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.

Macron Vows To Fight Terrorism After Police Killings

 

French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday vowed an “unrelenting fight” against Islamist extremists at a memorial ceremony for four Paris police staff stabbed to death last week by a colleague who had converted to a radical version of Islam.

Mickael Harpon, a 45-year-old computer expert in the police intelligence-gathering department, used a kitchen knife and an oyster shucker to kill one female and three male colleagues in a 30-minute rampage that ended when an officer shot him dead.

“We will wage an unrelenting fight in the face of Islamist terrorism,” Macron said at the ceremony at police headquarters, where the attack took place.

The killings in the police’s inner sanctum have shocked France, where the government is being pressed to explain how Harpon’s radicalisation had failed to raise red flags.

Macron said it was “inconceivable and unacceptable” that Harpon, who had worked for the police since 2003, had managed to carry out an attack “in the very place where we pursue terrorists and criminals”.

He blamed the attack on “a distorted, deadly Islam” which he vowed to “eradicate” and to build in France a “society in a state of vigilance”.

He called on all of France to unify and act in order to overcome what he termed the “Islamist hydra”, referring to a multi-headed serpent of Greek mythology.

But he also warned against lapsing into a climate of permanent suspicion, emphasising: “This is not a fight against a religion but against the distortion of it which leads to terrorism.”

Thursday’s bloodshed — the first deadly attack in France in 10 months — brought to 255 the number of people killed in a string of assaults blamed on, or claimed by Islamist radicals, mainly the Islamic State group, since 2015.

The security forces have regularly been targeted.

In one of the grisliest attacks, a police couple were stabbed to death in front of their three-year-old son at their home near Paris by a man claiming allegiance to IS, who broadcast the attack live on Facebook.

 Propaganda videos 

Harpon, a father of two, had converted to Islam about 10 years ago and adopted increasingly radical beliefs.

He had been in close contact with a hardline Salafist imam in the months before his rampage last week, according to investigators.

His wife was released from custody on Sunday after three days of questioning.

Le Parisien newspaper reported Tuesday that a USB key containing details on dozens of his police colleagues had been found among his possessions.

The paper, citing sources close to the inquiry, said it was not clear if Harpon had gathered the data as part of his job or had surreptitiously extracted it, nor whether he had shared it with others.

The key also contained several IS propaganda videos, it added.

Police told BFM TV that 160 investigators have been dedicated to combing through data captured on Harpon’s computers.

The four victims of the attack — Damien Ernest, Anthony Lancelot, Aurelia Trifiro and Brice Le Mescam — were on Tuesday posthumously awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest military and civilian award.

Ernest, a father of two with 28 years of service, had been planning to get married to his long-time partner, Macron said.

The coffins of the four, which were draped in French flags, were borne into the courtyard of the building by fellow officers.

 Interior minister under fire 

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has faced opposition calls for his resignation after initially claiming that Harpon never gave the “slightest reason for alarm” before going on the rampage.

On Tuesday, the minister appeared before a parliamentary committee, where he conceded there had been a “malfunction” in not reporting signals of Harpon’s seeming radicalisation.

He will also be questioned by a Senate panel on Thursday as to why Harpon, who told colleagues that the 12 people killed in the 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper “deserved it”, did not set off alarm bells.

Parliament speaker Richard Ferrand on Tuesday announced a commission of inquiry into the attack.

And the interior ministry has set up a dedicated cell to track potential Islamist radicals within the ranks of the security forces.

Le Parisien reported Tuesday that 19 interior ministry employees were under surveillance.

AFP

Google Can’t Escape Copyright Laws – Macron

 

Google cannot escape French law obliging the US online giant to pay royalties to media outlets for displaying their articles, pictures and videos in search results, French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday.

Google routinely shows extracts of news articles or small “thumbnail” images in its results and on Google News, without paying the publishers.

A new EU rule, which France is the first to implement, requires internet companies to pay for such content.

Google has baulked, saying it will not use the content in search results unless publishers make it available for free.

But Macron criticised Google’s operations in France and Germany and said that “the desire of an operator today is not to pay the newspaper, not to pay the journalists”.

“A company, even a very large company, can not get away with it when it decides to operate in France,” the French president insisted, during a visit to mark the centenary of the La Montagne newspaper in the city of Clermont-Ferrand in central France.

“We are going to start implementing the law,” he said.

