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Posts tagged ‘Land of the French Oppression’

French president Macron wants to give a role to his wife

August 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — After more than three years without a first lady, the French don’t appear to be very eager to get a new one. President Emmanuel Macron wants to formalize the role of his wife Brigitte, but critics say that would be too costly. The president’s office is preparing a formal communication in coming days, Brigitte Macron’s office said Tuesday.

During his presidential campaign, the 39-year-old outspoken centrist promised more “transparency” on the issue. Unlike in the U.S., France’s first lady doesn’t have an official status. As the president’s popularity drops in polls, more than 280,000 people have signed a petition in the past few weeks against Macron’s plan to grant a formal budget to finance his wife’s activities.

“There’s no reason why the spouse of the head of state would get a budget from public funds,” the petition says. However the petition isn’t pushing to get rid of Brigitte Macron’s existing office and staff. It says her current setup — an office at the Elysee palace, two advisers, two secretaries as well as bodyguards — is “sufficient” and she shouldn’t need an official budget or money for special activities.

It’s not yet clear exactly what the president wants the first lady’s role to be. His plan isn’t to change the French Constitution or make a bill to give official status to his wife, but to publish a charter that would detail her public role, her staff and the cost to the French taxpayer, an official in Brigitte Macron’s office told The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity.

No estimation has been given of the cost of Brigitte Macron’s current office or any potential changes. The status of the president’s partner is a sensitive issue in France following a series of scandals in the past few decades, including Macron predecessor Francois Hollande’s complex private life.

Hollande entered office with his girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler at his side, but she left him after a tabloid magazine exposed Hollande’s secret affair with actress Julie Gayet in January 2014. The French got used to the absence of a first lady: Gayet never publicly appeared by Hollande’s side.

Before him, Sarkozy was the first French president to divorce and remarry while in office. His former wife, Cecilia, had a prominent role at his side. The couple divorced in the first year of his term. Sarkozy then remarried, to supermodel Carla Bruni.

But the major scandal remains the one surrounding Francois Mitterrand, president from 1981 to 1995. Mitterrand had a secret family made up of his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and their daughter, who lived in a state-owned apartment in Paris.

Macron once said he wants to end “French hypocrisy” about the status of presidential spouses. The person living with the president “must be able to play a role and be recognized for that role” but wouldn’t be paid for it, he said before his election.

Macron created an inseparable team with his wife Brigitte during his presidential campaign, something more often seen on American political stages than in France. Brigitte Macron, 64, a former teacher at Emmanuel Macron’s high school, attended most of her husband’s rallies. The president doesn’t hide that she is also his close political adviser.

Lawmaker Clementine Autain, from the far-left movement France Insoumise, called the idea of giving official status to the first lady “stupid.” “I’m sorry, but there’s no need for a status of first lady in a democratic, modern, 21st-century system,” she told BFM television.

Popularity of France’s upstart new president fading fast

August 06, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Emmanuel Macron’s honeymoon didn’t last long. Less than three months after his election, France’s energetic and image-conscious president has seen his popularity drop after announcing budget cuts, launching a divisive labor reform and engaging in a damaging dispute with the military.

A series of opinion polls last week showed the percentage of French citizens who said they were satisfied with Macron’s policies and trusted their young leader to deal with the country’s problems plunging. The reversal might not affect the visible international profile he has cut since taking office, but it could hurt Macron’s ability to secure his ambitious domestic agenda.

France’s Ifop polling agency put it bluntly: “Apart from Jacques Chirac in July 1995, a newly elected president has never seen his popularity rate falling as quickly during the summer after the election.”

Four polls over the past week showed Macron’s support down sharply from earlier surveys, though each one measured popularity differently. The polls by Ifop, Harris Interactive, YouGov and Elabe showed between 36 and 54 percent of respondents with positive views of Macron’s presidency, a decline from previous gauges of public opinion that also had shown his approval ratings down since he won 66 percent of the vote in the May election.

His declining approval is striking given that Macron was being credited two months ago with giving France a boost of much-needed confidence after years of security fears and economic stagnation. Increasingly, he instead is portrayed as power-hungry and inexperienced.

The French media have started calling Macron “Jupiter,” a reference to the mythological king of the Roman gods and what is perceived as the president’s superior attitude after he upended France’s political landscape and shot from relative obscurity to the nation’s top post at age 39.

While struggling at home, Macron has succeeded in raising France’s diplomatic profile, hosting meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump and Libyan peace talks in Paris.

Jean-Daniel Levy, director of the Policy and Opinion Department at the Harris Interactive polling institute, connects the president’s popularity slide to the government’s plans to reduce housing aid for students and to initiate tax reform. The reform aims to help lower-income employees, but could weigh on retirees.

Macron’s image also took a hit during his standoff with the French military chief over budget cuts. Gen. Pierre De Villiers resigned and was quickly replaced, but some saw last month’s public dispute as evidence of the president’s authoritarian tendencies.

