Macron To Host Africa ‘Summit’ Without Leaders

French President Emmanuel Macron attends the One Planet Summit videoconference meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on October 4, 2021.  (Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP)

 

President Emmanuel Macron will host a conference on Africa on Friday billed as a summit but with no other leaders attending, as he aims to readjust France’s relationship with the continent.

Instead of other heads of state and premiers, Macron is inviting hundreds of young businesspeople, artists, and sporting figures to the southern city of Montpellier.

The aim is “to listen to the words of African youth” and “to leave behind obsolete formulas and frameworks”, said a French presidential official who asked not to be named.

The meeting comes at a delicate moment between France and many of its former colonies in French-speaking Africa, as a row rumbles on over a decision to cut visas to citizens of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Algeria recalled its ambassador after Macron reportedly said the country was ruled by a “political-military system”, while tensions have erupted between France and Mali over plans to deploy Russian mercenaries as part of an anti-jihadist fight.

The new format hints at the frustration felt by France, which has held summits with African leaders since 1973, with the political leadership of some countries.

Roughly 3,000 participants including more than 1,000 young people are expected in Montpellier for discussions on economic, cultural, and political issues.

Macron is set to debate with a panel of young people chosen after months of dialogue led by the Cameroon intellectual Achille Mbembe, who is in charge of preparing the meeting.

“Subjects that cause anger will be on the table,” the French presidential official said, adding that “the current political context makes the discussion particularly sensitive”.

French officials are promising concrete proposals from a report that Mbembe is to submit to Macron on Tuesday.

 

‘Symbolic Gestures’

Macron vowed in a November 2017 speech in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou to take a new approach to Africa, where France would no longer tell Africans what to do.

He has also made a point of reaching out to English-speaking Africa to build sway beyond France’s former colonial possessions.

On Thursday, Macron will meet in Paris with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, still a hugely influential figure on the continent.

Since the 2017 speech, cultural artefacts pillaged from Benin have been returned and the abolition of the CFA franc, a currency once used in several countries but guaranteed by France, has been abolished.

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by Macron acknowledged France’s “overwhelming responsibilities” over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, an issue that has poisoned relations between Paris and Kigali.

“Since the speech in Ouagadougou, the lines have moved symbolically, there have been important gestures,” said Amadou Sadjo Barry, a Canadian philosopher of Guinean origin.

“But in terms of foreign policy, we cannot speak of major changes,” he told AFP.

France remains more than ready to tolerate autocratic regimes, quickly accepting the handover of power from Chad’s president Idriss Deby Itno to his son in April.

While the Montpellier format may help bring some new life into France-Africa relations, Barry described the meeting as “a symbolic defeat for Africa”.

“Why is it still that the human, political and economic future of the African continent is being discussed in France? Why don’t African governments themselves listen to the concerns of their populations,” he asked.

AFP

Macron Calls National Security Meeting To Discuss Pegasus Spyware

 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has called an urgent national security meeting for Thursday to discuss the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware after reports about its use in France emerged this week, a government spokesman said. 

“The president is following this subject closely and takes it very seriously,” Gabriel Attal told France Inter radio, adding that the unscheduled national security meeting would be “dedicated to the Pegasus issue and the question of cybersecurity”.

A consortium of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and France’s Le Monde, reported on Tuesday that one of Macron’s phone numbers and those of many cabinet ministers were on a leaked list of potential Pegasus targets.

The newspapers said they had been unable to confirm whether an attempted or successful hacking had taken place without forensically analysing the president’s phone.

Evidence of an attempted hacking was found on the device of former environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy, with the attempt allegedly originating in Morocco.

De Rugy demanded on Tuesday that Morocco provide “explanations to France, to the French government and individuals like me, who was a member of the French government when there was an attempt to hack and access the data on my mobile phone.”

The NSO Group has denied that Macron was among the targets of its clients.

We can “specifically come out and say for sure that the president of France, Macron, was not a target”, Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer at NSO Group, told Israeli television network i24 on Wednesday.