The new European legislation, which comes into force on October 24, seeks to ensure media firms are paid for original content displayed by Google, Facebook and other technology giants which dominate the online advertising market.

The new rules create “neighbouring rights” to ensure a form of copyright protection — and compensation — for media firms when their content is used on websites such as search engines.

However, on September 25, Google said it had no intention of paying European media outlets.

“It’s up to the publishers to decide how they promote their content,” Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president in charge of news, told journalists in Paris then, after meeting French Culture Minister Franck Riester.

At Google, he added, “we don’t pay for links to be included in search results” because “it would undermine the trust of users”.

Macron Hails Ukrainian Film-Maker Oleg Sentsov’s Release

French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday hailed Ukrainian director Oleg Senstov’s release by Russia as part of a landmark prisoner swap.

“I hail the release of film-maker Oleg Sentsov under a prisoner exchange conducted today between Russia and Ukraine. We have always been by his side,” he said in a tweet.

AFP

Amazon Fire: Bolsonaro Open To G7 Aid If Macron ‘Withdraws Insults’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attend a meeting on the digital economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka.  Jacques Witt / POOL / AFPbolso

 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday he was open to discussing G7 aid for fighting fires in the Amazon if his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron “withdraws insults” made against him. 

Bolsonaro’s remarks come amid an escalating war of words with Macron over the worst fires in years that have sparked a global outcry and threatened to torpedo a huge trade deal between the European Union and South American countries.

Hours earlier, a top Brazilian official had rejected the G7 countries’ offer of $20 million to combat the fires devastating the forest in Brazil and Bolivia, saying Macron should take care of “his home and his colonies.”

“Mr Macron must withdraw the insults he made against me,” Bolsonaro told reporters in the capital Brasilia.

“To talk or accept anything from France, with the best possible intentions, he has to withdraw these words, and from there we can talk,” Bolsonaro said.

Macron on Monday condemned “extraordinarily rude” comments made about his wife Brigitte by Bolsonaro a day earlier.

Bolsonaro hit back, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like “a colony or no-man’s land.”

The latest official figures show 1,659 new fires were started in Brazil between Sunday and Monday, taking the total this year to 82,285 — the highest since at least 2013 — even as military aircraft and troops help battle the blazes.

More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.

In the hard-hit northwestern state of Rondonia, thick smoke has choked the capital Porto Velho in recent days as fires blacken swaths of the rainforest.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva on Monday claimed that the fires were “under control.”

“It has been exaggerated a little that the situation was out of control — it wasn’t,” he said. “The situation isn’t simple but it is under control.”

Although about 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also spreads over parts of eight other countries or territories, including the French overseas territory of Guiana on the continent’s northeast coast.

Bolsonaro — a climate-change skeptic — has faced criticism at home over his delayed response to the fires and thousands have protested in Brazil in recent days to denounce the destruction.

Bestselling Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, meanwhile, took to the internet to apologize — in French — for Bolsonaro’s behavior.

“This is a rather sad video to ask forgiveness of my French friends for the crisis — I would even say the hysteria of Bolsonaro regarding France, the French president, the French president’s wife,” he said in a message posted on Twitter.

“As Amazonia burns, they have no argument except to insult, deny, say anything to avoid taking responsibility,” he added.

AFP

Macron Condemns ‘Extraordinarily Rude’ Bolsonaro Insults

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attend a meeting on the digital economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka. Jacques Witt / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday condemned “extraordinarily rude” comments made about his wife Brigitte by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“He has made some extraordinarily rude comments about my wife,” Macron told a press conference when asked to react to statements about him by the Brazilian government.

“What can I say? It’s sad. It’s sad for him firstly, and for Brazilians,” he added.

On Sunday, a Bolsonaro supporter posted a message on Facebook mocking the appearance of Brigitte Macron and comparing her unfavourably with Brazil’s first lady Michelle Bolsonaro.

“Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?” he wrote next to an unflattering picture of Brigitte Macron, 65, who is 28 years older than Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle.

Bolsonaro replied on Facebook: “Do not humiliate the guy, ha ha.”

“I think Brazilian women will probably be ashamed to read that from their president,” Macron said. “I think that Brazilians, who are a great people, will probably be ashamed to see this behaviour…

“And as I feel friendship and respect towards the Brazilian people, I hope that they will very soon have a president who behaves in the right way.”

