Macron urges defense of democracy on state visit to Germany

Macron urges defense of democracy on state visit to Germany
French President Emmanuel Macron stands in front of the German flag during a State Banquet at Bellevue presidential palace in Berlin on May 26, 2024, during his state visit. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2024
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Macron urges defense of democracy on state visit to Germany

Macron urges defense of democracy on state visit to Germany
  • Macron made his first stop a democracy festival in Berlin, where he warned of a “form of fascination for authoritarianism which is growing” in the two major EU nations

BERLIN: Emmanuel Macron began Sunday the first state visit to Germany by a French president in a quarter-century, bringing a plea to defend democracy against nationalism at coming European Parliament elections.
Macron made his first stop a democracy festival in Berlin, where he warned of a “form of fascination for authoritarianism which is growing” in the two major EU nations.
“We forget too often that it’s a fight” to protect democracy, Macron said, accompanied by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
If nationalist parties had been in power in Europe in recent years, “history would not have been the same,” he said, pointing to decisions on the coronavirus pandemic or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Steinmeier said: “We need an alliance of democrats in Europe.”
Macron “has rightly pointed out that the conditions today before the European elections are different from the previous election, a lot has happened,” he added.
The trip comes two weeks ahead of European Union elections in which polls are indicating a major potential embarrassment for Macron, with his centrist coalition trailing behind the far right.
It could even struggle to reach a third-place finish.
In Germany too, all three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition are polling behind the far-right AfD in surveys, despite a series of scandals embroiling the anti-immigration party.
At a press conference, Macron said he would work to “unmask” France’s far-right National Rally (RN), saying that “nothing in their rhetoric holds water.”
“Unlike many, I’m not getting used to the idea that the National Rally is just another party. And so when it’s at the top of the surveys, I see this party and its ideas as a threat to Europe,” he said.
In a keynote address on foreign policy last month, Macron warned about the threats to Europe in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
“Our Europe, today, is mortal and it can die,” he said. “It can die, and this depends only on our choices.”
Ramping up his warning in Berlin, Macron urged Europeans “to go vote for the party that we back and a party that defends Europe.”
Hosting a state banquet later Sunday for Macron, Steinmeier also referred to the threat posed by Russia.
“Together we must learn again to better protect ourselves against aggressors, and to make our societies more resilient against attacks from within and without,” he said.
After the talks with Steinmeier, Macron is due to bring his message to Dresden in the former East German state of Saxony, where the AfD has a strong support base.
On Tuesday, Macron will visit the western German city of Munster and later Meseberg, outside Berlin, for talks with Scholz and a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting.
Beyond making joint appeals for the European elections, Macron’s three-day visit will seek to emphasize the historic importance of the postwar relationship between the key EU states.
France next month commemorates 80 years since the D-Day landings that marked the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany’s World War II occupation.
But all has not been smooth in a relationship often seen as the engine of the EU, and German officials are said to be uneasy at times about Macron’s perceived theatrical style of foreign policy.
Macron’s refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine sparked an unusually acidic response from Scholz that Germany had no such plans. Germany also does not share Macron’s enthusiasm for a European strategic autonomy less dependent on the United States.
But Macron sought to dismiss talk about discord, saying that coordination with Germany had been key over the years.
He cited agreements on sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine and action to spur European economic growth and innovation after the Covid pandemic.
“The Franco-German relationship is about disagreeing and trying to find ways of compromise,” said Helene Miard-Delacroix, specialist in German history at the Sorbonne university in Paris.
While Macron is a frequent visitor to Berlin, the trip is the first state visit in 24 years, since a trip by Jacques Chirac in 2000, and the sixth since the first postwar state visit by Charles de Gaulle in 1962.


France charges two Moldovans over coffin graffiti in Paris

France charges two Moldovans over coffin graffiti in Paris
Updated 23 June 2024
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France charges two Moldovans over coffin graffiti in Paris

France charges two Moldovans over coffin graffiti in Paris
  • A source close to the case said the two Moldovans claimed to have been paid around 100 euros to paint the graffiti

