French voters elect parliamentarians, in test for Macron

The centrist head of state risks losing his absolute majority in the lower house, owing largely to a strong performance by a newly forged left-wing alliance led by former Socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon. (File/AP)
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Updated 19 June 2022
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French voters elect parliamentarians, in test for Macron

  • They fear that a strong showing from Melenchon’s coalition on Sunday could turn Macron into a shackled second term leader

PARIS: French voters are going to the polls in the final round of key parliamentary elections that will demonstrate how much leg room President Emmanuel Macron’s party will be given to implement his ambitious domestic agenda.
In last week’s first vote, the left, under firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, made a surprisingly strong showing, sending jitters through Macron’s allies.
They fear that a strong showing from Melenchon’s coalition on Sunday could turn Macron into a shackled second term leader, one who spends his time bargaining with politicians and with major limits placed on his ability to rule.
Elections are being held nationwide to select the 577 members of the National Assembly, the most powerful branch of France’s Parliament.
Though Macron’s centrist alliance is projected to win the most seats, observers predict that it could fall short of maintaining his majority — the golden number of 289 seats. In this case, a new coalition composed of the hard left, the Socialists and the Greens may be forged, one which could make Macron’s political maneuvering harder since the lower house of parliament is key to voting in laws.
Macron made a powerfully choreographed plea to voters earlier this week from the tarmac ahead of a trip to Romania and Ukraine, warning that an inconclusive election, or hung parliament, would put the nation in danger.
“In these troubled times, the choice you’ll make this Sunday is more crucial than ever,” he said Tuesday, with the presidential plane waiting starkly in the background ahead of a visit to French troops stationed near Ukraine. “Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the world’s disorder,” he said.
Following Macron’s reelection in May, his centrist coalition has been aiming for a parliamentary majority that would enable the president to implement his campaign promises, which include tax cuts and raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 65. There’s still hope for his camp: Polling agencies estimated that Macron’s centrists could ultimately win from 255 to over 300 seats, while the leftist coalition led by Mélenchon could win more than 200 seats.
Yet many acknowledge a less than desirable outcome for Macron’s party thus far.
“The disappointment was clear on the night of the first round for the presidential party leaders. Clearly, they want to have a new momentum now on the way to the second round,” said Martin Quencez, political analyst at The German Marshall Fund of the United States.
If Macron fails to get a majority, it will not simply affect France’s domestic politics, it could have ramifications across Europe. Analysts predict that the French leader will have to spend the rest of his term focusing more on his domestic agenda rather than his foreign policy. It could spell the end of President Macron the continental statesman.
If he loses his majority, “he would need to be more involved in domestic politics in the next five years than he was previously, so we could expect him to have less political capital to invest at the European level or international level... This may have an impact for European politics as a whole in European affairs,” Quencez said.


First refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Armenia following Azerbaijan’s military offensive

Ethnic Armenians from the first group of about 30 people from Nagorno-Karabakh have dinner at a hotel in Armenia.
Updated 55 min 47 sec ago
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First refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Armenia following Azerbaijan’s military offensive

  • More are expected to come after a 10-month blockade of the breakaway region

YEREVAN: The first refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived in Armenia, local officials reported Sunday, after Azerbaijan imposed a 10-month blockade on the breakaway region and conducted a lightning military offensive there, reclaiming full control of the region as a result.
Thousands of people were evacuated from cities and villages affected by the latest fighting and taken to a Russian peacekeepers’ camp in Nagorno-Karabakh. A total of 377 people had arrived in Armenia from the region as of Sunday night, Armenian authorities reported.
Russia's Defense Ministry reported that its peacekeepers, who were deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, helped transport 311 civilians, including 102 children. The conflicting numbers could not be immediately reconciled.
“It was a nightmare. There are no words to describe. The village was heavily shelled. Almost no one is left in the village,” one of the evacuees told The Associated Press in the Armenian city of Kornidzor. She refused to give her name for security reasons. “I have an old grandmother’s house here in Tegh village, (in the Syunik region of Armenia). I will live there until we see what happens next.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan and came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabak along with territory surrounding the region that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
A Russia-brokered armistice ended the war, and a contingent of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it. Parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that weren't retaken by Azerbaijan remained under the control of the separatist authorities.
In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illicit weapons shipments to the province’s separatist forces.
Armenia charged that the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s approximately 120,000 people. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing the region could receive supplies through the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam — a solution long resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of the region.
On Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched heavy artillery fire against ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, who conceded to demands to lay down their arms the next day. Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status remains an open question, however, and is at the center of talks between the sides that began Thursday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an address to the nation Sunday that his government was working “with international partners to form international mechanisms to ensure the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, but if these efforts do not produce concrete results, the government will welcome our sisters and brothers of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Republic of Armenia with all the care.”
The events in Nagorno-Karabakh have sparked a days-long wave of protests in Armenia, where demonstrators accused Pashinyan and the Russian peacekeepers of failing to protect the region's Armenian population.
Hundreds of people gathered again Sunday in the center of Armenia's capital, Yerevan, to demand Pashinyan’s ouster.
As part of a cease-fire agreement reached last week, the separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh started surrendering tanks, air defense systems and other weapons to the Azerbaijani army. As of Sunday, the process of surrendering arms was still underway, the Azerbaijani military said.
Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry said Sunday that disarmed and demobilized Armenian troops would be allowed to leave the region and go to Armenia.