AFP

Macron, Johnson Meet In France Over Brexit

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he delivers a speech to the press next to French President Emmanuel Macron (R) reacting prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on August 22, 2019.  GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP

 

French leader Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of a month of further talks to find a solution to Brexit while ruling out major compromises as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks on Thursday.

Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Macron supported allowing another 30 days to find a solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border which has bedevilled negotiations since 2017.

“We need to try to have a useful month,” Macron said alongside Johnson who insisted that solutions were “readily available” to prevent checkpoints returning in divided Ireland.

But Macron, who admitted he had a reputation as the “hardest in the gang” on Brexit, has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement for Ireland negotiated between the EU and former British premier Theresa May.

At stake is the so-called “backstop”, which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of Britain.

Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.

“The technical solutions are readily available (to avoid checkpoints) and they have been discussed at great length,” Johnson said. “You can have trusted trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing.”

The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints which could lead to a return of fighting on the divided island where anti-British violence has claimed thousands of lives.

“I want to be very clear. In the coming month, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the fundamentals,” Macron said at the Elysee palace in central Paris.

Since Johnson’s ascent to power last month, the chances of a “no-deal” Brexit on October 31 have risen, which economists see as likely to wreak economic damage on Britain and the EU.

“The EU and member states need to take the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome much more seriously than before,” a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels on Thursday on condition of anonymity.

A French official said on Wednesday that this was becoming the “most likely” scenario.

Glimmer of hope? 

The Paris visit was the second leg of Johnson’s first foreign trip as prime minister.

On Wednesday, he was in Berlin for talks with Merkel who appeared to offer a glimmer of hope by saying Britain should try to find a breakthrough to the issue over the next month.

“I want a deal,” Johnson told Macron. “I think we can get a deal and a good deal.”

He added that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his talks with Merkel. “I admire that ‘can do’ spirit that she seemed to have.”

But many Brexit watchers see Merkel’s remarks as fitting a pattern in which she has often been more conciliatory in public about Brexit than Macron, whose abrasive remarks have caused anger in London in the past.

“There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues,” a senior aide to Macron said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The EU official in Brussels added that the EU was “a little concerned based on what we heard yesterday (in Berlin).”

“We are waiting for new facts, workable ideas,” the official added.

 Blame game 

Johnson, who has deployed his French language skills to charm diplomats in Paris before, has staked his leadership on withdrawing Britain from the EU by the current deadline of October 31  — “do or die”.

Some analysts see a risk of relations between Macron and Johnson becoming stormy in public, which could lead to a blame game about a “no-deal” Brexit.

Johnson reportedly once called the French “turds” over their stance on Brexit during his time as foreign secretary — remarks he later said he could not recall.

But Macron pre-empted any attempt to deflect blame onto the European side during a press conference on Wednesday before Johnson’s arrival.

“It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” he said.

Article 50 is the legal mechanism used by EU members states to withdraw from the bloc which was triggered by Britain in March 2017.

At the weekend, Macron, Merkel and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.

AFP

Macron To Meet India PM Modi Over Kashmir

French President Emmanuel Macron/ AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will discuss tensions in the divided region of Kashmir with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two meet in Paris this week, a French official said on Tuesday.

The two leaders are set to sit down for a working dinner at the Chateau de Chantilly outside Paris on Thursday ahead of a G7 summit in France this weekend, to which Modi has been invited.

“Of course it (Kashmir) will be on the agenda,” the French diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “We have a strategic partnership with India, that means having confidence in each other. We are not going to be aggressive towards India, but we expect the Indian prime minister to explain how he sees things.”

On August 5, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government scrapped the autonomy of Indian-controlled Kashmir, a divided Muslim-majority region that has enjoyed special status in the Indian constitution since the country’s independence in 1947.

The move has enraged many Kashmiris and led to tensions with nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan, which also claims the region.

India resents any outside interference in Kashmir and its Western allies have historically avoided taking public positions on the dispute, despite allegations of human rights abuses there.

The French diplomat recalled France’s position that Pakistan and India should resolve their differences between themselves and that both sides should avoid raising tensions.

Modi has been invited to this weekend’s Group of Seven meetings of major economic powers in Biarritz and is seen by France as a crucial ally in the fight against climate change.

Macron is hoping the newly re-elected Indian leader will announce new pledges to curb Indian carbon emissions and will also sign up to a coalition of countries to tackle pollution from so-called HFC gases used in refrigerators and air-conditioning.

AFP