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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Clashes in Greece as thousands protest austerity

May 17, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — An anti-austerity rally in Greece's capital turned violent Wednesday as a general strike halted flights, ferries and public transportation, and thousands joined protest marches across the country.

A small group of protesters threw gasoline bombs and fired flares at riot police after the marches ended in Athens. Police responded with tear gas. The clashes broke out after peaceful marches involving around 12,000 people.

Nearby, protesting police officers blocked the entrance to a Finance Ministry building. The protests occurred as lawmakers were set to approve another batch of reforms that will impose years more hardship on austerity-weary Greeks.

The new belt-tightening measures that will be imposed beyond the end of Greece's third bailout next year, including pension cuts and tax hikes. The left-led coalition government agreed to the cuts as part of a deal with the country's international creditors to release funds from its bailout.

Thousands of protesters were marching through central Athens toward parliament in a series of demonstrations as part of the strike. "No to the new looting of salaries and pensions," civil servants union ADEDY said.

Police unionists hung a giant banner off the side of Lycabettus Hill in the center of Athens, with a slogan in German and Greek reading "how much is the life of a Greek policeman worth?" Public hospitals were functioning with emergency staff only, while public transport was disrupted, leaving many main roads gridlocked in the capital. Intercity trains were not running, and there was no subway service between Athens airport and the city. Courts were shut while lawyers and notaries public backed away from official duties, and customs and local government offices were closed.

Air traffic controllers were holding a four-hour work stoppage in the middle of the day, leading to the rescheduling or cancellation of more than 150 flights. Ferries were also tied up in port until late Friday after seamen began a four-day strike Tuesday.

Unless bailout funds are unlocked, Greece would once more struggle to meet a spike in debt repayments due this summer and face another brush with bankruptcy. In parliament, lawmakers were debating the measures that include additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax from 2020, ahead of a Thursday midnight vote.

On the streets of Athens, opinions on the strike diverged. "It doesn't make a difference whether you strike or not. All the measures will pass anyway," said Apostolos Seitanidis as he walked in the city center.

But another Athenian, Panagiotis Adamopoulos, disagreed. "Every strike is a holy thing," he said. "If we dismiss it, surely we'll end up getting 300-euro ($330) salaries and 200-euro pensions." Unions and the opposition have compared the new measures to those of a fourth bailout, but without the corresponding funding from international creditors. The government, which originally came to power in 2015 promising to repeal previous austerity measures, has vehemently rejected the accusation, emphasizing that it will also take other measures to relieve poverty.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke Tuesday morning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has been the single largest contributor to the Greek bailouts, and discussed the issue of Greece's debt, his office said Wednesday.

While the country's finances have improved under the bailouts, the belt-tightening has led to spiraling poverty. Unemployment, while down from highs of above 27 percent, hovers at around 23 percent.

Greek lawmakers debate extending austerity to decade mark

May 15, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Lawmakers in Greece started a four-day debate Monday on whether to approve a new package of spending cuts that will extend the number of years Greeks have lived under austerity to more than a decade.

Amid confirmation that the country's battered economy is in recession again, unions have launched a wave of protests ahead of a general strike on Wednesday. The latest round of austerity measures, which form part of an agreement between the Greek government and international bailout lenders, will involve additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax in 2020. Without the new measures, Greece would face the prospect of not getting the rescue money it needs to avoid potential bankruptcy this summer when it faces a big debt-repayment spike.

Greece is currently in the midst of its third bailout program — the current three-year program expires in the summer of 2018 and could be worth up to 86 billion euros ($95 billion) in total. In return for the money, the government promised to enact a series of austerity measures as well as economic reforms — its progress is continually monitored by institutions from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

While the austerity measures has seen Greece's public finances improve, the draconian spending cuts have seen poverty rates surge to more than 35 percent, high in relation to the EU average under 24 percent.

Delays in negotiations between Prime Minister Alexis' Tsipras left-wing government and lenders have held up hopes of a return to growth. Official figures Monday from the National Statistical Authority showed the Greek economy shrinking for the second straight quarter during the first three months of the year — two consecutive quarterly declines is the traditional measure of recession. Greece's GDP shrank by 0.1 percent on a quarterly basis in the first quarter, taking the annual rate of decline to 0.5 percent.

Ahead of Wednesday's general strike, public bus services n Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki, were halted over delayed worker payments. Ferry services was also due to come to a standstill on Tuesday and Wednesday, while unions have called a general strike on Wednesday.

"We have carried out dozens of general strikes during the bailout period ... clearly unions alone cannot solve the country's major economic and social problems. But this is to protest and expose what is happening," Yiannis Panagopoulos, leader of Greece's largest union, the GSEE, told private Skai television.

"The government is now implementing the measures that it once protested against ... they have surrendered to everything." The debate on the new austerity measures began in parliament Monday and is due to end with a vote late Thursday.

Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.

Greek train derails, crashes into house; 3 dead, 10 injured

May 14, 2017

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — An Intercity train derailed and crashed into a house in northern Greece, leaving three people dead and 10 injured, Greek police said Sunday. The train, traveling on the Athens-Thessaloniki route with 70 passengers, derailed at 9:45 p.m. (1945 GMT) Saturday in the village of Adendro, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the northern city of Thessaloniki. Its engine rammed into a three-story house, exiting on the other side.

There was no immediate reason given for the derailment. An investigation has begun. Police said the train's 44-year-old driver and a 50-year-old passenger died at the scene, and a 55-year-old passenger died Sunday morning. All three were men. Two other passengers are in serious condition.

The police announcement raised the number of injured, which train operator Trainose earlier had put at seven. "I was sitting on my porch. I saw a flash and immediately heard a terrible explosion," neighbor Giorgos Mylonas, 78, told The Associated Press.

Merkel hosts Indian leader Modi, looks to broaden world ties

May 30, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — The leaders of Germany and India heaped mutual praise upon each other Tuesday — each referring to the other as a "reliable partner" in a notable contrast to Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent public doubts about Germany's ties with the United States.

Merkel suggested that Europe's relationship with the U.S. had shifted significantly following last week's NATO and G-7 meetings with President Donald Trump that produced disappointing results, saying Saturday that "the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days."

Asked Tuesday whether her meetings with senior officials from India and China this week signaled a pivot away from Germany's old ally in Washington, Merkel sought to dampen speculation of a major rift.

"The trans-Atlantic partnership is of outstanding importance and what I said was merely meant to note that in view of the current situation there are more reasons ... for us in Europe to take our fate into our own hands," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

Speaking after a meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she went out of her way to laud the South Asian country as a "reliable partner" on major projects and noted that India was working hard to implement the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

"India wants the world not just to be interconnected but also that it should be sensibly run," Merkel said, backing European Union talks for a trade agreement with India. Climate and trade were the two main issue of contention between the United States and other members at the G-7 summit of major economies in Sicily last week, and the topics look set to flare up again soon.

