President Muhammadu Buhari has departed Abuja, the nation’s capital to attend the African Finance Summit in Paris, France.
The summit will focus on reviewing the African economy, following shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, and getting relief, especially from increased debt burden on countries, said Bashir Ahmad, who is an aide to the President.
Ahmad, the Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, announced the Nigerian leader’s departure from the country in a tweet on Sunday.
President @MBuhari has departed Abuja for Paris, France ahead of the African Finance Summit which will be focused on reviewing African economy, following shocks from COVID-19 pandemic, and getting relief, especially from increased debt burden on countries. #PMBinParispic.twitter.com/Th0nWWuclV
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had announced that President Buhari would be travelling to France in a statement on Saturday.
According to him, the summit which will last four days will be hosted by French President, Emmanuel Macron.
It is expected to draw major stakeholders in the global financial institutions and some heads of government, who will collectively discuss external funding and debt treatment for Africa and private sector reforms.
While on the trip, Shehu said President Buhari would meet with the French President to discuss growing security threats in the Sahel and Lake Chad region.
Both leaders are also expected to discuss political relations, economic ties, climate change, and partnership in buoying the health sector, particularly in checking the 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 statement had said.
The President was accompanied on the trip by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Minister of Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo; and Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire.
Others were the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai.
Police scuffled with protesters in Paris on Saturday, firing tear gas as thousands turned out across France for May Day workers’ rights demonstrations.
A police source told AFP that far-left “black bloc” protesters had repeatedly tried to block the trade union-led march in the French capital, with 34 people detained.
Some protesters smashed the windows of bank branches, set fire to dustbins and threw projectiles at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas and stingball grenades. An injured policeman had to be evacuated, an AFP journalist saw.
The CGT union said nearly 300 May day protests were planned around the country, with authorities expecting around 100,000 demonstrators to join them in total.
The crowds held placards with different demands, ranging from the end of the nighttime curfew in place as part of coronavirus restrictions, to a halt to unemployment reforms due to come into force in July.
Members of the yellow vest anti-elite movement, which rocked Emmanuel Macron’s presidency two years ago before largely fizzling out, could also be spotted at protests up and down the country.
Five people were arrested in the southeastern city of Lyon as black bloc protesters again clashed with police at the demonstration, which drew some 3,000 people despite the rain.
“There are so many motivations for a revolt that are building up — the management of Covid, the so-called reforms that are going to take away people’s ability to live, job-seekers who are going to lose their benefits,” said a pensioner who gave her name as Patricia.
“We absolutely need to express ourselves,” the 66-year-old said.
France on Tuesday paid tribute to Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier”, while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.
Deby died from wounds sustained in battle after three decades in power, according to the army, opening a period of uncertainty in Chad, a key strategic ally of the West in Africa.
“Chad is losing a great soldier and a president who has worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the office of President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement, hailing Deby as a “courageous friend” of France.
The statement also emphasised France’s insistence on the “stability and territorial integrity” of Chad as it faces a push by rebel forces toward its capital, N’Djamena.
Deby’s son was immediately named transitional leader as head of a military council as both the government and parliament were dissolved, but the army vowed “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period.
The statement by the French presidency underscored “the importance of the transition taking place under peaceful conditions”.
There should also be “a spirit of dialogue with all political and civil society actors, and allowing the rapid return to inclusive governance based on civil institutions,” it added.
Deby had ruled Chad with an iron fist since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990, but was a key partner in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region, where France’s 5,100 strong Barkhane force is deployed.
France will impose a 10-day quarantine on arrivals from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and South Africa over concerns about variants of the coronavirus, the prime minister’s office announced Saturday.
Although flights from Argentina, Chile, and South Africa will not be suspended, all arrivals from those countries will have to submit to the quarantine or face fines.
Flights from Brazil were suspended until at least next Friday because of concern about the P1 variant of the coronavirus, which is more contagious than the original strain and can also re-infect those who have had the original virus.
The global COVID-19 death toll passed three million on Saturday as the pandemic speeds up despite vaccination campaigns, leading countries like India to impose new lockdowns to fight spiralling infection numbers.
It is the latest grim milestone since the novel coronavirus first surfaced in central China in December 2019 and went on to infect more than 139 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.
An average of more than 12,000 deaths were recorded globally every day in the past week, shooting the overall toll past three million on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.
For comparison, three million people is more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia — and three times the death toll of the Iran-Iraq war, which raged from 1980-1988.
And the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: the 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP’s tally.
The daily average of 731,000 cases registered over the last week is also close to being a record.
India’s capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world’s second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths.
– South Asian ‘wake-up call’ – India now has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world’s worst-hit nation, and families are clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.
