Macron loses parliament majority in stunning setback

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives to vote in the second round of the French parliamentary elections, at a polling station in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 June 2022

Macron loses parliament majority in stunning setback

  • The outcome severely tarnished Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated the far-right to be the first French president to win a second term in over two decades

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday lost his parliamentary majority after major election gains by a newly formed left-wing alliance and the far right, in a stunning blow to his plans for major second-term reform.
The result from Sunday’s second round poll threw French politics into turmoil, raising the prospect of a paralyzed legislature or messy coalitions with Macron forced to reach out to new allies.
Macron, 44, now also risks being distracted by domestic problems as he seeks to play a prominent role in putting an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as a key statesman in the EU.
Macron’s “Together” coalition will still be the biggest party in the next National Assembly. But with 245 seats, according to full interior ministry results announced in the early hours of Monday, it is well short of the 289 seats needed for a majority in the 577-member chamber.
“This situation constitutes a risk for our country, given the challenges that we have to confront,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a televised statement, vowing: “We will work from tomorrow to build a working majority.”
The outcome severely tarnished Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated the far-right to be the first French president to win a second term in over two decades.
“It’s a turning point for his image of invincibility,” said Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Center for Political Research of Sciences Po.
Le Monde daily headlined on its website: “Macron faces the risk of political paralysis,” while the Le Figaro daily said the results raised the spectre of a “stillborn new mandate.”
The new left-wing coalition NUPES under 70-year-old hard-left figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon won 135 seats, according to an AFP count based on the results published by the ministry.
The coalition, formed in May after the left splintered for April’s presidential elections, brings together Socialists, the hard left, Communists and greens.
Melenchon called Sunday’s results “above all an electoral failure” for Macron.
“The rout of the presidential party is total and there will be no majority” in parliament, he told cheering supporters in Paris.
A prominent MP from Melenchon’s party, Alexis Corbiere, said the result meant Macron’s plan to raise the French retirement age to 65 had been “sunk.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party made huge gains and will send 89 MPs to the new parliament, making it the biggest rightwing force in parliament ahead of the traditional right The Republicans (LR).
Le Pen hailed a historic result for her party, saying it would send “by far” its highest number of MPs to the next National Assembly.
Macron had hoped to stamp his second term with an ambitious program of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now in question.
“This will complicate the reforms... It will be much more difficult to govern,” said Dominique Rousseau, professor of law at Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne University.
“The slap,” said the headline in the left-leaning Liberation’s Monday edition, adding the results represented the “fall” of Macron’s way of governing.
There could now potentially be weeks of political deadlock as the president seeks to reach out to new parties.
The most likely option would be an alliance with the Republicans, the traditional party of the French right, which has 61 MPs.
LR president Christian Jacob however made clear there would be no easy partnership, saying his party intended to “stay in opposition.”
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire denied that France would be ungovernable but admitted “a lot of imagination would be needed” from the ruling party in an “unprecedented situation.”
Macron had called on voters to hand his coalition a “solid majority” last week, adding “nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the world disorder.”
In another blow, key ministers standing for election were set to lose their jobs under a convention that they should resign if they fail to win seats.
Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon, Maritime Minister Justine Benin and Environment Minister Amelie de Montchalin — a pillar of Macron’s administration over the last years — all lost and will now exit the government.
Two other close Macron allies, parliament speaker Richard Ferrand and former interior minister Christophe Castaner, both acknowledged defeat in the fight for their seats.
In a rare spot of good news for the president, Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini — both young pillars of his party — won tight battles for their seats.
On the left, Rachel Keke, a former cleaning lady who campaigned for better working conditions at her hotel, was also elected, defeating Macron’s former sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
Turnout was low, with the abstention rate recorded at 53.77 percent, according to the interior ministry, higher than the first round but not beating the record worst turnout of 2017.


Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

Updated 8 sec ago

Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

  • Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013
  • Documents revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA

Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Russian citizenship to former US. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, nine years after he exposed the scale of secret surveillance operations by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA, where he worked.

US authorities have for years wanted him returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

There was no immediate reaction from Snowden, whose name appeared without Kremlin comment in a Putin decree conferring citizenship on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals.

The news prompted some Russians to jokingly ask whether Snowden would be called up for military service, five days after Putin announced Russia's first public mobilization since World War Two to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

"Will Snowden be drafted?" Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state media outlet RT and a vocal Putin supporter, wrote with dark humour on her Telegram channel.

Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told RIA news agency that his client could not be called up because he had not previously served in the Russian army.

He said that Snowden's wife Lindsay Mills, who gave birth to a son in 2020, would also apply for citizenship.

Russia granted Snowden permanent residency rights in 2020, paving the way for him to obtain Russian citizenship.

That year a US appeals court found the program Snowden had exposed was unlawful and that the US intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.

Putin, a former Russian spy chief, said in 2017 that Snowden, who keeps a low profile while living in Russia, was wrong to leak US secrets but was not a traitor.


Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Updated 42 min 40 sec ago

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

  • State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency
  • Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said ‘we deeply value our relationship with France’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on December 1 for the first full-scale state visit of his administration, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and France, our oldest ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House.
State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency, which Jean-Pierre attributed to Covid pandemic restrictions.
Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Jean-Pierre said “we deeply value our relationship with France.”
The link between the two countries is “founded on shared democratic values, economic ties, and defense and security cooperation,” she said.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a major crisis last year when Australia abruptly announced it was ditching a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a US nuclear-powered submarine deal.

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After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

Updated 26 September 2022

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

  • Nearly 1.5 million people are displaced in southern Sindh province
  • Makeshift facility in Karachi will comprise about 1,300 tents, official says

KARACHI: Thousands of people in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh will be moved to a “tent city” in the provincial capital Karachi this week, officials said on Monday, in the aftermath of catastrophic floods that had submerged a third of the country and killed over 1,600 people.

Torrential rains and melting glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan’s north triggered floods that have swept away homes, key infrastructure, livestock and crops, affecting 33 million of Pakistan’s 220 million people since mid-June.

With nearly 1.5 million people displaced in Sindh province, the local government has been using public schools as temporary shelters. In Karachi, thousands of people have taken refuge in 30 schools in the city.

Local officials are preparing to move the victims to a makeshift facility located in the suburbs of Malir, an administrative district in the eastern part of Karachi, with the relocation set to begin this week.

“About 7,000 people living in our relief camps would be shifted and the schools will be vacated,” said Raja Tariq Chandio, deputy commissioner of Karachi’s East District, where the schools currently used as shelters are located.

The temporary settlement will comprise about 1,300 tents, and K-Electric, the city’s sole power distributor, will set up a power transmission line to provide electricity to the camp, Malir’s Deputy Commissioner Irfan Salam told Arab News.

“In the tent city, flood victims will have safe drinking water and cooked meals. It has 20 washrooms and a hospital with men and women doctors and paramedics,” Salam said.

“It will take at least 10 days for K-Electric to set up the power transmission line,” he added. “Within two days, people will be moved to the tent city.”

A charity organization will be providing meals for the displaced people relocated to Malir, he added, while children will get to attend classes organized by the Sindh Education Foundation.

The deadly floods in Pakistan inundated around 15,000 schools across Sindh alone, where classes have yet to resume. Millions of students in the province are at risk of being permanently out of school, Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah said earlier this month, as the government lacked resources to rebuild the damaged facilities.

Officials said there are plans to restart classes in Karachi after displaced residents are moved to Malir, when the buildings currently used as temporary shelters can again be used for lessons.

“We are happy that classes are going to resume soon,” Javed Shah, a teacher at the Government Boys Primary School, told Arab News. “We will bring the schools to order to resume classes.”


Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

Updated 26 September 2022

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

  • Government launches probe as about 30 not found, 35 dead
  • Small vessel packed with Hindu devotees, women and children

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities continued their search on Monday for missing passengers after an overloaded boat sank in the country’s northern district and killed at least 35 people in the worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year.

The small boat, packed with mostly Hindu devotees, and women and children, sank in the Karatoya river on Sunday. Some passengers were returning from a popular temple in the northern Panchagarh district on the occasion of the Durga Puja celebrations.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of 35 people as of Monday afternoon, comprising 17 women, 11 children, and seven men, Panchagarh district administrator Mohammad Jahurul Islam told Arab News.

“Until Monday afternoon we have found 35 dead bodies,” Islam said. “Still, 20 to 30 people are missing. However, we found some missing people alive today as they were rescued by the locals on Sunday and took shelter in the homes of nearby relatives.”

A committee has been formed to investigate the incident and is expected to file a report within three days, he added.

“This sort of boat capsize is very rare in this region, because these small rivers are mostly calm in nature,” Islam said.

Officials suspect the fatal incident had occurred due to overcrowding.

“It seems that the boat had capsized due to overload(ing),” Shahjahan Ali, who led the search and rescue operations, told Arab News.

“We are conducting the operations in a 15-kilometer radius in the surrounding areas of the river. Now our operations are ongoing in some special areas where few of the bodies might have been floating around. Tomorrow we will also continue the search,” he added.

Bangladesh sees hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents, due to lax safety standards despite extensive inland waterways in the low-lying country.

At least 34 people died in April 2021 after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.


Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

Updated 26 September 2022

Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

  • Protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up
  • Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani has long been aligned with ultra-conservative establishment

TEHERAN: A leading Iranian cleric has urged authorities "to listen to the people", as protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Teheran, for 10 straight nights since the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old was pronounced dead on Sept 16, three days after her arrest in the capital for allegedly breaching Iran's dress code for women.

"The leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems and show sensitivity to their rights," said Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a statement posted on his website on Sunday.

The powerful 97-year-old cleric has long been aligned with the country's ultra-conservative establishment and strongly backed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on several occasions - notably during the 2009 protests against the reelection of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Any insult to the sanctities and any attack on the rights of the people and public property are condemned," Hamedani added.

At least 41 people have been killed since the protests began on Sept 16, mostly protesters but including security forces, according to an official toll.

The protests have spread to several cities, where demonstrators have shouted slogans against the authorities, according to local media.

More than 1,200 demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country.

On Sept 18, Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a cleric seen as close to the reformists, denounced what he said were "illegitimate" and "illegal" actions behind the "regrettable incident" of Amini's death.