French PM, far-right chief cross swords in raucous election debate

French PM, far-right chief cross swords in raucous election debate
(From L) French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party President and lead MEP Jordan Bardella, France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and French MP of left wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) Manuel Bompard pose prior to a political debate broadcasted on French TV channel TF1, in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, on June 25, 2024, ahead of France's snap elections for a new national assembly on June 30 and July 7, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2024
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French PM, far-right chief cross swords in raucous election debate

French PM, far-right chief cross swords in raucous election debate
  • A warning issued by Macron Monday that the programs of the two “extremes” on left and right could spark a “civil war” also sparked disquiet even within his own ranks

PARIS: French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the chief of the main far-right party Jordan Bardella clashed in an ill-tempered debate Tuesday that exposed fierce tensions less than a week ahead of the most polarizing election in decades.
Attal, Bardella and hard-left MP Manuel Bompard, representing the left-wing coalition, exchanged accusations in a sometimes bruising live TV encounter where discussion of issues was often drowned by a cacophony of voices.
Bardella’s National Rally (RN) still has a clear lead in opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s first round of voting in the parliamentary elections, followed by the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance lagging in third.
At just 28, Bardella could become the first far-right prime minister in France’s modern history after the second round on July 7, although he has said he will only take the job if the RN wins an absolute majority in parliament.
Bardella vowed that “if the French give me their confidence I will be the prime minister of purchasing power,” pledging cuts to VAT and tax breaks for the under 30s.
“I am prime minister. The difference with me is that I do not want to lie to the French,” retorted Attal.
“Jordan Bardella says every time that he will reduce VAT as if by magic but without saying how he will finance it,” he added.
Bompard meanwhile told the premier “you are badly placed to give lessons on the economy, given your record.”
Attal, 35, portrayed himself as safe pair of hands with experience of the realities of power, repeatedly asking Bardella “how will you finance it?” and saying “I will remain serious.”
“Excuse me Mr.Teacher!” Bardella bristled at one point, while adding that “if you were credible we would not be here at all” — a reference to Macron’s dissolution of parliament following his party’s third place in European elections.
“Mr Attal be humble tonight, please,” Bardella said. “Stop your cinema please. You are not at the level of your office.”
Attal also rounded on Bardella for his controversial proposal to ban French dual nationals from sensitive strategic posts.
“The message that you send is dual nationals are half nationals,” he said.
The RN leader said for his part he would “drastically reduce migratory flows” if he becomes prime minister.
“There are millions of French who do not recognize the France that they grew up in,” he said.
Referring to the origins of Bardella, who is himself of Italian and also Algerian ancestry, Bompard said: “When your personal ancestors arrived in France, your political ancestors said exactly the same thing. I find that dramatic.”
Regardless of the result, Macron has vowed to stay on as president until the end of his second term in 2027.
He has been criticized from all sides for his decision to call the snap election after his party received a drubbing in the European election earlier this month.
A warning issued by Macron Monday that the programs of the two “extremes” on left and right could spark a “civil war” also sparked disquiet even within his own ranks.
Parliament speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, a senior member of the ruling Renaissance party, acknowledged that the French “have found it hard to understand” the dissolution. Former premier Edouard Philippe, who leads an allied centrist party, said simply that Macron had “killed the presidential majority.”
An Ifop poll has the RN on 36 percent support, the left-wing NFP on 29.5 percent and Macron’s camp on 20.5 percent, leading the unpopular president’s allies to beg him to step back from the campaign.
Bardella said France would have a new government after the elections and now faced the “historic choice” of whether it would be from the left or far-right.
Powerful Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told BFMTV he wanted to leave the government after the election, sit as an MP and “build a new project.”
“We are at the end of the cycle, we need to build another,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bardella and Attal had both requested that the left-wing slot in Tuesday’s debate be taken by France Unbowed founder Jean-Luc Melenchon rather than Bompard.
A former presidential candidate, Melenchon is the most recognizable but also the most divisive figure on the left due to his radical positions.
Melenchon himself has refused to rule himself out of the running, saying his name “opens doors in working-class neighborhoods” but many on the left hope an alternative figure will emerge.


Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says
Updated 13 sec ago
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Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says
  • Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a trip from July 23 to 25
  • The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin
KYIV/BEIJING: Ukraine’s top diplomat will visit China on Tuesday at the invitation of Beijing for talks that Kyiv said would focus on how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine and on a possible Chinese role in reaching a settlement.
Nearly 29 months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a trip to China from July 23 to 25, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.
“The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia’s aggression and China’s possible role in achieving a stable and just peace,” the Ukrainian ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Chinese statement said Kuleba’s visit would run from July 23 to 26 and provided less detail.
The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin, with which Beijing declared a “no limits” partnership in 2022 just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Though the world’s second largest economy has not condemned the Russian invasion and helped keep Russia’s war economy afloat, Kyiv has been cautious in its criticism of Beijing.
China meanwhile says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of non-alliance and do not target any third party.
Various peace initiatives have emerged in recent months as the fighting has dragged on ahead of a US election in November that could see the return to power of ex-president Donald Trump who has threatened to cut vital aid flows to Ukraine.
Kyiv held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland in June to promote its vision of peace and now says it hopes to be ready to hold another one in November that would feature Russian representation.
China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, together with Brazil published a separate six-point peace plan on May 23, saying they supported an international peace conference being held that would be recognized by both sides in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that only the world’s powerful countries would be able to successfully bring an end to the war, singling out China as well as Kyiv’s close US ally as two possibilities.
The Ukrainian leader has said that China should play a serious role in helping to resolve the war.

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns
Updated 22 July 2024
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.


China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal
Updated 22 July 2024
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China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal
  • Crucial deal reached after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila
  • Beijing has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea

MANILA: China and the Philippines reached a deal they hope will end confrontations at the most fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine government said Sunday.
The Philippines occupies Second Thomas Shoal but China also claims it, and increasingly hostile clashes at sea have sparked fears of larger conflicts that could involve the United States.
The crucial deal was reached Sunday, after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila and exchanges of diplomatic notes that aimed to establish a mutually acceptable arrangement at the shoal, which Filipinos call Ayungin and the Chinese call Ren’ai Jiao, without conceding either side’s territorial claims.
Two Philippine officials, who had knowledge of the negotiations, confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity and the government later issued a brief statement announcing the deal without providing details.
“Both sides continue to recognize the need to deescalate the situation in the South China Sea and manage differences through dialogue and consultation and agree that the agreement will not prejudice each other’s positions in the South China Sea,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced shortly after midnight Sunday that they discussed with the Philippines “managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao and reached provisional arrangement with the Philippines on humanitarian resupply of living necessities.”
Neither side released the text of the agreement.
China has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea. The rare deal with the Philippines could spark hope that similar arrangements could be forged by Beijing with other countries to avoid clashes while thorny territorial issues remain unresolved. It remains to be seen, however, if the deal could be implemented successfully and how long it will last.
Chinese coast guard and other forces have used powerful water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers to prevent food and other supplies from reaching Filipino navy personnel at Manila’s outpost at the shoal, on a long-grounded and rusting warship, the BRP Sierra Madre.
The yearslong territorial standoff has flared repeatedly since last year.
In the worst confrontation, Chinese forces on motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy boats on June 17 to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to the ship outpost in the shallows of the shoal, according to the Philippine government.
The Chinese seized the Philippine navy boats and damaged them with machetes and improvised spears. They also seized seven M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, and other supplies. The violent faceoff wounded several Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his thumb, in a chaotic skirmish that was captured in video and photos that were later made public by Philippine officials.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for the confrontation and each asserted their own sovereign rights over the shoal.
The United States and its key Asian and Western allies, including Japan and Australia, condemned the Chinese acts at the shoal and called for the rule of law and freedom of navigation to be upheld in the South China Sea, a key global trade route with rich fishing areas and undersea gas deposits.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in separate but increasingly tense territorial disputes in the waterway, which is regarded as a potential flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China regional rivalry. The US military has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets for decades in what it calls freedom of navigation and overflight patrols, which China has opposed and regards as a threat to regional stability.
Washington has no territorial claims in the disputed waters but has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
One of the two Philippine officials said the June 17 confrontation prompted Beijing and Manila to hasten on-and-off talks on an arrangement that would prevent confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal.
During final meetings in the last four days, two Chinese demands that had been key sticking points were removed from the draft deal.
China had previously said it would allow food, water and other basic supplies to be transported by the Philippines to its forces at the shoal if Manila agreed not to bring construction materials to fortify the crumbling ship and to give China advance notice and the right to inspect the ships for those materials, the officials said.
The Philippines rejected those conditions, and the final deal did not include them, according to the Philippine officials.


