Macron Marks De Gaulle’s Wartime Appeal With Britain Visit

Macron Signs Controversial French 'Anti-Rioters' Bill Into Law
France’s President Emmanuel Macron talks to journalists after a European Council meeting on Brexit at The Europa Building at The European Parliament in Brussels on April 11, 2019. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Britain on Thursday to commemorate Charles de Gaulle’s call for resistance in World War II, against the very modern backdrop of grappling with Brexit and the coronavirus crisis.

Macron will hold talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a hugely symbolic visit that is his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The visit marks 80 years since de Gaulle, the exiled wartime resistance leader, made his famous call on June 18, 1940, from BBC studios to a defeated France from London not to give into the Nazis.

Johnson has announced honorary British MBE awards to four surviving French resistance fighters — one aged 100 and three in their late 90s.

READ ALSO: EU Hopes US Pullout Of Digital Tax Talks Not ‘Definitive’

“The struggles we face today are different to those we confronted together 80 years ago,” Johnson said.

“But I have no doubt that -– working side by side -– the UK and France will continue to rise to every new challenge and seize every opportunity that lies ahead.”

– ‘Need to be careful’ –

But beyond the historic symbolism, Macron’s meeting with Johnson at 10 Downing Street will also focus on the grinding search for an agreement on Britain’s exit from the EU.

Britain, which left the EU in January, is negotiating a trade deal to govern relations after December 31, when it stops abiding by EU rules. Macron has on occasion expressed impatience with the drawn-out Brexit process.

Macron’s status as a visiting foreign dignitary will spare him the controversial two-week virus quarantine now demanded by the British authorities of all visitors from abroad.

France, where unlike in Britain cafes and restaurants are now fully open after the virus lockdown, had expected French travellers to be exempt from the rule.

“We just want to be very careful — yes, to open up, but to do so when it’s safe and responsible. So we’ll work through all of that with our French friends,” foreign minister Dominic Raab told BBC TV.

– ‘Proud of your courage’ –

Before heading to Britain, Macron met in Paris with Hubert Germain, 99, one of the four surviving Resistance heroes.

“Our country is proud of your courage and it still inspires us. We will make sure every young person knows what they owe you,” he told the veteran.

After arriving in Britain by air with a scaled-down delegation, Macron will meet heir to the throne Prince Charles in London, with both set to pay their respects to de Gaulle and make speeches.

A statue of Churchill that was controversially boxed up after anti-racism protests will be uncovered for Macron’s visit, the London mayor’s office said.

Macron will award the Legion of Honour to London, making it the seventh city to be decorated with France’s highest order of merit.

He will then head to Downing Street for the talks with Johnson, himself an avowed fan of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, who allowed de Gaulle to broadcast from the BBC.

The day will be given added poignancy by news of the death of British singer Vera Lynn, who famously who helped keep up morale during World War II. She was 103.

– ‘Nothing lost’ –

Macron, who displays de Gaulle’s war memoirs on his desk in his official photograph, is making much of 2020 as an anniversary year for the French resistance leader who would later become president of post-occupation France.

The general’s iconic stature and his defiant wartime spirit are being tapped into even more during the unprecedented challenges posed by the epidemic.

In a telling reflection of his status, the vandalisation of a de Gaulle bust in northern France this week was met with a torrent of outrage.

In his radio broadcast from London, de Gaulle urged all those who could to carry on fighting for France, words that laid the foundation of the resistance movement and helped keep alive hope that France would be liberated, as it finally was in 1944.

“Has the last word been said? Should hope disappear? Is the defeat final? No! Believe me, I… tell you that nothing is lost for France,” he said.

AFP

London Churchill Statue To Be Uncovered Before Macron Visit

The statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill is cleaned in Parliament Square, central London on June 8, 2020, after being defaced, with the words (Churchill) “was a racist” written on it’s base by protesters at a demonstration on June 7, 2020, organised to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. – Most marches at the weekend were peaceful but there were flashes of violence, including in London, where the statue of World War II leader Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was defaced. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP.

 

The London statue of British wartime leader Winston Churchill that was controversially boxed up after anti-racism protests will be uncovered for a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, the mayor’s office said Wednesday.