Trump criticized Germany's trade surplus with the United States on Tuesday, tying the issue to Berlin's military spending. "We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change," he tweeted.

"Donald Trump is making clear with his tweet that he considers Germany a political opponent," said Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary caucus leader of the Social Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel's coalition government. "This is a new situation — we lived for decades in the certainty that we could rely on each other as partners in an alliance, and this certainty no longer exists today."

Trump has also said he plans to make a decision this week on whether to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord — widely considered a key achievement of the Obama administration and a necessary measure if the world wants to avoid a sharp rise in global temperatures.

For his part, Modi declared that "the world needs a strong leadership, which is demonstrated by Chancellor Merkel." "Germany is a large, reliable and trustworthy partner for us," he added. Merkel is scheduled to meet with China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Wednesday.

Geir Moulson contributed to this report.

Reliving Communist past helps East German dementia patients

May 30, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Every weekday morning, white-haired women patiently line up before a door at a Dresden retirement home, step in, and quickly step back nearly six decades into their past in Communist East Germany.

Most of the women — in their late 70s at the youngest — are suffering from severe dementia, but the reminders from bygone days trigger memories and skills once thought lost, and produce surprising levels of happiness and comfort.

They park their walkers next to a Kaufhalle sign from the former East German grocery chain, put on their colorfully-patterned nylon aprons and start the day just like they did some 50 years ago. They chop up bell peppers, tomatoes and sausages for the popular Hungarian salad of their youth, wash dishes in an original 1960s metal sink and iron their laundry with old-fashioned pressing irons while happily humming along to schmaltzy East German tunes coming from a record player.

It's hard to imagine that many were — not so long ago — bedridden and unable to eat or use the bathroom on their own, said Gunter Wolfram, the director of the Alexa home in the former East German city of Dresden.

"From the first day on, this room has been a big success story," Wolfram said. "The people are very happy to recognize things from the old times. They immediately feel comfortable." The 49-year-old, who grew up in East Germany himself, said it was sheer coincidence that he found out that Communist kitsch and other memorabilia brought comfort to some of his 130 residents. The revelation came two years ago when he decided to decorate the home's movie theater with a vintage flashy Troll scooter that was once very popular in East Germany.

"Instead of paying attention to the movie, these people got so excited about the motorcycle. They could all of a sudden remember how to start the ignition, and chatted with bright eyes about outings to the Baltic Sea on their own Trolls a long time ago — it was amazing," Wolfram said.

Inspired by this, he set out to create an entire room in 1960s East German style. He scoured the region's flea markets and soon had an impressive collection of well-known Ossi — slang for anything and anybody from East Germany, products.

He gathered Spee and Fewa laundry detergents, yellowed magazines and the plastic pepper-and-salt shakers that almost every family in East Germany owned. He also found a wooden wall unit that only the well-to-do could afford at the time. Together with his colleagues, he set up the 1960s room — and the home's residents were so eager to spend time in a place that felt like home they started coming in droves.

Because of the room's success, the waiting list for future residents is full and directors from other retirement homes have called Wolfram, asking for advice. Soon the demand for the daily trip back into the past had become so popular that Wolfram added a second room, this one designed in East German 1970s style — including psychedelic-patterned curtains, tasseled floor lamps and a bright-orange rotary dial phone.

In West Germany, capitalism ruled and U.S.-style consumerism flourished only a few years after the end of World War II, but materialism was frowned upon in the Communist East and consumer goods were scarce. Since only a few brands were sold in the country's Kaufhalle supermarkets, they have very high recognition value among former East Germans.

Some of the items also feature prominently in the 2003 Golden Globe-nominated German movie "Good-bye Lenin!" in which the son of a woman, who had slipped into a coma before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, desperately tries to re-create the old East Germany after she finally wakes up in a reunited Germany. The boy stacks the home with the famous Spreewald pickles and other products from the DDR — as the German Democratic Republic was called in German — trying to obliterate all signs of capitalism.

Herlind Megges, a gerontologist from Berlin's Charite university hospital who has not been involved in the Alexa home project, said such memory therapy can help improve the capabilities and well-being of dementia patients.

"Memory therapy is often used because it activates exactly what's still there and still working well," Megges said. "It's important for these people, who don't feel well in this world because it doesn't match their current memory, that there's an environment where they feel comfortable."

Objects from earlier phases of a patient's life that are connected to comfortable feelings can lead to physical and cognitive improvement, Megges said. Often patients can still retrieve memories from their childhood and early adulthood even when their short-term memory fails.

Millions of elderly around the world suffer from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in which they lose their ability to respond to their environment. While there's no cure yet, research institutions worldwide are trying to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset and improve the quality of life for dementia patients.

"We're treating the symptoms, we currently cannot treat the causes of the disease," Megges said. For Gerda Noack, a 92-year-old retired hat maker born and raised in Dresden, the yesteryear room has been a blessing.

The elegant Noack, who always wears a carefully knotted silk scarf around her neck, used to roam the hallways of the retirement home all day, says Wolfram. She was restless and frustrated, always looking for something she thought she had lost — until she started visiting the 1960s DDR room.

While standing in the room's kitchen last week, she peacefully stirred the chopped-up peppers in an old frying pan, then later cleaned up dishes with an expression of contentment. Asked if she was happy, she nodded cheerfully, waiting for the nurses to dish up the Hungarian salad she had helped to prepare.

"These old, routine activities in the company of other women in a familiar environment really make our residents much more at ease with themselves," said Wolfram. "It's almost become like a job for them, where they spend the entire week here with a whole new sense of purpose."

Germany to host Ukraine talks in Berlin as fighting persists

May 29, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's Foreign Ministry says envoys from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France will meet this week in Berlin to try and push forward the implementation of a peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters Monday that, due to the "difficult and deteriorating" situation in eastern Ukraine, Germany has scheduled a meeting Tuesday with those countries and a representative from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Ukrainian government has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The fighting has cost some 10,000 lives. The diplomats are trying to bridge differences between Russia and Ukraine over implementing the 2015 Minsk deal for eastern Ukraine, which was brokered by Germany and France.

Germany considering Jordan, Cyprus for anti-IS base

May 17, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's defense minister says her office has drafted a list of eight locations where it could move aircraft supporting the anti-IS mission if Turkey continues to block German lawmakers from visiting troops at the Incirlik base.

Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday a team is already in Jordan to assess a site there for its Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane, and Cyprus is also being considered. Nonetheless, she stressed talks with Turkey were still ongoing.

