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Posts tagged ‘Land of the French Oppression’

World Cup afterglow gives France a sorely needed boost

July 16, 2018

PARIS (AP) — The members of France’s victorious World Cup team returned home from Russia to triumphant arcs of water heralding their airplane’s arrival and a red carpet welcome Monday, and that was before the formal homage that awaited them in Paris.

Goalie Hugo Lloris, brandishing the golden trophy from soccer’s eminent tournament, and coach Didier Deschamps led the team from the Air France plane to the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Airport personnel and French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, a former champion fencer, were the first to tell them “merci” on behalf of a grateful nation that was sorely in need of a boost.

“Eternal Happiness” read Monday’s headline in French sports daily L’Equipe, summing up the mood of many who hope the euphoria will last for months — even years. The team expected to take a victory lap down the grand Champs-Elysees, the grand Paris avenue where hundreds of thousands thronged after France’s 4-2 victory Sunday over Croatia to capture the trophy.

For a third day in a row, the avenue was transformed into a boulevard of pride and happiness following a Bastille Day parade of French military might Saturday that, in hindsight, was a preview for the elation of France’s World Cup win.

The team’s appearance on the Champs-Elysees will be followed by a reception at the presidential palace. Hundreds of guests, including people from soccer clubs connected to the French players, were invited. A club in the poor suburb where 19-year-old star Kylian Mbappe grew up is among them.

France has been short of reasons to feel proud, and now is the moment. Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honor the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-Elysees Clemenceau has become the Deschamps-Elysees Clemenceau to honor national team coach Didier Deschamps.

The Etoile station is, for now, “On a 2 Etoiles” (We have 2 stars), to denote France’s second victory in soccer’s World Cup. The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France’s standout goalie and team captain.

Celebrations were spread across the nation, and among the still-dazed French players themselves. “We are linked for life now with this Cup,” defender Raphael Varane told BFM-TV on Monday before departing from Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron exulted on the field in Moscow and in the locker room, hugging players as they received their medals even as the skies poured rain. Macron clearly hoped the World Cup glow would rub off on him, raising him up in the eyes of a nation where his economic reforms have drawn fierce protests.

It was the players, though, who captured the French imagination. The mostly youthful, diverse team represents a generation with which traditionalists have yet to come to terms. Flessel, the sports minister, told Europe-1 radio that the World Cup victory allows France’s youth — like those in the poor suburbs where many of the players grew up — “to dare to believe in their dreams.”

Joy over the win brightened the Monday morning commute in Paris, where young people in cars sang and shouted. In the eastern Paris neighborhood of Belleville, Vincent Simon said, “Both teams deserved to win. France won, and that’s good for the country. That will do us good for some months.”

The victory came at a time when many French were in need of good news. “It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster — the French national symbol — and a shirt with Mbappe’s No. 10 number.

“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said at Sunday’s festivities, recalling deadly terror attacks. “This is good for the morale … Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that’s what feels good.”

Still, celebrations in France typically end up with a spate of violence by troublemakers, and Sunday was no exception. Broken shop windows, pillage and other destruction lined a section of the Champs-Elysees, the postgame site for revelers. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to end the violence.

French media reported that authorities detained 90 people for questioning in the Paris region and some 290 around France.

Chris den Hond in Paris contributed.


No refuge from politics but France victory a fitting climax

July 16, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Kylian Mbappe high-fived a political protester who invaded the field during the World Cup final. French President Emmanuel Macron leapt out of his seat in a VVIP area that included a leader charged with genocide. And Vladimir Putin was drenched in a sudden downpour as the trophy was handed over to the victorious French team.

This year’s World Cup was never going to be a refuge from politics when it was being staged in Putin’s Russia, but the players did their best to keep the tournament for themselves. A final with six goals — France beat Croatia 4-2 on Sunday — was a fitting climax to a month that produced some of the most enthralling matches in World Cup history.

The lasting images will be of pure elation as the France players leapt into the crowd to collect flags, then crashed Didier Deschamps’ post-match news conference, dancing on the table and spraying champagne and water on the coach.