“The covering around the Winston Churchill statue will be removed for the visit of President Macron to London,” said a spokesman for mayor Sadiq Khan.

Other monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, and the Cenotaph war memorial were covered up in the wake of protests at the death of George Floyd during a police arrest in the United States.

The protection was put in place before a counter-demonstration last weekend, which saw far-right protesters fight running battles with the police.

Churchill’s statue became a target when it was daubed with graffiti branding him a racist because of his policies at the time of a 1943 famine in the Indian state of Bengal that left millions dead.

The Cenotaph was also targeted.

The boards around the Cenotaph were taken down on Monday but the coverings around the statues of Mandela and Gandhi will stay in place “under review”, said Khan’s office.

Macron’s visit coincides with the 80th anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s appeal to the French people, calling on them to resist the German World War II occupation of France.

A statue of the wartime French resistance leader was also recently targeted in the northern French town of Hautmont.

The defacing of Churchill’s statue and subsequent covering up sparked outrage in Britain, particularly from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of his predecessor.

Johnson has said he “will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better.”

He told parliament on Wednesday that “we are looking at new ways in which we may legislate against vandalism of war memorials”.

Reports have suggested long prison terms for the worst offenders.

AFP

Macron To Mark De Gaulle Wartime Speech With UK Trip

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
French president Emmanuel Macron takes part in a video conference 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 will visit Britain on Thursday to mark 80 years since exiled wartime resistance leader Charles de Gaulle called on France not to give in to the Nazis.

Macron will look to underline the enduring importance of Anglo-French relations even after Brexit by looking back to de Gaulle’s dramatic appeal on June 18, 1940, made from BBC studios in London shortly after his evacuation from a defeated France.

But Macron, who is due to hold talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as meeting Prince Charles, will be unable to escape the shadow of Brexit as talks on the terms of Britain’s exit enter a tricky phase.

The trip will be Macron’s first outside France since the coronavirus crisis erupted in earnest. The French leader has been criticised in some quarters for his bellicose rhetoric on the virus, declaring that France was “at war” with COVID-19.

The situation has improved sufficiently for Macron to say that France could claim its “first victory”.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

But the challenges remain unparalleled since World War II, with Macron along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel spearheading a 500 billion euro ($566 billion) rescue plan for Europe.

– Spared quarantine –

Macron, who displays de Gaulle’s war memoirs on his desk in his official photograph, is making much of 2020 as an anniversary year for the French resistance leader who would later become president of post-occupation France.

In May, he paid tribute to de Gaulle at the site of the 1940 Battle of Montcornet, one of few effective counter-attacks by French soldiers against the Nazis and where de Gaulle made his name as a military commander.

On November 9, Macron is to mark the 50th anniversary of the general’s death by visiting his final resting place in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises in eastern France.

Before heading to Britain, Macron will take part in the traditional annual ceremony at Mont Valerien outside Paris, a memorial for the French who fought against the Nazis and those who were killed by the occupying forces.

He will then travel to London, where his status as a visiting foreign dignitary will spare him the controversial two-week virus quarantine now demanded by the British authorities of all visitors from abroad, a move that has irritated Paris.

He will award the Legion of Honour to London, making it the seventh city to be decorated with France’s highest order of merit, after Algiers, Belgrade, Brazzaville, Liege, Luxembourg and Volgograd.

Britain, which left the EU in January, is negotiating a trade deal to govern relations after December 31, when it stops abiding by EU rules. Macron has on occasion expressed impatience with the drawn-out Brexit process.

– ‘Legendary hero’ –

In his radio broadcast from London, de Gaulle urged all those who could to carry on fighting for France, words that laid the foundation of the resistance movement and helped keep alive hope that France would be liberated, as it finally was in 1944.

“Has the last word been said? Should hope disappear? Is the defeat final? No! Believe me, I… tell you that nothing is lost for France,” he said.

De Gaulle’s iconic stature and his defiant wartime spirit are being tapped into even more during the unprecedented challenges posed by the epidemic.

In a telling reflection of his status, the vandalisation of a bust of the general in northern France this week was met with a torrent of outrage. The statue in Hautmont was daubed in orange paint and with the slogan “slaver”.