Germany has granted asylum to some soldiers Turkey believes were involved in a failed coup attempt last summer. That has prompted Turkey to block a request for German lawmakers to visit some 270 troops serving with the coalition against the Islamic State group at the Incirlik air base.

Merkel's party wins election in rivals' German heartland

May 15, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives won a state election Sunday in their center-left rivals' traditional heartland, a stinging blow to the challenger in September's national vote.

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany's most populous and has been led by the center-left Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966. It is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term in the Sept. 24 election. Schulz was hoping for a boost after two previous state election defeats sapped his party's momentum.

Instead, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union won 33 percent of the vote in the election for the state legislature, with the Social Democrats trailing on 31.2 percent. Social Democrat governor Hannelore Kraft's coalition lost its majority as her junior governing partners, the Greens, took only 6.4 percent. Conservative challenger Armin Laschet, a deputy leader of Merkel's party, was set to replace Kraft.

"The CDU has won the heartland of the Social Democrats," said the conservatives' general secretary, Peter Tauber. "This is a difficult day for the Social Democrats, a difficult day for me personally as well," Schulz, who wasn't on the ballot Sunday, told supporters in Berlin. "I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today."

But he urged the party to concentrate now on the national election. He said that "we will sharpen our profile further — we have to as well." "We will continue fighting; the result will come on Sept. 24," Schulz said.

The Social Democrats' national ratings soared after Schulz, a former European Parliament president, was nominated in January as Merkel's challenger. But defeats in two other state elections since late March punctured the party's euphoria over Schulz's nomination.

The Social Democrats' result in Sunday's election, the last before the national vote, was their worst in North Rhine-Westphalia since World War II. In the state's last election in 2012, the Social Democrats beat the CDU by 39.1 percent to 26.3 percent.

The pro-business Free Democrats won a strong 12.6 percent of the vote Sunday after a campaign headed by their national leader, Christian Lindner. That gave the party, with which Merkel governed Germany from 2009 to 2013, a strong base for its drive to return to the national parliament in September after it was ejected four years ago.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany won 7.4 percent, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature. The opposition Left Party fell just short of the 5 percent needed to win seats. The result gives the CDU and Free Democrats a very slim majority. If they can't agree on a governing alliance, Laschet could opt for a "grand coalition" of the biggest parties with the Social Democrats.

A "grand coalition" would mirror Merkel's national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners. After a blaze of publicity earlier this year, Schulz — who chose not to join the government when he returned to Germany in January — has struggled to maintain a high profile. He has focused on addressing perceived economic injustices, but critics have accused him of providing too little detail of his aims.

Kraft told ARD television she had "asked Martin Schulz to let national politics wait until the election was over." Asked whether that was smart, she replied: "I said I would take responsibility for that, and I'm doing that this evening." She resigned as her party's regional leader.

Merkel's conservatives sought to portray Kraft's government as slack on security, and also assailed what they said is regional authorities' poor handling of education and infrastructure projects. The region of 17.9 million, nearly a quarter of Germany's population, includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial area.

Merkel's party seemed keen not to appear too euphoric, insisting that regional issues played the key role. Asked about Germany's government after September her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said that "we always have to keep a cool head ... we shouldn't talk about coalitions before the harvest is in."

National polls show the Social Democrats trailing Merkel's conservatives by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.

Election in Germany's most populous state could boost Merkel

May 14, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — An election Sunday in Germany's most populous state is serving as a prelude to September's national vote. It could give conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel new momentum in her quest for a fourth term — or offer her center-left challenger some relief.

The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is Schulz's home territory, though he isn't on the ballot, and home to 17.9 million people, nearly a quarter of Germany's population.

The western state, which includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial region, has been led by the Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966. However, polls ahead of the vote — the last test at the ballot box before Germany's national election on Sept. 24 — now show the Social Democrats neck-and-neck with Merkel's Christian Democrats.

A defeat for center-left governor Hannelore Kraft would be a major blow for the Social Democrats after poor showings in two previous state elections punctured the party's euphoria over Schulz's nomination.

Last weekend, they were beaten by Merkel's party in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany's far north. Merkel's conservatives in the state, led by challenger Armin Laschet, a liberal-minded deputy leader of the Christian Democrats, have little to lose after a dreadful showing in the state vote five years ago.

They have sought to portray Kraft's state government as slack on security. They point to burglary statistics, incidents such as the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne in 2015 and questions over regional officials' handling of sometime resident Anis Amri, the rejected Tunisian asylum-seeker who drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in December, killing 12 people.

They also have assailed what they say is regional authorities' poor handling of education and infrastructure projects. Kraft's coalition partners, the Greens, are polling poorly and chances of their alliance keeping its majority look poor. The pro-business Free Democrats, eyeing a return to the national parliament in September after they were ejected in 2013, look set for a strong performance.

And the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, hopes to enter its 13th state legislature — though its popularity appears to have faded as the migrant influx has receded and the party has been rent by infighting.

The likeliest outcome appears to be a "grand coalition" of the biggest parties led by whoever finishes first. That would mirror Merkel's national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners.

After a blaze of publicity earlier this year, Schulz — who chose not to join the government when he returned to Germany after being president of the European Parliament — has struggled to maintain a high profile.

National polls show the Social Democrats trailing Merkel's conservatives by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.

French prez seeks clean gov't as 2 ministers fight suspicion

May 30, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Two ministers of newly elected President Emmanuel Macron — who promised a squeaky-clean government — are defending themselves against suspicions of ethical lapses just as a new law is being prepared to inject morality into politics.

No investigation was being opened against Social Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand for business practices that carried undertones of potential conflicts of interest. But the pressure was on Ferrand because he was a trailblazer for Macron's En Marche (On the Move) movement, among the first to sign onto the initiative that swept him to the presidency.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday evening that despite the "exasperation of the French" Ferrand would remain in the government. However, any minister placed under investigation will have to resign, Philippe said in an interview with France 2 TV. Old behaviors that "are no longer accepted today, can no longer be tolerated" even if they aren't illegal, the prime minister added.

European Affairs Minister Marielle de Sarnez also was in an unwelcome spotlight after she filed a slander complaint against a far-right European Parliament member. The lawmaker, Sophie Montel, has claimed that a batch of fellow French members of the European body improperly used their EU aides for political activities in France.

Montel, who pointed the finger at colleagues, is suspected of doing the same. She is among the National Front party parliamentarians under investigation, along with party leader Marine Le Pen, for allegedly cheating the European Parliament out of about 300,000 euros ($336,000) paid to aides who held political jobs on the side.

The Paris prosecutor's office confirmed that 19 French European Parliament members were under investigation, but refused to name names. The prosecutor's office said that in addition to the lawmakers, more than 20 parliamentary aides are under investigation for allegedly receiving money through an alleged breach of trust.

