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Thursday, May 11, 2017

German politician: no Turkish death penalty vote in Germany

May 05, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — A leading German politician says the government shouldn't allow voting in Germany in a possible referendum on whether to reintroduce the death penalty in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken of reinstating the death penalty since narrowly winning expanded powers last month. Germany and other European countries vehemently oppose executions.

Germany's Foreign Ministry has noted that the government must approve sovereign actions by other countries, such as referendums, on its territory. It permitted polling stations for Turkish nationals in last month's Turkish constitutional referendum.

Martin Schulz, Chancellor Angela Merkel's challenger in September elections, told Der Spiegel magazine Friday: "We cannot allow voting in Germany on an instrument that contradicts our values and our constitution."

Schulz's center-left party is the junior partner in Merkel's current coalition government.

Rising political star deals fresh blow to French far-right

May 10, 2017

PARIS (AP) — The party of failed French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen suffered a new jolt on Wednesday as her niece, the country's youngest lawmaker and an icon of the far right, announced she plans to leave politics.

The decision by Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who represents the National Front's conservative flank and core values, kicks another block out from under the party, which is looking to remake itself and even change its name.

That job won't be done in time for next month's elections for parliament — where the National Front desperately needs a good showing. Emmanuel Macron, an upstart centrist and the youngest man elected to the presidency, was the victor in Sunday's presidential election.

France's Constitutional Council on Wednesday announced the official results from the presidential runoff — 20,743,128 votes were cast for Macron and 10,638475 for Le Pen. The abstention rate was 25.4 percent.

Marine Le Pen took comfort with the number of votes she won, which were a historic high for her party but about half of Macron's total. She declared the National Front would be the main opposition to Macron's Republic On the Move.

With a handshake and a "Mr. President" to his successor, Francois Hollande — chief of state until Sunday — signaled the start of a new era in French politics where the new power brokers have all but wiped away politics as usual in favor of movements still in the making — Macron's and Le Pen's. Both say they are "neither left nor right."

On the far left, the Communist Party and the party of defeated presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are messily divorcing. They campaigned together for Melenchon's presidential run that saw him surge late in the campaign and get nearly 20 percent of the first-round vote, narrowly missing a place in the runoff. But they appear increasingly likely to field candidates separately in the legislative voting.

Hollande's Socialist Party, with a majority in the outgoing parliament, is tumbling into disarray. And the mainstream right is torn between wanting to work with Macron or clip the new president's wings.

Le Pen's National Front, meanwhile, is still dealing with its electoral defeat, searching for a road to change, and now this. National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was outraged by his granddaughter's decision to bow out.

"Without the gravest of reasons for this decision, I consider it a desertion," he told the daily Le Figaro. The elder Le Pen, kicked out of the party by daughter Marine for repeatedly compromising her efforts to scrub away traces of racism and anti-Semitism from the National Front, has been an influential force on his granddaughter.

Marechal-Le Pen, 27, one of two lawmakers representing the far right, said she won't be looking to renew her seat representing the southern Vaucluse district, or her role as president of the National Front group in the vast regional council.

In a personal message to her constituents, Marechal-Le Pen cited "personal and political reasons," her 3-year-old daughter and her wish to gain "legitimacy" for a political future by exiting the orbit they live in.

Politicians are "disconnected from the real" with a lifetime of political mandates and no reality checks with life, she said. That disconnect with the political class has been at the heart of the success of Macron, who formed his movement, Republic On the Move, just over a year ago.

An exit removes her from potential conflict with Marine Le Pen, a scenario that has been building, or any showdown with the National Front's No. 2, Florian Philippot, who represents left-leaning tendencies.

"As a political leader I profoundly regret Marion's decision but alas, as a mother, I understand," Marine Le Pen tweeted. Marechal-Le Pen avoided shooting poison arrows at Philippot, and she avoided any reference to her aunt.

Tensions with Philippot have percolated, and Marine Le Pen had notified her niece before the presidential election that she was too inexperienced to play a major role in government in the event of a win.

It was not immediately clear who might speak for those in the National Front who relied on Marechal-Le Pen to push the party's core values like national identity. The youngest in the Le Pen political clan represented a "hope for the future" of party militants, Jean-Marie Le Pen said, fearing "terrible consequences" for June legislative voting.

One person who may be as crisis-prone as Le Pen is Manuel Valls who served as prime minister under the unpopular Hollande. His bid to join Macron's party to run for parliament has so far failed, and he could face a disciplinary hearing by his Socialist Party, and eventual exclusion.

John Leicester in Paris contributed.

Macron buses highlight new French president's mixed legacy

May 09, 2017

ON THE A10 HIGHWAY, France (AP) — They're dubbed the Macron buses, cheap long-distance rides across France that were among Emmanuel Macron's few notable achievements before his meteoric rise to the French presidency — part of his efforts to loosen up France's monopoly-bound transport sector and invigorate the economy.

A ride on one such bus on the A10 highway out of Paris shows how the president-elect might try to change France — and the challenges he may face after his inauguration on Sunday. The ride took place on a national holiday — so most French businesses were closed and the streets of the capital were empty. But the bus was an exception. Fully booked, it was heading to Orleans, Poitiers, all the way south to France's famous wine region of Bordeaux.

Some on the bus were heading home after a weekend in Paris. Others were visiting family. All had one thing in common: a cheap ticket. "I find it good. Competition brings down prices, we see it with Uber taxis nowadays," said Anthony Coste, a 24-year-old sales manager returning to live with his family in Bordeaux after three years in Paris.

"It should happen with more things too," he told The Associated Press. "Competition forces companies to make an effort." A train ticket to Bordeaux would have set him back more than 70 euros ($76) — but his ticket with bus company Ouibus cost only 25 euros ($27).

Despite being unknown to the French public, Macron soon became a household name when he was economy minister because of a controversial 2015 work reform law. One of its most famous measures removed restrictions on new bus lines to increase competition and lower prices, nicknamed "transport for the poor."

The so-called "Macron Law," the 39-year-old's keystone achievement, has a mixed legacy. It aimed mainly to free up France's notoriously inflexible labor rules but was opposed by many on the left and provoked widespread protests.

Some 6.2 million people took Macron buses to get around in the year after the law, according to the National Federation of National Travelers. However, the law fell dramatically short of its goal of creating 22,000 jobs, according to French media.

Megabus, one of the Macron Law companies, went bust in 2016. And some see such budget services as a symbol of the erosion of France's worker-friendly labor model. "It represents this Uberization. We're willing to pay less and give up good service," said Pierre France, a 29-year-old researcher taking the bus to Poitiers.