“De Gaulle was neither on the left nor on the right… He was above the parties,” said French historian Michel Winock, author of a book on de Gaulle.

But he was also simply “a legendary hero, the man of June 18, the defiant fighter who embodies an epic, glorious France, an incorruptible man who never mixed up public money and his own account”, Winock said.

AFP

Anti-Racism Protests: France Won’t Erase History, Take Down Statues – Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron holds a press conference at the end of the Global Fund meeting to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria on october 10, 2019, in Lyon, central eastern France. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Sunday that France would not try to erase elements of its history or take down statues of controversial public figures, despite growing global scrutiny of former colonial powers in the wake of worldwide protests.

In an address to the nation, Macron said France would be “uncompromising” in its fight against racism after days of demonstrations over alleged prejudice among police forces.

Angry crowds have toppled statues of colonial figures in Britain and the United States, and there has been an intensified scrutiny of the records of key leaders of the colonial era in Europe.

But Macron said the country would not obscure elements of its history or take down statues of public figures who may have advocated racist views or policies.

“The Republic will not wipe away any trace or any name from its history. It will not forget any of its works. It will not take down any of its statues but lucidly look at out history and our memory together,” he said.

He said this was especially important in Africa, where French colonial rule in several countries left a legacy that remains a subject of anger for many to this day.

Together, France and Africa need to find a “present and a future that is possible on both sides of the Mediterranean,” he said.

Several demonstrations against racism and police violence against minorities have erupted in French cities in recent weeks, given impetus by the death in police custody of George Floyd in the US.

Protesters have rallied in particular around the case of a young black man, Adama Traore, who died in custody in 2016, a case that remains under investigation.

Macron acknowledged that France had to fight against the fact that “the name, the address, the colour of the skin” can affect a person’s chances in their lives.

“We will be uncompromising against racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination. New decisions for equality will be taken,” he said.

But he warned that the fight against racism became distorted when it became exploited by what he described as “separatists.”

“It is necessary to unite around Republican patriotism. We are a nation where everyone — whatever their origin and religion — can find their place,” he said.

AFP

France Locks Down As Global Virus Panic Spreads

 

France goes into a near-total shutdown Tuesday over the coronavirus, the latest country to impose draconian restrictions affecting the lives of tens of millions of people.

European leaders also plan to ban all non-essential travel into the continent on Tuesday in a bid to stem a pandemic that has upended society, battered markets and killed thousands around the world.

With French President Emmanuel Macron describing the battle against COVID-19 as a “war”, governments around the world are scrambling to keep the public safe with measures rarely seen in peacetime, slamming borders shut and forcing citizens to stay home.

The crisis is infecting every sector of the economy, and global stocks have been on a rollercoaster ride, with Wall Street on Monday sinking more than 12 percent in the worst session since the crash of 1987.

Investors are still in panic mode, despite emergency interventions by central banks and governments to shore up confidence.

After the initial outbreak in a Chinese city in December, Europe has emerged as the epicentre of the virus with more deaths now recorded outside China than inside.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 7,000 people worldwide, including over 2,100 in Italy, the worst-hit country outside China.

READ ALSO: Philippines Suspends Stock Market Trade Over Coronavirus Fears

More than 180,000 cases have been recorded in 145 countries.

The head of the World Health Organization called Monday for every suspected coronavirus case to be tested, something which would send the known tally of the sick sky-rocketing.

“You cannot fight a fire while blindfolded,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists. “Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”

In a sombre address to the nation, Macron ordered the French to stay at home for 15 days from midday Tuesday, banning all non-essential trips or social contacts.

Most shops, restaurants and tourist sites in the world’s most visited country are already shuttered.

About 100,000 police and gendarmes will be out on the streets to enforce the measures, after Macron warned violations would be punished.

“We are at war, a public health war certainly. We are fighting not against an army or another nation. But the enemy is there, invisible and elusive and on the move,” he said.

With European nations already closing their borders, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would ask the leaders of the bloc’s Schengen visa-free border zone to stop all non-essential travel into the area.

“Concretely, all trips between non-European countries and EU countries will be suspended for 30 days,” Macron said.

This follows a ban on inbound travel to the United States, whose President Donald Trump steeled the nation for a fight against the virus that he warned could last months.

