Hundreds Evacuated As French Villages Dig Out From Flooding

Men stand on a slab of retaining wall concrete at the edge of the River Roya after heavy rains and floods hit Breil-sur-Roya, a French village close to the Italian border, where houses were buried in mud and turned-over cars were stuck in the riverbed on October 5, 2020. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

 

Rescue workers evacuated hundreds of people Monday from villages hammered by flash flooding in southeast France over the weekend, with the death toll expected to rise as searches continue for survivors.

Two people died after storms dumped huge amounts of rain that turned streams into churning torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges in the French Alps north of Nice.

But the authorities said eight people had disappeared, in many cases after witnesses reported seeing them carried away by the floodwaters, while 13 others have not been heard from since Friday.

Italian authorities also said two people died, including a volunteer firefighter on a rescue operation Saturday.

Meteorologist Luca Mercalli told the Fatto Quotidiano daily Monday that in Limone Piemonte and the Roya Valley “some 600 millimetres of rain fell in fewer than 24 hours. Half the annual average rainfall in just one day.”

“I’ve lost everything. My house, 25 metres long (80 feet), was engulfed by the Vesubie river,” said Alain Brucy, 63, as trucks carrying water, baby food, toilet paper and other essentials arrived in Roquebilliere, a French village near the Italian border.

“The priority is to evacuate those who want to leave this war zone they’ve been living in for the past two days,” the government’s top regional official, Bernard Gonzalez, told AFP, saying some areas looked as if they had been “bombarded.”

Around 400 people have been evacuated by helicopter so far, he said.

Gonzalez also said four bodies found on a beach in Liguria, Italy, on Sunday most likely came from cemeteries swept away when rivers overran their banks.

“These are not recent deaths… but old corpses,” he said.

Officials have declared the region a natural disaster zone, and President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tour the area this week.

– ‘Doing what they can’ –

Electricity and phone service remains down across much of the region, and officials have closed off access to hikers and climbers so that mountain rescue teams can focus on the search for victims.

In the hard-hit Roya valley, several villages remained completely cut off after roads collapsed or were torn up by the floods, or were blocked by fallen trees or rocks and other debris.

Scores of tractors have been deployed to help the villages dig out, including several brought in by French army regiments.

“They’ve been at it since this morning, and they’re doing what they can but you see that ladder over there — that’s where the bridge was washed away,” said Josiane Osanga, 78, in the village of Breil-sur-Roya.

Nearby, residents used a bow and arrow to construct a makeshift zipline for sending over medicine and other items to houses trapped on the far side of the river.

Emergency generators are also being deployed “so we can end this isolation that is very difficult to bear and that makes it much harder to organise the necessary help,” said Philippe Pradal, president of the Nice metropolitan area.

Officials were also transferring nursing home residents and hospital patients from several villages and towns.

“In Fontan, they found a generator and everyone is sharing their food” until new supplies can be brought in, said Alexandra Valetta-Ardisson, a local lawmaker.

AFP

France, Italy Step Up Rescue Efforts After Floods

Emergency personnel attempt to remove fallen trees from a bridge in Breil-sur-Roya, south-eastern France, on October 4, 2020, after extensive flooding caused widespread damage in the Alpes-Maritimes departement. (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP).

 

French and Italian rescue services stepped up search efforts Sunday after floods cut off several villages in the mountainous border regions, causing widespread damage and killing at least four people.

Others remained unaccounted for on the French side of the border after storms, torrential rain and flash floods battered the area, washing away roads and houses, cutting off entire villages and triggering landslips.

Emergency services recovered at least four bodies Sunday on the Mediterranean coast of Liguria, Italy, ANSA news agency and other Italian media reported.

Italian and French teams were working together to try to identify them, but it was not yet clear that they were victims of the flooding or if their deaths had another cause.

In Breil-sur-Roya, a French village close to the Italian border, houses were buried in mud and turned-over cars were stuck in the riverbed.

Rescue efforts were concentrated on the Roya valley where roughly 1,000 firefighters, backed by helicopters and the army, resumed their search for survivors and helped people whose homes were destroyed or inaccessible.

Storm Alex barrelled into France’s west coast on Thursday, bringing powerful winds and rain across the country before moving into northern Italy.

“What we are going through is extraordinary,” said Bernard Gonzalez, prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes region, after as much as 60 centimetres (two feet) of rain fell in 24 hours in the worst-affected areas.

Italy confirmed two people died Saturday, a volunteer firefighter on a rescue operation and a man whose car was washed away.