"It's an economic choice that we make purely based on cost, because it's much cheaper, but without thinking about the long-term consequences it could have," he added. But he acknowledged the law has its benefits. A frequent traveler, he has encountered people from low-income communities on his bus trips who wouldn't have been able to travel at all otherwise.

One of the most noticeable — and most controversial — points of the Macron Law aimed to relax the strict rules that closed French stores on Sunday and in the evening, especially in tourist areas. Macron's law has left an indelible mark on tourist spots all around France, from the Normandy seaside town of Deauville to the glitz of Paris' Champs-Elysees. In major department stores, an agreement was made with powerful workers' unions that gave employees perks for working on Sunday.

On the other side, pro-business conservatives argue the Macron Law changes were too incremental, not fundamental enough to fix an economy with chronically high unemployment. Other than the labor law, in terms of Macron's political legacy, so far there's relatively little to go on, as the former banker has never held elected office.

His biggest impact on France has arguably been the ideological implosion of the French left. Macron's centrist base pulled votes away from the center-left, leading to the Socialists tallying one of their worst scores in a presidential election since 1969. Compounding the problem for the Socialists, failed presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon drew a large chunk of those on the far left away from the Socialists.

Back on the Ouibus, passengers used the long ride to rest or work. No one here is going to argue with a cheap ticket home.

Adamson reported from Paris.

French Socialist ex-premier wants to join Macron's movement

May 09, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French ex-Premier Manuel Valls suggested Tuesday that he wants to abandon France's Socialist party and run in June parliamentary elections under the banner of the president-elect's centrist political movement. But it's not clear if he will be able to do so.

Valls told RTL radio that France's Socialist party "is dead and behind us" and said he wants to join up with President-elect Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move. Valls is planning to run in the Essonne department, his fiefdom south of Paris, but Republic on the Move officials said his nomination won't be automatic.

"Every support to the president is welcome," said Jean-Paul Delevoye, the president of the commission in charge of assessing candidates. "But support doesn't necessarily translate in nomination. His voice is not insignificant, but his candidacy will be treated as anyone else's."

Valls, a center-leaning politician in favor of relaxing labor protections, had already thrown his support behind Macron before the presidential election after losing to Benoit Hamon in the Socialist primary.

Hamon, who gained popularity in recent years by leading a group of rebel Socialist lawmakers who opposed Valls, was a distant fifth in the first round of the presidential election after garnering just over 6 percent of the votes, the Socialist Party's worst result since 1969.

The poor result triggered a fierce debate within the party on the opportunity of sticking to the left platform defended by Hamon, or to switch back to the more centrist views of Valls and his allies. Guillaume Balas, who coordinated Hamon's platform, said Valls "excluded" himself from the party with his allegiance to Macon's movement.

Reflecting on Macron's victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential runoff on Sunday, Valls said it was a blow to populism in Europe that gave a "terrific" image of France abroad. "The old parties are dying, or are already dead," Valls said. "I'm not living with regrets. I want Emmanuel Macron, his government and his majority to succeed, for France. I will be a candidate in the presidential majority and I wish to join up to his movement, the Republic on the Move."

Macron's 577 candidates in the elections are expected to be announced Thursday. Macron has said he was aiming for an absolute majority in the lower chamber in June's elections. If so, he'll be able to choose a prime minister. If another party wins a majority, Macron could be pressured to choose a prime minister from that party, a situation the French call "cohabitation."

If Macron's party performs poorly, he could also be forced to form a coalition, a common occurrence in many European countries but something very unusual in France.

France's new leader untested on foreign policy, but no dummy

May 09, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Elected on a reform agenda for France, President-elect Emmanuel Macron will quickly discover that foreign policy — an area not yet in his comfort zone — will eat up buckets of his time. On Europe, Macron has been crystal clear and vocal: keeping France at the center of the European Union was the dominant theme of his campaign. On global crises beyond Europe, such as North Korea, France's youngest ever president has kept his cards closer to his chest.

That is partly because, in previous jobs as an investment banker and from 2014-16 as France's economy minister, foreign policy wasn't among Macron's areas of expertise. His careful, measured forays into foreign affairs during the campaign signaled that Macron is aware of his own limitations and is allowing himself time to bone up on the issues before crafting his diplomacy.

"You have politicians who know that they don't know and want to learn. And you have those who don't know that they don't know and who shoot off their mouths. He belongs, quite clearly, to the first category," says Francois Heisbourg, a leading French expert on foreign affairs, defense and terrorism who has been advising Macron and his campaign team.

Macron has given some broad outlines but, on more than one occasion, has been wishy washy. On the Middle East, Macron has repeatedly said his top priority will be to continue the fight against the Islamic State group, which has claimed or inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015 that killed more 230 people. French warplanes have flown thousands of sorties and carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against the extremists, working in an international coalition.

Macron has also said he wants an engineered exit from power of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He labeled Assad "a criminal" after a sarin gas attack killed dozens in the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

The president-elect said the use of the deadly nerve agent should be punished with U.N.-sanctioned military force if Assad's involvement is proven. But Macron has also expressed concerns that Syria could become an even more chaotic failed state if Assad is ousted suddenly, without a carefully planned transition.

"It's very complicated," Macron said last month. "We have to be serious." With regard to Russia, Macron set himself apart from other candidates in the election by adopting a tougher stance toward President Vladimir Putin.

He said he wants to work with Russia, which backs Assad's regime, in the fight against IS. But he laced his appeals for cooperation with warnings that Moscow "doesn't share our values and preferences."

Vowing not to be "accommodating" with Russia, he said last month: "We need an extremely demanding dialogue." Macron favors renewed peace talks to stabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine in order to gradually diminish sanctions against Russia.

Macron's tone hardened as the campaign wore on. There was widespread — but as yet unproven — speculation that Russia may have had a hand in the document leak that targeted Macron's campaign in the final hours of the race.

Foreign affairs expert Heisbourg said that Russia and France's allies will be watching how Macron now handles the aftermath of the hack, which is being investigated by the French government's cybersecurity agency, ANSSI.

"The cyberattack was timed exquisitely. Russia's fingerprints were all over the place. This was not simply a belated attempt to disrupt the campaign. It was a gauntlet, a challenge," said Heisbourg, an adviser at the Paris think-tank Foundation for Strategic Research.