Suspicions about Ferrand, who is close to the president, arose last week when the weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported that an insurance company struck a rental deal with a company owned by Ferrand's romantic partner when he led the firm.

A report published in the Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday said the insurance company had contracts with both Ferrand's ex-wife and his current companion. The newspaper also reported that Ferrand advocated for a bill advantageous to insurance companies in 2012, when he was a lawmaker.

Ferrand denied any wrongdoing in a statement Tuesday. "I refute and condemn all the suspicions," he said. Macron, 39, has vowed to clean up French politics. A law to notably prohibit politicians from hiring family members, currently a legal practice, is to be formally presented to the Cabinet in June.

A once-leading candidate in the presidential race, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, was brought down by claims that he hired his wife and other family members as aides who allegedly did little work for high pay.

Macron defeated Le Pen by a landslide in the May 7 presidential election.

Newcomer Macron makes France's mark, with Trump and globally

May 28, 2017

TAORMINA, Italy (AP) — Within days of taking the French presidency, Emmanuel Macron faced a string of diplomatic tests — pushing the Paris climate deal on a skeptical Donald Trump, rallying European allies to do more to fight Syria's extremists, and now hosting Vladimir Putin.

Europe has a lot riding on Macron's diplomatic performance. So far, it appears, so good. Macron struck up an unusually chummy rapport in his first meetings with Trump, winning a handshake contest and the U.S. leader's cellphone number, despite their stark political differences.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, is warming to the energetic Macron — they've already met three times in the two weeks since Macron took office — and is pinning hopes on him to boost Europe's economy and unity.

Macron is eager to dispel doubts about his presidential stature that have dogged him since he launched a wild-card presidential bid just six months ago. During his very first days in office, he visited Berlin and a French military base in Mali, where the country's troops are fighting Islamic extremism. Then over this past week, he cemented his status as a new global player at a NATO summit in Brussels and a Group of Seven summit in Italy.

While he has never held elected office before, Macron was helped by his comfortable English and backstage knowledge of international summits gained as top economic adviser to predecessor Francois Hollande from 2012 to 2014, then as his economy minister.

Beyond the important issues Macron's tackling, his body language drew the most public attention on his summit outings. The most symbolic image was his handshake with Trump at their first meeting, in Brussels. After some friendly chatter, the two gripped each other's hands so tightly before the cameras that their jaws seemed to clench. It looked like Trump was ready to pull away first, but Macron wasn't quite ready to disengage.

The next day at the G-7 summit in Sicily, Macron attracted attention for his friendly interactions with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At their bilateral meeting, Macron, 39, and Trudeau, 45, went on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, were they posed for photographers, surrounded by flowers.

Macron showed proximity with other leaders, joking and making a gentle tap on the arm a habit. He often paid special attention to Merkel —as if making efforts to embody the French-German friendship. Germany is hoping Macron jumpstarts France's economy, a pillar of European unity and the shared euro currency.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was visibly touched when Macron addressed his condolences in English following the Manchester attack that killed 22 people. "We were very shocked, because ... we know how this can hurt the people of your country, but more generally for Europe. Because they attack our young, and very young people," Macron told her.

Both leaders pushed to get a separate, unanimous statement on the fight against terrorism by the G-7. The text is appealing to internet providers and social media companies to more actively fight extremism, an issue widely promoted by Macron during his presidential campaign.

Macron has promised to discuss the Syria crisis on Monday with Russia's president when he visits the royal palace in Versailles. That may be Macron's toughest test so far, amid tensions over Moscow's role in fighting in Syria and Ukraine, and after Putin openly supported rival French candidate Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front party.

"Russia invaded Ukraine," Macron told a news conference Saturday. On Syria, where extremists plotted attacks against France and where Europe's migrant crisis began, he said, "I said at the G-7 table that I don't regard it as a collective victory that on Syria ... not one of us was capable of being around the table. You have Russia, Iran and Turkey. That is a defeat."

"So we must talk to Russia to change the framework for getting out of the military crisis in Syria and to build a much more collective and integrated inclusive political solution," he added. The G-7 called on Russia to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and said they "stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase costs on Russia should its actions so require."

Macron promised he will have a "demanding dialogue with Russia, but it means having a dialogue." At the end of the G-7, Macron appeared to soften his stance on the climate talks, the most problematic issue between the U.S. and the six other nations. Macron showed unfailing optimism.

While Merkel called the G-7 climate talks "very difficult, if not to say, very unsatisfactory," Macron said "I think Mr. Trump is someone who is pragmatic and so I have good hopes that having considered the arguments put forward by various people and his country's own interest he will confirm his commitment (to the accord) — in his own time."

"I saw someone who listens and who is willing to work," he added. "For Mr. Trump and myself, it was a first experience. I think he saw the purpose of these multilateral discussions." Optimism, and an almost constant smile on the face, are part of Macron's strategy French voters are now getting used to.

The French leader was especially careful to avoid diplomatic or political faux-pas only two weeks before crucial legislative elections. Macron needs to get a majority at France's lower house of parliament to fully implement his pro-European, pro-free market agenda.

Meanwhile, his wife Brigitte Macron experienced the role of first lady, symbolizing easygoing French chic, and at ease with other spouses, especially with Melania Trump with whom she was seen chatting.

Angela Charlton reported from Brussels.

France's Le Pen to run for parliament with party in disarray

May 19, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Emerging from her crushing defeat in France's presidential contest, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Thursday she will run for a parliamentary seat in June elections and that her National Front party has "an essential role" in a new political landscape.

Le Pen will run for a seat in a district in her northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, a hardscrabble former mining region where she lost a similar bid in 2012. A new failure could jinx her bid to unite the National Front and to make it France's leading opposition party.

"I cannot imagine not being at the head of my troops in a battle I consider fundamental," Le Pen said in an interview on the TF1 television station, her first public appearance since her May 7 loss to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen announced her candidacy while facing forces of division that could frustrate her new goals. Her popular niece is leaving politics, her disruptive father is back in the ring and her party is in disarray.

At the same time, Macron has upset the political equation, drawing from the left and right to win the presidency and to create his government. The new president now is looking across the political spectrum to obtain a parliamentary majority to support his agenda.

"We are in reality the only opposition movement," Le Pen said. "We will have an essential role to play (and) a role in the recomposing of political life," she said, reiterating her contention that the left-right divide has been replaced by "globalists, Europeanists and nationalists" like herself.

Le Pen is counting on the 10.6 million votes she received as a presidential candidate to propel her anti-immigration party into parliament in the June 11 and June 18 elections. The party also hopes to pick up votes from "electoral orphans" unsatisfied with Macron and feeling betrayed by the mainstream right, National Front Secretary-General Nicolas Bay said this week.

