France’s Le Pen says party in mortal danger after funds seized

Marine Le Pen, National Rally (Rassemblement National) political party leader, attends a news conference at the party's headquarters in Nanterre near Paris, France, on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 July 2018
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France’s Le Pen says party in mortal danger after funds seized

  • Two investigating judges seized the party’s subsidies to ensure the RN could pay up if ordered by a court in due course to repay seven million euros to the European Parliament
  • Several leading politicians came to her defense — a rare show of solidarity with a party long viewed as untouchable

PARIS: France’s far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen said her cash-strapped party was in mortal danger Monday after judges seized two million euros in subsidies as part of an illicit funding inquiry.
Le Pen, who was runner-up in last year’s presidential election behind Emmanuel Macron, said the move was a “death sentence” for the party formerly known as the National Front and accused the judiciary of a plot to destroy it.
She and other National Rally lawmakers are accused of using public funds earmarked for parliamentary assistants when they were European Parliament MPs to pay for France-based staff.
Two investigating judges seized the party’s subsidies to ensure the RN could pay up if ordered by a court in due course to repay seven million euros to the European Parliament.
Le Pen said that without the subsidies the RN would be unable to pay salaries in August and called on “all those who fight for democracy” to stand up for the party.
Urging the French not to allow the country to slide into “dictatorship,” the 49-year-old trained lawyer, who has struggled to recover from her election defeat, launched an emergency fund-raising drive.
Several leading politicians came to her defense — a rare show of solidarity with a party long viewed as untouchable.
“The principle in a democratic nation is to make sure that a seizure doesn’t threaten a party’s very existence,” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told Europe 1 radio.
The leader of the centrist UDI party Jean-Christophe Lagarde said Le Pen was “right to protest” and that the judges should have waited for a verdict in the case before seizing party funds.
The FN had been expected to receive roughly 4.5 million euros in subsidies this year, proportional to the party’s results in recent elections.
Such subsidies are common in European countries, which see them as a way of ensuring a level political playing field and of limiting the risks of corruption or illegal campaign funding.

The party has long presented itself as the victim of a political conspiracy.
In November, Le Pen claimed she was the target of a “banking fatwa” after banking giants HSBC and Societe Generale closed her personal and party accounts.
The banks did not say why they took the step but insisted it was in no way political.
During her presidential campaign, Le Pen had already complained loudly about her funding woes, suggesting that French banks were being pressured into rejecting her applications for loans.
In 2014, the party took a nine-million-euro ($10.5-million) loan from a Russian bank, prompting critics to question whether Moscow had influence over the party.
On Monday, sources close to the inquiry into the use of EU funds over several years starting in 2009 told AFP that four more people had been charged.
They include Nicolas Bay, an MEP and top party leader, who like Le Pen has been charged with abuse of trust, as well as Le Pen’s bodyguard Thierry Legier.
The party has set up a website to collect donations from supporters.


EU to start paying Tunisia under migration pact

Updated 9 sec ago
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EU to start paying Tunisia under migration pact

  • Tunisia will get 105 million euros to curb irregular migration, 150 million euros in budgetary support and 900 million euros in long-term aid
  • EU lawmakers, the bloc’s ombudsman and migrant assistance charities have questioned whether the deal with Tunisia meets European rights standards
Brussels: The EU is to start releasing money to Tunisia under a pact aimed at stemming irregular migration from the country, the European Commission said Friday.
A first payment of $135 million will be disbursed “in the coming days,” a commission spokeswoman, Ana Pisonero, said.
EU lawmakers, the bloc’s ombudsman and migrant assistance charities have questioned whether the deal with Tunisia meets European rights standards.
Under the agreement, a memorandum of understanding signed by commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in July, Tunisia will get 105 million euros to curb irregular migration, 150 million euros in budgetary support and 900 million euros in long-term aid.
Tunisia is one of the main launching points for boats carrying migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean for Europe, with most heading for Italy, in particular its island of Lampedusa.
The EU deal, strongly supported by Italy’s far-right government, aims to bolster Tunis’s coast guard to prevent boats leaving its shore. Some of the money also goes to UN agencies assisting migrants.
Pisonero said that, of the 127 million euros to be “swiftly” disbursed, 42 million euros came under the migration aspect of the July deal.
The rest was for previously agreed programs, with 60 million euros to help Tunisia with its budget.
The North African country is struggling with high debt and poor liquidity, and has suffered bread and power shortages.
Its hopes of accessing a $1.9-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund are hobbled by a refusal to undertake IMF-mandated reforms.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has been criticized in Brussels for increasingly authoritarian rule.
The EU ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, last week demanded the commission explain how the pact with Tunisia will not breach human rights standards.
MEPs have also raised that question, pointing out that hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia had allegedly in recent months been taken to the desert near the Libyan border and left to fend for themselves.
Tunisia has bristled at the criticism, and last week barred entry to a European Parliament fact-finding delegation.

