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.


Macron Seeks Lead EU Role In Iran Crisis

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


French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to lead European diplomatic efforts to find a face-saving solution to the latest crisis between Tehran and Washington, with the EU looking to buy time and soothe tensions, diplomats and experts say.

Macron dispatched an envoy to Tehran for the second time in a month on Tuesday in another attempt to convince the Iranian government to come back into compliance with a landmark 2015 deal limiting its nuclear programme.

After President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of the deal in May 2018, Iran has begun enriching uranium to higher levels, leading to fears the faltering accord could be doomed.

If it falls apart and Iran continues enriching uranium all the way to levels approaching those that could be used in a weapon, diplomats see a high risk of conflict in the Middle East involving the United States and possibly its ally Israel.

“We are buying time. The Iranians are too,” a European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We need to bring Iran back on board in exchange for a symbolic gesture from the United States.”

Analysts agree that European efforts in the short-term have to be two-fold: convincing Iran to stop enriching, then convincing Trump to suspend some of the crippling new economic sanctions he has imposed on Tehran.

“It’s about creating the conditions for both sides (the US and Iran) to back away from the corners they are stuck in because the end-game here is negotiation,” Sanam Vakil, an expert at the Chatham House think-tank in London, told AFP.

“For Iran to come back to the negotiating table, they have made it abundantly clear there will have to be sanctions relief granted.”

Macron to Tehran? 

Macron has taken an active mediation role, speaking to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Trump in recent days.

Last year, he was weighing whether to become the first French leader to travel to Tehran since 1976. But tensions over the nuclear issue and Iran’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen meant he never accepted an invitation to visit.

Iran’s alleged role in a plot to bomb a meeting of opposition activists at a political meeting near Paris in June killed off any possibility, diplomats say.

But recent French media reports suggest Macron might once again be considering travelling to meet Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Individually he is probably the best placed to be the E3 leader,” said Vakil, referring to the E3 group of European powers which comprises France, Germany and Britain.

“Everyone is talking to each other,” the European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Mixed results 

Macron relishes the world stage, but his efforts at mediating in the Middle East have led to mixed results.

He successfully intervened in November 2017 to free Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri after he was detained by Saudi authorities during a trip to the country.

But his efforts in forge a solution in war-torn Libya have yet to yield fruit and he has made enemies in Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, as well as in the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Past efforts at lobbying Trump to respect the nuclear deal, particularly during a state visit to Washington in April 2018, came to nought.

Experts say that for the moment Iran is not close to enriching uranium to levels that could be used for a weapon, which would spark a regional arms race and acute security fears in Israel.

But it is considered by European nations to be in breach of its commitments.

The country’s atomic energy organisation announced on Monday that it had surpassed a cap on the level to which it can enrich uranium, reaching 4.5 per cent, above the 3.67 per cent limit stipulated in the deal.

It has also exceeded limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium set in the 2015 accord signed by the US, Iran, Russia, China, Britain, Germany, France and the EU.

European nations are seen as wanting to avoid triggering a dispute mechanism in the text which could lead to sanctions being reimposed.

Such a move would heighten tensions, while the threat of fresh sanctions remains one of few levers available to the Europeans as they seek to convince Iran to respect the deal.

“But the road they are taking (by enriching further) could force us to take a road we don’t want to take,” said a French diplomat on condition of anonymity.


Macron Asks Iran To ‘Immediately’ Reduce Enriched Uranium Reserves

Emmanuel Macron/AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron called on Iran Tuesday to “immediately” reduce its enriched uranium reserves, a day after Tehran announced it had breached limits under a 2015 nuclear deal to retaliate against new US sanctions. 

In a statement, Macron said he had “noted with concern” Iran’s overstepping of the limit set in the 2015 deal with world powers and called on Iran “to immediately reverse this overshoot and abstain from any other measure that would undermine its nuclear obligations”.

READ ALSO: China Slams Trump’s ‘Gross Interference’ In Hong Kong


Macron Honours Jean Vanier, Ally Of Mentally Disabled

Late Jean Vanier and French President Emmanuel Macron


French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday lauded the life and work of Jean Vanier, who founded a pioneering network of communities for people with mental disabilities and lived at one of them in northern France until his death this week.

