I advise everyone listening to us to wear a mask as much as possible when they go out, and especially in an enclosed space,” he said.

Asked whether France had enough masks in case of a new spike in cases, following massive shortages as the outbreak worsened in March, Macron said: “We will be ready.”

“We have secured both the stocks and the supply sources, and we are organised on the ground, to allow us to deal with an upsurge, if it comes,” he said.

He also said the government’s “massive” recovery plan would reach 100 billion euros ($114 billion), on top of more than 460 billion euros spent so far to limit the economic damage of a costly two-month lockdown.

Priority will be placed on investments to fight climate change, he said, such as increasing freight transport by rail instead of trucks and providing subsidies for improving energy efficiency in homes and public buildings.

“I believe we can build a different country within the next 10 years,” he said.

Health workers honoured

Fearing contagion risks, authorities called off the annual military parade along the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris that marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille prison that launched the French Revolution.

Instead, Macron presided over a scaled-down gathering of just 2,000 soldiers — half the usual number — at the Place de la Concorde, where several dozen doctors, nurses and other careworkers were given pride of place.

Several were in tears as a military troupe saluted them with the national anthem “La Marseillaise” to close the ceremony, as jets flew over trailing blue, white and red smoke.

Macron personally thanked several of them, a day after his government agreed an eight billion euro ($8.5 billion) package of pay hikes for nurses and careworkers.

He then donned a face mask to visit with guests who included Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.

Protests

Critics have accused Macron of initially underestimating and then mishandling a crisis that has now caused more than 30,000 deaths in France.

And some health workers say the government has still not done enough — two people were briefly detained after they launched balloons near the Place de la Concorde bearing a banner that said “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”

Elsewhere in Paris several thousands of people marched to demand more money and resources for careworkers.

They were later joined at the Place de la Bastille by “yellow vest” anti-government protesters, where some clashed briefly with police who fired tear gas.

But no crowds were allowed anywhere near the Concorde square, where just 2,500 guests were invited to a ceremony lacking the usual display of military equipment — only two WWII tanks trundled noisily across the paving stones.

Large portions of Paris will remain closed Tuesday to avoid mass gatherings for the Bastille Day fireworks, and most other cities have called off their shows altogether.

 

AFP

French PM Philippe: France’s Unshowy But Popular Prime Minister Bows Out

French PM Philippe resigns

 

 

Edouard Philippe served President Emmanuel Macron for three years as a loyal and unshowy prime minister, but his rising popularity and refusal to join the ruling party put his future on the line.

With the French government resigning on Friday in the wake of disappointing local elections, a new name will now take the reins as Macron prepares for 2022 presidential polls.

Macron plucked Philippe, then a member of the rightwing Republicans, from provincial obscurity as mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre to become premier after he won the 2017 presidential election.

Philippe admitted he met Macron only three times before the first round of that election, and of being “terrified” before installing himself in the premier’s residence of the Hotel de Matignon.

But in recent weeks the profile of the bearded and measured Philippe has begun to outstrip that of the more reclusive president.

It has been Philippe, rather than Macron, who has waged battle on the political frontline both in this winter’s strikes over pension reforms and now the coronavirus epidemic.

As Macron largely restricted his public pronouncements to televised addresses to the nation, it was left to his premier to provide regular updates as the outbreak worsened and then levelled off.

– ‘Act of confidence’ –
The premier’s efforts were rewarded with a spike in popularity noted by polling agencies, as Macron’s early boost in the crisis eroded.

This created speculation that the president may be none too happy to have a premier who risked stealing the limelight.

A poll by Harris Interactive-Epoka published last week showed that 44 percent of respondents had a favourable opinion of Macron but 51 percent were positive on Philippe, a jump of 13 points for the premier since the start of the epidemic.

His avowedly unspectacular and technocratic style won new fans during the extremes of the COVID-19 crisis, when he refused to sugar the pill and kept a sober and often sombre tone.

Central to tensions that reportedly exist between Macron and Philippe was the face that his premier never became a card-carrying member of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM).

He left The Republicans as the right imploded following the fake jobs scandal that torpedoed the presidential campaign of former premier Francois Fillon, but has resolutely stayed an independent.

In recent weeks Philippe waged two political battles — for his future as prime minister and also for the mayorship of Le Havre in his native Normandy, the post he held from 2010-2017, in local elections.

Philippe won a resounding victory in the battle for Le Havre that further cemented his political credibility but intensified expectations that he and Macron could no longer work together as a tandem.

The LREM did not notch up a single major urban victory in the municipal elections, making Philippe’s success as an independent even more glaring.

He described the results as “clear” and an “act of confidence.”

It seems that now Philippe will drift back to his Norman bastion of Le Havre, even if his long-term ambitions are unclear.

– ‘Doudoumania’ –
Nicknamed “Doudou,” Philippe’s popularity surge resulted in the unlikely term “Doudoumania” entering the French media.

Letting his beard grow during the coronavirus crisis, viewers noticed a white patch emerging on its left side, which Philippe revealed was caused by the skin condition vitiligo.

“Edouard Philippe — the unknown who governs France,” glossy current affairs magazine Paris Match said on its front cover this month, with a picture of the gangly 1.94-metre (6 feet 4 inches) premier in decidedly unfashionable chinos and sweater striding through the streets of Le Havre.

Philippe, who worked at a law firm and then as a lobbyist for state nuclear group Areva, supported the Socialists early in his political career before switching to the Republicans.

Belying his staid image, in his spare time Philippe has co-authored two thrillers and is also a keen boxer.

And those close to him say despite his somewhat dour public persona he is hilarious in private, with a talent for impersonations of senior politicians such as ex-presidents Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac or Nicolas Sarkozy.

 

-AFP