The National Front plans to field candidates for each of France's 577 electoral districts, hoping to block Macron's movement from obtaining a majority of seats and to secure a strong bloc of its own to counter his new government.

Le Pen dismissed the notion that there were links between her loss and a series of events widely seen as potentially weakening the National Front. The party recently lost a rising star who served as a unifier on its conservative southern flank. One of the National Front's two current lawmakers — Le Pen's niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen — announced last week that she was leaving politics, at least temporarily.

Enter Jean-Marie Le Pen, who likened his granddaughter's exit from politics to a "desertion." The elder Le Pen, who was expelled from the party he co-founded because of his penchant for making anti-Semitic comments, is backing up to 200 parliamentary candidates through an ultra-conservative alliance, the Union of Patriots.

Some of the five parties represented in the alliance are headed by former National Front militants who, like Jean-Marie Le Pen, were expelled by his daughter in her bid to scrub up the party's image for the presidential contest.

His own Jeanne Committees will present some 35 of the 200 candidates. The decision smacks of revenge, but the elder Le Pen's aide denied that was the case. "This is not meant to cause trouble for the National Front. It is to defend the values that the National Front no longer defends," the aide, Lorrain de Saint Affrique, said.

The risk that other far-right parties would challenge the National Front "has existed since the National Front decided to exclude Jean-Marie Le Pen," De Saint Affrique said. "They should have thought of that then."

The competition from all but obscure parties is not a substantial threat to Le Pen, but mirrors frustrations roiling the National Front, some of which became public following Le Pen's defeat. More menacing, her top lieutenant, Florian Philippot suggested after Le Pen's loss to Macron that he would leave the party if it decided to do away with the goal of leaving the euro currency — a divisive proposal but at the top of Le Pen's presidential platform.

"I'm not there to keep a post at any price and defend the reverse of my deep convictions," he said last week on RMC radio. Le Pen conceded Thursday that the subject of the euro "considerably worried the French" and would be discussed after the parliamentary elections. "We will have to take this into account, reflect," she said.

She welcomed Philippot's launching this week of an association, called The Patriots, which could be seen as the budding of a potential rival, like the movement Macron started 13 months ago, En Marche (On the Move).

"The more ideas the better," she said.

French president pushes Paris Olympic bid, vets ministers

May 16, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is building a new government he hopes will have more gender balance, fewer positions and be less subject to scandal as it carries out his plans to overhaul the country's labor laws and politics.

The government will be formally presented on Wednesday. Macron's office delayed the announcement, initially expected Tuesday, while authorities check the tax records and backgrounds of ministerial candidates for potential conflicts of interest.

Macron won the May 7 presidential runoff in part on promises to clean up the corruption and stagnation ascribed to traditional parties. He said he would require his ministers to sign a commitment to "integrity and morality."

The 5-year term of his immediate predecessor, Socialist President Francois Hollande, was tarnished early on by financial scandals. The new government is expected to have an equal number of women and men and a smaller number of Cabinet posts than under Hollande.

It's a delicate balancing act, as the centrist Macron tries to redesign French politics by borrowing ministers from left and right, and combining new talent with experienced heavyweights who can help him make his mark on Europe and world affairs.

The president named low-profile, center-right Edouard Philippe as prime minister on Monday. Others whose names are circulating are television personality and environmental activist Nicolas Hulot; Axelle Tessandier, who created a startup in San Francisco before joining Macron's campaign; center-right European lawmaker Sylvie Goulard; and prominent centrist party leader Francois Bayrou.

Outgoing Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a Socialist, may end up remaining in his post to ensure continuity in French military operations against Islamic extremists in Syria, Iraq and Africa. The biggest scandal to taint Hollande's administration concerned then-budget minister Jerome Cahuzac. After months of public denials and lies, Cahuzac acknowledged in 2013 holding illegal foreign bank accounts for two decades.

Cahuzac's case prompted the appointment of a new national financial prosecutor to focus on complex cases of serious economic and financial crime and the enactment of a law requiring ministers and lawmakers to declare their financial assets.

In his second full day in office, Macron also hosted a delegation from the International Olympic Committee in the Elysee Palace, a symbolically important gesture of support for the French capital's bid in its heated race against Los Angeles for the 2024 Games.

Macron pushed the Paris Olympic bid with a visiting IOC delegation. Macron said he would go to Lausanne, Switzerland, for a key IOC meeting in July and he may go to Lima, Peru, in September, where the committee makes its final decision.

"This discussion left no doubt about the fact that the Paris bid is enjoying extremely strong support from all public authorities," Patrick Baumann, head of the IOC evaluation commission told reporters after the meeting.

Winning the games would be a big boost for France after years of fading global influence — and a boost for Macron as the untested 39-year-old president embarks on an effort to reinvigorate the French economy amid skepticism.

Meanwhile, criticism from Socialists and conservative Republicans met Macron's nomination of Philippe as prime minister. The traditional parties fear being sidelined by Macron's growing centrist party, Republic on the Move, in crucial parliamentary elections next month.

Macron "wants to create a majority by exploding the right as he exploded the left," senior Republicans lawmaker Bernard Accoyer told France-2 TV station Tuesday. The new government may only serve for a few weeks. If Macron's party doesn't win a majority in the June 11 and 18 elections, he might have to form a coalition and adjust the makeup of the government. He also could end up with a government led by an opposition party.

Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.

France's new president wastes no time: names PM, sees Merkel

May 15, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, being greeted on a red carpet outside the chancellery with military honors on a busy first full day in office that started with his naming 46-year-old lawmaker Edouard Philippe as his new prime minister.

Appointing Philippe to the top job in his government ticked several boxes for Macron, at 39 France's youngest president, who took power on Sunday. Philippe's age reinforced the generational shift in France's corridors of power and the image of youthful vigor that Macron is cultivating. Philippe is also relatively unknown to voters, fulfilling Macron's campaign promise to repopulate French politics with new faces.

Philippe is the mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre, a trained lawyer and an author of political thrillers. His appointment marks a milestone in the rebuilding of France's political landscape, which has been dynamited by the election of Macron — the first president of modern France not from the country's mainstream left or right parties.

Philippe is a member of the mainstream-right Republicans party. As such, Philippe could possibly attract other Republicans to Macron's cause, as the centrist president works to piece together a majority in parliament to pass his promised economic reforms.

Alain Juppe, a former French prime minister, called Philippe "a man of great talent" with "all the qualities to handle the difficult job." Shortly after the announcement, Macron flew to Berlin, continuing a tradition of French presidents making their first foreign trip to Germany.