“This great spiritualist and humanist left us a more inclusive and better-shared world,” the presidency said in a statement following Vanier’s death on Tuesday.

He was 90 years old and had been fighting cancer for several weeks, according to L’Arche (The Ark), a network of some 150 residential communities operating in around three-dozen countries, with more than 10,000 members.

Vanier, the son of a Canadian diplomat, was an officer in the British and Canadian navies before abandoning the military to study theology in Paris, with the idea of becoming a priest.

But after being shocked by the conditions at a mental institution he visited, he gave up everything in 1964 to live with two mentally handicapped men in the village of Trosly-Breuil in northern France, which quickly attracted new residents.

The concept spread as some of his colleagues went on to establish more centres around the world.

“At the Ark, you start by wanting to help people, and you end up realising that it’s the people with a handicap who change you, who show you another picture of life and humanity,” Vanier told AFP in a 2014 interview.

The next year he was awarded the Templeton Prize, a $1.7 million honour for “entrepreneurs of the spirit”.

Vanier also created in 1971 the Faith and Light network, which now counts nearly 1,500 communities that bring together mentally disabled adolescents and adults along with their families.

In 2000 he founded Intercordia, which offers young people around the world the chance to participate in solidarity projects.

Pope Francis also mourned Vanier as “a man who understood the Christian command” to care for those rejected or marginalised by society.

France, Italy Mark 500th Anniversary Of Leonardo da Vinci’s Death

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Italian President Sergio Mattarella (2L) arrive for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Italian Renaissance painter and scientist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), in Chambord, France, on May 2, 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella on Thursday kicked off commemorations to mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci died in France, paying their respects to the Renaissance genius in a show of unity after months of diplomatic tensions.

“The bond between our countries and our citizens is indestructible,” Macron said after the two men lunched at the Clos Luce, the sumptuous manor house where Leonardo spent the last three years of his life.

The two heads of state began their visit at the royal chateau in Amboise, where they laid wreaths at Leonardo’s grave.

The joint celebrations come after months of mounting diplomatic tensions between Paris and Rome over the hardline policies of Italy’s populist government and its support for France’s anti-government “yellow vest” protesters.

In the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries since World War II, Paris briefly recalled its ambassador from Rome.

Amboise, a sleepy town on the Loire River where Leonardo died in 1519, was in virtual lockdown because of fears of protests by France’s grassroots “yellow vest” movement.

Traffic in the town of just 13,000 was banned within a five-kilometre (three-mile) radius and the usually teeming restaurants and shops shuttered. On Wednesday, dozens of cars were towed away, with some foreign owners apparently unaware of the draconian security measures.

The presidential helicopter arrived on a river island in the heart of the town, touching down on a pad usually used to launch hot-air balloons over the chateau-studded valley.

Later Thursday, the two presidents headed to the sprawling chateau of Chambord — whose central double-helix staircase is attributed to Leonardo though the first stone was not laid until four months after his death.

Among glitterati attending the events were Italian star architect Renzo Piano, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and historian Stephane Bern, a prominent French television personality.

But a new scandal hung over the event after a French arts magazine revealed Tuesday that an investigation had been opened into the alleged destruction of listed property during extensive renovation work at the Clos Luce in 2017.

The online La Tribune de l’Art said workers removed 18th-century woodwork and a fireplace and made major alterations to floors and ceilings in the privately owned mansion.

 ‘Architect of the king’

Francis I, known as the “Sun King of the 16th century”, is widely credited with bringing the Renaissance to France, even if his predecessor Louis XII had begun the process by bringing in architects and artisans from Florence, Milan and Rome.

Leonardo was 64 when he accepted the young Francis I’s invitation to Amboise, at a time when rivals Michelangelo and Raphael were rising stars.

With Leonardo’s commissions drying up, it came as a great relief and no small vindication for the Tuscan artist, who received a handsome stipend as the “first painter, engineer and architect of the king”.

At the time, Francis I was barely 23, and his ambitious mother Louise of Savoy “knew that Leonardo would be the man who would allow her son to flourish”, Catherine Simon Marion, managing director of the Clos Luce, told AFP.

Leonardo brought with him three of his favourite paintings: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, and Saint John the Baptist — all of which today hang in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Italy and France have also sparred over an accord under which Italy will lend several Leonardos to the Louvre in October.