Iran says arrested 28 Daesh members over Tehran plot with international links, including Pakistan

Updated 24 September 2023
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Iran says arrested 28 Daesh members over Tehran plot with international links, including Pakistan

  • Officials say the arrested militants wanted to carry out 30 coordinated explosions in Tehran but were apprehended
  • A number of bombs, firearms, suicide vests and communications devices were also seized during the crackdown

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities have arrested 28 people linked to the Daesh group for plotting to target Tehran during the anniversary of last year’s protests, the intelligence ministry said on Sunday.
The protests erupted after the death in custody on September 16, 2022, of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd arrested for allegedly flouting the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
“In recent days, during a series of simultaneous operations in Tehran, Alborz and West Azerbaijan provinces, several terrorist bases and team houses were attacked, and 28 members of the said terrorist network were arrested,” the ministry said on its website.
“These elements are affiliated to the professional crime group of Daesh and some of them have a history of accompanying takfiris in Syria or being active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq,” it added.
In Shiite-dominated Iran, the term “takfiri” generally refers to jihadists or proponents of radical Sunni Islam.
The intelligence ministry said two security personnel were wounded during the arrest operations, and a number of bombs, firearms, suicide vests and communications devices were seized.
It said it had neutralized a plot to “carry out 30 simultaneous terrorist explosions in densely populated centers of Tehran to undermine security and incite riots and protests on the anniversary of last year’s riots.”
The months-long demonstrations saw hundreds of people killed, including dozens of security personnel, in what Tehran called “riots” fomented by foreign governments and “hostile media.”
On Thursday, a court sentenced to death a Tajik Daesh member convicted over a deadly gun attack on a Shiite Muslim shrine in August.
The attack on the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in Shiraz, capital of Fars province in the south, came less than a year after a mass shooting at the same site that was later claimed by the Daesh group.


India protests after China bars three female athletes from Asian Games 

Indian Minister of Sports Anurag Singh Thakur delivers a speech during a send off ceremony for Indian athletes.
Updated 24 September 2023
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India protests after China bars three female athletes from Asian Games 

  • India, China share undemarcated border, where tensions have been high in recent years 
  • China does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh province, calls it South Tibet in newly issued map  

NEW DELHI: India’s Sports Minister Anurag Thakur called out China’s discriminatory approach on Sunday after three Indian athletes were denied entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.  

The Asian Games are the continent’s biggest sporting event and are held every four years. The current iteration opened on Saturday after it was due to be held last year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Three female martial artists from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh — a disputed region China mostly considered as South Tibet — were unable to travel to the Asian Games, while the rest of their 10-member squad was reportedly able to go ahead as planned.  

“As you could see I am not in China. I am in Coimbatore, standing with my players,” Thakur told reporters on Sunday in the south Indian city.  

“This discriminatory approach of a country, which is against the Olympic Charter, is not acceptable at all,” he said. “I have canceled my trip to China on these grounds as they have denied the opportunity to the players from Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of the Asian Games.” 

India and China share an undemarcated 3,800-km border, which has long been a source of dispute between the two Asian giants. Tensions rose in 2020 when at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan area of the Ladakh region. The incident was their worst border clash since 1967.  

India lodged a strong protest with China only last month over a new map Beijing had released that showed Arunachal Pradesh as part of its official territory, which it calls South Tibet. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Friday that “China welcomes athletes from all countries” to attend the Asian Games, but said Beijing has never recognized Arunachal Pradesh, because the southern Tibetan region is “Chinese territory.”  

The three Indian athletes were reportedly given visas stapled to their passports, while the rest of India’s athletes competing at this year’s games were given Asian Games badges that also serve as visas to enter China. The same athletes did not compete at the World University Games in Chengdu, China in July because they were given similar visas.  

“The Chinese authorities have, in a targeted and pre-meditated manner, discriminated against some of the Indian sportspersons from the state of Arunachal Pradesh by denying them accreditation and entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.  

India has also lodged a strong protest “against China’s deliberate and selective obstruction of some of our sportspersons,” the ministry said.  

“Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India.”  