US health officials said the first human trial to evaluate a possible vaccine had begun, although it may be another year to 18 months before it becomes available.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi and American drugmaker Regeneron also said they had started clinical trials for a new drug, Kevzara, an immuno-suppressor.

In another small glimmer of hope, China reported just one new domestic case on Tuesday — but found 20 imported from abroad.

– ‘Apocalyptic vibe’ –

Trump said he was asking Americans to restrict gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people — as the streets of New York and the capital Washington stood largely deserted.

One customer at a French restaurant in Brooklyn said she felt the moves were unprecedented.

“I want strong leadership, but it’s scary. I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I don’t think my parents have, I don’t think anyone has,” Kelly McGee told AFP.

“There’s something about being in this apocalyptic vibe and being with other people and experiencing it together that I think I still crave.”

Trump acknowledged the United States “may be” heading into a recession due to the virus, as G7 leaders vowed to coordinate their response to the virus and “do whatever it takes, using all policy tools” — after a meeting held via videoconference.

Every sector from tourism to food to aviation is affected, as the global economy effectively goes into shutdown.German giant VW on Tuesday joined other European car makers in closing down plants and major world airlines have axed almost all flights temporarily, triggering pleas to help carriers survive.

Italy announced plans to renationalise national carrier Alitalia, while France said it was also ready to nationalise large companies if necessary.

There are growing doubts too over the European football championships set to take place in 12 countries this summer and the Olympics in Japan, as the virus shreds the sporting calendar.

Very few countries have been left untouched by the virus as it continues its relentless march across the globe, and a cascading number are taking increasingly drastic responses.

Britain called for an end to all “non-essential” contact and travel, while Switzerland declared a state of emergency.

Germany banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and said playgrounds and non-essential shops would close.

Tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia were ordered into effective home quarantines, with Malaysia and the Philippines announcing unprecedented lockdowns.

In India, the world’s second-most populous country, where most schools and entertainment facilities have already shut down, the Taj Mahal was closed to visitors.

AFP

France To Close Schools Over Coronavirus

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced schools in France would close indefinitely from next week to curb the spread of the coronavirus, also urging people over 70 to stay at home.

In an address to the nation on the fight against COVID-19 which has already killed 61 people and infected almost 2,900 in France, Macron made clear that it could no longer be business as usual.

Creches, schools and universities would close from Monday “until further notice”, Macron said, describing the novel coronavirus as France’s most serious health crisis for a century.

But the president also announced that nationwide local elections scheduled for Sunday will not be postponed.

“We are just at the beginning of this crisis,” Macron said.

“In spite of all our efforts to break it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate.”

From Monday, “and until further notice, all creches, schools, middle schools, high schools and universities will be closed,” he said.

Macron asked all people older than 70, those who suffer chronic diseases, respiratory troubles and the handicapped, “to stay at home” if possible.

As for the elections, Macron said he had consulted scientists and other experts who were of the opinion that “there is nothing to prevent the French, even the most vulnerable, from going to the ballot box.”

The French president said Europe will have to react “fast, and strongly” to “relaunch” the economy in the wake of the epidemic, adding that any steps to close borders will have to be jointly decided “at the European level”.

He said the measures against the virus were needed so that “we continue to win time against this epidemic” which he emphasised “has no passport”.

AFP

Police Arrest Woman For Leaking Sex Tape Of Macron’s Friend

France’s President Emmanuel Macron speaks in central London on December 3, 2019.  AFP

 

French police held a Russian activist and his girlfriend for questioning on Sunday over a sex tape released online that brought down President Emmanuel Macron’s favoured candidate for Paris mayor.

Pyotr Pavlensky has said he leaked the video that forced the centrist ruling party’s Benjamin Griveaux to bow out of the running for mayor in next month’s election.

The 35-year-old artist, who received asylum in France in 2017 after several radical protests in Russia, was arrested on Saturday in connection with a fight at a New Year’s party.

On Sunday, however, police turned their attention to the images posted online this week of a man presented as Griveaux masturbating, coupled with racy text messages purportedly sent by the politician.

The video prompted Griveaux, a married father of two, to call off his mayoral campaign, citing the need to protect his family from scandal.