"He will be expected to respond one way or another to the challenge," Heisbourg said. With the U.S., Macron says he wants continued intelligence-sharing and cooperation at the United Nations, and he hopes to persuade President Donald Trump not to pull Washington out of a global climate change accord.

Macron, committed to free trade, and Trump, who campaigned on promises to protect American jobs from foreign competition, appear poles apart. They're also from different generations — Macron is 39, Trump 70.

They will likely meet for the first time at a NATO summit in Belgium on May 25 and they could surprise everyone by showing they have more in common than first meets the eye. Macron's fluent English could help make personal chemistry easier. Both beat the odds and expectations by winning unlikely election victories. Both positioned themselves as outsiders in their respective political systems, which they promised to change. Trump was among the first world leaders to congratulate Macron on "his big win," in a tweet Sunday night.

"They flouted all the rules of the established game. They were unelectable and they both got elected," Heisbourg said. "They will probably find each other interesting." Trump used foreign policy on the campaign trail to project himself as defender of U.S. interests, notably with China, which he called a "tremendous problem." In power, he continues to shoot from the hip, recently calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a "smart cookie."

Macron has been more circumspect. One exception was during a televised debate with other candidates in March, when he launched into a long-winded and muddled explanation of what he called his "diplomatic roadmap."

"It was miserable. It was exactly what you shouldn't do: shooting off your mouth when you actually have a weak basis of knowledge, have not formed any reasoned and structured doctrine, and you just jabber and jabber," Heisbourg said.

"That was seen as a mistake. He tended to avoid repeating it."

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

In a divided France, challenges await President-elect Macron

May 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — It will be a short honeymoon for French President-elect Emmanuel Macron. France's youngest president, who takes office Sunday, faces the daunting task of reuniting a troubled, divided nation riven by anxieties about terrorism, chronic unemployment, immigration and France's relationship with the rest of Europe.


Unions held protests Monday in Paris' Place de la Republique against Macron, a pro-business centrist and former Socialist economy minister who they consider as a traitor for allegedly threatening worker protections with economic reforms.

In the Paris metro, an advertisement was defaced with the words: "Macron: Not even started, already hated."

It's nothing new. Violent protests, egg-throwing and heckling disrupted the campaigns of both the president-elect and his defeated far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Those who couldn't stomach either candidate in the presidential runoff protested with slogans reading: "Neither Fatherland, Nor Boss."

The French are worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France's ability to compete against giants like China and Google.

But the campaign's nastiness turned voters off both the candidates and their proposed remedies. The runoff Sunday saw a sharp spike in voters who abstained or handed in blank or spoiled ballots — representing a third of the electorate.


In order to govern properly, Macron's fledgling political movement La Republique En Marche (Republic On the Move) must now scramble together a majority of lawmakers in June's parliamentary elections.

That won't be easy. Macron is the first president of modern France elected as an independent.

Rivals who backed Macron to counter Le Pen in the presidential runoff will now be mobilized to defeat him in the two-round June 11 and 18 parliamentary vote, aiming to elect their own party members to the National Assembly. All 577 seats in the Assembly are up for grabs.

If another party wins a majority, Macron could be pressured to choose a prime minister from that party, a situation the French call "cohabitation."

The Republicans, whose defeated presidential candidate Francois Fillon was hobbled by charges that his family benefited from taxpayer-funded jobs, still could emerge as the nation's strongest political party.

If they win a majority, Francois Baroin, the leader of their parliamentary election campaign, could become a right-wing prime minister under the centrist Macron.

The last time France had "cohabitation" was under President Jacques Chirac in 1997-2002, who described the setup as a state of "paralysis."

If Macron's party performs poorly, he could also be forced to form a coalition, a common occurrence in many European countries but something very unusual in France.


The choice of the pro-EU Macron as president of the eurozone's second-largest economy has prompted relief across the European Union.

In his victory speech, Macron vowed to "rebuild the relationship between Europe and the peoples that make it." Symbolically, Macron also said German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the first foreign leader he will meet as president.

But the future stability of the bloc is far from certain. EU divorce negotiations with Britain could turn ugly or a populist vote in neighboring Italy might reject the EU.

Le Pen's "France first," anti-Europe message struck a chord with great swathes of the country. She had campaigned to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership.

Macron's task will be to show Le Pen's voters that he will follow through on promises to fundamentally reform the 28-nation bloc.

The French president's position in Europe will also become more powerful when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, as France will become the EU's only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.


With more than 230 people killed in extremist attacks since 2015, Macron needs to prove he has a robust plan to protect the French from terrorism.

The former banker launched his presidential campaign with a plan to tackle extremist attacks by obliging internet companies to release encrypted messages.

But Le Pen tried to paint him as weak and inexperienced on security issues while she promoted her plans to expel individuals on the security-threat list and stamp out Islamic extremism.

Macron rejected Le Pen's plan to strip dual-nationals convicted of terror offenses of French nationality on rights grounds.

French presidency for Macron; name change for far-right

May 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — France's far-right National Front party is gearing up for a name change — but not a makeover of its ideas — after its decisive loss to centrist Emmanuel Macron. In interviews Monday, the campaign director for Marine Le Pen, David Rachline, said the party founded by her father would get a new name as bait to pull in more supporters in France. Macron won the presidency with 66 percent of votes cast for a candidate. But a high number of blank or spoiled votes and unusually low turnout are signs of an electorate dissatisfied with its choices.

Legislative elections next month will determine wither Macron can cobble together a governing majority. Rachline said Le Pen will lead the opposition to Macron.

Banker, economic adviser and now youngest French president

May 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Emmanuel Macron has been a star student, a champion of France's tech startup movement, an investment banker and economy minister. But the man who will become France's youngest president has never held elected office. After a campaign based on promises to revive the country through pro-business and pro-European policies, the 39-year-old centrist independent defeated far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and her protectionist, anti-immigration party.

In his victory speech, Macron vowed to "rebuild the relationship between Europe and the peoples that make it." He pledged to open a new page for France based on hope and "restored confidence." It won't be his first experience in the challenge of reforming France.

He quit his job as a banker at Rothschild to become Socialist President Francois Hollande's economic adviser, working for two years by Hollande's side at the presidential palace. Then as economy minister in Hollande's government from 2014 to 2016, he promoted a package of measures, notably allowing more stores to open on Sundays and evenings and opening up regulated sectors of the economy.

Opponents on the left accused him of destroying workers' protections. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets for months of protests, and the government had to force the law through parliament under special powers.

Last year, Macron launched his own political movement, En Marche, or In Motion, and quit the Socialist government. He promised to shake up the political landscape by appointing a government that includes new figures from business and civil society.