A source close to Macron played down the risk to him, saying Wednesday that the 43-year-old leader had several phones which were “regularly changed, updated and secured”.

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, the source said that his security settings were “the tightest possible”.

Other revelations this week have alleged that close French ally Morocco, also targeted several high-profile journalists in France.

Prosecutors in Paris have opened a probe following complaints from investigative website Mediapart and the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine.

Morocco has denied the claims, saying it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices”.

The joint media investigation into Pegasus identified at least 180 journalists in 20 countries who were selected for potential targeting between 2016 to June 2021.

Pegasus can hack into mobile phones without a user knowing, enabling clients to read every message, track a user’s location and tap into the phone’s camera and microphone.

France To Legalise IVF For Lesbians After Two-Year Debate

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists at the Hospitality school in Tain l’Hermitage on June 8, 2021, during a visit in the French southeastern department of Drôme, the second stage of a nationwide tour ahead of next year’s presidential election. A bystander slapped Emmanuel Macron across the face during a trip to southeast France on June 8 on the second stop of a nation-wide tour.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

 

 

Lesbian couples and single women in France are set to celebrate a milestone on Tuesday when parliament finally passes a bill giving them access to fertility treatment for the first time.

Under current French law, only heterosexual couples have the right to access medically assisted procreation methods such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Lesbian couples and single women who want children have to travel abroad for IVF using donor sperm.

That is set to change under the new legislation introduced by President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which the National Assembly will vote on after two years of often acrimonious debate.

The reform will bring France in line with several European countries, including Belgium and Spain, currently two of the top destinations for French lesbian couples and single women looking for help to conceive.

The Inter-LGBT association said it would welcome the change, which it described as a “forceps birth” after years of foot-dragging by Macron and his Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande.

– Protests fizzle –
While campaigning for president in 2017 Macron said he was “favourable” to extending fertility treatment to lesbian and single women.

But once elected, the centrist leader repeatedly put off changing the law, mindful of the mass protests triggered by a gay marriage bill in 2013 that caught Hollande’s government off guard.

However, public opinion this time is squarely behind the move.

A recent Ifop poll suggested 67 percent of French people supported the measure.

Calls for protests by the largely Catholic anti-gay marriage movement yielded only a tepid response.

Under the proposed law, which was first ratified by the National Assembly in October 2019 but then held up in the Senate, France’s healthcare system will cover the cost of fertility procedures for all women under 43.

The right-wing Republicans party, which has a majority in the Senate and which opposed the bill, introduced hundreds of amendments before sending the text back to the assembly for Tuesday’s final vote.

Give the dominance of Macron’s Republic on the Move party and its allies in the lower house, the ballot is seen as a mere formality.

The legislation addresses several issues arising out of the massive increase in the use of fertility treatment in recent years.

It allows children conceived with donor sperm to learn the donor’s identity when they become adults, ending the anonymity that donors in France have been guaranteed until now.

And it allows women in their thirties to freeze their eggs — a procedure currently available only to women undergoing treatment for conditions that could impact their fertility, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer.

But it stops short at legalising surrogacy, a practice used by some gay couples to have children that is still widely rejected in France.

Man Who Slapped Macron Risks Jail At Court Hearing

France’s Macron slapped in the face during a visit to a small town.

 

 

A 28-year-old medieval history enthusiast who slapped French President Emmanuel Macron risks up to three years in jail when he appears in court for the first time on Thursday, having told investigators he acted “without thinking”.

The man, named as Damien T., has been in custody since the incident on Tuesday and is expected to be convicted of assaulting a public figure when he appears before a magistrate in the southern town of Valence.

The charge carries a maximum three-year jail sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros ($55,000), although the court will take into account the defendant’s clean criminal record and any expression of remorse.

“He contends that he acted instinctively and ‘without thinking’ to express his annoyance,” a statement from the local prosecutor’s office said late on Wednesday.

Damien T., described by friends as usually shy and placid, also told investigators that he sympathised with anti-government “yellow vest” protesters and leaned to the right/far-right in his political views, but had no party affiliation.

