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.


US ex-Marine gets 4-1/2 years in Russian penal colony for attacking police officer

Updated 04 October 2022

US ex-Marine gets 4-1/2 years in Russian penal colony for attacking police officer

  • Police hauled Robert Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January, while he was traveling from the southern city of Sochi to Moscow, after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior
  • Russia has sentenced several US citizens to lengthy prison terms in recent years, though Gilman’s case has attracted less attention than most

LONDON: Former US marine Robert Gilman was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in a Russian penal colony on Tuesday for attacking a police officer while drunk, Russian news agencies reported.
Police hauled Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January, while he was traveling from the southern city of Sochi to Moscow, after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior, the agencies reported, citing the prosecution.
While in custody, Gilman was accused of kicking out at a police officer, leaving him with bruises.
Gilman, whose lawyers told the TASS news agency he had come to Russia to study and obtain citizenship, told the court in Voronezh that he did not remember the incident but had “apologized to Russia” and to the police officer.
After being found guilty, Gilman said the four-and-a-half year sentence requested by the prosecution was too strict.
Gilman’s lawyer Valeriy Ivannikov told reporters he intended to appeal and would ask the United States to seek a prisoner exchange.
US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Washington was aware of the decision but said he could not give further details citing privacy considerations.
“We continue to insist that the Russian Federation allow consistent, timely consular access to all (detained) US citizens, and we urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment to all US citizens detained in Russia,” Patel said, declining to say whether consular access had been granted in Gilman’s case.
Russia has sentenced several US citizens to lengthy prison terms in recent years, though Gilman’s case has attracted less attention than most.
WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced in August to nine years in prison after being found in possession of cannabis oil vape cartridges.
Paul Whelan, another ex-marine who also holds Canadian, Irish and British citizenship, is serving 16 years in prison on espionage charges, which he denies.
But in April, former marine Trevor Reed, who was serving nine years after being found guilty of violence against a police officer, was freed in a prisoner exchange.
Russian officials have said they are in talks with Washington about possible new prisoner exchanges. Media reports say they could involve convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, being released back to Russia.


UK interior minister vows to stop migrant ‘small boats’

Updated 04 October 2022

UK interior minister vows to stop migrant ‘small boats’

  • Irregular migration is a thorny political issue for the UK government
  • Deportation flights have been stymied by a series of legal challenges in the UK courts and at the European Court of Human Rights

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Britain’s new interior minister on Tuesday vowed to prevent migrants from claiming asylum if they arrive through an “illegal” route, and stop small boat crossings across the Channel from France.
Suella Braverman said the situation, in which criminal gangs were exploiting vulnerable migrants, had “gone on for far too long.”
Irregular migration is a thorny political issue for the UK government, which promised to tighten borders after the country left the European Union.
But a partnership deal with Rwanda signed earlier this year under the premiership of Boris Johnson to send some migrants to the African country for resettlement has so far failed.
Deportation flights have been stymied by a series of legal challenges in the UK courts and at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman said Britain needed to “find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work” and denounced the intervention of the ECHR, describing it as a “closed process with an unnamed judge and without any representation by the UK.”
“I will commit to look to bring forward legislation that the only route to the United Kingdom is through a safe and legal route,” she told the ruling Conservative party’s annual conference.
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom from a safe country you should be swiftly removed to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Reacting to Braverman’s speech, the PCS trade union which represents civil servants responsible for implementing the policy, said she did not “appear to understand the UK’s international obligations under the Geneva Convention.”
“Time and again we have called upon the government to use the expertise of our members in the Home Office to develop a solution to this crisis through safe passage,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said.
“Instead, it chooses to continually demonize refugees to deflect from its hopeless inability to address the cost of living crisis facing the people of this country.”
Official government figures last month showed more migrants had crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021, when 28,526 made the journey.
More than 33,500 people have now arrived in Britain.
Braverman’s speech played into Prime Minister Liz Truss’s right-wing agenda, urging police to stop “virtue signalling” on issues such as race and gender.
She promised to empower officers to stop “the mob” of direct-action protesters who use “guerilla tactics” to bring “chaos and misery” to the public.
“Whether you’re Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain or Extinction Rebellion, you cross a line when you break the law and that’s why we’ll keep putting you behind bars,” she added.
On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Police said it had arrested 54 Just Stop Oil protesters on suspicion of “wilful obstruction of the highway” after a demonstration blocked traffic in central London.


Russian army maps show lost ground in key Kherson region

Updated 04 October 2022

Russian army maps show lost ground in key Kherson region

  • The maps included in Tuesday's daily military briefing showed that Russian forces were no longer in control of the village of Dudchany
  • The Ukrainian military claimed in a statement Tuesday that Russian forces in Kherson are "demoralised" and were falling back on their positions

