France’s Macron hits back at rival over ‘killer’ chants

France’s Macron hits back  at rival over ‘killer’ chants
French incumbent president Emmanuel Macron meets representatives of associations working in the "Fontaine d'Ouche" neighborhood in Dijon, on March 28, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 28 March 2022

France’s Macron hits back at rival over ‘killer’ chants

France’s Macron hits back  at rival over ‘killer’ chants

DIJON, France: French President Emmanuel Macron hit the campaign trail on Monday and immediately took aim at his far-right rival Eric Zemmour as the clock ticks down on elections less than two weeks away.

Switching from his lofty perch as head of state to the rough and tumble of domestic politics, Macron traveled to the eastern town of Dijon for a classic pre-election walkabout and visit to a high school.

He was asked about weekend images from a Zemmour rally in Paris at which the crowd chanted “Killer Macron” as the anti-immigration former TV pundit criticized the government for letting foreign criminals into the country.

Macron allies have criticized Zemmour for failing to condemn the chants, while Zemmour’s team has said he did not hear them.

“There are two theories: The first is that it is shameful act, which seems to be the most credible, but is not a surprise,” Macron told reporters in bright spring sunshine.

“The second one is that there’s a lack of knowledge about a very important reform during my term in office,” he added, before explaining how the cost of hearing aids was now fully covered by the social security system.

“I invite the hard-of-hearing candidate to get himself sorted out at lower cost,” he added.

Macron has so far deliberately stayed out of the campaign and declined to engage directly with his opponents, insisting that he has had to focus on the Covid-19 pandemic and latterly war in Ukraine.

Monday marked the start of the official campaign period running up to the first round of voting on April, with all 12 candidates now entitled to equal time and space in the media.

The top two candidates in the first round will go through to a second-round run-off on April 24.

Macron is the current favorite to win, with the war in Ukraine seen as helping raise his profile. Veteran far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is running in second place, polls suggest.

A new poll by the Ipsos/Sopra Steria group published in Le Monde newspaper on Monday showed Macron on 28 percent ahead of the first round, down a point, while Le Pen had gained 1.5 points to 17.5 percent.

Le Pen continues to run a low-key campaign that has seen her tone down her usual hardline rhetoric on immigration in favour of focusing on household income, voters’ biggest priority.

Zemmour, who soared in opinion polls in September and October last year while teasing his presidential ambitions, has since slipped to fourth or fifth.

Frederic Dabi, a leading polling expert at the Ifop group, stressed that the race remained unpredictable despite Macron’s apparent strength in voter surveys.

“When I see such a low level of interest in the campaign, when I see that a quarter of French people have not made up the mind... things can still change,” he told the Public Senat channel.


PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
Updated 13 sec ago

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
  • Premier says India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance to reach its goal
  • Corruption, nepotism are barriers to growth, Modi warns in independence day address

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, and vowed to fight against corruption and nepotism, as the nation celebrated its independence day.  

India gained independence on Aug. 15, 1947 after more than 200 years of British rule, when the subcontinent was divided into the states of India and Pakistan.

Wearing a turban printed with small stripes that matched the Indian flag, Modi addressed the nation from the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi to mark 75 years of independence.

“For the next 25 years, we need to focus on the ‘Panch Pran’ (five pledges). The first is making India a developed country,” he said.

“It is a big pledge and we should work toward this goal with all our might.”

Other pledges include removing any trace of the colonial mindset, strengthening unity, taking pride in India’s legacy, and for everyone to fulfill their duties as citizens.

India is categorized as a lower middle-income economy by the World Bank, a distinction meant for countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,086 and $4,255. High-income countries, such as the US, have a per capita income of $13,025 or more.

Modi said that India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance, as well as the spirit of international partnership, in order to achieve its development goals. He also identified corruption and nepotism as barriers to growth.

“Corruption is hollowing the country like termites. I want to fight it and seek your support,” he said.

But the premier’s ambitions for a developed India failed to take into account the country’s regression when it comes to minorities, writer Bhagwandas Morwal told Arab News.

“Modi’s speech is without vision, and India cannot become a developed nation by going astray from the path of secularism and pluralism,” Morwal said.

The South Asian nation has witnessed increasing violence targeting its Muslim minority, which makes up about 13 percent of the 1.35 billion population. Many attacks have been carried out by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s silence about such incidents since taking office in 2014.