His next challenge will be to get a parliamentary majority in an election next month to make major changes — with no mainstream party to support him. The strong advocate of a free market and entrepreneurial spirit has called for France to focus on getting benefits from globalization rather than the protectionist policies advocated by the far right.

In his political rallies, he encouraged supporters to wave both the French tricolor and the European Union flags. Le Pen, who has tapped into working-class anger at the loss of jobs and once-secure futures, called him the face of "the world of finance," the candidate of "the caviar left."

"I'm not under control of the banks. If that was the case, I would have kept working for them," Macron answered. Macron had an unexpected test of his political skills following the first round of the vote during what became known as "the battle of Whirlpool," when Le Pen upstaged him at a Whirlpool factory in Amiens that is threatened with closure.

Le Pen's surprise appearance put him on the defensive and prompted him to meet with angry Whirlpool workers later the same day. He was whistled and booed when he first arrived. But he stood his ground, patiently debating workers in often heated exchanges about how to stop French jobs from moving abroad.

In a country shaken by recent terror attacks, he pledged to boost the police and military as well as the intelligence services and to put pressure on internet giants to better monitor extremism online.

To improve Europe's security, he wants the EU to deploy some 5,000 European border guards to the external borders of the bloc's passport-free travel zone. Macron did not campaign alone: His wife was never far away. Brigitte Macron, 24 years his senior, is his closest adviser, supporting him and helping prepare his speeches.

Macron and his wife have publicly described how their unusual romance started — when he was a student at the high school where she was teaching in Amiens in northern France. A married mother of three at the time, she was supervising the drama club. Macron, a literature lover, was a member.

Macron moved to Paris for his last year of high school. "We called each other all the time. We spent hours on the phone, hours and hours," Brigitte Macron recalled in a televised documentary. "Little by little, he overcame all my resistances in an unbelievable way, with patience."

She eventually moved to the French capital to join him and divorced. They married in 2007. Emmanuel Macron says he wants to formalize the job of first lady, adding "she has her word to say in this." Following his victory speech in the courtyard of the Louvre, his wife appeared on stage by his side, with tears in her eyes.

AP video journalist David Keyton contributed to the story.

Joy, relief and rousing Louvre party for France's Macron

May 07, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Screams of joy, sighs of relief and rousing dance music. A wave of human emotion wafted across the palatial esplanade of the Louvre Museum on Sunday night as thousands celebrated the victory of president-elect Emmanuel Macron — and the defeat of his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.

Across town at a wooded chalet, Le Pen's supporters remained combative, pledging to turn her party's strongest-ever electoral score into a major opposition force. "Relief, relief, relief! There was a fear that the French would choose nationalism. It's been a difficult moment - the country is so divided. The atmosphere of the election — while not exactly civil war — was of a deep clash of ideas," 20-year-old student Alice Whitehead said as she partied at the Louvre.

Crowds cheered with joy and frantically waved tricolor flags as the results were announced on large plasma screens in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum, a former royal palace on the shores of the Seine River in central Paris.

"Macron President!" they chanted. Supporters were of all ages, but including a notable number of young people and children. As dusk set in, strobe lights accompanied a loud DJ set that saw thumping hits by Rihanna and Sia — and a version of the Marseillaise — echo around the historic courtyard. Supporters danced, jumped and sang.

Sarra Zaoui, 8, enthusiastically waved a flag and grinned as she was hoisted up on top of a traffic light in front of the museum's famed Pyramid. Another group of girls who spoke in Arabic to their mother shouted in French "Vive la République, Vive la France!"

Emmanuel Oulai, a 35-year-old insurance broker from Paris, was subdued but hopeful. "This election has changed French politics a lot," he said. "This result shows that there are many people who believe in renewal."

"Also, he has a wonderful name!" Oulai joked. Parisians lined streets outside his campaign headquarters as Macron left in a motorcade to join the party at the Louvre. There, the European anthem, "Ode to Joy" played as Macron strode out to address his supporters.

Macron fans cited his commitment to a united Europe, his open-minded views — and the fact that he is not Le Pen, whose National Front party has tapped widespread frustration with globalization and immigration but is also tainted by a racist past.

Le Pen's election night event took place at a chalet in the Bois de Vincennes, a vast park on the eastern edge of Paris. After her defiant concession speech, Le Pen's supporters put on a happy face, pointing to her 36 percent support as a win for a party long seen as a pariah.

When the results appeared on a big TV screen in her election-night venue, people in the room chanted "Marine, the voice of the people!" and sang the French national anthem. Later, Le Pen herself did a mean jitterbug to the song "YMCA" with party dignitary Jean-Lin Lacapelle.

"Legislative elections are coming soon, so we are going to continue this beautiful fight that she started," said supporter Fabienne Chauvet. Didier Roxel, a National Front supporter, will run in France's June parliamentary election from the Paris suburb of Saint-Germain-En-Laye.

"Now we enter combat," he said. "The true opposition is us."

French voters pick new president amid heightened security

May 07, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French voters decided Sunday whether to back pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron or far-right populist Marine Le Pen as their next president, casting ballots in an unusually tense and important presidential election that also could decide Europe's future.

With Macron the pollsters' favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. A security scare caused by a suspicious bag prompted the brief evacuation of the Louvre museum courtyard where Macron plans to celebrate election night.

France's Interior Ministry said voter turnout at midday was running slightly lower than during the last presidential runoff in 2012. The ministry said 28 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared with a half-day tally of 31 percent five years ago.

Commentators think a low turnout would benefit Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote. Macron voted in the seaside resort of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron. Le Pen cast her ballot just a hundred kilometers away in Henin-Beaumont, a small town controlled by her National Front party.

Macron, 39, a former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker who ran as an independent, was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home. For security reasons, he was driven to his polling station nearby.

Le Pen, 48, was able to vote without any incident after feminist activists were briefly detained a couple of hours earlier Sunday for hanging a big anti-Le Pen banner from a church in the northern town.

Meanwhile, police and soldiers worked to secure the symbolic Paris venues where the next president will celebrate victory. The grand internal courtyard of the renowned palace-turned-museum Macron picked for his celebration party reopened after several hundred journalists preparing for the election event had to leave because of the security alert over the suspicious bag.

The museum itself was not evacuated, and tourists continued entering and leaving the site. The Louvre already was being heavily guarded after an extremist attacker targeted soldiers near the museum during the presidential campaign. Paris police said the evacuation was a "precautionary measure."