MOSCOW: Russia’s forces occupying Ukraine’s southern Black Sea region of Kherson have suffered serious territorial losses to Kyiv’s troops over recent days, maps published by Moscow’s defense ministry showed Tuesday.
The maps included in Tuesday’s daily military briefing showed that Russian forces were no longer in control of the village of Dudchany on the west bank of the river Dnieper, where Ukraine’s forces have been pushing to reclaim territory captured at the start of Moscow’s offensive.
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, defense ministry maps showed that Russian forces have left positions on the west bank of the Oskil river, in the aftermath this month of a counter-offensive by Kyiv’s army.
The Ukrainian military claimed in a statement Tuesday that Russian forces in Kherson are “demoralized” and were falling back on their positions, destroying ammunition depots and bridges in their wake.
“All this in order to slow down the offensive of our troops,” the defense ministry said in their statement.
Ukraine’s deputy interior minister Yevhen Enin said Tuesday that Ukraine’s forces had recaptured 50 towns and villages in Kherson, without specifying when.
Kyiv’s forces have been slowly clawing back territory in Kherson for several weeks but the advance has accelerated in recent days.
With a population of one million before the war, Kherson is a key agricultural area and forms the gateway to the Crimean peninsula.
Its main city, also named Kherson, was one of the first to fall to Russian forces after they launched what the Kremlin calls its “special military operations” in February.
The Kremlin last week formally annexed the region along with three others even though Russian troops do not fully control it.


Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

Updated 04 October 2022

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

  • Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices
  • It remained unclear what caused Tuesday's unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 pm local time

DHAKA: At least 130 million people in Bangladesh were without power on Tuesday afternoon after a grid failure caused widespread blackouts, the government’s power utility company said.
Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has imposed regular service cuts to conserve electricity.
But it remained unclear what caused Tuesday’s unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 p.m. local time (0800 GMT), according to the Power Development Board.
Apart from some locations in Bangladesh’s northwest, “the rest of the country is without power,” Power Development Board spokesman Shamim Ahsan told AFP.
Ahsan said 130 million people or more were without electricity and it remained unclear what had caused the fault.
“It is still under investigation,” he said, adding that a technical malfunction was the probable cause.
Junior technology minister Zunaid Palak said on Facebook that power would be restored by 8 p.m. in the capital Dhaka, itself home to more than 22 million people.
Soaring energy prices have wrought havoc on the South Asian nation’s electricity grid in recent months, with utilities struggling to source enough diesel and gas to meet demand.
A depreciating currency and dwindling foreign exchange reserves left Bangladesh unable to import sufficient fossil fuels, forcing it to close diesel plants and leave some gas-fired power stations idle.
The government imposed lengthy power cuts to conserve existing stocks in July, with outages lasting up to 13 hours each day at their peak.
Tens of thousands of mosques around the country have been asked to curtail the use of air conditioners to ease pressure on the electricity grid.
The blackouts sparked widespread public anger and helped mobilize large demonstrations on the streets of the capital Dhaka.
At least three protesters were killed by security forces during the rallies, partly motivated by rising cost-of-living pressures.
Around 100 others were injured during a police crackdown on one demonstration, according to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Consumer inflation has hit household budgets hard and the government recently pledged to cap the price of several staple foods, including rice, to quell public discontent.
Bangladesh last witnessed a major unscheduled blackout in November 2014, when around 70 percent of the country went without power for nearly 10 hours.

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WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise

Updated 04 October 2022

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise

  • Fresh fears of a resurgent epidemic nearly three years after Haiti’s last confirmed case
  • WHO: The world was now witnessing a ‘worrying upsurge’ in cholera outbreaks

GENEVA: Haiti’s cholera outbreak death toll is likely “much higher” than reported and cases are expected to rise, the WHO said Tuesday, warning the country’s multiple crises would complicate response efforts.
The crisis-wracked Caribbean nation said Sunday that at least seven people had died from cholera, raising fresh fears of a resurgent epidemic nearly three years after Haiti’s last confirmed case.
Multiple suspected cases have been detected in Carrefour-Feuilles on the edge of the capital Port-au-Prince, and in the coastal neighborhood of Cite Soleil.
The areas are entirely controlled by gangs and access to them has been very difficult since the end of July.
Conditions in Haiti have worsened in recent weeks with blockades, fuel shortages, protest marches, looting and general strikes.
“This situation greatly complicates the humanitarian response,” World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva.
“The situation is evolving rapidly, and it is possible earlier cases have been undetected.”
He said the death toll figures could be “much higher.”
“With the humanitarian situation as it is, the sanitary situation, and the gang-controlled areas where there’s hardly any access to control, to test or even to bring in assistance, we should expect, unfortunately, cases to be higher, and to rise,” he said.
Lindmeier said a request was being prepared to be submitted to the international coordination group for the procurement of oral cholera vaccines.
However, global vaccine availability is limited with demand outstripping supply.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection in the small intestine causing sometimes fatal dehydration. It is generally contracted from food or water contaminated with vibrio cholerae bacteria.
In February this year, Haiti celebrated three years without a single confirmed cholera case and was preparing to submit its case for cholera-free status certification at the end of 2022.
Cholera killed nearly 10,000 people in the wake of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, when United Nations workers helping with the response introduced it to the country.
The outbreak affected at least 820,000 people, the WHO said.
The first infections were detected around the Artibonite River, where UN peacekeepers had dumped fecal matter.
It was not until August 2016 that the UN officially acknowledged its role in the epidemic.
Lindmeier said there was no information yet on where the current outbreak originated, but said roughly 80 percent of people carrying vibrio cholerae could be asymptomatic, making it difficult to detect.
The United Nations said it stood ready to deploy emergency response teams as soon as safe access is assured and fuel supplies are unblocked.
On Friday the WHO warned that after years of decline, the world was now witnessing a “worrying upsurge” in cholera outbreaks.
In the first nine months of this year alone, 26 countries have reported cholera outbreaks, the WHO said.