PARIS: French prosecutors on Saturday charged two Moldovans suspected of painting coffins and a slogan urging an end to Ukraine war on the facade of a prominent Paris newspaper, a judicial source said.
It was just the latest in a series of such acts in the capital in recent weeks.
French officials have repeatedly warned of the risks of disinformation and other attacks by Russia over France’s support for Kyiv.
Tension between Paris and Moscow has increased since President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this year he had not ruled out sending troops to Ukraine.
The two men, who carried Moldovan passports, were arrested overnight Thursday-Friday after six red coffins and the phrase “Stop the Death, Mriya, Ukraine” were painted on the building of right-wing daily Le Figaro.
Mriya means “dream” in Ukrainian.
They are being held on charges of destruction of property and participating in “an effort to demoralize the army to harm national defense in peacetime,” the source said.
Six similar coffins were found early Thursday on the facade of the Agence France-Presse headquarters in central Paris, not far from the Figaro offices.
A source close to the case said the two Moldovans claimed to have been paid around 100 euros to paint the graffiti.
A separate investigations has been opened after graffiti showing French Mirage fighter jets in the form of coffins were found last Tuesday in three districts of Paris. They included the phrase “Mirages for Ukraine.”
Similar graffiti was discovered on the walls of the AFP building Monday.
Macron announced in early June that France would send Mirage-2000 fighter jets to Ukraine and train their Ukrainian pilots as part of a new military cooperation with Kyiv.
On June 8, French police said they were holding three young Moldovans suspected of being behind inscriptions of coffins in Paris with the slogan “French soldiers in Ukraine.”
They were later charged with property damage and released.
Moldova’s Foreign Minister Mihai Popsoi posted on X, formerly Twitter: “We regret and firmly condemn the incident.”
He said the “vandalism” was “part of hybrid tactics to harm our international image.”
Popsoi reiterated his comment on Saturday, denouncing an “instigation to hate.”
“We call on Moldovan citizens to be vigilant and not to allow themselves to be manipulated to the detriment of our country.”


Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election

Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election
Updated 23 June 2024
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Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election

Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election
  • The election commission also barred Kagame critic Diane Rwigara, saying she had failed to provide a criminal record statement as required and had not met the threshold of acquiring 600 supporting signatures from citizens

KIGALI: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame defended his country’s democratic credentials as campaigning opened on Saturday for the July 15 presidential election, with the incumbent widely expected to extend his 24-year iron-fisted rule over the Great Lakes nation.
Nine million Rwandans are registered to vote in the poll concurrently with legislative elections.
Kagame has been Rwanda’s de facto ruler since the end of the 1994 genocide.
President since 2000, the 66-year-old will face the same rivals as he did in 2017: the leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party, Frank Habineza, and former journalist Philippe Mpayimana, who is running as an independent.
Rwandan courts rejected appeals from top opposition figures Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire to remove previous convictions that effectively barred them from contesting.
The election commission also barred Kagame critic Diane Rwigara, saying she had failed to provide a criminal record statement as required and had not met the threshold of acquiring 600 supporting signatures from citizens.
The daughter of industrialist Assinapol Rwigara, a former major donor to Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front party who fell out with its leaders, the 42-year-old was arrested and disqualified from running in 2017 over allegations of forgery before being acquitted.
Speaking at a rally attended by thousands of supporters, many of whom were ferried by bus to the venue, Kagame defended Rwanda’s record on democracy in an apparent swipe at allegations of stifling opposition.
“People usually disagree on democracy or understand it differently. But for us, we have our understanding of it. Democracy means choice, choosing what is good for you and what you want,” he told a cheering crowd in the northern town of Musanze.
“Nothing is better than being Rwandan, but even better, nothing is better than being your leader ... I came here to thank you, not to ask for your votes.”
Elected by parliament in 2000 after the resignation of former president Pasteur Bizimungu, Kagame won three elections, with more than 90 percent of the ballot in 2003, 2010, and 2017, taking home nearly 99 percent of votes in the most recent poll.
He has been praised for Rwanda’s economic recovery after the genocide but faces criticism over rights abuses and political repression.
In a statement published last week, Human Rights Watch accused the government of a long-running crackdown on the opposition, media, and civil society.
“The threat of physical harm, arbitrary judicial proceedings, and long prison sentences, which can often lead to torture, have effectively deterred many Rwandans from engaging in opposition activities and demanding accountability from their political leaders,” said Clementine de Montjoye, senior Africa researcher at HRW.
In 2015, Kagame presided over controversial constitutional amendments, potentially allowing him to rule until 2034.
These shortened presidential terms from seven to five years and reset the clock for Kagame, allowing him to rule in a transitional capacity from 2017 to 2024 and then for two five-year terms until 2034.
The legislative elections will feature more than 500 candidates, with voters electing 53 out of 80 lawmakers.
The 27 remaining seats in the parliament are reserved for independent candidates, including 24 women, two young representatives, and one disabled person.
Currently, Kagame’s party and its allies hold 49 of the 53 seats in the lower house.
Opposition challenger Habineza’s Democratic Green Party has two seats, as does the Social Party Imberakuri.
The women lawmakers are elected by municipal and regional councilors, the youth representatives by the National Youth Council and the disabled candidate chosen by the Federation of Associations of the Disabled.

 


How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life

How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life
Updated 23 June 2024
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How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life

How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life
  • The Palestinian-American graphic designer, professionally known as Roger Cook, left a profound legacy with his ubiquitous icons
  • Arab-American inventions in everything from food and drink to medicine and technology have dramatically improved the American lifestyle

CHICAGO: Despite an apparent surge in anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments in the US driven by the war in Gaza, Americans live in an environment heavily influenced by the innovations of Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians.