The long-haired resident of the village of Saint-Villier, who has no fixed profession, is passionate about medieval history and martial arts and shouted an old royalist slogan as he struck the president.

His friend, named as Arthur C., was arrested at the same time on Tuesday having filmed the slap, but will not be charged over the incident, the prosecutor said.

Macron shrugged off the assault, calling it an “isolated event”, and he has vowed to continue meeting voters despite concerns for his personal security.

Leaders across the political spectrum have shown rare unity in condemning the incident, with many seeing it as a symptom of the fraught political climate and declining public debate just weeks from regional elections and 10 months from presidential polls.

Macron, 43, whose personal ratings have risen recently, is expected to seek a second term next year.

Polls show him holding a narrow lead over his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

What’s In A Slap? France Ponders Meaning Of Macron Assault

France’s Macron slapped in the face during visit to small town.

 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to continue greeting crowds during his travels despite being slapped in the face, sparking debate Wednesday about whether such walkabouts are wise in a fraught political climate and what the assault symbolised for the country.

Macron shrugged off being struck across the face on Tuesday in the village of Tain l’Hermitage, calling it an “isolated event”, and he defiantly fistbumped onlookers later in the day in the nearby town of Valence.

On Wednesday, he returned to work in the safety of the Elysee Palace in central Paris as politicians and experts sought to interpret an incident that has been condemned across the political spectrum.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire saw the slap as a symptom of “the long deterioration of public debate” while other commentators flagged the danger of new violent protests emerging.

Macron remains a highly divisive figure whose presidency was rocked by anti-government “yellow vest” protests in 2018-2019 which were driven in part by the former investment banker’s abrasive personality.

Veteran political commentator Pascal Perrineau saw “a sign of the return of extremely hot anger” which had been “frozen” by the Covid-19 pandemic of the last 15 months.

Pollsters were wary about trying to predict the electoral impact of a blow that Prime Minister Jean Castex equated to a strike against French democracy.

Violent crime is one of the chief concerns of French voters ahead of regional elections in a fortnight and presidential polls in April and May next year.

Macron is widely expected to seek a second term , with polls currently giving him a narrow lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen has warned that re-electing Macron would lead to “chaos”.

Other rivals, including right-winger Xavier Bertrand, have pitched themselves as better placed to unify the country.

But the assault could help Macron if voters credit him with personal bravery and a willingness to engage with voters — helping dispel criticism from opponents who paint him as aloof and arrogant.

“It’s an event that will leave a mark, but it’s difficult to say what it will be,” Bruno Jeanbart from the OpinionWay polling company told AFP.

– In custody –
Macron’s assailant, a 28-year-old man identified as Damien T., remained in police custody on Wednesday and is expected to be charged with assaulting a public figure, an offence that carries a maximum three-year prison term.

French media raked over his social media pages, looking for clues to the political sympathies of a man known mainly for his love of medieval martial arts and board games.

AFP noted he was a subscriber to several far-right YouTube channels.

Popular evening talkshow Le Quotidien aired footage of one of its journalists meeting Damien T. and friends earlier in the day on Tuesday.

One of the friends, who said he identified with the anarchist movement, explained that they had come to speak to Macron about the “decline of France”.

Police sources said that Damien T. had no criminal record and friends and acquaintances who spoke to AFP described him as a shy and placid character.

– Safety debate –
Macron has vowed to defy fears for his own safety and continue to meet-and-greet voters, despite the risk of encountering violent “yellow vest” protesters, or worse.

Islamic extremists have killed hundreds in France in a string of attacks since 2014 and Macron was personally targeted during demonstrations in Muslim countries last year over his defence of French secularism and the right to blaspheme.

“Obviously his trips are going to continue: the president will remain in contact with the French public,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

“It would be completely incomprehensible for people to be deprived of contact with the president because of an isolated individual who wanted to challenge” him, Attal added.

The centrist leader began a nationwide tour of France last week, promising to “take the pulse” of the country.

Experts noted that while French security services advise presidents on their safety they do not have the powers to prevent them from putting themselves in harm’s way.