Some doctors say they are alarmed at how many young people are now getting seriously ill — like Raj Karan, who got sick while campaigning for elections in the northern city of Luckno.
The 38-year-old died soon after.
“I am devastated… I could only see him via a video call,” his friend Ajay Singh Yadav, told AFP.
Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.
Udaya Regmi of the International Red Cross said the “truly frightening” South Asian surge was a “wake-up call to the world”.
Richer countries that have waged mass inoculation efforts have seen their virus numbers plummet.
Britain, which has given 60 percent of the population at least one vaccination dose, now records around 30 deaths a day — down from 1,200 in late January.
Thailand recorded its fourth consecutive day of more than 1,000 new cases on Saturday, its spiralling infections linked to a nightlife district of the capital Bangkok earlier this month.
Alcohol sales will be banned in Bangkok restaurants from Sunday, while entertainment venues will be shuttered nationwide for two weeks.
In Japan, rising virus cases have stoked speculation that the Olympic Games — postponed last year due to the pandemic — could be cancelled.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first meeting with US President Joe Biden, said his government was listening to experts and doing its “utmost” to prepare for the Tokyo games in July.
The virus continues to hit events around the world.
On Saturday, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II bid farewell to her husband, Prince Philip, coronavirus restrictions meant only 30 people could attend his funeral.
Family members — all masked — sat socially distanced in the church, with bottles of hand sanitiser placed among the floral tributes inside.
In Brazil, the country with the third-highest death toll in the world, night shifts have been added to several cemeteries as diggers work around the clock to bury the dead.
“We try not to get upset in our work, but it is sad, it is a lot of people,” said one gravedigger in Vila Formosa, the largest cemetery in Latin America.
More than 365,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Brazil.
Despite the high infection rates there however, the government of Brazil’s most populous state Sao Paulo announced it would allow businesses and places of worship to reopen from Sunday.
‘Cautious optimism’ in Europe
France, which banned flights from Brazil last week, on Saturday announced compulsory quarantine for anyone arriving from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa, because of concerns about their coronavirus variants.
Earlier Saturday, Spain extended the mandatory quarantine of passengers arriving from 12 countries in South America and Africa, including Brazil and South Africa.
A day after Italy announced a partial easing of coronavirus restrictions for schools and restaurants from April 26, entertainment industry workers marched in Rome Saturday calling for more state support — and a calendar for the reopening of the country’s arts venues.
In more good news for Britons after the partial reopening of society this week, Germany on Friday removed the United Kingdom from the list of risk zones for coronavirus infections, meaning that travellers will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.
Israel announced it was scrapping the obligation to wear masks outside from Sunday.
Libya launched its vaccination drive on Saturday, prioritising the elderly and health care workers.
The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country, after violent anti-France protests paralysed large parts of the country this week.
“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in an email to French citizens.
“The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”
Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed — deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
On Wednesday, the Pakistani government moved to ban an extremist political party whose leader had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
Saad Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was detained hours after making his demands, bringing thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan.
Two police officers died in the clashes, which saw water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets used to hold back crowds.
The TLP are notorious for holding days-long, violent road protests over blasphemy issues, causing major disruption to the country.
But successive governments have a long history of avoiding confrontation with hardline Islamist groups, fearing any crackdown on religious parties could spark wider violence in the deeply conservative Islamic republic.
“We are in favour of protecting the Prophet’s honour, but the demand which they are seeking could have portrayed Pakistan as a radical nation worldwide,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference on Wednesday.
Macron’s comments in September triggered anger across the Muslim world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighboring Iran and other Muslim countries flooding the streets and organizing anti-French boycotts.
TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill at the time.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
On Twitter, the hashtag “#FrenchLeavePakistan” was trending with 42,000 tweets as of Thursday afternoon.
Weeks after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons, its former offices in Paris were attacked by a Pakistani man who stabbed two people.
At the time, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the French president of attacking the Muslim faith and urged Islamic countries to work together to counter what he called growing repression in Europe.
In an address to the United Nations, Khan, a populist leader who has been known to play to Pakistan’s hardline religious base, blasted Charlie Hebdo for re-publishing the cartoons, saying “wilful provocations” should be “universally outlawed”.
A French airstrike killed 19 civilians in Mali in January, a UN report said on Tuesday, prompting a strong denial from France.
The French air force struck near the remote village of Bounti on January 3, in circumstances that sparked controversy in the war-torn Sahel state.
Residents of the village said the strike hit a wedding party and killed civilians.
In the incident’s aftermath, France’s military said it had killed jihadists, not civilians, and also denied the presence of a wedding party in Bounti.
The United Nations mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, subsequently launched an investigation.