Macron has promised to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2025 as part of France’s commitments to NATO, but the government announced a reduction of 870 million euros in military spending for this year.

The government also launched the labor reforms that were central to Macron’s campaign promise to boost France’s lagging economy through pro-free market policies. Changes would include capping the potential financial penalties for companies sued for firing employees and giving businesses greater leeway to set workplace rules instead of relying on collective bargaining agreements.

Labor unions and France’s far-left parties are fighting the reforms, saying they would weaken hard-won worker protections. Critics also resent the way Macron is trying to speed their approval. The government is invoking a special procedure to avoid a lengthy debate in parliament.

Daniel Fasquelle, a lawmaker from the conservative The Republicans party denounced Macron for what he called the “will to weaken all opposition” and for refusing to give interviews. Except for carefully choreographed photo opportunities, the president has distanced himself from the media. He canceled the traditional Bastille Day television interview.

“These are excesses the French judge more harshly and they are right,” Fasquelle said on France’s Info radio. “It simply means the president is not up to the task… He’s paying for his own lack of experience. Maybe he got too quickly, too soon, high responsibilities that are overwhelming him.”

Macron has repeatedly warned that his promised spending cuts and labor reforms would be difficult at first and hinted that critics are just scared of change. Presidential aides refused to comment on last week’s poll numbers as they had done during Macron’s election campaign.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner acknowledged that Macron has been standoffish with the press, but offered an alternative explanation to inexperience or overwhelm. “No one can blame him (Macron) for rarely speaking,” Castaner told reporters. “I understand it can irritate a bit. I understand it can be questioned. But I think you and I should get used to it because the president has decided not to be a commentator (of the news), but an actor.”

Macron is expected to return from his August vacation to a tough September, with unions and far-left parties calling for street protests against his proposed labor reforms.

France seeks to exclude African Union from Libya crisis

August 3, 2017

In meetings with Libyan officials last week, France set out its plan for resolving the Libya crisis without providing a role for the African Union (AU).

Algeria has previously called for the AU to play its role in resolving the unrest in Libyan, however

France has not only isolated the African Union, but has also excluded a country whose role can be seen as pivotal in resolving the Libyan crisis for historical considerations said Jeune Afrique, which is known for its close ties to political circles in France.

The “excluded” country is said to be Italy which launched a campaign through its Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano against the French initiative that excluded all parties involved in the Libyan crisis.

Paris, under the rule of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was the sponsor of the Atlantic military intervention, which aimed to overthrow the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Now Paris seeks to build camps for illegal immigrants in Libya to prevent them from reaching Europe.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170803-france-seeks-to-exclude-african-union-from-libya-crisis/.

French PM wins confidence vote, vows to cut budget deficit

July 04, 2017

PARIS (AP) — France’s prime minister overwhelmingly won a confidence vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday after vowing to bring the country’s budget deficit under the European Union limit of 3 percent this year without raising taxes.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers that France’s debt had reached “an unbearable level,” putting the country “at the mercy of financial markets.” He said there will be expenses cuts but pledged not to raise taxes.

Philippe won the vote in France’s lower house of parliament by 370-67. Besides getting support from President Emmanuel Macron’s party — which has a wide majority after a landslide win last month — he also got votes from centrist allies and even some conservative lawmakers.

“The truth is that while our German neighbors raise 100 euros in taxes and spend 98, we are raising 117 euros and are spending 125. Who can think this situation is sustainable?” he said. Philippe pledged to stop increasing the number of state employees, to focus the government on its main priorities and to stop spending money on policies that don’t deliver results.

Last week the country’s national audit office said France’s budget deficit could reach 3.2 percent — above the EU limit for the 10th consecutive year in 2017 — if no measures are taken. Philippe said by choosing Macron, French voters showed they “are attached to the European Union and the euro. They want a more concrete, less fussy and more protective Europe.”

He detailed the government’s agenda in the next months and years, from health to education and job policies. He notably wants to raise the price of a cigarette pack to 10 euros ($11.35) — up from about 7 euros ($8) now.

Philippe pushed for the labor reform Macron has promised to pass by the end of the summer that aims to boost job creation, since French unemployment has been hovering around 10 percent for years. Unions, however, fear it strips hard-earned worker protections.

The government next week will outline new measures to handle Europe’s migrant crisis, seeking a balance between helping refugees and controlling illegal immigration, Philippe said. The French government wants to reduce the asylum application procedure from 14 months now to 6 months and be able to deport those who are not granted asylum.

In an effort to keep fighting terrorists, France’s military budget next year will increase spending on defense to 2 percent of GDP by 2025. Far-right lawmaker Marine Le Pen, who lost her presidential bid to Macron, said his economic plans would produce “very tough consequences to buying power” for French citizens. She also criticized the government for submitting to EU demands to lower public spending.

“We know what that means … the progressive, continued disappearance of public services,” she said.