“Sorry,” Deschamps said. “They’re young and they’re happy.” No need to apologize. This young squad earned its right to go wild. Particularly Mbappe, a 19-year-old forward whose career trajectory should move into a stratosphere occupied for so long by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The old guard went home early; another failed challenge for World Cup titles by Portugal and Argentina. Mbappe flies home with a winners’ medal.

It’s not just about his composure on the ball, and eye for goal. Just look at the coolness early in the second half dealing with a member of the Pussy Riot activist group which protests against what they consider to be Putin’s repressive regime: A double-high five. Nothing fazes the guy who became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958.

“I’ve always been ready, mentally, to do beautiful things,” Mbappe said. “I’m free and, most of all, I enjoy it.” Not only Mbappe. Benjamin Pavard, a 22-year-old defender, will be hot property in the upcoming transfer window. Raphael Varane has also been at the heart of the defense that didn’t concede a goal in four of seven games in Russia. The starring role by Paul Pogba, who scored the decisive third goal on Sunday, was a riposte to critics of his contribution at Manchester United.

“These kids, they play like it’s a pick-up game,” said 32-year-old France defender Adil Rami, who was on the bench for the entire tournament. In so many ways, France lifting the trophy was one shred of order in this month of so much disruption. And it wasn’t just about the often-confusing use of video review on its World Cup debut. Set-pieces are back in vogue, accounting for 73 of the 169 goals, including Mario Mandzukic’s own-goal from Antoine Griezmann’s free kick that gave France an early lead in the final.

Germany’s title defense disintegrated in the group stage. Spain, in turmoil from the start, was sent home in the round of 16, signaling the end of the tiki-taka tactics behind the country’s title run in 2010. No longer is it all about keeping hold of the ball.

“The teams with the highest level of possession were all punished by fast forwards,” Deschamps said. “When you defend, you are guaranteed to have two or three opportunities on the counterattack.” Croatia bulldozed its way into the final in a sure sign of the establishment being disrupted. The gritty resolve was always evident in the final. Even at 4-1, the Croats didn’t give up on their first shot at a major soccer title, but they finally ran out of steam after three straight extra-time matches.

“I have never lived through such a World Cup,” Deschamps said. “There was a leveling at the top. And the small teams on paper arrived really well prepared athletically. My memory was that great football nations would have some difficulty and then they would grow stronger.”

Only France did, reasserting the World Cup’s status at the pinnacle of soccer over the increasingly-predictable club competitions across Europe. Even Russia, the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, managed to reach the quarterfinals.

“You have to believe it’s possible and many things have to fall into place,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said after his country’s first final. “You have to follow those dreams and ambitions and then maybe one day it will come true.”

Maybe one day politicians will not try to hog the limelight at a sporting event as they did at the Luzhniki Stadium and across Russia. FIFA allowed one of the coveted seats to be given to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Another went to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been described as Europe’s last dictator.

But there was some payback from Mother Nature. By delaying the trophy presentation, leaving Croatia’s despondent players waiting even longer to depart the field, the storm clouds gathered. The downpour soaked the dignitaries.

That shouldn’t be a problem when the World Cup heads to the desert nation of Qatar four years from now, when France will hope to defend its title and the smaller nations will have been given hope by Croatia.

“Talent is not sufficient,” Deschamps said before departing to rejoin the victory celebrations. “What makes the difference is psychological.”

Greek court rules to extradite cybercrime suspect to France

July 13, 2018

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A Greek court agreed Friday to extradite to France a Russian cybercrime suspect who also is wanted on criminal charges in the United States and Russia. The court in the northern city of Thessaloniki ruled in favor of France’s request for Alexander Vinnik, a former bitcoin operator who was arrested in Greece last year on a U.S.-issued international warrant.

Vinnik is appealing the decision, defense lawyer Ilias Spyrliadis said. France is seeking the 38-year-old for alleged cybercrime, money laundering, membership in a criminal organization and extortion. The Greek Supreme Court earlier approved Vinnik’s extradition to the U.S. to stand trial for allegedly laundering billions of dollars using bitcoin.

French authorities accuse Vinnik of defrauding thousands of people worldwide, including about 100 French nationals, by launching cyberattacks through his bitcoin platform. They allege he used 20,643 bitcoins to launder around 133 million euros ($155 million.)