“In the United States it’s the opposite: the Secret Service decides if a trip is seen as too dangerous and no one opposes them, not the people in charge of protocol or even the president,” Jean-Pierre Diot, a former member of France’s specialist VIP protection force, told Le Parisien newspaper.

“The Americans have a history of attacks,” he added, referring to the history of political assassinations in the United States.

Man Slaps French President Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists at the Hospitality school in Tain l’Hermitage on June 8, 2021, during a visit in the French southeastern department of Drôme, the second stage of a nationwide tour ahead of next year’s presidential election. 
PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face while greeting a crowd in southeast France on Tuesday, a security scare that drew widespread condemnation ahead of regional elections this month.

Video footage on social media showed Macron approach a barrier to meet and shake hands with voters, where a man in a green T-shirt took hold of his elbow and said a few words before slapping him.

Macron’s bodyguards quickly intervened and two people were detained afterward, local officials said.

“At around 1:15 pm (1115 GMT) the president got into his car after visiting a high school, but got back out because onlookers were calling to him,” the prefecture for the Drome region said.

“He went to meet them and that’s when the incident took place,” it said.

Two 28-year-old men living in the region are being questioned, the local prosecutor’s office said, but “at this stage of questioning, their motives remain unknown.”

The assault in the village of Tain-l’Hermitage in the Drome region sparked outrage across the political spectrum and overshadowed what Macron billed as a listening tour to “take the country’s pulse.”

“Politics can never be violence, verbal aggression, much less physical aggression,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told parliament, adding that “through the president, it is democracy that has been targeted.”

Macron continued his trip afterwards, said an aide, who described the incident as an “attempted slap” though video footage appeared to show the man making contact with the president’s face.

On the video of the incident, someone can be heard shouting “Down with Macronism!”

Election Tour

Macron, who remains a highly divisive figure, is widely expected to seek a second term in next year’s presidential elections and polls show him with a narrow lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

His latest nationwide tour includes around a dozen stops over the next two months, with the former investment banker keen to meet voters in person after more than a year of crisis management over the Covid-19 pandemic.

But previous meet-and-greet initiatives have seen the reformer verbally abused.

A 2018 tour to mark the centenary of the end of World War I saw scenes of furious citizens booing and heckling him.

It took place just as anti-government “yellow vest” protests were gathering momentum to denounce the government’s policies and the Macron personally for his leadership style, which was criticised as aloof and arrogant.

In July last year, Macron and his wife Brigitte were verbally abused by a group of protesters while taking an impromptu walk through the Tuileries gardens in central Paris on Bastille Day.

Condemnation

Shortly before being slapped, Macron was asked to comment on recent remarks from far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who suggested at the weekend that next year’s election would be manipulated.

“Democratic life needs calm and respect, from everyone, politicians as well as citizens,” Macron said.

In a rare moment of national unity, even his fiercest critics and political rivals came to his defence on Tuesday.

Melenchon said he stood “in solidarity with the president,” while Le Pen called the slap “unacceptable and profoundly reprehensible in a democracy.”

The slap is nevertheless likely to spur debate in France about a pernicious political climate just two weeks from the first round of regional elections and 10 months from the presidential contest next April.

“It’s tense everywhere,” ruling party MP Patrick Vignal commented. “This campaign stinks and it’s because of the personalities. No one is going to come out a winner.”

In 2011, right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy had a security scare in southwest France when he was grabbed violently by the shoulder by a 32-year-old local government employee.

Nigeria And France Should Strengthen Cooperation To Fight Boko Haram, Others – Buhari

 President Buhari with President Emmanuel Macron of France as he arrives Grand Palais Éphémère for the Plenary Session of the African Finance Summit in Paris, France on May 18, 2021. Bayo Omoboriowo/ State House
President Buhari with President Emmanuel Macron of France as he arrives Grand Palais Éphémère for the Plenary Session of the African Finance Summit in Paris, France on May 18, 2021. Bayo Omoboriowo/ State House

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday said France and Nigeria should deepen anti-terror cooperation to fight groups such as Boko Haram.