If Le Pen wins, she plans to celebrate at the Chalet du Lac in the Bois de Vincennes, a vast park on Paris' eastern edge. The most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France's government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating the hack, which Macron's team says was aimed at destabilizing the vote.

France's election campaign commission said Saturday that "a significant amount of data" — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron. The leaked documents appeared largely mundane, and the perpetrators remain unknown.

The fate of the European Union may hang in the balance as France's 47 million voters decide whether to risk handing the presidency to Le Pen, who dreams of quitting the bloc and its common currency, or to play it safer with Macron, an unabashed pro-European who wants to strengthen the EU.

Global financial markets and France's neighbors are watching carefully. A "Frexit" would be far more devastating than Britain's departure, since France is the second-biggest economy to use the euro. The country also is a central pillar of the EU and its mission of keeping post-war peace via trade and open borders.

The vote will help gauge the strength of global populism after the victories last year of a referendum to take Britain out of the EU and Donald Trump's U.S. presidential campaign. In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook the racist and anti-Semitic past of Le Pen's National Front party.

Le Pen has broadened the party's appeal by tapping into — and fueling — anger at globalization and fears associated with immigration and Islamic extremism. Macron has argued that France must rethink its labor laws to better compete globally and appealed for unity and tolerance that Le Pen called naive.

Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades. The winner will have to try to build a parliamentary majority in elections next month to make major changes.___

John Leicester in Paris, Alex Turnbull in Henin-Beaumont and Chris den Hond in Le Touquet contributed.

French campaign watchdog examines election-eve Macron leak

May 06, 2017

PARIS (AP) — France's election campaign watchdog is investigating a hacking attack and document leak targeting presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron that his political movement calls a last-ditch bid to disrupt Sunday's tense runoff vote.

Fears of hacking and campaign interference have simmered throughout France's high-stakes, closely watched campaign — and boiled over Friday night as Macron's team said it had been the victim of a "massive and coordinated" hack.

His political movement said the unidentified hackers accessed staffers' personal and professional emails and leaked campaign finance material and contracts — as well as fake decoy documents — online. The perpetrators remain unknown. While the hack is shaking up the already head spinning campaign, it's unclear whether the document dump would dent Macron's large poll lead over far-right Marine Le Pen going into the vote.

After ditching France's traditional left-right parties in a first-round election, voters are now choosing between Macron's business-friendly, pro-European vision and Le Pen's protectionist, closed-borders view that resonates with workers left behind by globalization. The future of the European Union may hinge on the vote, also seen as a test for global populism.

Voting begins in France's overseas territories Saturday before moving to the mainland Sunday, amid a nationwide blackout on campaigning and media coverage seen as swaying voters' views. The leak began just before the blackout descended at midnight, in theatrical timing fitting for the dramatic campaign.

Someone on 4chan — a site known for, among other things, cruel hoaxes and political extremism — posted links to a large set of data which the poster claimed had come from Macron's campaign. Macron's campaign swiftly confirmed it had been hacked some weeks ago, and that at least some of the documents were genuine.

Slamming the hack as an effort to "seed doubt and disinformation" and destabilize the vote, Macron's movement En Marche said it would "take all measures" to shed light on what happened. It recalled similar leaks from Hillary Clinton's U.S. presidential campaign, which also said that authentic documents were mixed with false ones.

The No. 2 in Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front party, Florian Philippot, asked in a tweet, "will the #Macronleaks teach us something that investigative journalism deliberately buried?" The commission overseeing the French campaign said in a statement that it is holding a meeting early Saturday after being informed of the hack and leak.

The voting watchdog also called on the Interior Ministry late Friday to look into claims by the Le Pen campaign that ballot papers are being tampered with nationwide to benefit Macron. The Le Pen campaign said electoral administrators in several regions who receive ballot papers for both candidates have found the Le Pen ballot "systematically torn up."

The presidential campaign has been unusually bitter, with voters hurling eggs and flour, protesters clashing with police and candidates insulting each other on national television — a reflection of the widespread public disaffection with politics.

Le Pen, 48, has brought her far-right National Front party, once a pariah for its racism and anti-Semitism, closer than ever to the French presidency, seizing on working-class voters' growing frustration with globalization and immigration. Even if she loses, she is likely to be a powerful opposition figure in French politics in the upcoming parliamentary election campaign.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Le Pen said that win or lose, "we changed everything." She claimed an "ideological victory" and said she could still pull of a surprise win on Sunday.

The 39-year-old Macron also helped upend France's traditional political structure with his wild-card campaign outside standard parties. Many voters, however, don't like either Le Pen or Macron. They fear her party's racist past, while worrying that his platform would demolish worker job protections or be too much like his mentor, the deeply unpopular outgoing President Francois Hollande.

UK Conservatives gain in local election; Labor, UKIP sink

May 05, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May appeared on course for a sweeping election victory next month after her Conservatives made big gains in local elections at the expense of rivals on both the pro-EU left and the Euroskeptic right.

Ballots were counted Friday from contests for local councils in Scotland, Wales and many parts of England, as well as from mayoral competitions in several cities. With almost all the results in, May's party had gained control of 11 new councils, added more than 500 new councilors and taken a plum mayoral post in the Birmingham area of central England, once strong Labour Party territory.

Portraying herself as a rock of stability in turbulent times, May is urging voters to give the Conservatives a bigger majority in Parliament in the June 8 national election in order to strengthen Britain's hand in exit talks with the European Union. Results from the local elections suggest the message is getting through.

John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the Conservatives were on course for their best local-election result in at least a decade, and possibly in a quarter century. "I will not take anything for granted," May insisted.

But Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said voters "are now seeing that what this country needs is a government with a full, working majority to negotiate a good, successful exit from the European Union and to build a stronger, fairer Britain."

The main opposition Labour Party took a beating, shedding some 300 local councilors nationwide and suffering losses in long-time heartlands including industrial south Wales and northeast England. Most dramatically, it lost ground in Scotland, where the Conservatives — long all-but-extinct there — made gains. The party even lost control of the city council in Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city and once the staunchest of Labour strongholds.

Labour did win mayoral contests in the northern English cities of Doncaster, Liverpool and Manchester, but lost the race in the West Midlands area around Birmingham to Conservative Andy Street by just 4,000 votes.

Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell acknowledged the party had suffered a tough night, but told ITV the results were not "the wipeout that people expected." He insisted it is still "all to play for" in the national vote.

But the results will deepen the gloom of Labour members who believe their staunchly left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn — painted by the Conservatives as a high-taxing loose spender who is weak on security — is driving the party toward a resounding defeat on June 8.