Indeed, Arab-American inventions in everything from food and drink to medicine and technology have dramatically improved the American lifestyle. And yet the community seldom gets the recognition it is due.

One striking example involves the work of Palestinian-American graphic designer Rajie Suleiman, professionally known as Roger Cook, who died in February 2021 at the age of 90 having left a profound legacy.

Rajie Suleiman, also known as Roger Cook. (Supplied)

Cook was a graphic designer who created the ubiquitous “pictograms” that ease the everyday lives of Americans across industries, professions, transport, amenities, and public safety.

Among them are the icons of a man and a woman used to identify public restrooms, symbols for non-smoking areas, public telephones, emergency medical services, parking, no entry signs, and for public transportation including airports and transit stops.

Because they are so ubiquitous, the pictograms Cook designed are often overlooked, yet they serve as efficient identifiers in nearly every aspect of American life — concise graphic depictions that convey meaning across languages, cultures and levels of literacy.

Cook and his business partner Don Shanosky won a government contract in 1974 to design a series of pictograms of small, easily identifiable images that could efficiently inform and direct the public to the services they require.

Roger Cook's works are memorialized in a display at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Supplied)

The Manhattan-based graphic designers created 34 pictograms that conveyed meaning through their resemblance to physical objects, according to Cook’s obituary in the New York Times.

These images are especially helpful in airports and other environments where people may not be familiar with the local language. Indeed, they have become known as a “universal language of wayfinding.”

Beyond municipal spaces, pictograms have been adopted by IBM, Container Corporation of America, Montgomery Ward, Bristol Myers Squibb, Volvo, Subaru, AT&T, the New York Times, Bell Atlantic and BASF, among other major companies. 

For their “outstanding achievement in design for the government of the United States,” Cook and Shanosky received an award from then President Ronald Reagan.

Roger Cook (right) accepts an award from President Ronald Reagan on Jan. 30, 1985, as Elizabeth Dole, the Secretary of Transportation, looks on. (Courtesy of the family)

“We held firm to the principle that design communicates to its maximum efficacy without frills, contrivances and other extraneous material that if the core idea is a good one, it will shout loudest when it is not overshadowed by ornamentation,” Cook wrote in his 2017 book, “A vision for my father.”

Somewhat ironically, the designer himself underwent a process of cross-cultural simplification when his name was changed from Rajie Suleiman to the anglicized moniker Roger Cook.

Cook’s paternal grandfather’s surname was Suleiman. However, according to Cook’s obituary, his grandfather “was given the nickname Kucuk, the Turkish word for small, by Turkish occupiers because of his small stature.

“Later, when the British occupied Palestine, they turned that into Cook.”

Many years later, his grandson also had a new name foisted upon him. Rajie’s elementary school teachers found his name too difficult to pronounce, and so chose to Americanize it to Roger. Thus, Rajie Suleiman became Roger Cook.

Roger Cook's sculptures featured items he had collected at flea markets and elsewhere.
(Courtesy of the family)

Despite this imposed identity, Cook and his family never lost sight of their Arab-Palestinian heritage. Cook told the New York Times in a 2004 interview that his own father had died at the age of 94 while listening to the radio in the hope of hearing news of peace in Palestine.

His father’s passion for Palestine and the many family trips they made to the region during Cook’s childhood later inspired him to expand his graphic representations, creating images that reflected the tragedy of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948. 

Many of his photos, paintings, and graphics are publicly displayed at the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and are currently memorialized in a display at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

“His Symbol Signs’ graphic design work was created in collaboration with his business partner Don Shanosky for the Department of Transportation to standardize way-finding symbols used in public spaces,” Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan, the museum’s collections curator, told Arab News.

“While they didn’t invent pictographs as a mechanism, they were the firm chosen to create this system that has been widely used and replicated.

“As graphic designers, they understood the need for signs that could be recognized without the need for text. The majority of the symbols created in the ‘70s are still in use today, which is a testament to their universality.”

All Flights Cancelled, sculptural assemblage, 2006 by Rajie Cook. (Supplied)

Sullivan said the items in the museum display were donated by Cook’s family two years ago. The display will be a “semi-temporary” exhibit, with plans for it to travel to other institutions in the years ahead.

“We are excited to have his work in our collections and be able to share his story with our visitors,” said Sullivan.

“He was a prolific artist, especially in the last 20 years of his life, with a significant focus on Palestine. He used his art to bring more awareness to the cruelty of the occupation, as well as honoring his own heritage.”

Of course, Arab-Americans have contributed far more than mere signage. Many iconic brands were started as small businesses run by Arab-Americans, among them Haggar, Philz Coffee, Kinko’s, BioSilk hair products, and Joy Ice Cream Cones, to name but a few.