He made the remark in an article published in a leading Paris-based magazine, Le Point.

The President is currently in Paris to attend the African Finance Summit hosted by French President, Emmanuel Macron.

“Now Nigeria and France should deepen our anti-terror cooperations if we are to overcome this scourge – particularly in the aftermath of the murder of the late President of Chad,” President Buhari said.

“We must be agile and flexible, cooperating across our borders to cut the head off their groups.”

Read President Buhari’s full article below:

POST-COVID-19 PANDEMIC, NIGERIA AND FRANCE MUST SEIZE THE CHANCE TO STRENGTHEN MILITARY AND ECONOMIC TIES.

By Muhammadu Buhari, President, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Today, leaders from across Africa meet in Paris to discuss plans to recover from the impact of a common enemy – COVID-19. But for African nations from across the Sahel region and beyond, the issues are inseparable from the fight against another common enemy which is terrorism. And like the war against the Coronavirus, it is one we are fully united with France in our strong determination to overcome.

Across the world, conflict and Coronavirus have not been far apart. As governments have struggled to contain COVID, jihadists have taken advantage in the Sahel – the vast arid stretch of territory that lies between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorist incidents have become tragically common across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Around the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram terrorism have taken advantage of the pandemic and pushed back into my country Nigeria, whilst still launching raids and attacks in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.

We have seen more than once how Boko Haram – which in French means “l’éducation occidentale est un péché” – can regroup, morphing in form and tactics. A matter of only a few years ago, they were reduced to a territory-less group, where once they had controlled an area in Nigeria three times the size of Lebanon. It has demonstrated why pushing against one front can prove futile if groups can simply migrate to ponds of insecurity across porous borders. Yet as instability has spread, so the networks that sustain it have strengthened – whether that be weapons supply chains from Libya, ideological imports of Al-Qaeda and ISIS from the Middle East, or trafficking networks that take money from those escaping instability and feeds it back into the system that generates it.

Meanwhile the infection is spreading further afield and reaching into the heart of Europe and France is not being spared the malignant, with innocents murdered on its streets. In that context, our fate is linked. Hence Paris has been active in this common fight. The French Operation Barkhane has provided critical boots on the ground in shoring up security across our region. Though challenges remain, it has ensured a wide expanse of territory has not descended into lawless playground where terrorists masquerading as fighting for Islam groups can freely flourish and multiply. That assistance has been profoundly appreciated in the region.

Now Nigeria and France should deepen our anti-terror cooperations if we are to overcome this scourge – particularly in the aftermath of the murder of the late President of Chad. Where for historical ties, support came to Nigeria from the UK, and to the G5 from France, the terrorists do not recognise these border-aligned distinctions. We must be agile and flexible, cooperating cross our borders to cut the head off their groups.

Indeed, we have already done much to strengthen our bond. Intelligence sharing is well developed, along with training against improvised explosives. But there is more we can do in cross-border military exercises and coordinating strategy. At the same time, we know France has borne much of the strain for combating terrorism of the region, and we – the leaders of Sahel countries – must also do more to present a unified front to lobby other Western nations, particularly Great Britain and the United States and the European Union for further military and humanitarian assistance.

However, we know that military gains do not provide the whole solution. Without security, economic opportunity remains fragile. Without economic opportunity, the propensity for conflict grows. The solution must therefore be two pronged. If we do improve those conditions, it leaves our people vulnerable to indoctrination, as one is vulnerable to COVID-19 without a vaccine.

In the Sahel, crises converge. Traditionally, this vast arid land has been poorer than its Mediterranean neighbours to the north and fertile land to its South. Now, climate change and environmental degradation squeeze the region of water sources, draining opportunity and increasing competition amongst various groups for scarce resources. The fallout from Libya has flushed the whole region with weapons, making any disputes and competition far more destructive. And it is upon these conditions, the lies and propaganda of terrorists who falsely claim to be Islamists promising salvation can find an audience. Islam is a religion of peace.