Macron to give speech at special French parliament session

July 03, 2017

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron will lay out his political, security and diplomatic priorities at an extraordinary joint session of parliament at the chateau of Versailles. Critics who fear Macron is trying to amass too much power are staging protests over Monday’s event. After his new centrist party dominated parliamentary elections and split the opposition, political rivals are comparing Macron to Napoleon, or the Roman king-of-the-gods Jupiter.

They are especially angry that he wants to strip worker protections through a decree-like procedure, allowing little parliamentary debate. Macron is also breaking with tradition in convening the Versailles parliament session before his prime minister has won his first confidence vote in parliament. Monday’s event is similar to a state of the union speech, and meant to set the tone for his five-year presidency.

Former Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass dies in Paris

2017-06-27

PARIS – Syria’s former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez, died in Paris on Tuesday, his son Firas said. He was 85.

Tlass, whose other son Manaf was among the most high-profile regime officials to defect during the early days of Syria’s uprising, died in a hospital on the outskirts of the French capital.

Tlass “died this morning at the Avicenne hospital and will be buried in Paris in the hope he can one day be buried in Damascus,” Firas Tlass said.

The former minister, who settled in France five years ago, had been admitted to hospital in mid-June after suffering a hip fracture, his son said.

He fell into a coma on Monday evening.

The former minister’s other son General Manaf Tlass defected from Assad’s regime in July 2012, several months into the uprising that was brutally crushed by security forces.

A childhood friend of Bashar al-Assad, Manaf Tlass later said French secret agents had helped him escape the country.

The uprising later turned into a devastating multi-sided war that has killed more than 320,000 people.

But Mustafa Tlass long refrained from publicly criticizing the regime.

A leading member of Syria’s ruling Baath party, he was close to Hafez al-Assad, succeeding his friend as defense minister in 1972 following the coup that brought Assad to the presidency.

Assad went on to rule the country with an iron fist until his death in 2000, when he was succeeded by his son Bashar, who was 34 at the time.

Tlass remained in his post until he finally quit in 2004.

Originally from Rastan in central Syria, under rebel control since 2012, Tlass was one of the most senior Sunni Muslims in the Assad regime’s Alawite-dominated security apparatus.

“He had a minor role in military strategy, which was decided by Hafez al-Assad and the Alawite officers who controlled the army,” said Alain Chouet, a French former intelligence officer who spent many years in the Middle East.

In a rare 2005 interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the former minister defended a 1980s crackdown against a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising, despite admitting that at its height, 150 people a week were hanged in Damascus alone.

“We used weapons to assume power, and we wanted to hold onto it. Anyone who wants power will have to take it from us with weapons,” he said.

He wrote several books including his 1983 “The Matzah of Zion”, a bestseller in the Arab world, in which he claimed that Damascus Jews had killed two Christians in 1840 in order to use their blood in religious rituals.

The “blood libel” allegations were commonly used against European Jews in the Middle Ages.

Tlass was also known for his crush on Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida.

He famously claimed to have ordered pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon’s war to avoid targeting Italian troops — “because I do not want a single tear falling from the eyes of Gina Lollobrigida”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83677.

French president vows support in Africa anti-extremist fight

July 02, 2017

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — France’s president on Sunday promised strong support for a new multinational military force against extremists in Africa’s vast Sahel region, saying the “terrorists, thugs and assassins” need to be eradicated.

President Emmanuel Macron, meeting in Mali with leaders from the five regional countries involved, said France will provide military support for operations as well as 70 tactical vehicles and communications, operations and protective equipment.

The 5,000-strong force will be deployed by September, and its funding will be finalized by then, Macron said at a press conference. The leaders of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad — known as the G5 — must clarify their roles and contributions for the force to attract more support from outside countries, the French president added.

“We cannot hide behind words, and must take actions,” he said. The new anti-terror force will operate in the region along with a 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, which has become the deadliest in the world, and France’s own 5,000-strong Barkhane military operation, its largest overseas mission.

The new force is not meant to replace those missions, Macron said. “It’s a force that fights against terrorism, and the trafficking of drugs and humans.” Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said each of the Sahel countries would contribute 10 million euros ($11 million) toward the force’s overall budget of 423 million euros ($480 million).

The European Union already has pledged some 50 million euros ($57 million) in support of the new G5 force. In mid-June, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution welcoming the deployment of the new force. The U.N., however, will not contribute financially.

Sunday’s meetings came a day after the recently formed extremist group Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, based in Mali, released a proof-of-life video showing six foreign hostages seized in the region in recent years. The video claimed that “no genuine negotiations have begun to rescue your children.”

Macron said he welcomed the first sign of life for several months from the French hostage in the video, Sophie Petronin. “They are terrorists, thugs and assassins,” Macron said of the extremists. “And we will put all of our energies into eradicating them.”

The threat in the region has been growing for years. A French-led intervention drove out Islamic extremists from strongholds in northern Mali in 2013, but the extremists have continued targeting peacekeepers and other forces. Religious extremism has spread south, and attacks have become more brazen.

In March, the extremist groups Ansar Dine, Al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb declared that they had merged into Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen.

Associated Press writers Philippe Sotto in Paris and Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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