The development of television transmission and liquid-crystal display screens was spearheaded by Lebanese-American Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbagh for General Electric.

Other Arab Americans who have dramatically improved global lifestyle include pop-top tab designer Nick Khoury; coronary bypass surgery pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey; TV technology developer Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbagh; and iPod and iPhone design leader Tony Fadell. (Getty Images/ Supplied)

In medicine, surgical techniques in heart surgery were pioneered by Dr. Michael DeBakey, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who developed coronary bypass surgery in 1963 that has saved millions of lives.

The popular waffle ice cream cone is claimed by no fewer than four Arab-Americans — Ernest Hamwi, Nick Kabbaz, Abe Doumar and Leon B. Holwey.

Working at Apple Computers under Steve Jobs, himself an Arab-American orphan adopted as a baby, fellow Arab-American Tony Fadell oversaw the 2001 design of the iPod and the iPhone.

And Nick Khoury, a Palestinian-American born in Jifna, led the team at the Continental Can Company in the 1950s that designed and developed the pop top tab that allowed Americans to shift from glass bottled drinks to easy-open aluminum cans.

At a time when conflict is raging in the Middle East, stoking fear, anger and mistrust among communities across the globe, it is easy to forget the many positive contributions made by those who trace their origins to the region.

By acknowledging the many ways in which Arab-Americans like Rajie Suleiman have bettered public life, perhaps a recognition of common humanity will prevail, offering a potential way-finder to peace.
 

 


Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says

Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says
Updated 22 June 2024
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Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says

Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says
  • Two drones exploded on Saturday in a residential area and a resident was hurt
  • An official at the occupied Zaporizhzhia station had initially reported that it was unaffected by those military actions

MOSCOW: A Russian-installed official said on Saturday that Ukrainian attack drones again struck Enerhodar, a town near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, after drones earlier in the week hit two of the town’s electric substations.
Eduard Senovoz, the top official in Enerhodar, said on Telegram that two drones exploded on Saturday in a residential area and a resident was hurt. Another drone was downed.
In attacks on Wednesday and Friday on Enerhodar, a few km (miles) from the nuclear plant, he previously said one of Enerhodar’s substations was destroyed, while the other was damaged. Power was cut to most residents.
An official at the occupied Zaporizhzhia station, Europe’s largest nuclear plant with six reactors, had initially reported that it was unaffected by those military actions.
But the Russian management of the station said on Telegram on Saturday, before the latest drone strikes, that some “infrastructure facilities” including the transport department and print shop experienced disruptions following the attacks earlier in the week.
Nuclear safety measures remained fully operational, it said.
Ukrainian officials have made no comment on the incidents and Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the attacks exposed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s disregard for nuclear safety.
“In view of the Zelensky regime’s total inability to negotiate anything, our country will take all necessary measures to deny the Kyiv regime all means of carrying out such strikes,” Zakharova said on the ministry’s website.
Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in the early days of the February 2022 invasion, and Moscow and Kyiv have since routinely accused each other of endangering safety around it. It produces no electricity at the moment.
Russian news agencies quoted Yevgeny Yashin, director of communications at the Zaporizhzhia station, as saying the damaged substation in Enerhodar could be repaired.
Russia launched mass attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in the first winter of the conflict and resumed a long series of attacks in March.
Kyiv says the renewed attacks have knocked out half of Ukraine’s energy-generating capacity and forced blackouts.
Russian missiles and drones damaged energy facilities in southeastern and western Ukraine on Saturday, wounding at least two energy workers and forcing record electricity imports, officials said.
Ukraine has stepped up its use of drones this year to attack Russian oil facilities.


Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding

Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding
Updated 22 June 2024
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Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding

Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding
  • A woman feared to have been swept away had been found alive after being caught in torrential rain and thunderstorms
  • “Intensive searches are under way for the three people still listed as missing,” police said

GENEVA: Swiss authorities in the southeastern canton of Grisons said Saturday that they were searching for three people missing after heavy flooding the previous day in the region.
Police said a woman feared to have been swept away had been found alive after being caught in torrential rain and thunderstorms that caused landslides and flooding in the Mesolcina valley and forces dozens of residents to be briefly evacuated.
“Intensive searches are under way for the three people still listed as missing,” police said in a statement, adding they were likely at home when floodwaters swept away three houses along with three vehicles.
Local media reports said the missing included an elderly woman and a couple.
One police rescue vehicle was also swept away by the floodwaters but police said two colleagues inside were able to get out and swim to safety.
Police urged people to stay away from the worst-hit areas and not attempt their own rescue searches.
Several villages were left without electricity and drinking water following the storm, local reports said.
Recent days have seen other areas of Switzerland, including the ski resort of Zermatt, affected by heavy rainfall with several roads cut off and rail services hit.
President Viola Amherd posted on X that her thoughts were with those people affected.