In a report summarising the probe’s findings, the UN said Tuesday a wedding had in fact taken place and had “gathered about 100 civilians at the site of the strike”.
It added that about five armed people, who are thought to be members of the jihadist group Katiba Serma, attended the celebrations.
In Paris, the French defence ministry stood by its denial, saying it “maintains with consistency and reaffirms strongly” that an “armed terrorist group” had been identified and attacked.
It also said it had “numerous reservations about the methodology” used in the investigation.
‘Protected by law’
At least 22 people died in the French strike, of whom 19 were civilians, according to the probe. No women or children were killed.
“The group affected by the strike was overwhelmingly composed of civilians who are protected persons under international humanitarian law,” said the report.
The report also questioned whether the French military had enough time to ensure that its strike would not harm civilians.
“It appears difficult to discount the presence of civilians… in such a short period of time,” it said.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the report “raises some very significant concerns on the respect of the conduct of hostilities, including precautionary principles and the obligation by member states to do everything (they can) to verify that targets are indeed military objectives.”
The UN report constitutes a rare criticism of the actions of French forces in Mali.
Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency which first broke out in the north of the country in 2012 before spreading to the centre and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
France, the former colonial power, intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back the jihadists, and now has some 5,100 soldiers deployed across the semi-arid Sahel region.
Central Mali, where the strike on Bounti occurred, is an epicentre of the brutal conflict.
The circumstances surrounding the strike on January 3 were initially confused.
Several villagers told AFP after the strike that a wedding party was attacked by a lone unidentified helicopter, for example.
But the French military denied wrongdoing and said it had “neutralised” dozens of jihadists in a precision strike.
“The reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made,” an army spokesman told AFP in January.
Much of central Mali is a war zone and it is extremely hard to independently verify accusations.
Mali’s government later supported the French military’s account.
It denied that a wedding took place and added that “all information received in real time justified that the neutralised targets were confirmed military objectives”.
The strikes were carried out under Operation Eclipse, a joint operation gathering armed forces from Mali, France and the G5 Sahel, a coalition made up of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger as well as Mali.
The UN report is based on 115 individual interviews. Investigators also conducted group interviews and about 100 telephone interviews.
It recommended that “Malian and French authorities conduct an independent, credible and transparent investigation” into the strike.
Such an investigation should, among other things, establish whether armed forces had broken international law, the UN said.
The UN report also comes after another disputed French air strike in Mali last week.
Six people were killed in the northeast of the vast nation of 19 million people on March 25.
French forces say the strike targeted jihadists but local residents have alleged those left dead were young hunters.
The French government warned Friday of increased police checks to enforce travel restrictions in place in Paris and several other regions as coronavirus cases continue to soar around the country.
Checks at train stations, airports and motorway toll booths will “increase from today”, the prime minister’s office said, describing the situation as “critical” with the arrival of a third wave of infections.
The move came after France placed three more departments in limited lockdown, with around 20 million people, including those in the Paris region, prohibited from travelling further than 10 kilometres (six miles) from home except for essential reasons.
There is also a nightly curfew in place nationwide starting at 7:00 pm.
Daily cases in France have nearly doubled since the start of the month, reaching over 45,000 on Thursday, with the number of people in intensive care now standing at 4,766, not far from the peak during the second wave in November.
In Paris, the pressure on hospitals is even greater, with the bulk of non-essential surgeries being cancelled to free up beds amid the rapid spread of the more contagious British variant, which now causes the majority of infections nationwide.
Authorities said Friday that 304 people had died of Covid in the past 24 hours, bring the total to 93,709.
French President Emmanuel Macron has come under fire for going against the advice of scientific experts and his health minister at the end of January when he decided not to impose a national lockdown.
“These coming weeks will be difficult. We’ll take effective measures at the right time and to my mind, there are no taboos,” Macron said late Thursday.
“I have no mea culpa to issue, no regrets and no sense of a failure,” he added in defence of his decision to keep the country in a state of semi-openness at the end of January.
– Won’t slow epidemic? –
Schools across the country remain open, though individual classes in high-risk departments will now close if just one student tests positive, instead of three previously.
“That will necessarily mean more class closures in the coming days,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Friday, calling outright school shutdowns to slow the virus a “last resort”.
The number of new coronavirus cases in children under 15 has accelerated sharply over the past week, the Sante Publique France health authority said Friday.
“The British variant… is not more contagious for children, but it is as contagious for children as for adults,” the agency’s respiratory infections chief Daniel Levy-Bruhl said.
France’s vaccination campaign has also been sluggish amid a chronic shortage of doses, with only around 10 percent of the population having received at least one dose.