Indonesia collaborates with UAE to launch mangrove research center at COP28  

Indonesia is aiming to launch an international mangrove research center with the UAE at COP28 in Dubai later this year.
Updated 24 September 2023
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Indonesia collaborates with UAE to launch mangrove research center at COP28  

  • Indonesia has largest expanse of mangroves, accounts for one-fifth of global total
  • Mangrove Alliance for Climate was launched by UAE, Indonesia at COP27  

JAKARTA: Indonesia is aiming to launch an international mangrove research center with the UAE at the 2023 UN climate summit in Dubai later this year, Jakarta’s envoy in Abu Dhabi said on Sunday. 

The Mangrove Alliance for Climate was launched by the UAE and Indonesia at COP27, the 2022 UN climate summit in Egypt last November. The initiative seeks to promote nature-based solutions for issues related to climate change and was later joined by other countries, including Australia and India.  

“Indonesia is very much in support of these types of initiatives. Firstly, because it can help reduce emissions and it’s easy for us to plant mangroves,” Indonesian Ambassador to UAE Husin Bagis told Arab News.  

“Abu Dhabi has a huge interest in helping Indonesia in developing its mangrove ecosystem … The plan is to launch the mangrove research center at COP28.”  

This year, the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28, will convene from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in Dubai.  

Southeast Asia is home to the most extensive mangrove ecosystems, with Indonesia alone accounting for about a fifth of the global total. Mangroves provide various benefits in the face of climate change, including their ability to capture massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which are then trapped and stored in their carbon-rich flooded soils for millennia.  

According to a 2022 report by the Global Mangrove Alliance, however, rates of mangrove protection hover around 20 percent in the region and losses are more common due to rice and palm oil production.  

During the first technical meeting of the Mangrove Alliance for Climate on Thursday in New York, Indonesia reaffirmed its support for the initiative and its aim to “promote mangrove as a nature-based solution to fight climate change.” 

Nani Hendiarti, environmental and forestry management deputy at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment, said during the meeting: “Indonesia is in full support of this MAC initiative and will collaborate with other global initiatives in managing mangrove ecosystems. This isn’t only beneficial ecologically, but also provides social and economic benefits for coastal communities.” 

In a statement issued by the ministry, Hendiarti said that the planned international mangrove research center will be used for capacity-building, collaborative research on innovations surrounding mangrove and biotechnology, as well as conservation of mangrove biodiversity. 

“This collaboration between Indonesia and UAE under MAC and the International Mangrove Research Center will be launched at COP28 in Dubai at the beginning of December. This is the right moment to show a real commitment to tackle climate change to the world,” Hendiarti said. 

The Indonesia-UAE mangrove alliance is a “good idea” as long as it works on conserving existing mangrove forests and rehabilitating degraded mangrove forests, said Dr. Agus Sari, CEO of environmental advisory agency Landscape Indonesia and a former senior adviser to the UN Development Program. 

“Indonesia needs to play this well as it hosts the largest area of mangroves worldwide,” Sari told Arab News. “As it has a dominant role, it needs to be able to capitalize on that position in the market.” 


UN, regional bodies key to reducing tensions: UAE minister

Updated 24 September 2023
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UN, regional bodies key to reducing tensions: UAE minister

  • The UN is the ‘first line of defense’ in preventing the international order from descending into polarized political rifts, minister says
  • Regional outfits such as the League of Arab States and the African Union also play a critical role due to their familiarity with local contexts

NEW YORK CITY: International organizations require major reform if the world is to address the growing list of crises facing it, a UAE minister has said.

Addressing the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, the Emirates’ minister of state for international cooperation said that institutions such as the UN were crucial for repairing relations, reducing global tensions and establishing peaceful solutions for many issues.

“But time and again, geopolitical tensions have held the Security Council back from reaching consensus on urgent matters, even on strictly humanitarian issues,” Reem Al-Hashimy said. 

“This is why we must engage in serious discussions on its comprehensive and meaningful reforms, specifically pertaining to use of the veto; expansion of permanent and elected members; its working methods and its ability to anticipate and effectively resolve crises,” she said.

Noting that the UAE had witnessed the Security Council’s operations during its time as a member over the past year, Al-Hashimy said that “strong political will” was needed to right the ship.

 “What’s not needed is wading into futile divisions and emphasising differences,” she said.

Alongside reforms to the Security Council, Al-Hashimy called on member states to work toward enhancing the effectiveness of not only the wider UN but of international organizations in general.

Describing the UN as the “first line of defense” in preventing the international order from descending into polarized political rifts, she said that regional outfits also had a role to play.

“Organizations such as the League of Arab States and the African Union play a critical role due to their understanding and familiarity with local contexts and are better positioned to play a pivotal role in supporting these endeavours and political processes,” she said.

“Global challenges are becoming increasingly interlinked, and no country nor organization is capable of addressing them alone.”