Pavlensky’s girlfriend Alexandra de Taddeo, believed to have been the recipient of the video, was arrested on Saturday evening on charges of invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent.

The 29-year-old Frenchwoman was being questioned on Sunday at the headquarters of the criminal police in Paris.

On Friday, Pavlensky told AFP that he had posted the footage online in order to expose the “hypocrisy” of 42-year-old Griveaux and planned to post more material on a newly created “political porn platform”.

Griveaux “is someone who constantly brings up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites his wife and children as an example. But he is doing the opposite,” Pavlensky told France’s Liberation daily.

Griveaux’s lawyer, Richard Malka, hit back on Sunday, accusing “pseudo artists” of giving “morality lessons”.

Former government spokesman Griveaux is the first senior French politician to pull out of a campaign over a sex scandal, marking a turning point in the country’s traditionally permissive attitudes towards politicians’ private lives.

French media and politicians from across the spectrum have portrayed the 42-year-old, who has filed a formal complaint for invasion of privacy, as a victim.

“Everyone has the right to their secret garden,” the speaker of the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Malka hinted at a political set-up, saying he suspected Pavlensky “did not act alone”.

 Scramble to find a successor 

Griveaux’s fall has left Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party scrambling to find a replacement candidate for the job of Paris mayor a month before the vote.

Griveaux’s campaign had already been in trouble before the sex tape emerged, dragged down by a rebel candidacy from fellow Macron supporter and star mathematician Cedric Villani.

Recent polls had placed the official LREM candidate third, behind incumbent Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, and conservative candidate Rachida Dati.

Among the names floated as possible replacements for him include Health Minister Agnes Buzyn and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

Deputy Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said the new candidate would be announced on Sunday evening.

Raging against ‘apathy’ 

Pavlensky has a track record of causing outrage.

In 2013, he nailed his scrotum to Red Square to protest against the “apathy and political indifference” of Russian society.

Two years later, he doused the doors of the FSB secret police headquarters with petrol and set them on fire.

In October 2017, he set fire to the offices of the Bank of France on Place Bastille, site of the attack on an infamous prison at the start of the French revolution in 1789.

He was given a short jail sentence over that incident.

The December 31 incident, over which he was arrested on Saturday, involved a fight at a New Year’s Eve party in Paris which he is accused of pulling a knife.

Two guests at party suffered knife wounds, according to the Mediapart investigative website

France President, Wife Escape Frustrated Protesters

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife were rushed from a Paris theatre late Friday after protesters tried to burst in and disrupt the performance.

Riot police were out in force as dozens of people staged a demonstration outside the theatre where Macron and Brigitte were watching “The Fly”.

About 30 protesters tried to enter the building housing the renowned Bouffes du Nord theatre after some people in the audience tweeted the presence of France’s first couple, presidential staff said.

The pair “were secured” for several minutes and later returned to their seats to finish watching the play, they said.

Police said they prevented the protesters from getting into the theatre in the 10th district of Paris, which lies several kilometres from the president’s Elysee Palace’s residence.

The Macrons, who occasionally slip out to enjoy a dinner or play in the French capital, finally left the theatre under police escort.

“All together, general strike,” protesters shouted during the stand-off with riot police that lasted around an hour.

The demonstration took place on the 44th day of a crippling strike against the Macron government’s proposed pension reforms.

Though it is now easing, the strike has snarled train and metro traffic and caused misery for millions of commuters in Paris especially.

Macron’s staff were defiant after Friday’s events.

“The president will continue to attend plays as he is used to doing. He will watch out to defend creative freedom to ensure it is not undermined by violent political acts,” a Macron aide said.

Making few public appearances for weeks, Macron last mixed with the crowds when he visited the northern city of Amiens in November before his retirement reforms were announced.

The overhaul aims to forge a single pensions system from the country’s 42 separate regimes, which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector workers as well as lawyers, physical therapists and even Paris Opera employees.

Critics say it will effectively force millions of people to work longer for a smaller pension.

