Macron And Le Pen Face New Test In French Regional Vote

French President’s wife Brigitte Macron, next to French President Emmanuel Macron (L), casts her ballot as she votes at a polling station in Le Touquet, for the second round of the French regional elections on June 27, 2021. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

 

France was voting in the second round of regional elections on Sunday after a first round that saw a drubbing for President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, disappointment for Marine Le Pen’s far-right and record low turnout.

For some observers, the outcome of the June 20 first round raised doubts over whether the 2022 presidential election would come down to a duel between Macron and Le Pen in a run-off long seen as the most likely scenario.

The first-round results marked a boost for the traditional right-wing The Republicans as well as the Socialist Party, who have been squeezed after the centrist Macron surged into power in 2017 with his brand-new Republic on the Move (LREM) party.

Analysts warn against too much extrapolation onto a nationwide scale from the results of the regional elections, which choose the heads of France’s 13 mainland regions from Brittany in the northwest to the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur (PACA) region in the southeast.

But there was cross-party concern over the turnout for last week’s polls, which were shunned by 66.72 percent of voters — a record in modern France.

“What we are seeing is the culmination of a disconnection between voters and the political class,” said Jessica Sainty, politics lecturer at Avignon University, while acknowledging the Covid-19 crisis also played a role in high abstention rate.

The woeful turnout prompted a debate over how to improve participation, with several figures including government spokesman Gabriel Attal suggesting electronic voting could help in future.

According to a poll published Thursday, just 36 percent of voters plan to cast their ballots on Sunday. “France is sulking,” the Le Parisien newspaper said.

Four hours after polls opened, turnout on Sunday stood at the same dismal 12.66 percent as during the first round.

– Far-right eyes breakthrough –

The first-round results put Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) ahead in just one region, PACA, a major disappointment after polls showed a possible breakthrough in several areas.

One of the most closely watched races on Sunday will be whether RN candidate Thierry Mariani can defeat his right-wing rival Renaud Muselier in the region.

Gaining control of a region for the first time would be a huge boost for Le Pen as she seeks to convince voters that the RN — which she has reformed and rebranded since taking over from her firebrand father Jean-Marie — is a serious party of power.

Muselier could be helped by the withdrawal of left-wing candidates in a repeat of the “Republican Front” seen in past presidential elections to block the far-right.

“The idea of a victory for Mariani — even if it is far from being probable — would show that the RN can almost triumph alone over the coalition of all the others and head the powerful executive of a modern region,” said Jerome Sainte-Marie, president of the Pollingvox Institute.

Mariani has been accused by critics of being an admirer of authoritarians like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Prime Minister Jean Castex warned last week that a Mariani victory would be “very serious” for the country.

The RN also came up short in the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris, where its 25-year-old rising star Jordan Bardella failed to trouble right-wing incumbent Valerie Pecresse, who is now expected to easily win the second round.

– ‘Lacks local presence’ –

The first-round results made even more unpalatable reading for Macron and his LREM, confirming the party’s failure to put down local and regional roots despite controlling the presidency and lower house of parliament.

Despite sending several ministers to campaign and Macron himself embarking on a nationwide tour — that saw him slapped by an onlooker at one point — in some regions LREM did not muster the required 10 percent to make round two.

“2022: What if it wasn’t them?” asked the headline in the left-wing Liberation newspaper over a picture of Macron and Le Pen.

LREM has almost no chance of winning control of a single region and is currently just number five among political parties in France.

The Socialists are expected to pick up some regions, partly due to support from the far-left France Unbowed party.

“LREM lacks a local presence, but in 2017 that did not prevent them from winning the presidential and legislative elections,” said Sainty.

Voting began at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) on Sunday, with the last polling stations due to close 12 hours later.

AFP

Macron To Meet Turkey’s Erdogan After Rift

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

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he would meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of next week’s NATO summit, after months of bitter exchanges between the two leaders.

The pair have locked horns over a series of international crises including Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Macron has also warned that Turkey would try to meddle in France’s 2022 presidential election.

He has suggested that Ankara’s unilateral moves on the international stage and purchase of air defence missile systems from Russia have contributed to a “brain death” of NATO, where Turkey is a key member.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Macron said he planned to meet Erdogan “just before” the NATO summit which begins in Brussels on Monday.