With fewer than 20 Leonardo paintings still in existence, many Italians are resentful that the Louvre possesses five of them, as well as 22 drawings.

During his three years in Amboise, Leonardo organised lavish parties for the court and worked to design an ideal city for Francis at nearby Romorantin — one of the polymath’s many unrealised projects — all while continuing his research.

Macron is the first French president to visit the town since Charles de Gaulle came in 1959.


Macron Pledges To Rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral After Deadly Fire

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (L), and French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd L) gather in near the entrance of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, as flames engulf its roof on April 15, 2019. PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP


Pledges to donate millions of euros in cash and materials poured in Tuesday in the aftermath of a massive fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which firefighters were still fighting to extinguish more than 12 hours after it started.

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed the emblematic church will be rebuilt after its spire and roof collapsed Monday night in a blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work.

READ ALSO: Fire Guts Notre Dame Cathedral In Paris

French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced Tuesday that he and the LVMH luxury conglomerate he controls would give 200 million euros ($226 million) for the reconstruction efforts.

The pledge came after Arnault’s crosstown rival Kering, the fashion group founded by fellow billionaire Francois Pinault, offered 100 million euros to help “completely rebuild Notre-Dame”.

The privately run French Heritage Foundation has already launched a call for donations to help restore a “symbol of French history and culture.”

Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region comprising the greater Paris region, said it would provide 10 million euros.

And the head of a French lumber company told FranceInfo radio that it was ready to offer the best oak beams available to rebuild the intricate lattice that supported the now-destroyed roof, known as the “Forest”.

“The work will surely take years, decades even, but it will require thousands of cubic metres of wood. We’ll have to find the best specimens, with large diameters,” Sylvain Charlois of the Charlois group in Murlin, central France, told the radio.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Tuesday proposed organising an international donor conference to coordinate the pledges to restore the gothic architectural masterpiece.

The United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO has also promised to stand “at France’s side” to restore the site, which it declared a world heritage site in 1991.


Macron Cancels Major Policy Speech Over Cathedral Fire

French President Emmanuel Macron                                                             PHILIPPE WOJAZER / AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron has cancelled a major televised policy speech he was due to give on Monday evening over the “terrible fire ravaging Notre-Dame.”

He also expressed the “emotion of a whole nation” on seeing the famed Notre-Dame cathedral ablaze and its spire collapse.

“Notre-Dame consumed by flames. The emotion of a whole nation,” Macron tweeted, adding that “like all my compatriots I am sad to see a part of us burn this evening” and expressing solidarity with “all Catholics and all French people.”

READ ALSO: Notre Dame Cathedral Blaze ‘So Horrible’ – Trump

Meanwhile, the Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo in a tweet described it as a “terrible fire”.

“The Paris fire service is trying to control the flames,” she wrote on Twitter, asking residents to respect the security cordon thrown up around the site.

A spokesperson for the cathedral said the fire, which comes as French Catholics prepare to celebrate Easter, broke out at around 1650 GMT.

Fire trucks could be seen speeding through Paris towards the scene on the Ile de la Cite — an island in the Seine at the heart of Paris.

The Paris police department in a tweet called on residents to avoid the area and to “make way for rescue vehicles”.


Macron Signs Controversial French ‘Anti-Rioters’ Bill Into Law

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 has signed into law legislation giving security forces greater powers at demonstrations that opponents claim violates civil liberties, the official journal said Thursday.

The bill, which was approved by lawmakers in February, aims to crack down on violence that has marred the “yellow vest” protest movement, which has rocked France since erupting in November.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Thursday hailed the law as a “text which protects the French in the face of insecurity and violence”.

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“It’s a text that protects our institutions and our liberties,” he wrote on Twitter.

But in a move indicative of the political trouble caused for Macron by the “yellow vest” movement, France’s Constitutional Council, its highest constitutional authority, refused this month to give its green light to one of the most contentious parts of the legislation.

It would have given the authorities the power to ban from demonstrations any individual “posing a particularly serious threat to public order”.

That article was accompanied by a file of named of people wanted by the police, which critics strongly denounced as violating citizens’ freedom of assembly as protected in the constitution.

But the council did approve two other key parts of the legislation, including giving the authorities the power to search bags and cars in and around demonstrations at the demand of a prosecutor.