To counteract these, we must focus on initiatives that sustainably spread opportunity far and wide across the Sahel. Transport links across the Sahel have become dilapidated, much of it still the remnants of the colonial era. For the region’s burgeoning young population, reinvigorating these links or building anew is critical. It allows for efficient allocation of labour; the movement of inputs such as seed, fertiliser or equipment to the areas that need it; and freight to take produce or extractives to market or value-add factories.

Now, as the world emerges from the pandemic, we have the chance to build back better. Though we always knew it, COVID-19 underlined how interconnected and interdependent the world is. With that shattering reminder, we can create a world with that idea at its forefront – one that provides security and opportunity for both of us.

President Buhari To Depart For Paris On Sunday

FILE: President Muhammadu Buhari climbs the stairs of the Presidential Jet as he embarks on a medical trip to the United Kingdom on March 30, 2021.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari will leave Abuja on Sunday for Paris, France, on a four-day official visit to attend the African Finance Summit.

Spokesman Garba Shehu revealed this in a statement on Saturday.

The Summit is to be hosted by French President, Emmanuel Macron.

According to Shehu’s statement, the Summit “will be focused on reviewing African economy, following shocks from Coronavirus pandemic, and getting relief, especially from increased debt burden on countries.”

READ ALSO: Buhari Calls Erdogan, Seeks Stronger Ties With Turkey

It will also attract “major stakeholders in the global finance institutions and some Heads of Government, who will, collectively, discuss external funding and debt treatment for Africa, and private sector reforms.”

During the visit, President Buhari is expected to meet with Macron “to discuss growing security threats in Sahel and Lake Chad region, political relations, economic ties, climate change and partnership in buoying the health sector, particularly in checking spread of Covid-19, with more research and vaccines.

“Before returning to Nigeria, President Buhari will receive some key players in the oil and gas sector, engineering and telecommunications, European Council and European Union Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Commission, and members of the Nigerian community.

“The President will be accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Minister of Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, and Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire.

“Also on the trip are: National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Mohammed Monguno (rtd) and Director General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Amb. Ahmed Rufai Abubakar.”

France Announces School Closures, Defends COVID-19 Strategy

In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal's President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP
In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal’s President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP

 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced nationwide school closures and a limited lockdown while defending his controversial strategy to confront soaring COVID-19 infections.

The 43-year-old leader has been under fire from political opponents and many health experts in recent weeks as the rampant virus left hospitals in hotspots such as Paris overwhelmed.

At the end of January, Macron bucked the European trend and went against the recommendation of his scientific advisers by deciding that France would not enter a third lockdown.

In an address to the nation, he tightened restrictions significantly on Wednesday, ordering a school shutdown for three weeks, travel restrictions across France, and the closure of non-essential shops around the country.

But he stopped short of demanding people stay in their homes or avoid socialising completely, and authorised people to move between regions over the upcoming Easter weekend.

“We have adopted a strategy since the beginning of the year that aims to contain the epidemic without shutting ourselves in,” he said.

Not locking down in January meant “we gained precious weeks of liberty, weeks of learning for our children, we allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their head above water, without losing control of the epidemic,” he argued.

The question in the coming days will be whether the new measures are enough to reverse the sharp rise in infections which have been running at more than 40,000 a day, double their level at the beginning of the month.

Exhausted intensive care doctors and hospital directors have pleaded for a strict lockdown to stem the influx of new patients.

With warm weather and sunshine on Wednesday, groups of young people could be seen congregating in public spaces around Paris, ignoring rules barring the consumption of alcohol outside.

The French Hospitals Federation (FHF) urged Macron to order “a strict lockdown immediately” on Wednesday.

– ‘Vaccinate, vaccinate!’ –
Macron said that the current efforts to limit the virus “were too limited at a time when the epidemic is accelerating” and warned that the spread of the more contagious British variant meant “we risk losing control”.

He said that schools would close from Monday for the next three weeks, but this would include two weeks of spring holiday.

From Saturday night and for the next four weeks, travel restrictions will be imposed across the whole country and non-essential shops will close in line with measures already implemented in coronavirus hotspots such as Paris, he said.