 

AFP

Christmas Plans In Jeopardy As Strike Continues In France

A commuter stands on a platform at Gare Montparnasse in Paris on December 11, 2019 during a strike of public transports operator SNCF and RATP employees over French government’s plan to overhaul the country’s retirement system, as part of a national strike. Alain JOCARD / AFP

 

French commuters gritted their teeth on the ninth day of a crippling public transport strike Friday, pinning their hopes for an end to the daily misery on the government’s offer of fresh negotiations with unions over a contested pensions overhaul.

Many travellers are reconsidering their holiday travel plans as unions stood united in their opposition to the government’s plans to fuse the country’s 42 pension schemes into a single, points-based system.

“It is very complicated,” 23-year-old child carer Elsa told AFP at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station, complaining of the overcrowded trains. Every day since the strike started, she has had to get up early to not miss her train into town, then walk a long way to work.

“If this (the strike) goes on, I will have to keep doing this. It is exhausting, but I have no choice. Not all work can be done from home.”

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe this week angered even the moderate CFDT union by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a so-called “pivot age” of 64 — a “red line” for unions.

They called for new mass demonstrations for Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France’s notoriously militant unions, which have vowed to continue fighting through the holidays if necessary.

Philippe said Thursday that he would call union leaders to “quickly resume the dialogue” and proposed talks “as soon as possible next week.”

“My door is open and my hand outstretched,” Philippe said on Twitter.

President Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken little about a centrepiece of his far-ranging reform drive for France, told reporters in Brussels Thursday that “now is the time for consultations.”

But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned that “There won’t be any Christmas truce” unless the government drops the plan entirely.

The reform will scrap early retirement and other benefits for mainly public-sector workers — particularly those at state rail operator SNCF and the Paris public transport group RATP.

France divided

A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe’s plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.

But 54 percent rejected the mooted “pivot age” of 64 for a full pension, it found, and 54 percent supported the protest even as patience wore thin on Paris’ overfull public transport lines and in the jam-packed streets where pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, bikes and scooters jostled for space.

In Paris, eight of the 16 metro lines were shut down completely Friday and six were offering interrupted service, according to the RATP.

The city’s bus service was again severely disrupted, and the number of trains connecting Paris to its suburbs was slashed, as was the national train service.

Staff at four of France’s eight oil refineries were on strike, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.

The strike has affected international travel and the bottom lines of hotels, restaurants and shops, mainly in Paris, where theatre and opera performances have been cancelled, and museums have had to close some exhibits.

On Thursday, several thousand people marched in Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon and other cities, as strikers blocked major ports.

A week earlier, some 800,000 people hit the streets across France to kick off the pension reform mass resistance, followed by some 339,000 on Tuesday.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when weeks of rail strikes forced the government of then-president Jacques Chirac to withdraw a pension reform.

Macron’s government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.

The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.

 

AFP

NATO’s 70th Birthday Overshadowed By Top-Level Feuding

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gives a press conference on the eve of a NATO summit in London at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) headquarters in Brussels on November 29, 2019
JOHN THYS / AFP

 

NATO marks its 70th birthday at a summit next week but the celebration could well turn into an arena of political combat between the alliance’s feuding leaders.

Heads of state and government will descend on London Tuesday bracing for a scrap overspending and how to deal with Russia, in a huge test of unity within NATO — billed by its own officials as the “most successful alliance in history”.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused European countries of failing to pay their way and will be looking for evidence they are stepping up defence spending.

France’s Emmanuel Macron has despaired of the club’s strategic direction, saying it is suffering “brain death” — riling other leaders and drawing a rare public rebuke from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

READ ALSO: Three Wounded In The Hague Stabbing Attack

And, on Friday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, furious at Western criticism of his operation in northern Syria against the Kurds, hit back with a personal attack on Macron.

“First of all, have your own brain death checked. These statements are suitable only to people like you who are in a state of brain death,” Erdogan declared Friday.

In a televised speech, Erdogan said he would “say this at NATO”.

French officials summoned the Turkish envoy in Paris to complain while a US administration official said that many members would tackle Turkey over its purchase of a Russian S-400 air defence system.

This combustible line-up is dropping into a Britain gripped by a frenetic national election campaign, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s friendship with Trump under attack from opposition parties.

Personal duels aside, the NATO summit agenda is pretty thin. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is hoping simply to get the leaders to sign off on decisions already taken.

Last year’s NATO summit in Brussels went off the rails when Trump launched a tirade at Merkel during a televised breakfast meeting.

