France Threatens To Pull Troops Out Of Mali

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


President Emmanuel Macron warned in comments published Sunday that France will pull its troops out of Mali if it lurches towards radical Islamism following the second coup in nine months.

France has around 5,100 troops in the region under its so-called Barkhane operation which spans five countries in the Sahel — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The mission, headquartered in Chad, was launched after France intervened to fend off a jihadist advance in Mali in 2013.

On Tuesday France and the European Union denounced an “unacceptable coup d’etat” after Mali’s interim president Bah Ndaw and prime minister Moctar Ouane were detained and stripped of their powers in what is being seen as the country’s second coup in less than a year.

Macron said he had told Ndaw that France will withdraw its troops if Mali turns towards radical Islamism.

“Radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never,” he told the weekly newspaper The Journal du Dimanche.

“There is this temptation today in Mali. But if it goes in that direction, I will withdraw,” he warned in comments made during a trip to Rwanda and South Africa. Macron flew home to Paris on Saturday.

The French president added that he had given a message to West African leaders that they could not back a country “where there is no longer democratic legitimacy or transition.”

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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has invited Mali’s junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita to Ghana’s capital Accra for “consultations” ahead of an extraordinary summit on Sunday devoted to Mali.

Goita flew to Accra on Saturday, military and airport sources said.

He had served as vice president since leading a coup last August that ousted the democratically elected president, with the roles of president and prime minister held by civilians after pressure from ECOWAS, which has served as a mediator.

However, the transitional leaders were detained Monday before being released on Thursday, with the military saying they had resigned.

The twin arrests triggered a diplomatic uproar and marked the second apparent coup within a year in the Sahel country.

Mali’s constitutional court completed Goita’s rise to full power on Friday by naming him transitional president.

With the junta going back on its previous commitment to civilian political leaders, doubts have been raised about its other pledges.

Macron, in his comments published Sunday, warned that if Africa’s development fails then Europe “will pay dearly in terms of migration”.

He stressed the need to “invest massively” adding that the international community must also erase some of the continent’s debt burden “to help Africans build their future.”


European, French Officials Rush Into Self-Isolation After EU Summit With Macron

France’s President Emmanuel Macron leaves a round table meeting during an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, on December 11, 2020. PHOTO: Kenzo Tribouillard / POOL / AFP


A host of European leaders and top French officials rushed into isolation on Thursday after European leaders tested positive for Covid-19, upending political agendas across the continent.

A flurry of contact-tracing followed France’s confirmation that Macron had become the latest world leader to contract Covid-19, following the likes of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump.

Macron, 42, was tested after the “onset of the first symptoms” and will now self isolate for seven days in accordance with national regulations, his office said in a statement.

READ ALSO: France’s President Macron Tests Positive For COVID-19

“He will continue to work and carry out his activities remotely,” the statement said.

Macron attended an EU summit in Brussels last week and on Monday went to a conference in Paris organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

European Council president Charles Michel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were both at the Paris conference and are isolating.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has also gone into self-isolation and cancelled all immediate events on his agenda after, having lunch with Macron on Wednesday.

Macron has cancelled a scheduled trip to Lebanon, where he had been pressing for far-reaching political change after a giant explosion at Beirut’s port in August.


– ‘Defeat pandemic together’ –

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel began isolating on Thursday pending a test result after he had attended the EU summit last week.

But a German government spokeswoman said Chancellor Angela Merkel took a test a few days after the EU summit and it was negative.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will self-isolate after contact with Macron, his office said, adding that he was showing no symptoms had tested negative.

He needs another confirmed negative result before he can come out of isolation next week, his office said.

Macron’s wife Brigitte will also be self-isolating but also shows no symptoms.

Fellow world leaders rushed to wish Macron a speedy recovery.

“Sorry to hear my friend @EmmanuelMacron has tested positive for coronavirus. We are all wishing you a speedy recovery,” tweeted Johnson, who has locked horns with Macron in recent months over the Brexit talks.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was with Macron “with all my heart”.

“We are going to defeat this pandemic together,” she said on Twitter. “We will continue to work hand in hand to immunise and protect our citizens.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had learnt of Maron’s positive test “with alarm” and wished his French counterpart a “speedy recovery and good health for many years to come”.


– Infections still high –

Macron had repeatedly urged caution against the spread of the virus and in public always wears a face mask covering his mouth and nose.

France earlier this week eased restrictions imposed to battle the second wave of the coronavirus but infection rates remain high.

There is still a nationwide overnight curfew from 8:00 pm to halt the spread of the virus while restaurants and cafes as well as theatres and cinemas remain closed.

Over 59,300 people have died in France since the start of the pandemic.

More than 17,000 new cases were registered on Wednesday alone, generating concern as people shop and travel ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Like other EU countries, France is pinning its hopes on a vaccine and Castex said on Wednesday the country will receive 1.16 million doses by the end of the year.

Castex said the start of the vaccine campaign was conditional on approval from the European Medicines Agency, expected on December 21.

Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the EU would start inoculations on December 27.

Another problem for the French authorities is that according to an opinion poll, only 53 percent of people want to be vaccinated, among the lowest rates in the world.


Four French Police Officers Charged Over Beating, Racial Abuse Of Black Man

French anti-riot police officers patrol during a protest against the “global security” draft law in Lyon, on November 28, 2020. PHOTO: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP


Four French police officers were charged Monday over the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer, a case that has outraged France and ramped up pressure on the government to give ground on a controversial security bill.

The assault of Michel Zecler — exposed in video footage published last week — has become a new rallying cause for critics who accuse the police of institutionalised racism and brutality.

President Emmanuel Macron summoned cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders to a crisis meeting Monday to rapidly produce “suggestions to re-establish confidence” between the police and the population, government sources said.

Later Monday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is to face questions from a parliamentary commission over the new security law, which would restrict the right of the press — and of social media users — to publish images of on-duty police.

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Rallies against the law mobilised tens of thousands at the weekend, with dozens wounded during clashes with police in Paris, including a Syrian photographer who has worked for AFP.


 Policemen behind bars

A Paris investigating magistrate early Monday charged all four officers with assault by a person holding public authority. Three were also charged with fabricating their statement on the incident.

Two of the accused — including the most senior officer, a police brigadier aged 44 — will remain behind bars but the other two were freed on conditional release, a judicial source told AFP.

On Sunday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz called for three of the officers to be also charged with racial abuse.

He said that the officers had acknowledged that their use of force was unjustified, but that they claimed they had acted in “fear” and “panic,” and denied any racist abuse.

The four officers had good prior service records, Heitz added.

Zecler had been stopped for not wearing a mask and because of a strong smell of cannabis. A tiny quantity of the substance was found, he said.


Macron ‘in a trap’

Commentators said the images of the beating — first published by the Loopsider news site — might never have been made public if the contentious Article 24 of the security legislation had been in force.

The bill would criminalise publishing images of on-duty police with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.” It was passed by the National Assembly this month, though it still requires approval from the Senate.

Critics says the legislation is further evidence of a slide to the right by Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist promising a liberal overhaul of France.

Macron said Friday that the images of Zecler’s beating “shame us.”

The president “is caught in a trap,” said the headline in the left-leaning Liberation daily. “The government prefers to let the situation decay rather than withdraw Article 24.”


‘Aleppo came back to me’

The protests in Paris saw a brasserie set alight, cars torched and stones thrown at security forces, who responded with tear gas and anti-riot tactics.

Among those hurt was an award-winning Syrian photojournalist, Ameer al-Halbi, 24, seen with a bruised face and much of his head covered in bandages in AFP photos.

Al-Halbi is a freelance photographer who has worked for Polka Magazine and AFP.

“We are shocked by the injuries suffered by our colleague Ameer al-Halbi and condemn the unprovoked violence,” said Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s global news director.

Police have opened an internal investigation into the incident.

Al-Halbi, who was unable to get to the hospital for several hours, said the events felt like a throwback to the Syrian civil war.

“I didn’t think this kind of thing could happen in Paris, it was a shock,” he told AFP in an interview. “I never expected Paris to be a place where I would see blood all over the streets.”

In a tweet, Darmanin said 98 police officers had been hurt during the protests, but it was unclear how many protesters were injured.


World Leaders Pay Final Tribute To Jacques Chirac

The coffin of the late French president Jacques Chirac is carried from the Saint Sulpice Church in the French capital Paris to a waiting hurst following his funeral service on September 30, 2019. Past and current heads of states gathered in Paris to pay tribute to former French president whose high-profile political career spanned three decades capped by 12 years as president from 1995-2007, and who died on September 26, 2019, at the age of 86 in Paris. PHOTO: FRANCOIS MORI / POOL / AFP


Dozens of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Monday, paid their final respects to France’s ex-president Jacques Chirac as the country held a national day of mourning for its charismatic former head of state.

Putin and other world leaders joined President Emmanuel Macron for a funeral service at the Saint-Sulpice church in the French capital, a day after 7,000 people queued to view Chirac’s coffin.

Chirac’s death on Thursday aged 86 prompted a flood of tributes to a man whose high-profile political career spanned four decades, capped by 12 years as president from 1995 to 2007.

But it also sparked questions about how much the consummate political operator actually achieved during his long spell in office and again threw the spotlight on a 2011 conviction for graft over his time as Paris mayor.

Chirac’s coffin, draped in a French flag, was carried into the church by his former bodyguards while onlookers applauded outside.

Other world leaders attending included Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, and former US leader Bill Clinton.

The national day of mourning Monday will later see a minute of silence observed in all public institutions and schools.

The tributes will continue through Wednesday when the France rugby team will don black armbands in a sign of mourning for Chirac during their World Cup clash with the United States in the Japanese city of Fukuoka.

‘A true intellectual’

After a private service for his family at the Invalides memorial complex, Chirac’s coffin was driven under military escort through the streets of Paris to Saint-Sulpice.