France also announced two fatalities. The first found was a shepherd whose body was pulled from a river near the border. Firefighters later announced a man had been found dead in his car in the southeastern village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie.

France has declared the region a natural disaster zone.

Saint-Martin-Vesubie, a village home to 1,400 north of Nice, was completely cut off by the storm.

A bedraggled group of tourists and residents gathered in the village square to be airlifted to safety, an AFPTV journalist said after reaching the site on foot.

“My three-storey house, it’s in the river,” said villager Sandra Dzidt, 62, who had to flee the floods dressed only in her nightgown. “All I have left is a tiny piece of wall and a door.”

Across the region, emergency crews were handing out food and airlifting thousands of bottles of water into remote villages cut off by the storms.

– ‘Helicopter procession’ –

French Prime Minister Jean Castex inspected the damage by helicopter on Saturday, saying he feared the number of people missing could rise after dozens of cars and several houses were swept away in apocalyptic scenes.

Gonzalez called on the families of the missing not to give up hope.

“Just because their loved ones haven’t been able to get in touch doesn’t mean that they have been taken by the storm,” he said.

Many landline and some mobile phone services were disrupted, with some villages using satellite phones to communicate with rescue services.

Despite forecasts of more rain, rescue efforts were to continue throughout Sunday, Gonzalez said.

“The helicopter procession will continue all day long,” he said.

The presidents of Italy’s Piedmont and Liguria regions signed a joint letter calling on the government to declare a state of emergency with several villages cut off.

“The situation is very serious. It is like it was in 1994,” when 70 died after the Po and Tarano rivers flooded, Piedmont’s president, Alberto Cirio, told La Stampa newspaper.

“The difference being 630 mm of water fell in 24 hours — unprecedented in such a small timeframe since 1954.”

Cirio added Italy was already struggling to cope with the effects of the coronavirus which has left some 36,000 dead and shattered the economy over the past six months.

“We are already in an extraordinary situation. Because of the pandemic the region will this year receive 200 million euros less in tax receipts. If the state does not intervene (with rescue funding) we shall not recover.”

AFP

France’s Macron Ready To Meet Belarus Opposition Leader

 

President Emmanuel Macron is ready to hold talks with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has requested he act as a mediator in her country’s crisis, a French government spokesman said on Monday.

“What’s happening in Belarus is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that is unable to accept the logic of democracy,” Gabriel Attal said, adding that Macron would meet Tikhanovskaya “if she asks” during a visit to Lithuania, where she has fled.

Belarus has been in turmoil since protests broke out last month after Tikhanovskaya lost to President Alexander Lukashenko in a vote she denounced as rigged.

The opposition leader, whose blogger husband remains in a Belarus prison, also called for EU sanctions against businesses that support Lukashenko’s government.

“The protests are not going to stop,” Tikhanovskaya told AFP in an interview. “People will not accept the regime under which they have lived all these years.”

Ahead of Macron’s visit to Vilnius, he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper it was “clear that Lukashenko has to go”, adding that he had been impressed by the courage of the protesters.

“They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long,” he said.

AFP

Macron Party Braces For New Setback In Senate Polls

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a statement as he arrives for a European Union Council in Brussels on July 17, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. (Photo by Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP)

 

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party braced on Sunday for a new setback in elections for France’s Senate upper house, where the right is expected to hold on to its majority.

French Senate members are not directly elected by voters, but instead by tens of thousands of local councillors who are themselves elected by the people.

After Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party performed woefully in the local elections earlier this year, it is not expected to make any significant impact in the Senate vote.

Senate elections take place every three years in France, with half of the chamber’s 348 seats at stake each time.

LREM, dogged by problems in recent months after successfully propelling Macron to the presidency in 2017 elections, currently only has 23 senators.

There is little chance their ranks will swell in Sunday’s polls, while Francois Patriat, the leader of LREM’s Senate group, could even lose his seat.

With 143 seats in the Senate, the right-wing Republicans are expected to keep control of the chamber and continue the historic dominance of the right in the Senate.

But a strong performance in the recent local elections could allow the Greens and Socialists to boost their presence.

While it has some authority especially over constitutional issues, the Senate lacks the power of the National Assembly lower house, which has been controlled by LREM since 2017 legislative elections soon after Macron won the presidency.

But the health of LREM, and in particular its failure to put down roots at the local level, is a growing headache for Macron as he prepares to seek relection in 2022.