A large group of onlookers, some carrying European flags, stood outside the chancellery as Macron arrived. Germany and France have traditionally been the motor of European integration, but the relationship has become increasingly lopsided over recent years as France struggled economically.

The visit signaled his intentions to move rapidly on campaign promises to revive support for the beleaguered European Union by reforming and strengthening it. Speed is becoming one of Macron's trademarks. Including the "thank you" at the end, the announcement of Philippe's appointment, delivered by the presidency's new secretary general , took just eight seconds.

As well as the political coup of poaching Philippe from the right, Macron is also siphoning off support from lawmakers on the left. At least 24 Socialists are now campaigning for re-election under the banner of Macron's Republic on the Move party.

But not everyone was pleased with Philippe's announcement. For far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Macron's rival for the presidency, the selection of Philippe reflects a continuation of the system she hoped to break.

"This is the sacred alliance of the old right and left, united in their wish to remain in place at any price," Le Pen said in a statement. Defeated by a Macron landslide, she denounced what she predicted would be a continuation of old policies, including "austerity, submission to Brussels, massive immigration."

The populist Le Pen said her National Front party is now the only "true opposition" for June legislative elections. French far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who won nearly 20 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, also reacted with hostility.

Voters go to polls again in June to elect 577 National Assembly lawmakers. Melenchon urged them not to give Macron a parliamentary majority. "The right has just been annexed, with a prime minister taken from its ranks, from the Republicans," Melenchon said. "Don't give full powers to Mr. Macron and his prime minister."

Macron's trip to Berlin highlighted his pro-European politics and desire to work with Merkel on what he says must become "a more efficient Europe, a more democratic Europe, a more political Europe." Macron previously met Merkel when he visited Berlin in March as a candidate.

Germany is looking to Macron to revitalize France as an economic power and political heavyweight in the EU, which is facing complex divorce proceedings with its current No. 2 economy, Britain. When Britain leaves the bloc in 2019, France will be the EU's only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

As a candidate, Macron called for a "new Franco-German deal" that would involve "much more structured cooperation" on investment, on European border security, and on defense. Macron is the conservative Merkel's fourth French president in nearly 12 years as chancellor. She built a solid relationship with Macron's predecessor, Socialist Francois Hollande, despite their political differences — notably with their joint effort to secure an accord to calm the fighting in eastern Ukraine in tense talks in Minsk, Belarus in 2015.

Germany is keen to continue the Franco-German diplomatic drive to keep a lid on the situation in Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are battling the government. Merkel has praised Macron's embrace of European unity but has offered few concrete details about the way forward for German-French relations.

John Leicester in Paris contributed to this story.

With Merkel and PM, France's new president wastes no time

May 15, 2017

PARIS (AP) — On his first full day in office, France's freshly inaugurated President Emmanuel Macron is expected to move quickly Monday on fronts foreign and domestic, meeting in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel and possibly unveiling his choice of prime minister.

Among names being bandied around for the top job in Macron's first government, speculation is mostly centering on Edouard Philippe. The 46-year-old lawmaker, largely unknown to voters, is a member of the mainstream-right Republicans party. His appointment would be seen as an effort by the centrist Macron to build a majority in parliament by drawing in politicians from the right.

Macron's trip to Berlin, his first as president, signals his intent to also move rapidly on campaign promises to revive support for the European Union by reforming and strengthening it.

France's new president vows to fortify EU, revamp politics

May 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — In ceremonies marked by youthful optimism and old-world Napoleonic pomp, Emmanuel Macron swept into office Sunday as France's new president pledging to fortify the European Union, redesign French politics and glue together his divided nation.

Macron's presidency began with a visit to troops wounded in overseas combat — a reminder of France's large global military presence and role in fighting extremists from Syria to Africa. He's expected to name a prime minister imminently, and to show his commitment to reviving European unity. Macron takes his first presidential trip Monday to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a lofty but lucid inaugural speech, Macron vowed to lift France out of its sense of decline and lost purpose, and seize again its place in the world. "The time has come for France to rise up to the occasion. The division and fractures across our society must be overcome ... because the world expects us to be strong, solid, clairvoyant."

He promised to take France's responsibilities to tackle today's crises — "the migration crisis, the climate challenge, authoritarian abuse, the excesses of capitalism in the world and of course terrorism. Nothing now strikes one and spares the other. We are all Interdependent. We are all neighbors."

The 39-year-old Macron is the youngest president in the country's history and the eighth president of France's Fifth Republic, which was created in 1958. A former economy minister with pro-business, pro-European views, Macron is the first French president who doesn't originate from the country's two mainstream parties.

After Macron was formally declared president at the Elysee Palace, 21 cannon shots were fired from across the Seine River at the Invalides monument, where Napoleon is entombed. Macron later solemnly paid tribute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe, greeting veterans and military officers in formation beneath the imposing arch.

Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, will become the EU's only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Reviving support for European unity will be among his top priorities. France is a founding member of the 28-nation EU and its third-largest economy after Germany and Britain.

"We will need a more efficient Europe, a more democratic Europe, a more political Europe because it's the instrument of our power and our sovereignty, I will work on that," he said Sunday. Before the ceremony, he met for an hour with his predecessor, Francois Hollande, taking a last few minutes to discuss the most sensitive issues facing France, including the country's nuclear codes.

In a visibly moving moment for both, Macron accompanied Hollande to his car, shaking hands and applauding him along with the employees of the French presidency who had gathered in the palace's courtyard.

The two men had known each other well. Macron was Hollande's former adviser, then his economy minister from 2014 to 2016, when Macron quit the Socialist government to launch his own independent presidential bid.

About 300 guests, officials and family members gathered in the Elysee reception hall, including Macron's wife, Brigitte, wearing a lavender blue dress by French designer Nicolas Ghesquiere for Louis Vuitton.

Macron himself wore a dark suit from French brand Jonas and Cie, a tailor based in Paris. It cost 450 euros ($491), according to his team. The new president arrived on the Champs-Elysees Avenue under a heavy rain — recalling Hollande's inauguration five years ago. But unlike his predecessor, Macron managed to avoid getting wet. The bad weather often associated with the former Socialist president has become a joke for the French.

After his time at the tomb, Macron went to shake hands with supporters along the Champs-Elysees, who were taking selfies and waving French tricolor flags, before coming back to the palace for a lunch with his family.

Earlier, he and France's new first lady briefly posed for photographers at the front porch of the palace after Hollande left. The couple will now live at the Elysee Palace. Macron met with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo later Sunday and visited the Percy military hospital in the Paris suburb of Clamart to meet with two soldiers injured during French operations in Mali last year and one wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. The media wasn't allowed to cover the visit.