France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics
Updated 22 July 2024
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France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

PARIS: Israeli athletes are welcome at the Paris Olympics, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Monday, after a hard-left member of the French parliament sparked outrage by urging them to stay away.
“The Israeli delegation is welcome in France,” Sejourne said in Brussels ahead of talks with his Israeli counterpart, adding that the call by France Unbowed (LFI) lawmaker Thomas Portes for the country’s exclusion had been “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“We will ensure the security of the delegation,” Sejourne added.
Portes drew ire from French Jewish groups and both political opponents and allies for saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
He later told the Parisien newspaper that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” over its invasion of Ukraine.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the comments had “hints of anti-Semitism” while the head of the Crif Jewish organization Yonathan Arfi said he was “putting a target on the backs” of Israeli athletes.
Portes’ remarks were condemned at the weekend by some allies from the more moderate Socialists, but backed by others in LFI.


Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat
Updated 22 July 2024
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Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat
  • The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills
  • China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control
TAMSUI/TAOYUAN, Taiwan: Taiwan carried out anti-landing drills on a strategic river on Monday at the start of the annual Han Kuang war games, which this year aim to be as close as possible to actual combat with no script and simulating how to repel a Chinese attack.
China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its territory, has been staging regular exercises around the island for four years to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s claim of sovereignty, despite Taiwan’s strong objections.
Taiwan’s drills this year have canceled elements that were mostly for show, like scripted firepower displays, while there will be intensified nighttime exercises and practicing how to operate with severed command lines.
Kicking off the first day of exercises in Tamsui at the mouth of a major river leading to Taipei, soldiers practiced laying mines and nets to stymie the landing of enemy forces, part of a series of drills designed to prevent the capital being seized.
“We are trying our best to slow them down as much as possible,” military office Chang Chih-pin told reporters, referring to a scenario where the enemy was trying to make landfall by sending rubber boats into the Tamsui River.
“The slower they move, the better for us,” he added.
Earlier on Monday in nearby Taoyuan, outside of Taipei and home to Taiwan’s main international airport, reservists gathered to get their orders as they would during a war, and civilian vans were pressed into service to carry supplies.
On Thursday, Taoyuan airport will close for an hour in the morning for the drills, though a typhoon is expected to be impacting the island that day meaning that the exercise could be delayed.
Taiwan’s defense ministry also published video of air force fighter jets at the Hualien air base on the island’s east coast, which has hangars cut out of the side of a mountain to protect aircraft from aerial attack.
Live fire drills will only take place on Taiwan’s outlying islands, including Kinmen and Matsu which sit nestled next to the Chinese coast and were the scene of on-off clashes during the height of the Cold War.
The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills, where the streets of major cities are evacuated for half an hour during a simulated Chinese missile attack, and test warning alarms will sound on mobile phones.
The drill scenarios this week include setting up contingency command lines after existing hubs are destroyed and dispersing Chinese forces trying to land on Taiwan’s western coastline facing China, a defense official involved in the planning said.
China held two days of its own war games around the island shortly after President Lai Ching-te took office in May, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist content.
But China has also been using grey zone warfare against Taiwan, wielding irregular tactics to exhaust a foe by keeping them continually on alert without resorting to open combat. This includes almost daily air force missions into the skies near Taiwan.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Lai, who says only the Taiwanese people can decide their future, has repeatedly offered talks but been rebuffed.