France's Macron seeks second wind with cabinet reshuffle

Emmanuel Macron, left, has picked former Socialist MP Christophe Castaner as interior minister, one of the main figures in the French President’s inner circle. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2018
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France's Macron seeks second wind with cabinet reshuffle

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday, appointing new interior, agriculture and culture ministers after a weeks-long search for new talent to try to revive his government’s flagging fortunes.
Two weeks after political veteran Gerard Collomb abruptly resigned as interior minister, Macron appointed the ultra-loyal head of his Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner, to replace him.
The centrist president also dismissed his agriculture and culture ministers, seen as weak links in his cabinet, which is a blend of experts in their field and experienced politicians from the left and right.
The prime minister, foreign and economy ministers all kept their jobs, however.
Presenting a “renewed, dynamic team with a second wind,” the presidency said it would continue on the same track of reforms.
“We will not change direction,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe vowed.
But analysts expressed doubt that the reshuffle would significantly change perceptions of the government.
“It’s a very technical reshuffle... which means it is unlikely to stir French passions,” said Chloe Morin, an analyst at Ipsos polling company.
Macron was scheduled to explain the reshuffle in a rare primetime television address later Tuesday evening.
Collomb’s departure on October 2 was a blow to Macron, coinciding with a slump in his popularity after a scandal involving a close aide, several verbal gaffes and a raft of disappointing economic data.
Collomb’s resignation followed that of star environment minister Nicolas Hulot in August, creating a sense of a government in disarray.
Macron’s delay in carrying out the reshuffle, caused partly by his difficulty in convincing people to join his team, was seen as further evidence of his weakened position.
The opposition on Tuesday slammed his hotly anticipated new picks as underwhelming.
The parliamentary leader of the center-right Republicans, Christian Jacob, said it was “more like a balloon bursting than a second wind.”
Christophe Castaner, a gregarious 52-year-old former Socialist from southern France, had been widely tipped to replace Collomb, who is returning to his home town of Lyon to serve as mayor.
A member of the president’s inner circle, Castaner was a rebellious youth who has spoken of how he rubbed shoulders with Marseille gang members at poker games before entering politics, first as a mayor than an MP.
He has little experience of national security issues but on Tuesday vowed to be “at your service, ladies and gentlemen, 24 hours a day.”
He resigned his leadership of the ruling party to take up the job.
The current head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, Laurent Nunez, was named as his deputy at the interior ministry.
Macron’s choices reflected his continuing attempt to appeal to both sides of the political divide, but there were few household names in the new line-up.
Didier Guillaume, a former Socialist, was named agriculture minister, replacing Stephane Travert, while center-right former Republicans lawmaker Franck Riester took over from publisher Francoise Nyssen in culture.
There were also changes in the ministry for relations with local government, with Jacqueline Gourault taking over the tricky portfolio at a time of budget cuts that have caused deep discontent among rural mayors.
Analysts say many ministers and members of Macron’s party have struggled to emerge from his shadow since he won elections in May 2017 at the head of a newly formed pro-EU, pro-business party.
His polling numbers have slumped to their lowest level since his electoral victory in May 2017.
Surveys show that only around 30 percent of French voters have a positive view of his presidency.
He suffered the first major scandal of his presidency in July when footage emerged of one of his most trusted security aides hitting a protester while apparently posing as a policeman at a May Day rally.
Slowing economic growth — expected to fall to 1.6 percent this year from 2.3 percent in 2017 — and a series of public gaffes that fueled a perception of arrogance have also served to undermine Macron’s popularity.


Japan apologizes to those forcibly sterilized, vows redress

Updated 7 min 22 sec ago
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Japan apologizes to those forcibly sterilized, vows redress

  • An estimated 25,000 people were given unconsented sterilization while the 1948 Eugenics Protection Law was in place until 1996
  • The government had until recently maintained the sterilizations were legal at the time

TOKYO: Japan’s government apologized Wednesday to tens of thousands of victims forcibly sterilized under a now-defunct Eugenics Protection Law and promised to pay compensation.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he was offering “sincere remorse and heartfelt apology” to the victims.
His apology comes just after the parliament enactment earlier Wednesday of legislation to provide redress measures, including $28,600 (¥3.2 million) compensation for each victim.
An estimated 25,000 people were given unconsented sterilization while the 1948 Eugenics Protection Law was in place until 1996. The law was designed to “prevent the birth of poor-quality descendants” and allowed doctors to sterilize people with disabilities. It was quietly renamed as the Maternity Protection Law in 1996, when the discriminatory condition was removed.
The redress legislation acknowledges that many people were forced to have operations to remove their reproductive organs or radiation treatment to get sterilized, causing them tremendous pain mentally and physically.
The government had until recently maintained the sterilizations were legal at the time.
The apology and the redress law follow a series of lawsuits by victims who came forward recently after breaking decades of silence. That prompted lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties to draft a compensation package to make amends for the victims.
The plaintiffs are seeking about ¥30 million each ($268,000) in growing legal actions that are spreading around the country, saying the government’s implementation of the law violated the victims’ right to self-determination, reproductive health and equality. They say the government redress measures are too small for their suffering.
In addition to the forced sterilizations, more than 8,000 others were sterilized with consent, though likely under pressure, while nearly 60,000 women had abortions because of hereditary illnesses, according to Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
Among them were about 10,000 leprosy patients who had been confined in isolated institutions until 1996, when the leprosy prevention law was also abolished. The government has already offered compensation and an apology to them for its forced isolation policy.