READ ALSO: UEFA Demands Ukraine Make Changes To ‘Political’ Jersey

“When we are members of the same organisation, we cannot decide to buy equipment that does not allow interoperability, we cannot decide to carry out unilateral operations which are against the interests of the coalitions that we have built,” Macron said.

He added that the two sides had “profound disagreements” but need to “continue to talk”.

A new law against Islamist extremism which the French government introduced after a series of attacks also aroused Erdogan’s ire, with the Turkish leader accusing France of Islamophobia.

The Turkish leader last year said Macron needed “mental checks” and expressed hope that France would “get rid of” Macron as soon as possible.

But there have been tentative signs of an easing of tensions in recent months, with Erdogan keen to strengthen links with Turkey’s Western partners at a time of growing economic difficulties at home compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

AFP

Man Who Slapped Macron Gets Jail Sentence

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

 

 

A French court on Thursday sentenced a man who slapped French President Emmanuel Macron across the face this week to a prison term of 18 months, 14 of which were suspended.

Damien Tarel, a 28-year-old medieval history enthusiast, has been in custody since the assault on Tuesday which a prosecutor called “absolutely unacceptable” and “an act of deliberate violence”.

Speaking at court in the town of Valence, prosecutor Alex Perrin called for an 18-month prison term after describing the slap as “absolutely unacceptable” and “an act of deliberate violence”.

Under French law, prison sentences of less than two years can be converted into non-custodial punishment, meaning it is unlikely that Tarel would spend time behind bars even if the court followed the prosecution’s plea.

The long-haired history buff and board games enthusiast told investigators that he “acted instinctively and without thinking” after waiting for Macron outside a school in the village of Tain-l’Hermitage.

In court, he expressed sympathy for the anti-government “yellow vest” movement and said that he and two friends had considered throwing an egg or a cream pie at the head of state during his visit to the Drome region, according to the BFM news channel.

“Macron represents the decline of our country,” he told the court.

Tarel, unemployed and living on benefits with his disabled girlfriend, said he had been annoyed by Macron’s decision to come to greet him — “an electoral tactic that I didn’t appreciate”, BFM reported.

In a video of the incident, a smiling Macron can be seen striding towards a crowd of onlookers including Tarel who are being kept behind a barrier.

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

Asked about it again during an interview on Thursday with BFM, he called it a “stupid, violent act” and suggested it was a consequence of the poisonous atmosphere found on social media.

“You get used to the hatred on social media that becomes normalised,” he said. “And then when you’re face-to-face with someone, you think it’s the same thing. That’s unacceptable.”

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

“The political climate is turning to vinegar. It’s dangerous what’s happening,” senior leftist MP and regional election candidate Clementine Autain told France Info.

Others saw the assault as a sign of how Macron, a reformist former investment banker, continues to inspire visceral rejection from many French people.

His presidency was rocked by the anti-government “yellow vest” protests in 2018-2019, which were driven in part by anger at his economic reforms as well as his abrasive personality.

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

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

Other modern French presidents have been targeted in shootings, including post-war leader Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac.

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

Macron Vows To Defy Security Fears After Slap

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) interacts with members of a crowd while visiting Valence on June 8, 2021 during a visit in the French southeastern department of Drôme, the second stage of a nationwide tour ahead of next year’s presidential election. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / POOL / AFP)

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will continue to greet crowds during his travels despite a security scare that saw him slapped by a man in the south of France, a government spokesman said Wednesday.

Macron shrugged off his assault on Tuesday in the village of Tain l’Hermitage, calling it an “isolated event” and “stupidity”, and he went to chat with and fistbump onlookers later in the day in the nearby town of Valence.

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

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

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

He has been described as a fan of medieval martial arts and board games, while the French media raked over his social media activity looking for clues to his political sympathies.

He is a subscriber to several far-right YouTube channels.

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

One of the friends, who says he identifies with the anarchist movement, explains that they have come to speak to Macron about the “decline of France”.

Police sources said that Damien T. had no criminal record and friends and acquaintances who spoke to AFP expressed surprise at his actions, describing him as a shy and placid character.

– Safety debate –

The slap has led to debate about whether it is safe for Macron to continue spontaneous meetings with members of the public.

The centrist began a nationwide tour of France last week, promising to “take the pulse” of the country a fortnight before regional elections and 10 months before a presidential vote.

He is widely expected to seek a second term in April and May next year, with polls giving him a narrow lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The 43-year-old former investment banker decided to get out of his car to greet onlookers on Tuesday who were calling his name after a visit to a school in Tain l’Hermitage.