Some two dozen MPs earlier this year defected from LREM to other groups, formally robbing the party of its overall majority, although the make-up of the National Assembly means it can still pass legislation.

The party’s number two Pierre Person told the Le Monde daily this month that he was stepping down from his executive post to “give the party a new lease of life”, saying it was in need of an “electric shock”.

AFP

French Ex-President Sarkozy To Face Campaign Finance Trial In March

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 21, 2019 Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech as he attends the conference marking the fiftieth anniversary of the election of Georges Pompidou to the Presidency of the French Republic: “With Georges Pompidou, think France: inheritances and perspectives” in Paris. Thomas SAMSON / AFP.

 

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial in March on charges of campaign finance violations during his failed 2012 re-election bid, prosecutors said Thursday.

Sarkozy, who already faces a separate trial for corruption involving a judge, is accused of spending nearly double the legal campaign spending limit of 22.5 million euros ($26.6 million).

The trial was ordered last year after his lawyers failed with legal manoeuvres to avoid prosecution. If convicted he risks a one-year prison sentence.

Investigators claim that Sarkozy’s campaign used fake invoices to get around the campaign spending limits.

But Sarkozy, 65, has claimed he was unaware of a fraud he says was orchestrated by executives at the public relations firm Bygmalion.

Thirteen other people, including a number of Bygmalion executives, have also been charged in the case, scheduled to run from March 17 to April 15.

In October, Sarkozy will become the country’s first former head of state to stand trial on corruption charges, in a case where he is accused of trying to secure classified information from a judge.

Prosecutors say he offered to help the judge obtain a cushy post in Monaco in exchange for the information, leading to charges of corruption and influence peddling.

Sarkozy has been charged over accusations by former members of Moamer Kadhafi’s regime that he accepted millions from the slain Libyan dictator, some of it delivered in cash-stuffed suitcases, for his first presidential campaign in 2007.

He is appealing the charge, and a hearing is expected this month.

Despite his legal woes, Sarkozy is currently enjoying a surge in sales for his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms,” which recounts the first two years of his presidency.

AFP

Macron To Meet Embattled Ivory Coast Leader Friday

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a statement as he arrives for a European Union Council in Brussels on July 17, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet in Paris on Friday with his Ivory Coast counterpart Alassane Ouattara, whose surprise decision last month to seek a third term has thrown his country into turmoil.

France had welcomed the “historic decision” last March by Ouattara, 78, not to run for re-election, hoping the move would encourage other longstanding African leaders to embrace more democratic regimes.

But the death of his prime minister, who many say was poised to succeed him, prompted a reversal that has sparked weeks of deadly clashes between supporters of rival parties.

Macron has not commented publicly on Ouattara’s move, but a source in the French presidency said Thursday that his hope for a generational change in Ivory Coast remains firm.

On Monday, supporters of the country’s former president Laurent Gbagbo as well as Ouattara’s former ally Guillaume Soro both filed their candidacies in what will likely be tense elections next month.

The move came even though both Gbagbo and Soro had been barred by the electoral commission from running due to convictions in the country’s courts.

The crisis has revived fears of the fierce post-election violence that saw some 3,000 people killed ten years ago, when Gbagbo refused to recognise Ouattara’s election victory.

AFP

Macron In High-Stakes Lebanon Reform Drive

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C-R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (C-L), both wearing face masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, during a welcome ceremony at Beirut International airport. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron pressed his “risky” drive for political change in Lebanon Tuesday, as the former French mandate marked its centenary while teetering on the brink of the abyss.

Macron has set an ambitious goal for his second visit since a deadly August 4 explosion ravaged Beirut: to press for change without being seen as a meddler.

He kicked off his trip on Monday, not by visiting political leaders, but by spending more than an hour with singing legend Fairuz, who at 85 is a rare unifying figure in Lebanon.

Macron ticked off more symbols to mark 100 years Tuesday since French mandate authorities proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon.

In the Jaj forest northeast of Beirut, he planted a cedar tree — Lebanon’s national symbol — to express “confidence in the future of the country,” his office said in a statement.

The French air force flew overhead leaving a trail of red, white and green smoke — the colours of the country’s flag.

Macron then returned for a second visit to Beirut port, ground zero of the colossal blast that killed more than 180 people, wounded at least 6,500 others and laid waste to entire districts of the capital.

He oversaw the distribution of aid from the French helicopter carrier Tonnerre which arrived in Beirut on August 14.