It also approved making it a criminal offence to conceal the face at a demonstration, punishable by a year in prison and 15,000 euros ($17,000) in fines.

The French minister in charge of relations with parliament, Marc Fesneau, had indicated Wednesday that the government was not planning to go back to parliament to adapt the legislation in further debates.

The yellow vest protests against social inequality have proved the biggest challenge to Macron since he came to power, taking much of the momentum out of his reformist agenda.

He has since sought to fight back, touring France in town hall-style meetings to listen to people’s grievances in a campaign analysts see as a qualified success.

Macron is expected to address the nation in the coming days with new measures aimed at assuaging the protesters’ anger, in particular over what Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Monday called an “enormous exasperation” over taxes.

The official journal is France’s gazette of record and the appearance of legislation in the publication means it has been enacted into law.

Macron Insists Long Brexit Delay Not ‘Decided’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he arrives ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit at The Europa Building at The European Parliament in Brussels on April 10, 2019. Aris Oikonomou / AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron warned Wednesday as he arrived at Brexit crisis talks in Brussels that EU leaders have yet to agree on how long to delay Britain’s departure.

“For me, nothing is decided, nothing, and in particular, since I hear rumours, not a long extension,” he said, as leaders met to consider Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for a postponement.

READ ALSO: US Asks UN To Recognize Guaido As Venezuela’s Leader

May has asked for Brexit to be delayed from Friday to June 30, to allow her more time to ratify Britain’s orderly divorce, and other EU leaders arriving in Brussels suggested she could have even longer.

But Macron has been keen to project a tougher stance, insisting May must provide more guarantees that the delay would serve a purpose and that London’s crisis will not disrupt EU business.

“For me, nothing is given,” he said. “We need to understand why this demand is being made, what is the political plan behind it and what proposals are clear. For my part, I’ll hold to that.

“I’m looking forward very much to hearing Theresa May,” he said. “The time for decisions is now.”


Theresa May In Talks With Merkel, Macron Over Brexit Delay

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May as she arrives at the Chancellery in Berlin on April 9, 2019.


British Prime Minister Theresa May has met with the leaders of Germany and France on Tuesday in a last-gasp bid to keep her country from crashing out of the European Union later this week.

May’s huddles with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris come on the eve of another tension-packed summit in Brussels focused on the fate of the 46-year-old partnership.

May asked EU leaders on Friday to delay Brexit until June 30 to give her time to strike a compromise with the opposition that lets Britain’s hung parliament back an orderly divorce plan on the fourth attempt.

But the 27 European leaders have already signed off on one extension — the original deadline was March 29 — and have serious doubts that May will somehow break through the political gridlock now.

“We are in a very, very frustrating situation here,” said Germany’s Minister for European Affairs Michael Roth, as he and fellow EU officials arrived for Luxembourg talks on the eve of the summit.

READ ALSO: EU Warns Britain To Justify Brexit Delay With Credible Plan

Roth’s French counterpart Amelie de Montchalin told reporters that “we want to understand what the UK needs this extension for, and what are the political surroundings around Theresa May to have this extension”.

“And then comes the question of the conditions of what role we’d want the UK to play during this extension time,” she added.

Some in the EU are worried that if Britain accepts a long delay, its representatives could disrupt EU budget planning and reforms during indefinite Brexit talks, potentially causing more problems than a messy “no-deal Brexit”.

“We’d need a strong political reason to delay,” a diplomat from this camp said.

EU Council president Donald Tusk’s office last week floated a compromise proposal that gives Britain a “flexible” extension of up to a year — which ends earlier should some way forward emerge in London.

But a diplomatic source insisted that this was “Mr Tusk’s position, not the position of the Council”.

Merkel takes a more conciliatory approach backed by EU member Ireland — a crucial player whose politically sensitive border with Britain’s Northern Ireland is holding up May’s deal in parliament.

“I will do everything in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit,” Merkel said Friday.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Paralysis And Disarray

The diplomatic disarray in Brussels is mirrored by political paralysis in London that has forced May to promise to resign as soon as she gets this first stage of Brexit over the line.

The weakened British leader had been hoping to come to Brussels with either her deal approved or some sort of alternative way forward drafted that could convince the likes of Macron.