In footage of the incident, he can be seen striding over to a barrier, with his security detail behind him, before greeting Damien T., who grabs him with his left hand and strikes with his right.

Experts highlighted on Wednesday how French security services advise French presidents on their safety, but do not have authority or powers to prevent them putting themselves in danger.

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

“The Americans have a history of attacks,” he added.

Macron has been regularly booed and heckled in the street since coming to power in 2017, above all by anti-government “yellow vest” protesters, but he had never been physically assaulted before Tuesday.

The country has faced a string of Islamist attacks in recent years and Macron has been personally targeted during demonstrations in Muslim countries over his defence of French secularism and the right to blaspheme.

AFP

Buhari, Macron Pledge To Fight Insecurity Bedeviling Nigeria, Lake Chad Basin

President Muhammadu Buhari and French President Emmanuel Macron

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron have committed have pledged to work together to fight insecurity bedeviling the Lake Chad basin area and the entire stretch of the Sahel region.

Speaking at a bilateral meeting, at which he hosted President Buhari on the sidelines of the Financing Africa Summit in Paris on Tuesday, President Macron pledged his steadfast support for Nigeria and its people as they confront the security challenges facing the country.

The French Leader said his government will give Nigeria all the support it needs to combat the security threats hindering the economic growth of the nation.

President Muhammadu Buhari and President Emmanuel Macron exchange pleasantries

 

He also promised to support Nigeria in confronting the challenges faced with COVID-19 vaccines.

President Buhari, at the meeting, outlined the challenges all around facing the country as well as its neighbours and spoke about the steps he has taken to reignite response to the situation, which he said included the appointment of the new Service Chiefs.

President Macron has pledged to support Nigeria in fighting insecurity

 

The President expressed the willingness of Nigeria to work with France and all international partners to reign in the security challenges and thanked President Macron for agreeing to intensify the existing partnership with Nigeria.

 

Macron Hosts Summit On Post-Covid Africa Finance

(from L) President of Congo Democratic Republic Felix Tshisekedi, French president Emmanuel Macron, Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, Senegal’s President Macky Sall and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, attend the opening session of the Summit on the Financing of African Economies on May 18, 2021 in Paris. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

 

French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday hosted African leaders and global financial institutions for a summit seeking to provide Africa with critical financing after the Covid-19 pandemic depleted the continent’s coffers.

Africa has so far been less badly hit by the pandemic than other global regions — with a total of 130,000 dead across the continent, compared with 3.4 million worldwide.

But the economic cost is only too apparent, with the International Monetary Fund warning in late 2020 that Africa faces a shortfall in the funds needed for future development — a financial gap of $290 billion up to 2023.

While richer countries are running major economic recovery programmes, Africa “does not have the financial means today to relaunch its economy,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RFI radio.

He warned against the risk of a “great economic divergence between Africa, which would go backwards, while the United States, Europe and Asia recover strongly”.

A moratorium on the service of public debt agreed in April last year by the G20 and the Paris Club, a group of creditor countries that tries to find sustainable solutions for debtor nations, was welcomed but will not be enough.

Many want a moratorium on the service of all external debt until the end of the pandemic.

“We are collectively in the process of abandoning Africa by using solutions that date from the 1960s,” Macron said last month, warning that failure would lead to reduced economic opportunity, sudden migration flows and even the expansion of terrorism.

International financial leaders attending include IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank managing director of operations Axel van Trotsenburg.

The summit, which got under way at 1100 GMT, is to wind up with a 1600 GMT press conference with Macron and Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, whose country holds the rotating African Union presidency, as well as Senegal President Macky Sall and Georgieva.

– ‘New, cheaper, longer’ –

Serge Ekue, the president of the West African Development Bank (BOAD), told AFP that Africa needed much longer loan maturities going beyond seven years and interest rates of 3.0 percent rather than 6.0 percent.

“In West Africa, the average age is 20. You walk in (Ivory Coast’s economic capital) Abidjan and there is incredible energy,” he said, noting that Africa had seen growth rates of five to six percent in the last years.

“The issue is therefore not so much a moratorium as obtaining low rates. Because it is better to issue new, cheaper and longer debt than to obtain a suspension,” he said.

Togo President Faure Gnassingbe announced that his country had secured an additional $240 million package from the IMF.

The summit comes a day after a conference on Monday attended by several heads of state that aimed to rally support for the Sudan government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in the transition after the 2019 ouster of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir.