Meanwhile, the centrist Liberal Democrats — the most firmly pro-EU of Britain's major parties — failed to make the big gains they were hoping for in Thursday's vote. And the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, whose animosity to the EU helped drive Britain out of the bloc, was all but wiped out. UKIP lost all but one of the more than 100 council seats it held, as voters switched to the Conservatives now that UKIP's main goal had been achieved.

UKIP deputy chairwoman Suzanne Evans acknowledged the party faces a "difficult dilemma." "We have got what we wanted, but unfortunately we have been in a sense the victims of our own success," she told Sky News.

Obama endorses Macron in France's presidential runoff

May 05, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama has endorsed a candidate in the race for France's presidency, taking his first dive back into international politics since leaving the White House in January.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron released a video from Obama Thursday morning with the former president touting his candidacy. "I have admired the campaign that Emmanuel Macron has run," Obama said. "He has stood up for liberal values; he put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world; and he is committed to a better future for the French people. He appeals to people's hopes, and not their fears."

Macron is facing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in Sunday's runoff vote. Polls suggest Macron is well ahead. Obama said he doesn't plan to get involved often in political situations. "I'm not planning to get involved in many elections now that I don't have to run for office again, but the French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about. Because the success of France matters to the entire world," he said.

Macron asked Obama for his support, an Obama aide said. Obama called Macron privately in April and praised him, but declined to make an endorsement. But now, Obama decided to weigh in because he believes France's success impacts international challenges on the global stage, the aide said.

The aide spoke on background because the aide wasn't authorized to speak about Obama's deliberations. Political scientist Dov H. Levin of Carnegie-Mellon University called Obama's endorsement unusual for a former president. Presidents like Bill Clinton have tried to personally influence elections in places like Russia and Israel while in office, but Levin said he has not come across an instance where a former president has offered an endorsement in a foreign leadership race like Obama.

Levin, who studies U.S. attempts to influence elections in other countries, said it is rare for a former president to have enough popularity or influence in a foreign country for his assistance to even be desired. "My guess is that Macron found that Obama, even as a former president, still has enough cachet, enough influence with French voters to make it worth asking for his endorsement," Levin said.

Obama ended his message with the words "En Marche," the name of Macron's political movement which means "In Motion" in English, and "Vive La France." President Donald Trump has praised Macron's opponent, Le Pen, although he has not explicitly endorsed her.

"She's the strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump said in an April 21 interview with The Associated Press. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election."

Obama has mostly stayed in the background in American politics since Trump moved into the White House. When congressional Republicans first planned to vote down his signature health care plan, the Affordable Care Act on its seventh anniversary, Obama broke his silence to tout the law's effectiveness. "Thanks to this law, more than twenty million Americans have gained the security and peace of mind of health insurance," he said back in March.

House Republicans narrowly approved a bill striking down parts of the law on Thursday. Obama, through a spokesman, has also criticized Trump's attempt to ban the entry of citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries into the United States, which was eventually halted by the federal courts.

Pentagon to request thousands more troops for Afghanistan next week

Washington (AFP)
May 4, 2017

The Pentagon will ask the White House next week to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to break a deadlocked fight with the Taliban, a senior official said Thursday.

After a steady downsizing of US troop numbers since 2011, US military commanders say they need to strengthen the numbers on the ground to better support Afghan forces and help retake territory lost to the Taliban.

According to US media, the Pentagon will ask for 3,000 to 5,000 more soldiers, mainly to be assigned to advise and train Afghan military and police.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, also now in an advisory capacity.

But that is a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago, and the Afghan military has struggled to fill the void amid an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.

"I expect that these proposals will go to the president within the next week," said Theresa Whelan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The intent is "to move beyond the stalemate and also to recognize that Afghanistan is a very important partner for the United States in a very tricky region."

NATO officially ended its combat operations against the Taliban at the end of 2014, and its current mission is to support Afghan troops in training and advice.

Last year, with the Kabul government struggling to hold ground against the Taliban, former president Barack Obama authorized US air strikes against the Taliban in limited cases, to ensure Afghan forces on the ground would have a "strategic advantage."

The new Trump administration could go beyond that to permit more direct engagement between US forces and the Taliban, General Raymond Thomas, commander of the US Special Operations Command, told the same hearing Thursday.

"Changes to the rules of engagement are being considered," he said.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pentagon_to_request_thousands_more_troops_for_Afghanistan_next_week_999.html.

DR Congo arrests 14 Chinese for wood smuggling

Lubumbashi, Dr Congo (AFP)
May 4, 2017

Fourteen Chinese people suspected of illegally exporting red wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo were arrested Thursday, local officials said.

"We have arrested Chinese people... who were cutting wood in our region," Celestin Pande, acting governor of the Haut-Katanga region, told AFP.

Pande said 17,000 tonnes of red wood had been illegally exported to China through Zambia over four months.

"We have arrested 14 Chinese nationals with (tourist) visas, who were involved in cutting and illegally exporting red wood," an immigration official in Haut-Katanga added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since the beginning of the year, a crisis linked to exotic wood exports has poisoned relations between DR Congo and neighboring Zambia.

Zambia has seized several hundred vehicles transporting padauk, a dense wood used in construction and woodworking, from DR Congo as part of investigations into exports to China.

Kinshasa has denounced the seizure, but on Thursday a delegation from the capital decided to ban the logging and exportation of red wood from Haut-Katanga.

Haut-Katanga's forests have been devastated by illegal logging, with wood mostly used for charcoal, the main source of energy for an electricity-deprived population.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/DR_Congo_arrests_14_Chinese_for_wood_smuggling_999.html.

Nigeria leader meets Chibok girls, leaves for medical trip

May 07, 2017

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed joy Sunday night at meeting with the 82 Chibok schoolgirls newly freed from Boko Haram extremists — then jolted the country by announcing he was leaving for London immediately for medical checkups as fears for his health continue.

"We've always made it clear that we will do everything in our power to ensure the freedom & safe return of our daughters" and all captives of Boko Haram, Buhari said on his Twitter account. Minutes later, the 74-year-old president startled Africa's most populous nation with the news of his departure. Buhari, who has missed three straight weekly Cabinet meetings, spent a month and a half in London on medical leave earlier this year and said he'd never been as sick in his life. The exact nature of his illness remained unclear.