Vinnik has denied doing anything illegal. He remains jailed in Greece pending final decisions on his extradition. Meanwhile, Russian authorities sent a new request this month for Vinnik’s extradition Russia initially sought Vinnik on lesser fraud charges, and a Greek court ruled for his extradition to Russia based on the first request. The second request raises the amount of money allegedly involved in the cyberfraud there to 750 million rubles ($12 million.)

Spyrliadis said a European warrant ordinarily would take precedence over others, giving France first dibs on prosecuting Vinnik. But he said in practice, it’ll be up to Greece’s justice minister to decide where Vinnik ends up.

Versailles Palace and Orsay museum closed due to a strike

June 19, 2018

PARIS (AP) — The Palace of Versailles, one of France’s top tourist attractions, and the Orsay museum in Paris were closed to visitors on Tuesday due to a strike of employees. The gardens of the Palace, in the western suburbs of the French capital, remained open.

The Orsay museum, home to a large collection of impressionist masterpieces, warned visitors that the opening might also be “disrupted” on Wednesday. Workers are protesting changes in the organization of the Culture Ministry that would directly affect 1,500 people.

Unions fear the changes would lead to job insecurity and inequality among employees working for different monuments operated by the ministry.

Leaders of Italy, France to pursue migration changes at EU

June 15, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte agreed Friday to work together to pursue changes to the European Union’s migration rules, finding common ground after the issue created a rift between their countries.

The two leaders said during a joint news conference that EU regulations requiring asylum-seekers to apply in the first country they enter and remain there while their cases are processed were not working.

Macron said the policy and others have left Italy, usually the first European country reached on the busy migration route across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa, without the support that is supposed to be a benefit of a united Europe.

“The proper response is European, but the existing European response has not adapted,” said the French leader, who is seen as strongly pro-EU. Conte, who heads the populist, anti-EU government that took over running Italy on June 1, echoed the politician he called “my friend Emmanuel.”

“The concept itself of the ‘state of first entry’ must be rethought. He who puts his feet in Italy puts his feet in Europe,” said Conte, who was a law professor before he became premier. They also both called for steps to beef up Europe’s borders to prevent illegal immigration.

Macron cited an initiative of his government last year to establish “protection missions” that pre-screen asylum-seekers in Chad and Niger to prevent citizens of the two west African countries from risking the dangerous sea journey.

Conte said Italy is working on a proposal for a “radical paradigm change” in Europe’s approach to managing mass migration that includes creating “hotspots” in the most common countries of origin and departure to identify asylum candidates.

These “centers of European protection” would “anticipate and speedup identification and requests for asylum,” he said. The meeting between Macron and Conte at the Elysee Palace in Paris almost did not take place after the president offered a harsh assessment of Italy’s refusal to accept a private rescue ship carrying 629 migrants. Macron accused the new Italian government of “cynicism” and “irresponsible” behavior.

The migrants who were rescued last Saturday remained at sea Friday. Italy denied the Aquarius a place to dock, insisting it was Malta’s responsibility. After Malta also refused and pointed the ship toward Italy, Spain’s new Socialist prime minister offered the passengers safe harbor Monday. The Aquarius is currently en route to Valencia, where it is expected to arrive on Sunday.

Standing alongside Macron, Conte said it was “time to turn the page” on the diplomatic tensions over the ship and to tackle the larger migration quagmire. As Conte and Macron mended fences in Paris, Italy’s foreign minister met with his Maltese counterpart in Rome to discuss the clash. They expressed “the shared desire to work together in tight coordination, especially in European capitals, about migration in terms of revising” the EU asylum regulations, according to an Italian foreign ministry statement.

Pope Francis referred to this week’s standoff for the second time in as many days Friday, saying the Gospel teaches that it’s wrong to leave migrants “at the mercy of the waves.”

Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.

France’s Macron seeks to forge European front against Trump

June 08, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to take the lead of the European brigade against U.S. President Donald Trump at the summit of the Group of Seven wealthy countries in Canada. Macron called a meeting Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, new Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte and top EU officials just before the G-7 opening.

He told reporters the United States’ attitude must lead other nations to “reforge the European front.” European leaders criticize the U.S. decision to impose protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminum and to exit the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement.