Macron notably announced that France would cancel almost $5 billion in debt owed by Khartoum in order to help a transition he described as an “inspiration”.

Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition centre under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, are a chance for Macron to show himself as a statesman on Africa whose influence goes beyond the continent’s francophone regions.

More than two dozen African heads of state are attending Tuesday’s summit, one of the biggest in-person top-level meetings held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other key figures attending include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Rwandan, Egyptian and Mozambican counterparts Paul Kagame, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Filipe Nyusi.

A French presidential official said Macron and Nyusi, whose country is battling a bloody Islamist insurrection in its north, would hold a bilateral meeting Tuesday.

The official said the summit would also be a chance for the international community to coordinate efforts to help Mozambique.

Le Maire said funding was needed to finance anti-terror campaigns, particularly important as “the epicentre of terrorism has moved from the Middle East”.

AFP

Macron’s Climate Referendum Stalls As Senate Waters Down Bill

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 promise to enshrine the fight against climate change in the French constitution via a referendum appeared moribund on Tuesday after the upper house watered down the ambitious wording of a government-sponsored bill.

The initiative to state in the constitution that France “guarantees environmental protection and biological diversity, and combats climate change” originated in a citizen’s body set up by Macron last year.

Seeking the upper hand in what could be a key issue in next year’s presidential election, the French leader promised a referendum on the bill if it gained approval in both houses of parliament.

The National Assembly, where Macron has a majority, overwhelmingly voted in favour of the revision in March.

But when the bill then went to the Senate, the body — majority-ruled by the right-wing Republicans — removed a key provision from the draft law before backing a new version in a vote late Monday.

Under French law a referendum can go ahead only if it is approved in identical wording by both houses of parliament.

A majority of senators took issue with the word “guarantee” in the bill, which they say implies that environmental concerns would take priority over other constitutional principles.

Instead, they approved a text stating that France “preserves the environment as well as bio-diversity and acts against climate change under the conditions laid down in the Environment Charter of 2004”, sponsored by then-president Jacques Chirac.

Keeping the “guarantee” wording would have given environmental protection priority over all other constitutional considerations, said Francois-Noel Buffet, the right-wing head of the Senate’s legal commission.

The government’s wording would have “introduced the virus of growth decline in our constitution”, added the senate leader of the right-wing LR party, Bruno Retailleau.

Macron’s office said at the weekend that, despite Senate opposition, the plan to change to constitution was “in no way buried”.

But the chances for compromise seemed remote on Tuesday after Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said he stood by the “guarantee” wording which he said reflected the “strength of the commitment” displayed by the government.

Ahead of the Senate vote, Retailleau said Macron was guilty of “hypocrisy”, saying the president “accuses us of obstruction to justify the cancellation of a referendum that he never wanted”.

The Senate vote came after tens of thousands of people marched in France on Sunday calling for more ambitious climate action.

AFP

France Won’t Give Into Islamist Terrorism, Says Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron

 

President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that France would never give in to “Islamist terrorism” after the fatal stabbing of a female police employee by a suspected extremist.

“In our fight against Islamist terrorism, we will never give in,” Macron wrote on Twitter, naming the murdered woman as Stephanie.

Macron To Attend Funeral Of Slain Chadian Leader

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

 

French President Emmanuel Macron is to attend the funeral of slain Chadian leader Idriss Deby Itno on Friday, the government spokesman said, underlining France’s support for the late strongman.

“The president paid tribute to him at the cabinet meeting and will go to his funeral at the end of the week,” Gabriel Attal told reporters at a press conference after a weekly cabinet meeting.

France had earlier on Tuesday paid tribute to the late president, describing him as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier”, while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.

The veteran leader died from wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting a rebel incursion, according to the army, opening a period of uncertainty in Chad, a key strategic ally of the West in the Sahel region of 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 towards its capital, N’Djamena.

Defence Minister Florence Parly praised Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” while emphasising that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop”.

Deby had ruled Chad since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990 but and 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.

AFP

Macron’s COVID-19 Strategy: ‘Third Way’ Or Wrong Way?

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

 

Is it a lockdown, a loose lockdown or something different? A week after the announcement of new restrictions in Paris, many residents in the capital are unsure what to call it and the government is still adjusting its strategy.