"There is no cause for worry" about this latest medical leave, a statement from his office said, adding that the length of Buhari's stay in London will be determined by his doctors. Photos released by the government showed the rail-thin president standing and addressing the Chibok schoolgirls at his official residence Sunday evening, a day after their release.

"The president was delighted to receive them and he promised that all that is needed to be done to reintegrate them into the society will be done," adviser Femi Adesina said. "He promised that the presidency will personally supervise their rehabilitation."

The young women have been handed over to government officials who will supervise their re-entry into society, Adesina said. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which helped negotiate the girls' release along with the Swiss government, said they would be reunited with their families soon.

Five Boko Haram commanders were released in exchange for the girls' freedom, a Nigerian government official said Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters on the matter. Neither Nigeria's government nor Boko Haram, which has links to the Islamic State group, gave details about the exchange.

Parents of the schoolgirls were waiting for a government list of names of those who had been freed. Some parents of the kidnapped girls gathered in the capital, Abuja, to celebrate the release, while others expressed anxiety over the fate of the 113 girls who remain missing after the mass abduction from a Chibok boarding school in 2014.

The Rev. Enoch Mark, whose two daughters have been among the missing, was still awaiting word if they were among those freed. He emphasized that he considered all 82 of the girls to be his daughters "because most of them worship in my church."

Some parents did not live long enough to see their daughters released, underscoring the tragedy of the three-year saga. And the recovery process is expected to be a long one for the girls, many of whom endured sexual assault during their captivity.

"They will face a long and difficult process to rebuild their lives after the indescribable horror and trauma they have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram," said Pernille Ironside, acting representative of UNICEF Nigeria.

Boko Haram seized a total of 276 girls in the 2014 abduction. Girls who escaped early on said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home because they'd been radicalized by their captors, they said.

Human rights advocates also fear some of the girls have been used by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings. Last year, a first group of 21 Chibok girls was freed in October, and they have been in government care for medical attention, trauma counseling and rehabilitation. Human rights groups have criticized the decision to keep the girls in custody in Abuja, nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Chibok.

It was not immediately clear whether the newly freed girls would join them. They should be quickly released to their families and not be subjected to lengthy government detention, Amnesty International's Nigeria office said, adding that the girls don't deserve to be put through a "publicity stunt" and deserve privacy.

Though Boko Haram has abducted thousands of people during its eight-year insurgency that has spilled across Nigeria's borders, the Chibok mass kidnapping horrified the world and brought the extremist group international attention.

The failure of Nigeria's former government to act quickly to free the girls sparked a global Bring Back Our Girls movement; U.S. first lady Michelle Obama posted a photo with its logo on social media.

The Bring Back Our Girls campaign said Sunday it was happy that Nigeria's government had committed to rescuing the 113 remaining schoolgirls, and it urged the president to "earnestly pursue" the release of everyone held by Boko Haram.

Buhari late last year announced Boko Haram had been "crushed," but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.

Associated Press writers Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria and Sunday Alamba in Abuja, Nigeria contributed.

Nigeria says 82 Chibok girls free in Boko Haram exchange

May 07, 2017

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Eighty-two Chibok schoolgirls seized three years ago by Boko Haram have been freed in exchange for detained suspects with the extremist group, Nigeria's government announced early Sunday, in the largest release negotiated yet in the battle to save nearly 300 girls whose mass abduction exposed the mounting threat posed by the Islamic State-linked fighters.

The statement from the office of President Muhammadu Buhari was the first confirmation that his government had made a swap for the girls. After an initial release of 21 Chibok girls in October, the government denied making an exchange or paying ransom.

The April 2014 abduction by Boko Haram brought the extremist group's rampage in northern Nigeria to world attention and, for families of the schoolgirls, began years marked with heartbreak. Some relatives did not live long enough to see their daughters released. Many of the captive girls, most of them Christians, were forced to marry their captors and give birth to children in remote forest hideouts without ever knowing if they would see their parents again. It is feared that other girls were strapped with explosives and sent on missions as suicide bombers.

As word of the latest release emerged, long-suffering family members said they were eagerly awaiting a list of names and "our hopes and expectations are high." Before Saturday's release, 195 of the girls had remained captive. Now 113 of the girls remain unaccounted for.

The freed girls were expected to meet with Buhari on Sunday in the capital, Abuja. A Nigerian military official with direct knowledge of the rescue operation said the freed girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon.

"The location of the girls kept changing since yesterday when the operation to rescue them commenced," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make the announcement.

Boko Haram remains active in that area. On Friday, the United States and Britain issued warnings that the extremist group was actively planning to kidnap foreigners in an area of Borno state "along the Kumshe-Banki axis."

The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram over the years. The mass abduction shocked the world, sparking a global #Bringbackourgirls campaign supported by former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and other celebrities. It has put tremendous pressure on Nigeria's government to counter the extremist group, which has roamed large parts of the north and into neighboring countries.

"This is a very, very exciting news for us that we have over 80 of our girls coming back again," Bukky Shonibare with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign told Sky TV. "Their life in captivity has been one that depicts suffering, it depicts the fact that they have been starved, abused, and as we have seen before some of those girls have come back with children, and some of them have also come back with news of how they have been sexually abused."

The latest negotiations were again mediated by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Nigeria's government said. At the initial release of girls in October, the government said the release of another 83 would be coming soon. But at the three-year anniversary of the kidnapping in April, the government said negotiations had "gone quite far" but faced challenges.

Buhari late last year announced Boko Haram had been "crushed," but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.

Larson reported from Dakar. Associated Press writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, and Hilary Uguru in Warri, Nigeria, contributed.

'Lobby money' behind fall of Philippine environment chief: Duterte

Manila (AFP)
May 4, 2017

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday blamed "lobby money" for the downfall of his outspoken environment secretary Regina Lopez, who earned the ire of the country's mining industry after accusing it of corruption.

Despite his widespread popularity and hardline posture, Duterte said he was helpless to save Lopez from failing to be approved as a cabinet member by lawmakers in congress.

"It's a pity about Gina. I really liked her passion," he said, referring to Lopez by her nickname.

"I made a pitch for her but you know how it is. This is a democracy and lobby money talks. I do not control everything," he told a gathering of doctors.

He did not specify who lobbied against Lopez or who he would appoint to replace her.

The Commission on Appointments rejected Lopez's appointment on Wednesday, in a big victory for the mining industry.

Lopez sent shockwaves through the industry during her 10 months as environment chief, seeking to shut down roughly two-thirds of the nation's existing mines and banning any new open-pit operations.

Although Duterte's allies control both chambers of the Philippine legislature, the commission chose to reject Lopez.