Macron also met with some 400 French soldiers working with the Lebanese army to clear thousands of tonnes of debris from the port, vital for a country whose food is 85 percent imported.

– ‘Demanding without interfering’ –

Macron will then begin the most sensitive and anticipated leg of his visit: difficult discussions with under-fire political leaders widely blamed for the explosion, which was caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had languished in the port for years.

Upon his arrival on Monday, Macron said his position towards Lebanon’s political establishment “is unchanged: demanding without interfering”.

For this position to be deemed credible by disenchanted Lebanese as well as by the rest of the international community, Macron must obtain swift results.

This is why on Monday evening he called for a so-called “mission government” to spearhead reforms just hours after Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated Mustapha Adib as the country’s new prime minister.

The French president said it was not his place to “approve” of the designation of Adib — a little known 48-year-old diplomat who since 2013 had served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany.

But if Lebanon hopes to unlock desperately needed international assistance, political leaders must enact “real reforms” long demanded by donors, Macron said.

“If we do not do this, the Lebanese economy will collapse” and “the only victim will be the Lebanese people (…) who cannot go into exile”, he warned on Friday.

– ‘Risky’ –

Adib was named on Monday by political leaders widely seen as inept and corrupt by demonstrators who have taken to the streets in mass protests since October 17 against the entire political class.

The protest camp has already rejected the choice of Adib as premier, charging that he is too close to established political circles.

“No cabinet by or with the murderers” said posters brandished by demonstrators who waited for Macron outside Fairouz’s home.

Late on Monday, Macron also met with former prime minister Saad Hariri at the Ottoman-era residence of the French ambassador, from whose porch 100 years ago Greater Lebanon was proclaimed.

After a lunch with Aoun in the presidential palace on Tuesday, he will meet with representatives of the country’s top nine political blocs in the second such talks since the blast.

Representatives of the powerful Hezbollah movement, designated by the US as a terrorist group, will be among those meeting Macron.

The French president has justified his openness to “talk with everyone”, including Hezbollah, by saying the Iran-backed group is “a political force that is represented in parliament”.

With the protest camp warning against giving another lease of life to a hereditary ruling class that will only pay lip service to reform, Macron admitted in an interview that his brokering drive was a gamble.

“It’s a risky bet I’m making, I am aware of it… I am putting the only thing I have on the table: my political capital,” he told Politico.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday his movement was “open” to a proposal made by Macron on his previous visit for a new political pact for the country.

Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri have followed suit by backing calls for the formation of a “secular” state.

AFP

French PM Urges Public ‘Responsibility’ In COVID-19 Battle

France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex looks on at the police station of La Courneuve, a northern Paris suburb, on July 5, 2020, during one of his first official visits following his appointment as Premier on July 3. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

 

France’s prime minister urged the population to take “responsibility” for limiting the coronavirus outbreak by wearing masks to protect one another, saying a new epidemic lockdown cannot be ruled out.

In an interview with France Inter, Jean Castex said people who resisted mask-wearing, now compulsory in the workplace, enclosed public spaces and on public transport, should “think of others”.

“They all have vulnerable and elderly people in their families. People feel invincible and think that they do not need a mask.

“People will contaminate others,” he warned. “I appeal to a sense of responsibility.”

Castex said the French government alone could not bear all responsibility for curbing the outbreak, and “everyone must feel invested in the fight against the epidemic.”

France on Tuesday reported over 3,300 new infections in 24 hours, with new admissions to hospital and intensive care also continuing an upward trend observed in recent weeks following a dip brought about by a near two-month social lockdown.

Asked whether the government could issue new stay-at-home orders if the situation spirals out of control, Castex said Wednesday “all hypotheses” were on the table, though a new lockdown was “not the goal” given the severe economic impacts.

– ‘Cannot drop our guard’ –

The government is to unveil details of an economic revival plan worth some 100 billion euros ($118 billion) on Thursday next week, and Castex announced the cultural sector would receive two billion euros to cover lost revenue.

He added a 5,000-person limit for concerts and sporting events will remain in place.

In addition, local authorities in departments with high virus rates, including the Paris Ile-de-France region, will no longer have the power to grant exceptions to the attendance limit.

Given that no proven vaccine or cure exists, Castex warned the population must learn to “live with the virus”.

But life also has to go on, and Castex said the government would do all it can for the French to resume work, school and social and cultural participation “as normally as possible”.

Masks are being made compulsory for children aged 11 and older when they return to school next week and will be provided for free to those at particular risk or cannot afford it.