“People are still working, taking the metro, going shopping, life’s carrying on,” 64-year-old hospital worker Lydia Moyal told AFP as she strolled near the Eiffel Tower in southwest Paris. “It’s not a lockdown.”

Walking nearby, Saida Bouani said she’d just taken a bus that was jammed full.

“I couldn’t get a seat and people sat right next to each other,” said the 58-year-old, who added that the new restrictions were “light”.

Faced with surging new coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the new measures last Thursday for around 20 million people living in Paris as well as regions in the north and south-east.

Non-essential shops would have to close in these areas, working-from-home should be increased, and everyone would need to fill out a form when they went outside.

READ ALSO: EU Regulator Calls In Experts Over AstraZeneca Jab

But these weren’t “stay-at-home” orders, he said: people could take as much fresh air as they liked providing they remained within 10 kilometres (six miles) of their homes. And schools would stay open.

“We’re adopting a third way,” Castex said, saying that the strategy was built around a mantra of “containment without locking up”.

The day after, French President Emmanuel Macron took issue with the way the announcements had been reported by the media, saying “strictly speaking, the term lockdown is not right”.

– Changes –

The government has since abandoned the form needed to justify leaving home, which sparked ridicule when it was revealed to be two-pages long and with a choice of 15 different boxes to tick to justify an outing.

The list of “essential” shops has also grown — hairdressers as well as shops selling video games are allowed to open along with book and music stores.

The biggest change has been to the nation-wide evening curfew, which has been pushed back to 7 pm.

“It’s better now because it means you can stay out for an extra hour,” 22-year-old cinema student Clement said in the Tuileries garden near the Louvre museum, adding that he was continuing to see friends.

With the arrival of warm spring-time weather on Wednesday, groups of young people could be seen socialising in public spaces around the city, including on the lawns of the Louvre.

This prompted another rule change: no more than six people will be allowed to gather outside, the interior ministry announced late Wednesday.

The evolving measures and mixed messages have led some ministers and ruling party MPs to grumble — under the cover of anonymity — about the unclear communication from their colleagues.

“It’s been a very difficult week,” one told Le Monde newspaper. “There’s been some hesitation and imprecision.”

Medics and epidemiologists meanwhile are warning about the consequences.

“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 Bichat hospital in northern Paris, told AFP.

“For the last week, it’s been extremely worrying. The curve is really exponential. We’re in a sharply accelerating phase of the epidemic,” she added.

– Pressure –

Macron is under sustained fire from opponents after taking personal responsibility for not ordering a third national lockdown at the end of January against the advice of senior scientific aides and his health minister.

Having staked so much credibility on the issue ahead of elections next year, a fresh lockdown now would be a gift to his critics who accuse him of arrogance and mismanagement.

The executive “is still looking to avoid a third lockdown”, a government source told AFP this week, defending the choice not to lock people up because of the severe mental health consequences.

The executive has made clear that it sees mass vaccinations as the only way out of the crisis — but the campaign has been stuttering since the start of the year because of a chronic lack of doses.

When Macron visited a vaccination centre in northern France on Tuesday, he again promised an acceleration.

“We as health professionals are ready, but we don’t have the doses,” a pharmacy owner, Herve Momentym, told him during his trip.

Momentym said he’d received just one batch this week, enough to vaccinate 11 people.

France has administered at least one dose to around six million people so far, around 10 percent of its population, according to data from the health ministry.

AFP

Macron Warns Against Turkish ‘Interference’ In French Polls

French President Emmanuel Macron gives an interview at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 23, 2021 to the show “C Dans l’Air” on the French tv channel France 5 ahead of the broadcast of a documentary on France’s diplomatic relations with Turkey.
France 5 / AFP

 

President Emmanuel Macron warned against Turkish meddling in France’s presidential elections next year and accused Ankara of spreading lies through state-controlled media, in an interview broadcast Tuesday.

Macron told France 5 television that he had noted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to improve relations, which have been battered by disputes over the conflicts on Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, and Turkish accusations of Islamophobia in France.

But while Macron insisted that Europe would never turn its back on Turkey, he said that improving ties would be difficult unless Ankara’s behaviour changed.

“There will be attempts at interference in the next (French) presidential elections” in 2022, Macron said, ahead of the vote in which he is expected to seek a second mandate, he said.

“I consider this to be unacceptable. It’s written down — the threats are not veiled.”

Macron said such interference would take the form of “playing on public opinion” and lashed out at Turkey for distorting his comments on Islam last October after a spate of attacks in France by extremists.