Macron has promised to reinvigorate French politics by bringing in new faces, and will form a government in the coming days. His Republic on the Move movement — barely a year old — is hoping to elect a majority of lawmakers in next month's parliamentary elections so that he can pass his programs. It has announced an initial list of 428 candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in France's lower house of parliament in the vote on June 11 and 18.

Many of the candidates are newcomers in politics. Their average age is 46, compared to 60 for the outgoing assembly. Half of them are women. Only 24 are lawmakers running for re-election. Hollande, meanwhile, went on Twitter to describe the "terrible ordeals" that marked his five-year term, from deadly attacks to Greece's debt crisis. He defended his unpopular presidency in a series of tweets minutes after leaving the Elysee Palace.

Hollande noted his accomplishments in getting the Paris Agreement on climate change, legalizing gay marriage and doing "everything possible to ensure that Greece stays in Europe." "We lived through crises but we held together. France remained France," he tweeted.

Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.

Inauguration day: Macron to become France's new president

May 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — France's Emmanuel Macron arrived Sunday for his inauguration ceremony at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, ready to fully embark on his mission to shake up the world of French politics.

His predecessor, Francois Hollande, welcomed him in the courtyard, shaking hands in front of hundreds of journalists. The two were meeting in the president's office before Hollande's departure, taking a last few minutes to discuss the most sensitive issues facing France, including the country's nuclear codes.

Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, will become the EU's only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. He will then make a speech in the Elysee reception hall in front of about 300 guests, officials and family members, including his wife Brigitte Macron, who was wearing a lavender blue dress by French designer Nicolas Ghesquiere for Louis Vuitton.

Macron was wearing a dark suit from French brand Jonas and Cie, a tailor based in Paris, that cost 450 euros ($491), his team said. Outside the Elysee, few dozen supporters waved French tricolor and European blue flags at the arrival of the new president.

Following the ceremony and military honors at the Elysee palace, Macron will go the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, at the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysees Avenue, a tradition followed by all heads of states in France's modern history.

Macron will also meet with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo later Sunday. His first visit abroad will be to Germany on Monday, to visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. He will have to name his prime minister and form a government in the following days.

A former economy minister with pro-business, pro-European views, Macron quit Hollande's Socialist government last year to launch his independent bid. He is the first French president who doesn't originate from one of the country's mainstream parties.

He has promised to reinvigorate French politics by bringing in new faces. His Republic on the Move movement has announced an initial list of 428 candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in France's lower house of parliament in June. Macron is seeking a majority of lawmakers so he can pass his programs.

Many of the Republic on the Move candidates are newcomers in politics. Their average age is 46, compared to 60 for the outgoing assembly. Half of them are women. Only 24 are lawmakers running for re-election, all Socialists.

France's unpopular Hollande leaves power after 5 hard years

May 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — As president, Francois Hollande steered France through deadly extremist attacks, poured troops into battle abroad and anchored the boldest-ever world agreement to fight global warming. But as he hands power Sunday to his former protege Emmanuel Macron, he may be most remembered for his failure to create jobs and his crushing unpopularity.

After a five-year term, Hollande makes way for Macron, his former adviser then economy minister, in a ceremony at the Elysee presidential palace. The Socialist leader, who described himself as "normal," was able to comfort and unite his nation during its worst terrorist attacks in decades.

Following Jan. 2015 attacks at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, Hollande proved to be a statesman who brought world leaders together to link arms and march through Paris to defy extremism.

The emotional image of him hugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel, eyes shut, close to his cheek, was published around the world. In November 2015, Hollande faced the deadliest attacks inflicted on France since World War II when 130 people were slain in Paris at restaurants, at a concert venue and outside a stadium.

That night, Hollande vowed to attack the Islamic State group without mercy as the jihadist group claimed responsibility. "When terrorists can commit such atrocities, they must know that they will face a determined, united France," he declared

France remains under a state of emergency since then. Last year, another tragic attack killed 86 victims in Nice on July 14, France's national Bastille Day holiday. Over the years, Hollande turned from what some considered flimsy custard to become an active, strong chief of war.

In 2013, he launched a military operation in Mali against al-Qaida-linked Islamist extremists who he believed posed a threat to the African Sahel region. The same year, he also sent troops the Central African Republic in an intervention aimed at disarming ex-rebels and militias that were pushing the country toward anarchy.

Since September 2014, France's jet fighters have been bombing IS targets in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition — and extended that operation to Syria beginning in September 2015. During Hollande's term, France achieved a seemingly unachievable triumph: uniting the world to seal a global climate pact. The Paris climate agreement, adopted on Dec. 12, 2015, was the culmination of more than a year of intense diplomatic efforts by France.

In a unique gathering, 151 heads of state came to Paris to give the negotiations a political push on the first day of the conference. Hollande, as host of the U.N. climate change conference, became committed to a cause that he once barely paid attention to. At every meeting with a foreign leader and during every visit abroad prior to the talks, he kept mentioning the climate conference even when it was not front-page news.

Calling the agreement "historic," Hollande urged the United States to respect it as "irreversible" following the election of President Donald Trump, who is firmly against regulations on businesses. Despite his diplomatic successes, Hollande remained highly unpopular at home, presiding over a jobless rate of around 10 percent, which only starting to slightly decrease last year.

His poll numbers quickly dropped after he came to power. He promoted a 75 percent tax on income earned above 1 million euros ($1.09 million) that triggered huge protests in the business, sports and artistic worlds. The super tax was never fully applied and ultimately abandoned, but it still damaged France's image in international business circles.

Meanwhile, the government raised taxes on French households. A pro-business turn in 2014, including policies to encourage job hiring, didn't produce the expected results for France's economy. Some on the French left, including ones within his Socialist party, accused Hollande of helping international businesses instead of French workers.

One year after his election, Hollande was able to legalize gay marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The measure still prompted hundreds of thousands to march for months in protest. There's no doubt Hollande will remain associated in French minds with one image — that of a man in a motorcycle helmet, reportedly going to a secret rendezvous with his lover, French actress Julie Gayet.

Hollande ended his seven-year relationship with Valerie Trierweiler two weeks after the report. Gayet and Hollande have never appeared together in public. Last December Hollande look at his poll numbers and announced he was not seeking re-election. Despite the effort to present a fresh leader to the public, his Socialist party was crushed in the latest presidential election, not even making it to the May 7 runoff won by the independent Macron.

The new faces of France? Macron's candidates gather in Paris

May 13, 2017

PARIS (AP) — President-elect Emmanuel Macron promised that his new movement would reinvigorate French politics by bringing in a greater variety of lawmakers. On Saturday, candidates running under his banner got to see just how different they are from politics as usual.