The week before this summit has seen a stage-managed series of spending announcements, all designed to send what one diplomat called a “political signal” to appease Trump.

‘Trump Is Right’

Stoltenberg was at pains to point out on Friday that non-US defence spending has grown for four straight years and is on course to hit $130 billion next year.

A Trump administration official expected 18 of the 29 members to meet the alliance’s two per cent target by 2024.

Stoltenberg said Trump was right about Europe and Canada needs to spend more, but not “to please President Trump”.

“They should invest in defence because we are facing new challenges, our security environment has become more dangerous,” he told reporters.

Stoltenberg is attempting to mollify Trump ahead of the summit by talking up a billion-dollar contract with US planemaker Boeing to upgrade the organisation’s reconnaissance planes.

NATO members have also agreed to lower the cap on US contributions to the alliance’s relatively small $2.5 billion operating budget, meaning Germany and other European countries — but not France — will pay more.

But such measures are a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of billions of dollars Europeans would have to spend to meet their promise to spend two percent of their national GDPs on defence.

In 2014, the allies promised to meet this goal within a decade. But this week Merkel admitted that economic powerhouse Germany would not hit this sum before “the early 2030s”.

Stoltenberg insists Trump’s tone towards NATO has been more positive of late, and a senior US administration official said Friday Trump’s spending campaign had been “spectacularly successful.”

‘Still Working Out What He Wants’

But Macron’s broadside to an Economist interview earlier this month took many by surprise.

The French leader stood by his remarks after talks with Stoltenberg, saying NATO was failing to address relations with Russia and what do to about Turkey.

Macron’s forthright comments have drawn sharp public criticism, both from Germany and from eastern European NATO countries that feel threatened by Russia.

An official from Macron’s office told reporters that NATO lacks political direction and relies too much on the US.

“We can’t sweep debates under the carpet because we’re afraid the Americans will disengage further” he added.

A Trump administration official on Friday dismissed the “brain death” comments, saying “President Macron is still kind of working out what he wants out of the group”.

The official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Trump will tell the NATO summit that China and Russia remain major challenges.

“China above all,” the official added.

Tomas Valasek, a former Slovak ambassador to NATO, said even if there was merit in opening debate, Macron had overstepped the mark.

“NATO leaders have a responsibility that thinks tankers don’t,” said Valasek, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe thinktank.

“If you run one of the nuclear powers and in some ways the most powerful military in Europe you don’t want to feed the perception of NATO disunity and I’m afraid that’s what he’s done.”

At the London summit, leaders will consider separate French and German proposals for expert committees to mull how NATO can improve its strategic thinking.

Stoltenberg last week welcomed the German plan to create a group of experts — chaired by Stoltenberg himself — but was cool on the French plan.

No formal statement by all 29 leaders will be issued. Instead, there will be a “short declaration on the ‘success story of NATO'”, a diplomat said.

AFP

Macron Defends ‘Wake-Up Call’ For NATO After Talks With Chief

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shake hands after giving a press conference and holding a meeting at the Elysee palace in Paris on November 28, 2019.
Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday stood by his claim that NATO is suffering “brain death” with no strategic cooperation among members, after talks with alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg ahead of a high-stakes meeting outside London next week.

“I totally stand by raising these ambiguities because I believe it was irresponsible of us to keep talking about financial and technical matters given the stakes we currently face,” Macron said at a joint news conference after the talks.

“A wake-up call was necessary,” he said, regarding NATO’s failure to address pressing challenges such as relations with Russia, the subject of Turkey, or even “who is the enemy?”

It is no longer Russia or China, Macron said: “Our common enemy… is the terrorism which has struck us all.”

Macron’s “brain death” comment, published in an interview with the Economist magazine this month, drew sharp criticism from allies, not least Stoltenberg, who warned against undermining the transatlantic alliance.

Stoltenberg said Thursday that “in uncertain times, we need strong multilateral institutions like NATO,” and that he had “good and open discussions” with Macron.

He praised, in particular, France’s role in fighting the spread of Islamic terrorism in the Sahel region of Western Africa, where 13 French soldiers were killed this week when two of their helicopters collided in Mali.