“Very clearly last autumn there was a politics of lies,” he said.

“Lies of the state, lies spread by media controlled by the Turkish state, spread by certain large channels controlled by Qatar,” he said, a reference to Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Macron said he had also raised this with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, a close ally of Erdogan.

“My comments were falsified and France was presented as a country with a problem with Islam,” he said.

The relationship between Macron and Erdogan hit a low last year when the Turkish leader said his French counterpart needed “mental checks” as tensions rose over a new French law clamping down on radical Islam.

Erdogan in December then expressed hope that France would “get rid of” Macron as soon as possible, describing the president as “trouble” for the country.

– ‘Didn’t keep word’ –
The Turkish leader has taken a softer tone towards France and the EU this year, but Macron indicated much more was needed.

“I have noted since the start of the year a desire by President Erdogan to re-engage. I want to believe that this path is possible,” he said.

“But we cannot re-engage when there are ambiguities. I do not want to re-engage with a better relationship when there are such manoeuvres.”

Macron insisted that France would never give in to “blackmail” but acknowledged Europe had to work with Ankara on migration policy, with Turkey hosting millions of Syrian refugees.

“If one day we say we are not working and discussing with them any more, they will open their doors and you will have three million Syrian refugees in Europe,” he said.

The French president reaffirmed his belief that “we need to clarify” the behaviour of Turkey within NATO, and was particularly critical of its actions in the conflict in Libya.

“Turkey did not keep its word, it sent foreign fighters, it sent its army (into Libya). I am applying a lot of pressure so that we now have a withdrawal,” he said.

COVID-19: Macron Vows To Speed Up Vaccine Rollout

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

 

France should be vaccinating “morning, noon and evening”, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday as he battles criticism that the COVID-19 immunisation drive has been too slow.

“We’re going to change pace from April,” Macron said during a visit to an inoculation centre in the northern town of Valenciennes, adding there should be “no weekend and days off when it comes to vaccinations”.

France is tackling the third wave of infections but is lagging behind many Western countries in terms of the number of people vaccinated.

It has rolled out some 8.8 million doses, compared with over 30 million in Britain and nearly 11 million in Germany.

While the inoculation drive has sped up in recent weeks, it has failed to keep step with a spike in infections.

The number of new infections is averaging around 30,000 a day, up around a third from the previous week.

With hospitals in some regions overwhelmed, the government has placed a third of the population under partial lockdown and announced plans to set up 35 mass vaccination centres.

– Vaccine export ban? –
Until now, France has been relying on community halls, hospitals, doctor’s surgeries and pharmacies while the US, Britain and several other countries have requisitioned larger spaces, such as stadiums.

The Stade de France stadium in the north of Paris — which has hosted the finals of the world cups in both football and rugby — will be used as a vaccine centre from April 6, officials said.

Some 10,000 people a week could be vaccinated there, officials said.

The government has complained that delays and shortfalls in vaccine deliveries — particularly supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine — have hampered its fight against the pandemic.

European governments are furious that the Anglo-Swedish firm has been able to fully honour its UK contract while falling short on its supplies to the EU.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has threatened to halt EU exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine if the bloc does not receive its promised deliveries first.

“We’re fighting to get hold of doses,” Macron said.

France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune insisted on the need for “reciprocity” with the UK, speaking to French radio.

“We deliver if we receive deliveries. If we are not supplied by others we will not deliver the doses. It’s simple,” he said, adding that the EU leaders would discuss the issue at a summit on Thursday.

– Lockdown fatigue –
France was among a host of EU countries to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week due to fears over blood clots, but the jab was declared “safe and effective” by European regulators.

Prosecutors in the western city of Nantes said Tuesday they were investigating the death of a 26-year-old medical student days after he received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine while stressing that no link had been established yet with the jab.

The handling of the health crisis has major consequences for 43-year-old Macron, just over 12 months from presidential elections in which he is expected to seek a second mandate.

With polls showing growing lockdown fatigue, he had for weeks tried to avoid ordering the French back indoors for a third time.

The month-long partial lockdown applies to Paris and several other regions in the north and southeast, but some experts believe tougher measures will be needed.

Non-essential businesses in the affected regions were forced to close, but schools, hairdressers and book shops remain open, while there are no restrictions on leaving home up to a distance of 10 kilometres (6 miles).

Travel is banned between high-infection zones and the rest of the country.