Lopez has vocally blamed "big business," for her rejection, saying many who voted against her were representing mining interests.

She had previously sought to shut down 28 of the nation's 40 mines and cancel the contracts of dozens of others.

Last week she also announced the ban on new open-pit mining, which would have sounded the death knell for one of the world's biggest planned copper projects in the south of the country.

With the Philippines being the world's biggest supplier of nickel ore and a major source of copper, Lopez's campaign had impacted global prices.

Mining Inc had run a high-profile campaign to have the commission reject her, arguing she was jeopardizing the lives of 1.2 million people who were dependent on the industry.

Even Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, a former mining executive whose family has big investments in the industry, opposed her, taking the unprecedented action of testifying against a fellow cabinet member at the commission hearings.

However environmental groups expressed outrage at Lopez's rejection, saying it showed Duterte had misled with his pledges to lead a government for ordinary Filipinos rather than the elite.

Congress rejecting a president's cabinet appointment is extremely rare in Philippine politics.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Lobby_money_behind_fall_of_Philippine_environment_chief_Duterte_999.html.

Russia's Victory Day parade marred by thick clouds

May 09, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Thick clouds have forced the cancellation of the traditional dramatic conclusion to Russia's annual Victory Day parade on Red Square — the roaring flyover by scores of military aircraft.

The parade marking the anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender is a highly ritualized display and marked changes in its order are unusual. The Defense Ministry had said cloud-seeding planes would be deployed to disperse the overcast skies Tuesday above Moscow. That has been done previously when poor weather threatened. It wasn't immediately clear if the planes had been deployed.

Victory Day is Russia's most important secular holiday, commemorating the Red Army's determination and losses in World War II. President Vladimir Putin said in his parade address that "we feel a piercing blood relationship with a generation of heroes and winners."

Wolves return to Denmark for first time in 200 years

Stockholm (AFP)
May 4, 2017

At least five wolves, including one female, have returned to Denmark for the first time in two centuries, a zoologist who has obtained DNA evidence said on Thursday.

The predators came from Germany to settle in western Denmark's agricultural region, the least densely populated in the Scandinavian country.

Peter Sunde, scientist at the University of Aarhus, told AFP the wolves must have walked more than 500 kilometers (310 miles).

"We think these are young wolves rejected by their families who are looking for new hunting grounds," the researcher added.

Scientists have established a genetic profile from the faeces of five wolves -- four males and one female -- but there could be more.

Sunde said researchers had suspected since 2012 that wolves had entered Denmark. "Now we have evidence (including) that there's one female," signalling the possibility of giving birth this spring, he said.

Proof was also established through the wolves' fingerprints and video surveillance showed their location, which scientists refuse to reveal out of fear that it will attract hunters.

"We're following that. The wolf is an animal we're not allowed to hunt so we must protect it," Henrik Hagen Olesen, spokesman at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, told AFP.

Exterminated by hunters, wolves had been completely extinct in Denmark since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

In other Nordic countries with a higher wolf population, culling the species, protected by the Bern Convention, is under a fierce debate between inhabitants, farmers, hunters, the government, the European Union and wildlife activists.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Wolves_return_to_Denmark_for_first_time_in_200_years_999.html.

The Very Survival of Africa's Indigenous Peoples 'Seriously Threatened'

By Baher Kamal

ROME, May 3 2017 (IPS) - The cultures and very survival of indigenous peoples in Africa are seriously threatened. They are ignored, neglected and fall victims of land grabbing and land dispossession caused by extractive industries, agribusiness and other forms of business operations.

These are some of the key findings of a major report “The Indigenous World 2017,” on the state of indigenous peoples worldwide, issued on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The report, launched on 25 April by the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGI) during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting (24 April—5 May), emphasizes that in spite of progress, there are still major challenges facing indigenous peoples in Africa.

Africa is home to an estimated 50 million indigenous peoples, that’s around 13 per cent of the total of 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide. They live in all regions of Africa, with large concentrations in North Africa where the Amazigh people live. In West Africa, there are large pastoralist populations in countries like Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon etc.

There are also large concentrations of indigenous peoples in East Africa with big pastoralist populations in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Hunter-gatherers are found in many countries in central and Southern Africa, though they are smaller in numbers than the pastoralist groups.

In several African states, explains IWGIA, “indigenous peoples are yet to be recognized as such.” Arguments of all Africans being indigenous or that the concept “indigenous peoples” is divisive and unconstitutional are persistently expressed in political statements and continue to shape policies of a number of African countries.

Large-scale dispossessions of indigenous peoples’ lands remain a significant challenge in several African states, says the report, adding that the global drive for raw materials, agro-business and building major infrastructure projects are pushing indigenous peoples to their last boundaries.

A recent African Commission’s report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples reveals the negative impact several mining, agro business and logging projects are having on indigenous peoples’ land rights and access to natural resources, according to IWGIA.

In several cases, tensions with indigenous peoples have led to open conflicts, including loss of lives. In this regard, the African Commission has sent urgent appeals to a number of African governments on serious human rights violations affecting indigenous peoples.

Forced Evictions, Human Eights Violations

Marianne Wiben Jensen, IWGIA’ senior adviser on Africa and Land Rights, told IPS that Africa’s indigenous peoples are victims of land grabbing and other forms of land dispossession caused by extractive industries, agribusiness and other business operations.

“This leads to forced evictions and other forms of serious human rights violations,“ she said, adding that indigenous peoples in Africa are “marginalized economically and politically and are only to a very limited extent participating in decision-making processes.”

“So they have very limited possibilities of voicing their perspectives and priorities and influencing their own futures,” Wiben Jensen warned, explaining that they typically live in marginalized and remote areas with very limited and bad social infrastructure.

The issue of extractive industries is once again a recurrent and overarching theme in the Indigenous world. Numerous examples show that both states and industries are repeatedly ignoring the key principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Mega infrastructure projects, investments in extractive industries and large-scale agriculture are increasingly posing a threat to the everyday life of indigenous peoples and their ability to maintain their land, livelihood and culture.

At the same time, Wiben Jensen added, indigenous peoples in Africa have proven to be very resilient, and despite the many problems they face and the lack of support they receive from their governments, they are still there and manage to survive in often very harsh environments based on their unique indigenous knowledge of the nature and the natural resources.

“All this is happening amidst an alarming rate of violence and discrimination of indigenous peoples and human rights defenders around the world.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-very-survival-of-africas-indigenous-peoples-seriously-threatened/.