Call For Help In Sahel

Macron said that at next week’s NATO meeting in Watford, northwest of London, he would urge allies to get more involved in the Sahel fight.

While Britain has provided helicopters and security personnel to help France’s 4,500-member Barkhane force in West Africa, and the US provides intelligence support, Paris has so far failed to persuade other allies to make a significant contribution.

Underscoring that France’s forces were acting “on behalf of everyone”, Macron said: “A bigger engagement by the allies is obviously something that would be quite positive.”

Speaking later to Europe 1 radio Stoltenberg said that if Macron requested NATO’s help the alliance would consider the appeal “very seriously”.

Macron on Thursday also defended his push for a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, rebuffing charges of naivety.

“Has the absence of dialogue with Russia made the European continent safer?… I don’t think so,” he argued.

In a controversial move, he suggested talks with Moscow over its call for a moratorium on deploying mid-range nuclear missiles in Europe.

The proposal came after the US walked away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia earlier this year.

NATO diplomats have voiced concern about even considering Russia’s request to freeze the status quo, pointing out that it would give Moscow, which has already deployed the missiles, a military advantage over NATO, which has not.

Macron said he merely considered Moscow’s request as a “basis for discussions”.

The French president, who wants to wean Europe off its military dependence on the US, also insisted that European countries be involved in any efforts to forge a new missiles pact.

Turkey Reprimanded

A combative Macron also again took aim at Turkey over its unilateral decision to attack the Western-backed Kurdish militia that had been leading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.

“I respect the security interests of our Turkish ally, which has suffered numerous attacks on its soil,” Macron said.

“But you cannot, on the one hand, say we are allies and demand solidarity in that regard and on the other hand present your allies with the fait accompli of a military operation that endangers the actions of the anti-IS coalition of which NATO is a member.”

The comments set the stage for a possibly fractious NATO summit in London on December 3-4, which will be attended by US and Turkish presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last year’s gathering got off to a stormy start, with Trump calling Germany a “captive” of Russia and demanding that NATO members double their defence spending.

Fresh tensions appeared within the alliance this year, after Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw US troops from northeast Syria, a move that cleared the way for Turkey to attack the Kurdish forces.

Trump, in turn, has repeatedly accused European NATO members of freeloading on the US by falling short of their commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence.

Stoltenberg confirmed that Washington would cut its funding to the alliance’s operating budget to 16 percent of the total from 22 percent, with Germany and other nations taking up the slack.

Macron was dismissive of the budget debate.

“If some people want to see an example of what they term ‘cost-sharing’, they can come Monday to the ceremony France is organising” for the 13 soldiers killed in a midair helicopter collision while fighting insurgents in Mali, he said.

“There they will see the cost.”

Macron Asks Turkey To End Syria Offensive

French President Emmanuel Macron holds a press conference at the end of the Global Fund meeting to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria on october 10, 2019, in Lyon, central eastern France.  Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged Turkey to immediately end its offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, saying it risked boosting Islamic State (IS) extremists.

“I condemn vehemently the unilateral military offensive in Syria and I urge Turkey to put an end to it as quickly as possible,” Macron told reporters in the French city of Lyon.

“Turkey is today forgetting that the priority of the international community in Syria is the fight against Daesh and terrorism,” he said, using an alternative name for IS.

“It is creating a humanitarian risk for millions of people.”

Turkey risks “helping Daesh to rebuild its caliphate. And this responsibility is the responsibility of Turkey alone in front of the rest of the international community,” Macron said.

He was also asked to respond to a threat earlier Thursday by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send millions of refugees in Turkey to Europe if the EU criticised the operation.

But an angry-looking Macron said that beyond his comments “I have nothing more to say on the subject”.

French officials have already been bitterly critical of the Turkish operation with Turkish ambassador Ismail Hakki Musa summoned to the foreign ministry in Paris on Thursday.

Turkey’s intervention has sparked international anger, raising fears of a new refugee crisis in northern Syria and concern that thousands of jihadists being held in Syrian Kurdish prisons could use the opportunity to escape.

The Turkish military, supported by Syrian proxies, launched the offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, despite widespread international warnings.

After an initial phase of air strikes and artillery fire, troops moved across the border and attacked some of the key towns in the area.