“India has slid in its standing among a comity of nations, and in the last eight years of Modi rule it has gone astray from its constitutional commitment to minorities.”

Historian Aditya Mukherjee told Arab News that he is “extremely worried” about the nation’s trajectory.

“We are moving in the opposite direction that the country was set by our freedom fighters,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-author of “India’s Struggle for Independence,” said that “fundamental ideas,” such as democracy, secularism, sovereignty and pro-poor orientation, “are being completely abandoned.”

“The question is not whether we can become a developed nation after 25 years,” he said. “The question is, will we remain as a nation (considering) the manner in which the divisive agenda is promoted?”

 


UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
Updated 31 min 16 sec ago

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.


One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 30 sec ago

One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Countries have refused to recognize the new government
  • Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since Taliban seized power

KABUL: Afghanistan’s acting Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund called on the international community to improve relations with the country on Monday as the Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power.

After the Taliban captured Kabul last August and US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the group’s stunning takeover marked the end of two decades of war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans on their soil.

The Taliban had declared Aug. 15 a national holiday just a day earlier, following a year that saw improved security but also increasing uncertainties about the country’s future.

With the new government still struggling to gain recognition from the international community a year later, the acting premier has urged for better relations.

“The world must improve its relations with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. We are not a threat to any country,” Akhund said in a statement.

“Other countries should also have positive political and economic engagement with Afghanistan.”

Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments’ refusal to recognize the Taliban has kept the country isolated.

The aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since the Taliban took over, with billions of dollars in foreign aid suspended and some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets parked overseas have been frozen.

On Monday, Taliban soldiers celebrated the anniversary with marches on the streets of Kabul as they carried their flags of the Islamic Emirate and played anthems.

“This is the day of the victory of right over wrong and the day of salvation and freedom of the Afghan nation,” Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The country is safer compared to when the Taliban were fighting against US-led troops and their Afghan allies, even as a local offshoot of the Islamic State has carried out several attacks in the past year.

But the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the country, where nearly 20 million people out of the 38 million population are facing acute hunger.

Forty-year-old Mohammed Ali, a shopkeeper at Kabul’s commercial area of Pul-e-Surkh, went about his daily business on Monday morning, despite the national holiday.

Amid increasing hardships, feeding his family is what matters most for Ali.

“We have to work every day to earn some income and feed our children. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, no one cares much about ordinary people,” Ali told Arab News.

“There are so many anniversaries. This is just another one. When we have enough food on our destarkhan, that’s the best celebration for us,” he said, referring to the meal-setting placement on the ground or floor that is commonplace across Afghanistan.  

The day prompted questions about the future for 21-year-old Shamsia Amini, whose dream of becoming a soccer player was shattered last year when the Taliban barred women from all sports.

“So many women’s aspirations were put on hold for an uncertain time. We don’t even know whether we will have a future under the Taliban,” she told Arab News.

Women’s rights have been curtailed in the past year, as women were ordered to wear face coverings in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education. Education has also been limited for women, even though allowing girls into schools and colleges was one of the key demands made by the international community.

“We should all, men and women, remember Aug. 15 as a dark day for Afghan women,” she added.

Qasim Haqmal, a Taliban soldier based in Kabul, told Arab News that the victory and freedom the group gained a year ago was what Afghans wanted.

“We are trying our best to serve the people the best way possible,” Haqmal said. “I ask people to have some patience.”

 


Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17
Updated 15 August 2022

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17
  • The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch court handling the murder trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 said on Monday it would hand down its verdict on Nov. 17.
Prosecutors say the one Ukrainian and three Russian defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at the plane on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.
The prosecution is seeking life terms for all suspects.
Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant who has chosen to participate in the proceedings through counsel, have argued that the trial was unfair and prosecutors did not properly examine alternative theories about the cause of the crash or the involvement of Pulatov.
The other suspects, named as Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, are being tried in absentia. Under Dutch law Pulatov, while he is also at large, is not considered to be tried in absentia because he is represented through lawyers he has instructed.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region by what international investigators say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The eastern region has also become a key focus of Russia’s nearly six-month-old war in Ukraine.
Most of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible for the crash. Authorities in Moscow deny any involvement.
The MH17 case has seriously strained the Netherlands’ diplomatic relations with Moscow, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.