But more than 400,000 doses were administered on Friday alone, Health Minister Olivier Veran tweeted, and the government has vowed to open dozens of mass vaccination “supersites” in April.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has called France’s efforts to avoid a painful nationwide lockdown a “third way” in its Covid fight, but many medical experts consider the restrictions not tough enough.
“I understand the strategy of wanting to do gradual measures, but with the situation, we are in I’m not sure that they are going to slow down the epidemic,” Solen Kerneis, an infectious diseases specialist at the Bichat hospital in northern Paris, told AFP.
The top health watchdog recommended offering the jabs to dentists and vets on Friday in a modest widening of the eligibility criteria, with the focus until now on vaccinating the over-75s, medical personnel and those with existing health problems.
Oil prices slumped Tuesday on lower demand prospects as Europe’s biggest economy Germany said it would reimpose strict coronavirus containment measures and struggles along with other EU nations to roll out vaccines.
European stock markets were mixed and US stock indices drifted lower after sharp losses in Asia.
On currency markets, the Turkish lira stabilised a day after plunging in reaction to news that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked the country’s market-friendly central bank chief, raising concerns about another round of financial turbulence.
Germany will meanwhile enter a strict shutdown for five days over Easter amid surging virus rates, Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders agreed Tuesday.
Neighbouring France should be vaccinating “morning, noon and evening”, President Emmanuel Macron said as he tackles criticism that the Covid-19 immunisation drive has been too slow.
France is facing a third wave of infections but is lagging behind many Western countries in terms of the number of people vaccinated.
Events in Europe are “hurting demand projections for crude oil”, noted ThinkMarkets analyst Fawad Razaqzada.
“Everything else being equal, it means that growth will be slower to pick up and inflationary pressures are likely to be weaker than previously thought.”
Across the Atlantic, the focus is on the first joint congressional testimony by Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who were due Tuesday to answer questions on their policy response to the pandemic.
It comes as markets are rattled by a sharp rise in US Treasury yields in recent weeks that have been fuelled by bets that the forecast strong bounce in economic activity this year will fan inflation and force the bank to lift interest rates before 2024, as it has previously indicated.
The pair have repeatedly said they do not see the spike in inflation lasting and will maintain ultra-loose monetary policies — including record-low rates — until they have a grip on unemployment, and price rises are above two percent for an extended period.
Also on the radar this week is the auction of seven-year US Treasuries, which will be followed closely after last month’s weak sale sparked a sharp sell-off in bonds that sent yields soaring — yields go in the opposite direction to prices — and sparked a global market panic.
– Key figures around 1330 GMT – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 4.0 percent at $59.13 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 4.1 percent at $61.98 per barrel
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 6,712.22 points
Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 0.1 percent at 14,673.35
Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.3 percent at 5,950.30
EURO STOXX 50: FLAT at 3,833.91
New York – Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 32,674.77
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 28,995.92 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.3 percent at 28,497.38 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.9 percent at 3,411.51 (close)
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1879 from $1.1930 at 2100 GMT
France’s health authority on Friday recommended that only people aged 55 and over should be given the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine due to reports of blood clots while giving the green light to resume its use after a brief suspension.
It said its recommendation was based on the fact that the reports of blood clots that had prompted its suspension in France and other European countries had only been seen in those aged under 55.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, himself aged 55, is due to be given the vaccine later Friday to boost confidence in the jab after the European medicine watchdog ruled it was safe to use.
France’s government said Sunday it plans to evacuate around 100 Covid-19 patients from intensive care units in the Paris region this week as hospitals struggle to keep up with a surge in cases.
With the transfers, officials hope to avoid a new lockdown for the roughly 12 million people in and around the capital as they race to step up a vaccination drive that got off to a slow start.
“By the end of this week, probably around 100 patients will have been evacuated from the Ile-de-France region” encompassing Paris, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said at Orly airport, where two patients — aged 33 and 70 — were airlifted to the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
Later this week, two specially equipped trains will transfer “several dozens of patients to regions that today are under less strain” from the pandemic, Attal added.
Asked if Paris would avoid a new lockdown, Attal said “we are doing everything we can to not have to take more difficult, more restrictive measures.”
However, “we will always take whatever decisions are necessary.”
The government has already ordered weekend shutdowns for the northern Pas-de-Calais region — where transfers of Covid patients to less crowded hospitals began earlier this month — and in the Mediterranean region surrounding Nice.
Of the nearly 4,100 Covid patients currently in intensive care nationwide, around 1,100 are in Paris-area hospitals.
A 6 pm curfew remains in place across France and restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres and large shopping centres have been shut, but the average daily number of new Covid cases has continued to climb steadily in recent weeks.
On Saturday, France’s public health agency reported nearly 30,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours and 174 fatalities, bringing France’s total death toll to 90,315.