Intensive care capacity in French hospitals is also set to increase from 7,000 beds to 10,000, he said.

But striking a more optimistic tone for the medium term, he said some cultural venues and cafe terraces would reopen in mid-May “under strict rules”.

“Thanks to the vaccine, the way out of the crisis is emerging,” he said.

“We will do everything to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate! Without rest, without holidays. Saturday and Sunday just like in the week,” he said.

As well as the spiralling infections, he is also on the back foot over France’s vaccine rollout, which has been dogged by a chronic shortage of doses due in part to a centralised EU purchasing system which he championed.

He said France was sticking by its target to vaccinate all those above the age of 18 who want to be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

All those over 60 would be eligible from April 16 and those over 50 from May 15.

– Frontrunner –
At stake in France’s current crisis is above all the health of nearly 70 million people and the fate of the eurozone’s second-biggest economy, but also Macron’s political future one year from presidential elections.

His handling of the twin health and economic crises caused by the pandemic will be foremost in voters’ minds next April and May, analysts say.

Acknowledging criticism from opponents, Macron said: “At every stage of this epidemic, we could say to ourselves that we could have done better, that we made mistakes. That’s all true.”

Stephane Zumsteeg, head of public opinion surveys at the Ipsos pollster in France, said voters would ultimately judge Macron’s performance based on a comparison of France with its EU neighbours.

And he underlined that polls still show the pro-business centrist as the frontrunner.

“Of course lots of things can happen in the next year but at this point, the main favourite for next year’s election is Emmanuel Macron, not because he’s the best or the most loved but because there’s no credible alternative other than Marine Le Pen.”

To Avoid Lockdown, France Cracks Down On COVID-19 Rule Breakers

Health workers take nasal swabs from people for both Covid-19 antigen and RT-PCR tests at a drive-through testing site in Marseille on December 21, 2020. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

The scene at the small Parisian cafe looks almost normal: smokers queueing for a pack of cigarettes, gamblers buying lottery tickets or picking up betting slips for the races.

That is, until the police walk in, reminding customers, and the owner, that nothing is the same in the Covid pandemic.

“There are too many people here, count them,” an officer orders his team.

It turns out that nine people are crowding the tiny space, too many according to government rules saying that shops and other outlets can admit only one customer for every eight square metres (86 square feet) of floor space.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 And Conflicts Compete For Attention At African Union Summit

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is trying to avoid another Covid lockdown, which would be France’s third, even as infection numbers remain high.

On Wednesday, the public health authority reported 26,362 new Covid cases for the previous 24 hours and 358 Covid deaths.

– ‘I don’t want to close’ –
Instead, the government hopes that measures already in force — including a nightly curfew from 6:00 pm and a ban on cafes and restaurants except for takeaway fare — will be enough to cut infection numbers.

To make sure they do, authorities are getting tougher on those who don’t comply.

“Please let us stay open, I don’t want to close, I want to work,” pleads the owner of the bar in the east of the capital when the officer tells him that he risks being closed down as well as fined.

To no avail: “I’m not the perfect, I don’t decide, I simply file my report,” the policeman responds.

Once such an incident is reported, sanctions can follow quickly, sometimes the same day, or the next morning.

“It’s a tough job. I’m always on my clients’ backs, always telling them to wear masks. I enforce the law, but customers don’t like it,” the owner says from behind the bar fitted with sheets of plastic for protection.

Volunteers distribute face masks and leaflets to commuters outside a metro station in Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital Paris, on April 30, 2020, on the 45th day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease, caused by the novel coronavirus. Philippe LOPEZ / AFP.

 

But the officer is adamant: “You have to educate your clients. Here, you need to think of yourself as both a tobacconist and a policeman.”

The owner promises to post a large sign at the door saying “No more than three people at the same time.”

Over the past week, the French capital’s police have cracked down much more severely on establishments receiving customers that do not meet the health requirements.

“We’ve become much stricter. We don’t tolerate any violations,” said Romain Semedard, police chief for Paris’s 12th Arrondissement. “We used to hand out warnings. Now we close them down, usually for a week or two.”