But “we are not going to pay for masks for families that don’t need” assistance, said the premier.

Masks are now compulsory in the busiest areas of many French towns and cities, including the capital.

On Tuesday, the southern port city of Marseille became the latest to make face coverings compulsory city-wide outdoors, while bars and restaurants will close every day at 11 pm.

AFP

French Ex-PM Fillon Given Five Year Sentence In Fraud Trial

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 27, 2020, former French Prime minister Francois Fillon returns to the courtroom at the Paris’ courthouse, for the hearing of the trial over claims they embezzled over one million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud. – A French court is scheduled to give its verdict on June 29, 2020, in the trial of former premier Francois Fillon on charges of setting up a fake job for his wife, although the ruling could be delayed by a controversy over alleged pressure on prosecutors. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP.

 

A Paris court on Monday sentenced former French prime minister Francois Fillon to five years in prison, with three suspended, after finding him guilty of orchestrating a fake job for his wife, a scandal that cost him his shot at the presidency in 2017.

Fillon’s wife Penelope was handed a suspended three-year sentence for participating in a scheme that saw her paid over a million euros in public funds over a 15-year period.

Both were ordered to pay fines of 375,000 euros ($423,000) and also reimburse one million euros to the National Assembly, where Penelope supposedly worked as Fillon’s parliamentary assistant from 1998 to 2013.

With three years of the five years suspended, Fillon faces two years behind bars in jail. But the couple immediately appealed the ruling, meaning neither will be detained for now pending the appeal.

The couple made no statements as they left the courthouse.

The case was widely seen as a test of whether French politicians would be held to account after decades of getting off lightly on charges of nepotism or financial misconduct.

– Test for French elite –

The allegations that Fillon had pilfered the public coffers for years pummelled his image as an upright fiscal hawk promising to right the country’s finances — and loomed large in the “yellow vest” anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018-2019.

A newspaper report on the fake job surfaced early in January 2017, just after Fillon clinched the nomination from his rightwing Republicans party as candidate for a presidential race he was widely tipped to win.

It later emerged that Fillon had also used public money to pay two of his children a combined 117,000 euros for alleged sham work while he was a senator, before becoming premier in the government of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

He was also accused of getting the millionaire owner of a literary magazine to pay his wife 135,000 euros for “consulting work” that was largely fake.

A third defendant, Marc Joulaud — who stood in for Fillon in parliament when he was a cabinet minister, and who also hired Penelope Fillon as an assistant — was also found guilty.

He was also handed a three year suspended sentence.

– ‘Penelopegate’ –

Fillon’s lawyers had attempted to have the case reopened after the former head of the Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), Eliane Houlette, told lawmakers this month that she had met with “pressure” to bring charges quickly against Fillon.

But the court rejected the request Monday, even though President Emmanuel Macron — whose path to the presidency was cleared by Fillon’s downfall — requested an investigation over the prosecutor’s claims.

“Penelopegate”, as the scandal became known, torpedoed the career of one of France’s right-wing stars, who was the youngest member of parliament when first elected at just 27 years old.

Fillon met his Welsh-born wife while she was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and the couple soon married and moved to an imposing country estate near Le Mans where they raised their five children.

Penelope Fillon told the court she spent a lot of time sorting her husband’s mail, attending public events near their rural manor and gathering information for his speeches.

But investigators seized on a 2016 newspaper interview in which she said: “Until now, I have never got involved in my husband’s political life.”

Fillon insists he was set up for “political assassination” by his rivals and was also the victim of a biased judiciary.

AFP

Low Turnout Expected As France Votes In Local Polls

Voters wearing face masks wait prior to casting their ballot during the second round of the mayoral elections on June 28, 2020, at a polling station in Le Havre, northern France, amid the crisis linked with the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP.

 

French people went to the polls wearing face masks Sunday in the final round of municipal elections expected to yield a rebuke for President Emmanuel Macron’s party.

Amid persistent fears of coronavirus contagion, just over 15 percent of voters had turned out by midday — fewer even than four hours into the first election round on March 15 marked by a record 55-percent abstention rate.

Polls opened for 12 hours for some 16.5 million eligible voters at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in nearly 5,000 cities and towns, about 15 percent of the country’s municipal councils, where the first election round did not yield a decisive outcome.

Power remains up for grabs in the key cities of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Strasbourg.

The opening round was held just as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining deadly momentum, but the second phase, scheduled for March 22, was put off after France went into lockdown.