The candidates gathered in Paris for a training workshop for June's crucial parliamentary election. The workshop comes a day before Macron is sworn into office. His Republic on the Move movement has announced an initial list of 428 candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in June in France's lower house of parliament.

Many are newcomers in politics. Their average age is 46, compared to 60 for the outgoing assembly. Half of them are women. Only 24 are lawmakers running for reelection, all Socialists. A former economy minister, Macron quit President Francois Hollande's Socialist government last year to launch his independent bid. He is the first French president who doesn't originate from one of the country's mainstream parties.

French mathematician Cedric Villani, 43, applied to run under Macron's banner. He is now a candidate in the 5th district of Essonne, south of Paris. "It is about going over traditional and sterile differences and fights between the right and the left," he explained. "There is also an attachment to the European idea, the dimension of progress, and the way of protecting France in the world, and there is the will to include more the civil society in politics."

Villani has a successful career as a researcher and university professor. He was awarded the Fields Medal in 2010 for his work on optimal transport. "I already changed my life several times, I was a researcher, a managing director, I was a public personality," Villani told The Associated Press. "It's important to make a change from time to time, and in most cases, your previous lives will help you in your future life. One gets richer with various experiences."

Lawyer Alice Thourot, 31, is a candidate in her Drome region, in south of France. "I really wanted to participate. I was always a spectator of the political life of my country, and now I wanted to become an actor of it. That is what motivated me," she said.

The gathering aimed to give the newcomers in politics more information on administrative, financial, judicial procedures as well as media training sessions. "You are the new faces of French politics ... it's the first promise kept," Macron told them in a speech, according to a tweet by lawmaker Christophe Castaner, a close ally.

The press was not allowed to attend the gathering. Macron will officially take power on Sunday following an inauguration ceremony with his predecessor Hollande at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. He is then expected to quickly name a prime minister whose role will include leading the campaign for the two-part June 11 and June 18 legislative election.

Meanwhile, far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in fourth in the first round of France's presidential election with about 19.6 percent of the vote, launched his campaign for the legislative election on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Villejuif.

Melenchon called on leftist voters to choose his movement's candidates to oppose Macron's policies, which he thinks threaten workers' rights. Melenchon himself is a candidate in the southern city of Marseille.

UN chief to meet rival Cyprus leaders in New York

May 31, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — United Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet the rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus at U.N. headquarters in New York amid faltering reunification talks, officials said Wednesday.

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said that the meeting Sunday evening will aim to carry out a review of the state of play in negotiations that are now at a standstill. Aleem Siddique, a U.N. spokesman in Cyprus, said the U.N. chief looks forward to welcoming the leaders to New York.

Last week, U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide broke off mediation efforts after the island's Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, failed to agree on how to move the peace process toward a final summit aiming for a comprehensive accord.

Guterres has intervened in an apparent bid to prevent the two year-old talks, which have made significant headway at reunifying the island as a federation, from unravelling. On Tuesday, Anastasiades warned that talks were now at risk of deadlock because of an insistence by Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriots to keep Turkish troops deployed on the island even after a peace deal.

Turkey has maintained 35,000 troops in the country's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since mounting an invasion in 1974 in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Greek Cypriots see the troops as a threat and want them removed as part of any peace deal. Anastasiades has proposed the deployment of an international police force to oversee security.

The minority Turkish Cypriots say a peace deal must include the deployment of Turkish troops they see as their only security guarantee. Anastasiades insists on prioritizing at a final summit in Geneva an agreement on withdrawing Turkish troops before resolving all other outstanding issues.

Akinci maintains that all issues should be discussed in a give-and-take process.

Philippine airstrike kills 11 soldiers in besieged city

June 01, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine bomber plane accidentally killed 11 soldiers and injured seven others, security officials said Thursday, as troops struggled to end a bloody siege by 500 Islamic State group-aligned extremists in a southern city, one of the boldest militant attacks in Southeast Asia in years.

The plane was making a bombing run over militant positions in Marawi city on Wednesday when one bomb accidentally hit army troops locked in close battle with extremists who had taken cover in buildings and houses, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said. The plane had made three successful bombing runs before making the error, he said.

"It's painful, it's very sad to be hitting our own troops," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference in Manila. "Sometimes, in the fog of war, a lot of things could happen." Precision-guided bombs were used earlier in airstrikes in Marawi's urban areas, but the military ran out of the high-tech munitions and used conventional ones in Wednesday's bombing run, he said.

Military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano ordered an investigation. Lorenzana said about 500 militants, including foreign fighters, joined the siege of Marawi, a mosque-studded city that is the heartland of the Islamic faith in the southern Philippines, and that 50 to 100 militants now remain in a few Marawi areas. Eight foreign fighters have been slain in the intense street combat, including a Chechen, a Yemeni and several Malaysians and Indonesians, Lorenzana said.

A total of 120 militants have been killed in the fighting since May 23, when a failed government raid to capture one of Asia's most-wanted militants, Isnilon Hapilon, triggered the siege of the city by the rebels. Twenty-five of the dead militants have been identified as Filipinos, according to military officials.

At least 25 soldiers, five policemen and more than 24 civilians have been killed in the clashes, Lorenzana said. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines, to crush the insurrection, and poured in troops backed by airstrikes, artillery fire and armored vehicles. More than 3,000 soldiers, marines and air force personnel are involved in the fighting, backed by more than 30 assault aircraft, military officials said.

The unrest has boosted fears that the Islamic State group's violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the country's restive southern islands, where Muslim separatist rebellions have raged for nearly half a century.

"This thing that we see today is the first time that any terror organization in Southeast Asia has taken the bold step to actually overtake an entire territory," said Jasminder Singh, a senior terrorism analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

He said the siege "will actually become more of a template and motivation for other terrorist organizations who believe they can actually take on government forces." Officials said troops have cleared about 90 percent of Marawi, a scenic lakeshore city with a population of more than 200,000, many of whom have fled to crowded evacuation camps in outlying towns. About 2,000 people are believed to still be trapped in houses near the fighting, while about 1,000 others have been rescued by police and soldiers from villages that have been cleared of armed extremists, the officials said.

The squalor in the shelters, lack of privacy and shock of the violence moved some displaced residents to tears. Okie Rasul, a fruit vendor and mother of eight, blamed the militants for the uncertainties her family now faces. They fled their home last week amid the horrifying staccato of gunfire and explosions, leaving behind 10,000 pesos ($200) worth of fruit for their business that she bought with a loan.

"We lost everything, our home and my business," Rasul told the AP as she waited to receive a pack of food and water in an overcrowded emergency shelter in Balo-i town near Marawi. "The only things we saved are the clothes we're wearing, but at least we're all alive."

Associated Press journalists Teresa Cerojano in Manila and Kiko Rosario in Singapore contributed to this report.