At a kebab takeaway nearby, police caught a staff member with a face mask tucked under his nose instead of covering it, and fined him 135 euros ($162) on the spot.

A tobacconist failing to advertise the maximum number of clients allowed was fined the previous day.

– ‘A question of fairness’ –
And a corner grocer who was caught staying open beyond the 6:00 pm curfew received notice to shutter the shop.

“That may seem harsh, but it’s a question of fairness towards those who abide by the rules,” Semedard said.

Inside a small Italian restaurant, an elderly lady was sitting at a table and a regular was leaning on the bar when the police arrived.

“They’re waiting for their takeout order and the lady needed to sit, is that allowed?” the anxious restaurant owner inquired when a patrol arrived.

“So long as they don’t eat or drink in here, everything is in order,” an officer replied.

Further down the street, the patrol inspected the cellar of a restaurant for signs of any recent illegal gathering, but they found only stacks of tables and chairs stored away awaiting better days.

Elsewhere in Paris, police discovered 24 restaurants opening illegally last week alone, and shut them all down for two weeks.

Authorities have also been making good on a threat by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said that restaurants violating Covid rules would lose access to emergency government funding for a month at first, and indefinitely if they are caught again.

AFP

French Firm To Start Making Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Next Month – Minister

This file photo taken on February 2, 2021, shows a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at the first Covid-19 vaccination center in Belgium, in Brussels, amid the crisis linked with the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

A French lab will start producing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in March, while another will begin making the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in April, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron pledged Tuesday that four sites on French soil would begin making coronavirus vaccines soon, as the government draws sharp criticism over an inoculation drive that has started off slowly.

French pride has also taken a hit after its pharma giant Sanofi said its COVID vaccine would not be ready until later this year.

The health crisis has prompted governments to push for more widespread production of vaccines already available, overriding the industry’s fierce resistance to sharing intellectual property secrets.

“Production at the first site will begin in March for the Moderna vaccine,” at a lab operated by Recipharm, Pannier-Runacher told RTL radio.

“We’ll then have a production site running in April for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” she said.

“And in May, we should (also) be producing the CureVac vaccine, for which we are waiting for approval,” she said, referring to the German biotech firm that could start French production at a lab owned by Fareva.

A French Sanofi lab will start making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the second quarter, even as it pursues research on its own jab, as will the French firm Delpharm.

Separately, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be used in France as long as it meets “scientific norms” and European “standards.”

“If Sputnik is confirmed and approved by the European Medicines Agency and France’s top health authority, there will be no impediment to its distribution,” he told Europe 1 radio.

France is hoping to avoid a new national lockdown as the number of coronavirus cases rises, with authorities reporting Tuesday a further 404 deaths over the previous 24 hours, as well as a new increase in intensive care cases to 3,270 in total.

Macron Says France’s Laws On Child Sex Abuse Must Change

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
File Photo. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday the law had to change to better protect victims of child sexual abuse, after thousands shared their stories in response to a newly published book.

“Today shame is switching sides” from victims to perpetrators, Macron said in a video posted to Twitter, welcoming the fact that “people feel free to speak everywhere in France”.

The flood of testimony under the social media hashtag #Metooinceste followed the early January publication of a book, “La familia grande”, by Camille Kouchner.

In it she accused her step-father, prominent political commentator Olivier Duhamel, of having abused her twin brother.

Macron did not directly address that case.

But in a short video posted to Twitter, he promised those speaking out online: “We are here. We’re listening to you. We believe you. And you will never be alone again.”

READ ALSO: New Zealand Detects First Community COVID-19 Case In Two Months

And he added: “We have to adapt our laws to better protect child victims of incest and sexual violence.”

Promising to “punish criminals for their acts in the past and prevent them ever reoffending”, Macron said the law would be updated.

In 2018, France already pushed back the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors to 30 years.

But some people have argued such acts should never fall beyond the reach of the justice system.

“No-one can ignore these experiences any longer,” Macron said. “We have to hear and gather victims’ testimonies even years, decades afterwards.”