Tweeting in English, Macron stressed: “No leader is eternal. We inherit commitments which are beyond us. We take them on. That is the life of nations.” Macron launched the offensive on Thursday at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Adopting an unusually sharp tone about one of France’s closest allies, Macron rejected the idea of an American “hegemony”. “The other countries of the G-6 are a larger market than the American market,” Macron said. “Maybe it doesn’t bother the American president to be isolated, but it doesn’t bother us to be six if need be.”

European Council President Donald Tusk, who will attend the meeting of EU leaders, said in the New York Times this week “Europe must now do everything in its power to protect the trans-Atlantic bond, in spite of today’s mood. But at the same time we must be prepared for scenarios in which we will have to act on our own.”

Macron’s initiative comes six weeks after Macron and Trump exhibited their friendship at a state visit in Washington — with exaggerated handshakes and a pair of kisses. The two leaders talked on the phone last week after Trump announced U.S. tariffs on European goods. Macron declined to disclose details of the discussion after an unnamed source told CNN television it went badly.

He instead repeated the famous line attributed to 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck about laws and sausages: “It’s best not to see them being made.” And he promised a “frank and direct discussion” with Trump in Canada.

AP Writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

France: Macron rewards migrant hero who saved dangling child

May 29, 2018

PARIS (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron on Monday lauded as a hero a migrant from Mali who scaled an apartment building to save a child dangling from a balcony, and rewarded the young man’s bravery with an offer of French citizenship and a job as a firefighter.

“Bravo,” Macron said to 22-year-old Mamoudou Gassama during a meeting in a gilded room of the presidential Elysee Palace where Gassama also received a gold medal from the French state for “courage and devotion.”

Gassama climbed five stories up the apartment building, moving from balcony to balcony, and whisked a 4-year-old boy to safety on Saturday night as a crowd below screamed. His actions went viral on social media, where he was dubbed “Spiderman”

Gassama said he has authorization to stay legally in Italy, which is where he landed in Europe in 2014 after a more than a year in Libya and a trip across the Mediterranean Sea. He came to France in September to join his older brother, who has lived in France for decades.

Dressed in tattered blue jeans and white shirt, the young man recounted for the president what took place after he and some friends saw a young child hanging from a fifth-floor balcony. “I ran. I crossed the street to save him,” Gassama told Macron. He said he didn’t think twice. “When I started to climb, it gave me courage to keep climbing.”

God “helped me,” too, he said. “Thank God I saved him.” Gassama said he trembled with fear only after he had reached the boy, gotten him safely back over the balcony railing and taken him inside the apartment.

The father of the child was detained overnight for alleged parental neglect, and is to appear in court in September. He left the child alone while he shopped, then lingered to play Pokemon Go, Prosecutor Francois Molins told BFM-TV. The whereabouts of the child’s mother were unclear.

“You saved a child. Without you, no one knows what would have become of him,” the president said. “You need courage and the capability to do that.” Macron offered to begin the naturalization process to make Gassama a French citizen and said, “Because this is an exceptional act … we are obviously, today, going to regularize all your papers.”

Macron is behind a bill toughening French immigration law, and he stressed there is no contradiction between rewarding Gassama for his act of bravery and working to prevent migrants from entering France illegally by stopping the stream of arrivals at its source.

“An exceptional act does not make policy,” he told reporters later, vowing to maintain a policy that is “exigent, respectful of our principles” on asylum and “rigorous” regarding the migratory flux. The special treatment for Gassama comes as authorities prepare to evacuate some 2,400 migrants from makeshift encampments in the French capital. The forced closure of the encampments is the subject of a heated debate between the Paris mayor, who wants to ensure the uprooted will be sheltered, and Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who was present Monday at the Elysee.

Gassama told Macron he was arrested and beaten during his long rough stay in Libya, “but I wasn’t discouraged.” The French president said Gassama’s actions made him deserving of special treatment. Working as a firefighter corresponds with his skills, said Macron, who opened the door for him to do just that.

“You have become an example because millions have seen you” on social media, the president said. Another Malien, Lassana Bathily, was given French citizenship in January 2015, shortly after he saved lives by hiding people in a freezer and alerting police during a terror attack on a Jewish grocery where he worked.

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