A new date was set after the government’s scientific council said it was possible to hold another round safely, but voters are required to wear face masks and were urged to bring their own pens.

READ ALSO: Civilians Among Over 100 Victims Of Libya Mines – UN

Many voters and election officials sported germ-blocking plastic visors, and plexiglass screens were erected between them at several polling stations, which also provided sanitising hand gel.

“If one can go shopping, why not go vote?” said an undeterred Martine Legros, 67, who cast her ballot in Dijon in eastern France.

– High toll –

Analysts expect the election to confirm that Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party — founded by the president ahead of his 2017 election win — has failed to gain a strong foothold at local level.

The party made lacklustre showings in March — notably in Paris where Macron’s candidate, former health minister Agnes Buzyn, came third.

Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is forecast to hold on to the capital.

“The problem is that the LREM is a new party that has no local roots and is struggling to impose itself as a (political) force,” analyst Jean Garrigues of the University of Orleans told AFP.

He predicted that disillusionment with the party may put people off going out to vote in already complicated circumstances.

With a death toll approaching 30,000, France has been badly hit by the pandemic.

The country went into lockdown on March 17, just two days after the first election round that critics say should not have been held. Voting started just hours after the government ordered all restaurants and bars closed.

Most restrictions have now been eased.

– Cabinet reshuffle? –

During the outbreak, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe — an unshowy technocratic — saw his popularity rise to a level higher than that of Macron, whose policies have been the target of months of protests and strikes.

Macron’s critics say he is a president of the rich and out of touch with ordinary people.

Paris is buzzing with speculation that a poor showing by the LREM Sunday could see Macron announce a cabinet reshuffle, possibly axing Philippe, who campaigned to be mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre.

Holding two executive posts is allowed under French law.

Firing Philippe would allow Macron “to claim he is delivering on his promise to ensure the ‘second act’ of his presidency takes note of failings revealed by his handling of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

With just 22 months to the next presidential election, Macron’s main challenger is far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Rally.

Despite an abysmal performance in the last presidential elections, France’s Socialists are expected Sunday to keep key regional centres, including Paris, where three women are vying for the top job.

There will also be close attention on the Europe Ecology – The Greens party, which has its eye on the Alpine hub of Grenoble as well as Strasbourg and Lyon.

In Marseille, leftist Michele Rubirola hopes to take France’s second city from the right after a quarter of a century of control.

For Le Pen’s National Rally, the big prize would be Perpignan in the south, which could become the stage for the first far-right takeover of a French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since 1995.

The only region of France not voting Sunday is the overseas territory of Guiana in South America, where the pandemic is deemed too active to open polling stations.

AFP

France Closes Two Paris Schools As Precaution After COVID-19 Cases

Middle school pupils arrive at their school, on June 22, 2020 in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, as primary and middle schools reopen in France. – After six weeks of unsteady school sessions and more than three months of class at home to fight against the spread of the new coronavirus Covid-19, French pupils and middle school students return to class on June 22, thanks to a lighter health protocol. Thomas SAMSON / AFP.

 

French authorities have closed two schools in Paris as a precautionary measure after the discovery of coronavirus cases but they have not been classed as potentially dangerous clusters, authorities said Wednesday.

France, unlike some other European countries which have taken a much more cautious approach, on Monday resumed obligatory schooling for all pupils after the coronavirus shutdown.

Some schools had already been open at least partially for several weeks after the initial easing of the lockdown.

But a school in the 12th district of Paris with 180 pupils has been closed until the end of the week after three cases were discovered, the local health authority told AFP.

However the timescale of the infections — spread over the start of June to Monday — indicates that this is not a cluster, it added.

Another Paris school, in the 4th district and with 200 pupils, has been closed until July 7 after one case was discovered.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Sinks Global Economy In 2020, Collapsing GDP 4.9% – IMF

However, the local authority said there were no other schools closed in Paris due to COVID-19 cases.

Life across France has now returned to a semblance of normality after the lockdown, albeit with many people still working from home and wearing masks on the street.

Officials are wary of a second wave but say there has been no evidence of this yet despite the relaxation measures.

According to the latest figures published late Tuesday, 29,720 people in France have died from the virus with 161,267 positive cases registered.

AFP

Macron Marks De Gaulle’s Wartime Appeal With Britain Visit

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– ‘Need to be careful’ –

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

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

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

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

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

– ‘Proud of your courage’ –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– ‘Nothing lost’ –

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

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

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

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

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

AFP