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France’s Macron defeats far-right, pledges change

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(Last Updated On: April 25, 2022)

Emmanuel Macron comfortably defeated far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Sunday, heading off a political earthquake for Europe but acknowledging dissatisfaction with his first term and saying he would seek to make amends.

His supporters erupted with joy as the results appeared on a giant screen at the Champ de Mars park by the Eiffel tower.

Leaders in Berlin, Brussels, London and beyond welcomed his defeat of the nationalist, eurosceptic Le Pen.

With 97% of votes counted, Macron was on course for a solid 57.4% of the vote, interior ministry figures showed. But in his victory speech he acknowledged that many had only voted for him only to keep Le Pen out and he promised to address the sense of many French that their living standards are slipping.

“Many in this country voted for me not because they support my ideas but to keep out those of the far-right. I want to thank them and know I owe them a debt in the years to come,” he said.

“No one in France will be left by the wayside,” he said in a message that had already been spread by senior ministers doing the rounds on French TV stations.

Two years of disruption from the pandemic and surging energy prices exacerbated by the Ukraine war catapulted economic issues to the fore of the campaign. The rising cost of living has become an increasing strain for the poorest in the country.

“He needs to be closer to the people and to listen to them,” digital sales worker Virginie, 51, said at the Macron rally, adding he needed to overcome a reputation for arrogance and soften a leadership style Macron himself called “Jupiterian”.

Le Pen, who at one stage of the campaign had trailed Macron by just a few points in opinion polls, quickly admitted defeat. But she vowed to keep up the fight with parliamentary elections in June.

“I will never abandon the French,” she told supporters chanting “Marine! Marine!”

Macron can expect little or no grace period in a country whose stark political divisions have been brought into the open by an election in which radical parties scored well. Many expect the street protests that marred part of his first term to erupt again as he presses on with pro-business reforms.

“There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been reelected,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said. “But we have also heard the French people’s message.”

How Macron now fares will depend on the looming parliamentary elections. Le Pen wants a nationalist alliance in a move that raises the prospect of her working with rival far-rightists like Eric Zemmour and her niece, Marion Marechal.

Hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who emerged as by far the strongest force on the left of French politics, said he deserves to be prime minister – something that would force Macron into an awkward and stalemate-prone “cohabitation”.

“Melenchon as prime minister. That would be fun. Macron would be upset, but that’s the point,” said Philippe Lagrue, 63, technical director at a Paris theatre, who voted for Macron in the run-off after backing Melenchon in the first round.

Outside France, Macron’s victory was hailed as a reprieve for mainstream politics rocked in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders.

“Bravo Emmanuel,” European Council President Charles Michel, wrote on Twitter. “In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union.”

“Congratulations to the President and a true friend @EmmanuelMacron on the election victory,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on his Twitter account in early hours on Monday.

“The financial markets will breathe a collective sigh of relief following Macron’s election victory,” said Seema Shah, Chief Strategist at Principal Global Investors.

The disillusion with Macron was reflected in an abstention rate expected to settle around 28%, the highest since 1969.

Initial polling showed the vote was sharply split both by age and socio-economic status: Two-thirds of working class voters backed le Pen, while similar proportions of white-collar executives and pensioners backed Macron, an Elabe poll showed.

Macron won around 59% of votes by 18-24 year-olds with the vote almost evenly split in other age categories.

During the campaign, Le Pen homed in on the rising cost of living and Macron’s sometimes abrasive style as some of his weakest points.

She promised sharp cuts to fuel tax, zero-percent sales tax on essential items from pasta to diapers, income exemptions for young workers and a “French first” stance on jobs and welfare.

“I’m shocked to see that a majority of French people want to reelect a president that looked down on them for five years,” Adrien Caligiuri, a 27-year-old project manager said at the Le Pen rally.

Macron meanwhile pointed to Le Pen’s past admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin as showing she could not be trusted on the world stage, while insisting she still harboured plans to pull France out of the European Union – something she denies.

World

Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.

A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians, Reuters reported.

Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the “attack did not achieve its aims”.

The neighbourhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centres, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.

Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Iran’s semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike, read the report.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.

Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.

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US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

A U.S. military Mq-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Iran-backed militants, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the second time such a shoot down has taken place in recent months during a near daily tit-for-tat between the group and U.S. forces, Reuters reported.

The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, have carried out repeated drone and missile strikes since November in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait against commercial and military ships. U.S. and British forces have responded with multiple strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said initial information showed that the U.S. drone, made by General Atomics, was hit near Hodeidah on Monday. The official said information could change and did not say if the drone was in international airspace.

The second official said the drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile fired from near Hodeida.

The comments by the officials confirm a claim by the Houthis that they had shot down a drone near the port city, read the report.

In November, another Mq-9 was shot down by the Houthis and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.

The Houthi militants said on Monday they had attacked the Rubymar cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was at risk of sinking, raising the stakes in their campaign to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop, Reuters reported.

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World

Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Israel on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood, and said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the “declaratory decision” to a vote in cabinet, which unanimously approved the measure, according to a statement.

Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly meeting that the move comes after “recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state.”

The war in Gaza that has raged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli communities is the latest in a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has rumbled on for seven decades and destabilised the Middle East.

Efforts to achieve a two-state solution – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel – have been stalled since 2014, read the report.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to clinch an even broader deal in the Middle East, that would include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The formal Israeli statement, according to Netanyahu’s office, reflects the fact that: “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”

“Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7th massacre will grant a huge, unprecedented reward to terrorism and prevent any future peace accord,” it said.

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