Thousands of people had braved wet weather and hours of waiting Sunday to view Chirac’s coffin at the Invalides military hospital and museum in Paris.

Perhaps the former French leader’s most significant action on the international stage was his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent belated condolences, saying he “worked tirelessly to uphold the values and ideals that we share with France.”

Putin worked intensely with the Chirac in the first phase of his own presidency and the pair were notably united in their opposition to the invasion.

In unusually gushing comments in an interview with The Financial Times in June, Putin said Chirac was the modern world leader who had impressed him the most.

“He is a true intellectual, a real professor, a very level-headed man as well as very interesting,” Putin said.

 ‘Embodied France’

Analysts have attributed the outpouring of emotion over the death of Chirac to the warmth of a politician who was more comfortable working for the crowd at the annual Paris agricultural fair than giving speeches in the gilded surroundings of the Elysee Palace.

Isabelle Houdebert, a teacher from the Paris suburbs who stood in line Sunday to view Chirac’s coffin, paid tribute to “his humanity, his simplicity, his cultured nature, his love of the good things in life and his statesmanship.”

“There are no more of that calibre,” she said.

Much of France’s current political class also attended Monday’s service including three other former French presidents: 93-year-old Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Chirac’s former protege Nicolas Sarkozy and former Socialist president Francois Hollande.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen pulled out after the Chirac family opposed her presence.

The former president’s widow Bernadette, who is said to be in frail health, attended a private service earlier but was not present at the main ceremony.

Chirac will be buried at Montparnasse cemetery in southern Paris, next to his daughter Laurence who died in 2016 aged 58 following a battle with anorexia.

As well as opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq, Chirac is remembered for having been the first French president to acknowledge the country’s role in the deportation of Jews during World War II, and for warning of the risk of climate change before it rose high on the political agenda.

But many tributes focused not on policy achievements but the sheer charisma and genuine love for his country of a man whom Macron said Thursday “embodied a certain idea of France.”

One of Chirac’s most concrete legacies is the Quai Branly museum in Paris of indigenous art, which he founded and reflects his lifelong passion for Africa and Asia. To remember its founder, the museum is free to the public until October 11.


Yellow Vest Protest: Looting, Violence Return To Paris

A Yellow Vest protester waves a French national flag in front of a burning newsagent during clashes with riot police forces on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on March 16, 2019, on the 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations called by the ‘Yellow Vest’ (gilets jaunes) movement. Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP


Demonstrators looted stores on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on Saturday, on the 18th week of “yellow vest” protests, characterised by an uptick in violence after dwindling participation in recent weeks.

A Boss menswear store and the gourmet Fouquet’s restaurant were among the premises vandalised as groups of masked protesters lobbed stones at police defending the Arc de Triomphe war memorial.

The police responded with teargas and water cannon but failed to disperse the more radical protesters who erected burning barricades in scenes reminiscent of the worst “yellow vest” riots in the capital in December.

The rally was called to coincide with the end of two months of public debates called by President Emmanuel Macron to give voters a forum to air their grievances and propose policy changes.

The protesters have dismissed the debates as a smoke-screen.

Saturday’s turnout will be seen as a measure of the power of the “yellow vest” movement, which began in November over fuel tax hikes but quickly ballooned into a broader anti-government rebellion.

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Thousands of people converged on the Champs-Elysees — focal point of the Paris protests over the past four months — for “Act XVIII” of a movement which had appeared to be running out of steam but whose core demands still enjoy broad public support.

The Arc de Triomphe, which was sacked by protesters on December 1, was again the focal point of the unrest.

Black-clad demonstrators encircled the square surrounding the arch, pelting the police with stones.

“Macron, we’re coming to get you at home,” some of the protesters chanted, referring to the presidential palace near the Champs-Elysees.

Thirty-one people had been arrested by mid-morning, the police said.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner condemned the violence as the work of “professional trouble-makers” who had “infiltrated” the march and said he had ordered police to “react with the greatest firmness to these unacceptable attacks.”

‘We want results’

Last week, only around 28,000 people demonstrated nationwide, according to the authorities, a tenth of the numbers that turned out for the inaugural protest on November 17.

But on Saturday the protesters were out in force again, pouring into the capital by train and cars from around the country for what they called an “ultimatum” to Macron.

Over 5,000 police were deployed, along with several armoured police vehicles, and several metro stations were closed.

Macron, who was caught off guard when the grassroots movement erupted in November, loosened the state’s purse strings to the tune of 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) to try defuse the protests.

He also launched a “grand national debate” on the internet and town hall meetings to gather feedback on how the country could be reformed.

But the measures failed to quell the anger of the demonstrators, who accuse Macron, a centrist former investment banker, of being beholden to high finance.

Laurent Casanova, an engineer who was among the protesters, told AFP he had come to mark the end of the national debate.

“We have been patient but now we want results,” he said.

The protest is one of several planned in Paris on Saturday, where French climate campaigners are also planning a “March of The Century”.