Karabakh rebels say negotiating their troops’ withdrawal

Updated 2 min 50 sec ago
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Karabakh rebels say negotiating their troops’ withdrawal

  • Separatists and Azerbaijani officials conducted an initial round of Russian-mediated “reintegration” talks on Thursday
  • The separatists have pledged to lay down their arms as part of a cease-fire deal

YEREVAN: Nagorno-Karabakh separatists said Friday they were negotiating their troops’ withdrawal from the disputed enclave after Azerbaijan reclaimed control in a lightning offensive.
“Negotiations are underway with the Azerbaijani side under the auspices of Russian peacekeepers to organize the withdrawal process of troops and to ensure the return to their homes of the citizens displaced by military aggression,” the separatists said in a statement.
Separatists and Azerbaijani officials conducted an initial round of Russian-mediated “reintegration” talks on Thursday that ended with an agreement to meet again soon.
The separatists have pledged to lay down their arms as part of a cease-fire deal aimed at ending Azerbaijan’s one-day offensive into the ethnically-Armenian region.
Civilians in the area — estimated at up to 120,000 people — report suffering from a shortage of electricity and basic utilities.
International pressure has mounted on Azerbaijan to re-open the region’s only road leading to Armenia so that supplies and people can move in and out.
The separatist statement said the sides were also discussing “the procedure for citizens’ entry to and exit from” Nagorno-Karabakh.


Ukraine missile strike hits Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters, kills 1 serviceman

Updated 20 min 10 sec ago
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Ukraine missile strike hits Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters, kills 1 serviceman

  • Photos and video showed large plumes of smoke over the building in Sevastopol in annexed Crimea
  • The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said no one was injured outside the burning headquarters

KYIV: Ukraine carried out a fiery missile strike Friday on the main headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, killing one serviceman, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Photos and video showed large plumes of smoke over the building in Sevastopol in annexed Crimea.
The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said no one was injured outside the burning headquarters, and he didn’t provide information on other casualties. Firefighters battled the blaze, and more emergency forces were being brought in, an indication the fire could be massive.
Sevastopol residents said they heard explosions in the skies and saw smoke, Russian news outlets reported. Images circulated in Ukrainian Telegram channels showed clouds of smoke over the seafront. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the videos.
A stream of ambulances arrived at the fleet’s headquarters, and shrapnel was scattered hundreds of meters (yards) around, the Tass news agency reported.
The Defense Ministry said five missiles were shot down by Russian air defense systems responding to the attack on Sevastopol. It was not immediately clear if the headquarters was hit in a direct strike or by debris from an intercepted missile.
Oleg Kryuchkov, an official with the Crimean administration, said one cruise missile downed near Bakhchysarai, about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) inland, sparked a grass fire.
Razvozhayev said civilian infrastructure wasn’t damaged but did not mention the impact on the fleet headquarters.
He initially warned Sevastopol residents that another attack was possible and urged them not to leave buildings or go to the city center. He later said there was no longer any threat of an air strike but reiterated calls not to go to the central part of the city, saying roads were closed and unspecified “special efforts” were underway.
Police asked residents to leave the central part of the city, Tass said.
Ukrainian officials, who have claimed responsibility for a series of other recent attacks on Crimea, didn’t immediately announce Kyiv launched the strike.
The attack comes a day after Russian missiles and artillery pounded cities across Ukraine, killing at least five people as President Volodymyr Zelensky met with President Joe Biden and congressional leaders in Washington with an additional $24 billion aid package being considered.
The port city of Sevastopol serves as the main base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. A Ukrainian drone hit the fleet’s headquarters in July 2022, injuring six people and causing minor damage to the building.
Last week, the Russian-installed authorities in the city accused Ukraine of attacking a strategic shipyard in the city, damaging two ships undergoing repairs and causing a fire at the facility.
The Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 in an act that most of the world considered illegal, has been a frequent target since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than 18 months ago. The attack on the shipyard was the biggest in weeks.
In other developments, ongoing shelling in the southern Kherson region killed one man and injured another, said regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin.
“Kherson has been restless since the morning,” he said on Telegram.
Russian shelling sparked fires in a residential building and a garage.
In Kharkiv, regional Gov. Oleh Synyehubov said over 14 settlements came under attack. A house was damaged and a fire broke out in Vovchansk, in Chuguyiv district. There were no casualties, the governor said.