But her talks with the opposition Labour Party have made no tangible progress and seem unlikely to find common ground before she flies to Brussels seeking a second delay in three weeks.

“The problem is that the government doesn’t seem to be moving off the original red lines,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Monday.

The government will instead present a plan to parliament Tuesday to outline how long it intends to delay Brexit.

This is part of legislation passed into law late Monday to force May to postpone Brexit if the only other alternative is a no-deal scenario.

May’s talks with Labour have stumbled over Corbyn’s demand that Britain joins some form of European customs arrangement once the sides formally split up.

EU officials are ready to include such a promise in the outline of a future relationship, which was agreed with May alongside the withdrawal deal.

But May knows that the prospect of close post-Brexit economic relations could further fracture her government and party ahead of possible snap elections.

Almost any form of European customs arrangement would keep Britain from striking its own global trade agreement and leave one of the biggest advantages of Brexit unfulfilled.


Macron’s Aide Probed Over ‘False Testimony’ In Bodyguard Scandal

In this video grab taken on July 19, 2018 a man is identified as Elysee Chief Security Officer Alexandre Benalla wearing a police visor as he drags away a demonstrator during May 1 protests in Paris.  Tahar Bouhafs / AFP


Paris prosecutors Monday opened a probe into alleged false testimony in the case of French President Emmanuel Macron’s former bodyguard who was filmed hitting protesters at last year’s May Day rally.

Those targeted include the president’s cabinet chief Patrick Strzoda, prosecutors said in a statement.

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The scandal — which saw Alexandre Benalla fired last year after a video emerged of him roughing up protestors — continues to overshadow the Macron presidency.

A perjury probe has been opened targeting Benalla as well as Vincent Crase, a former staffer of Macron’s ruling party, and Strzoda, prosecutors said in a statement.

It comes after several protagonists in the case testified before the commission of inquiry of France’s upper house, the Senate.

The investigations were opened after the Senate signalled deficiencies in testimony to the Paris prosecutors.

The Senate complained of “incoherence and contradictions” in the testimony of Strzoda and two other top aides of Macron, chief of staff Alexis Kohler and presidential security chief Lionel Lavergne.

A former bouncer, Benalla began working as a bodyguard for Macron during the young candidate’s election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace following Macron’s election in May 2017.

After being given leave by the presidency to attend the May Day protest as an observer, he waded into the fray wearing a police helmet, grabbing a female demonstrator by the neck and hitting a male demonstrator.

The presidency initially held off reporting Benalla to the authorities.

Benalla was fired and placed under investigation after Le Monde newspaper broke the story in July 2018. It was Strzoda who authorised Benalla to attend the demonstration.

A French Senate commission of inquiry found “major flaws” in the government’s handling of the affair and said it suspected Macron’s aides of trying to cover up some of the details.

Perjury can be punished in France with up to five years in jail.


Macron Proposes Annual Day Of Commemoration For Rwanda Genocide

French President Emmanuel Macron/AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron proposed an annual day of commemoration for the Rwanda genocide on Sunday as the African nation marked 25 years since the massacres of the minority Tutsi community.

The French leader expressed his “solidarity with the Rwandan people and his compassion for the victims and their families” in a statement that proposed April 7 as an annual remembrance day in France.

Macron drew criticism from some activists for failing to attend the start of commemoration events in Rwanda on Sunday, instead of sending a personal envoy, a Rwandan-born MP Herve Berville who was orphaned in the 1993 violence.

READ ALSO: US Withdraws Troops From Libya Amid Unrest

A Rwandan victims’ group, Ibuka France, hailed Macron’s announcement of a national Rwanda genocide day and said it had suggested the idea during a meeting with the 41-year-old leader last week.

“My reaction is one of satisfaction,” the head of the group, Marcel Kabanda, said before adding that he hoped France would now introspect more about its role in the massacres.

“It’s not the French population fundamentally, but the political elite that needs to talk about it more. It will take time but it’s a new phase,” he told AFP.

The genocide has cast a long shadow over Franco-Rwandan relations.

Rwanda’s current President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, accuses France of having supported the ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the slaughter and of helping some of the perpetrators to escape.

On Friday, Macron announced the creation of a commission of historians and researchers that will delve into the French state’s archives in a move intended to set the historical record straight.