Indonesia sends 200 cabin crew to support Saudi Vision 2030 aviation goals

Updated 22 September 2023
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Indonesia sends 200 cabin crew to support Saudi Vision 2030 aviation goals

  • Indonesian pilots and flight attendants have jobs with Saudia, flyadeal and Flynas
  • Jakarta’s manpower minister says deployment expected to strengthen Saudi-Indonesian ties

JAKARTA: Indonesian pilots and flight attendants are going to support Saudi Arabia’s aviation goals under Vision 2030, the manpower minister has said, as she sent off more than 220 cabin crew to join the Kingdom’s airlines.

Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in the aviation sector and in March announced the creation of a new national airline, Riyadh Air, as it moves to compete with regional transport and travel hubs.

Indonesia’s Manpower Minister Ida Fauziya met 224 cabin crew who had secured jobs with Saudia, flyadeal and Flynas during a send-off ceremony in Jakarta on Thursday evening, and said that their deployment is in line with the Kingdom’s efforts to boost the tourism sector.

“You all have an important role in supporting Saudi Arabia’s vision,” she told the participants, as quoted in a statement released by the ministry.

“This will bring a positive contribution in strengthening relations between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.”

Data from the Indonesian embassy’s labor attache in Riyadh shows that 300 cabin crew from the country are already working in Saudi Arabia.

The manpower minister said that demand for Indonesian workers is high as they have an “excellent reputation in the world of international aviation.”

Earlier this month — for the fifth consecutive year — the Southeast Asian nation’s flag carrier Garuda Indonesia received the World’s Best Cabin Crew award from British-based consultancy Skytrax, which runs annual airline and airport rankings.


India to reserve one-third of parliament seats for women

Updated 22 September 2023
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India to reserve one-third of parliament seats for women

  • New law paves the way for higher number of female representatives across the country
  • But the legislation is unlikely to be implemented before 2029, says constitutional lawyer

NEW DELHI: Billed as a landmark decision, India’s parliament has passed legislation that guarantees parliamentary seats for women lawmakers, although it is expected to take years before the law comes into force.

The Lok Sabha, or the lower house of India’s parliament, approved the law on Wednesday, and the upper house, or the Rajya Sabha, passed it unanimously on Thursday evening — more than two decades after a parliamentary proposal was submitted to give greater representation to women.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to social media after the passage of the bill and welcomed it as “a defining moment” in India’s democratic journey.

“With the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (Women’s Empowerment Reservation Bill) in Parliament, we usher in an era of stronger representation and empowerment for the women of India,” he said. “This is not merely legislation; it is a tribute to the countless women who have made our nation.”

The law reserves a third of seats for women in the lower house of parliament and state assemblies. It does not apply to the upper house of Parliament, as its members are chosen by state legislatures.

However, the new legislation will only come into effect after India conducts a census and then redraws the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. No date has yet been announced for completing the census that was scheduled to be held in 2021 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The amendment provides that reservation will be implemented after new seats are created by delimitation after a fresh census,” Sanjay Hegde, constitutional lawyer from the Supreme Court, told Arab News on Friday.

“The census could not be done in 2021 due to COVID and may be done in 2025 or later. Compiled data may be available much later, after the census, and based on such data fresh delimitation has to be worked out. If the census is postponed, the entire cycle can be kicked further down the road to take effect in 2029 or 2034 polls or even later.”

The new law was welcomed by several women activists but the absence of a definite timeline made them wonder about the level of commitment to greater female representation in parliament.

“They passed it with the caveat that they can’t be implemented without the census and without the delimitation,” said Maimoon Mollah, president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the largest women’s organization in India.

“We don’t know when that is going to happen.”

For Kavita Krishnan, a Delhi-based activist, the most disappointing part was that the rule would not apply in next year’s polls.

“In the next election there is not going to be any women reservation,” she said.

“Basically, they are indefinitely postponing this thing.”