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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.

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Erdogan declares state of emergency for Turkey quake zone

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(Last Updated On: February 7, 2023)

President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared as a disaster zone the 10 provinces affected by the devastating earthquakes in southern Turkey, imposing a state of emergency in the region for three months.

In a speech, Erdogan said that 70 countries had offered help in search and rescue operations and that Turkey planned to open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya, to the west, to temporarily house people impacted by the quakes.

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Countries worldwide mobilize to help Turkey and Syria

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(Last Updated On: February 7, 2023)

Countries around the world are rushing to send rescue workers, equipment and aid after a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Turkey and Syria early Monday.

The initial earthquake was followed by a series of well over 50 aftershocks all measuring over 4.0 magnitude. An additional, 7.7 quake also struck central Turkey later Monday.

In a statement on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said that U.S. “teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake.”

Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer condolences and said the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recovery, the White House said in a statement.

John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said the United States is deploying two 79-person urban search and rescue teams and that the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, are coordinating with their Turkish counterparts on additional assistance.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, to “pick up the phone and let us know” what the United States can do to help, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

The European Union said it mobilized rescue teams with crews from countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania dispatched to the region. At least 13 member countries have offered assistance, VOA reported.

“Our thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones and the brave first responders working to save lives,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič said in a joint statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said their governments were ready to help those affected by the earthquake.

Britain said it was sending a team of 76 search-and-rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.

“Greece is mobilizing its resources and will assist immediately,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said search and rescue teams, as well as medical aid, would be going to Turkey in response to a request from the Turkish government.

Israel also said it had received a request for humanitarian aid for Syria through a diplomatic official and would send assistance. The two historical adversaries have no diplomatic relations.

Russia also said it had rescue teams preparing to go to Turkey and Syria to help earthquake victims.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad and Turkey’s Erdogan to express his condolences over the death and destruction caused by the earthquake.

India also sent in its first of two C17 flights with more than 50 search and rescue personnel, specially trained dog squads, drilling machines, relief material, medicines and other necessary utilities and equipment, the Indian foreign ministry said Tuesday. This flight has already landed in Turkey.

In addition, Iraq said it would send civil defense teams to Turkey and Syria with relief supplies, including food and fuel, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered his government’s support as well.

“I am shocked to learn of deaths and injuries of hundreds of people as a result of the earthquake in Turkey,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “We send our condolences to the families of the victims and wish the injured a speedy recovery. At this time, we stand by the friendly Turkish people and are ready to provide the necessary assistance.”

Japan, another country often plagued by earthquakes, said it is sending a group of about 75 rescue workers to Turkey, VOA reported.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg expressed “full solidarity” with alliance member Turkey and said, “NATO allies are mobilizing support now.”

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Huge earthquake kills 2,400 in Turkey and Syria, bad weather worsens plight

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(Last Updated On: February 6, 2023)

A huge earthquake killed more than 2,400 people across a swathe of Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, with freezing winter weather adding to the plight of the many thousands left injured or homeless and hampering efforts to find survivors.

The magnitude 7.8 quake brought down whole apartment blocks in Turkish cities and piled more devastation on millions of Syrians displaced by years of war.

The worst tremor to strike Turkey this century, it came before sunrise in harsh weather and was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake of magnitude 7.7.

“It was like the apocalypse,” said Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud, a Syrian in the northern town of Atareb. “It’s bitterly cold and there’s heavy rain, and people need saving.”

The second quake was big enough to bring down more buildings and, like the first, was felt across the region, endangering rescuers struggling to pull casualties from the rubble, Reuters reported.

In Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey, a woman speaking next to the wreckage of the seven-storey block where she lived said: “We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I’m waiting for them.”

She was nursing a broken arm and had injuries to her face.

The earthquake was the biggest quake recorded worldwide by the U.S. Geological survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021.

In Turkey, the death toll stood at 1,541, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. At least 928 people were killed in Syria, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.

Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.

Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless. Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend, Reuters reported.

It is already the highest death toll from an earthquake in Turkey since 1999, when a tremor of similar magnitude devastated the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who is preparing for a tough election in May, called it a historic disaster and the worst earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939, but said authorities were doing all they could.

“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said.

Turkish state broadcaster TRT showed a building collapse in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. It was not immediately clear if it was evacuated.

In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said 538 people had been killed and more than 1,326 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, emergency workers said 390 people had died.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said the earthquake would only add to the suffering of millions of Syrians already enduring a humanitarian crisis due to the civil war.

In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters journalists saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a mound of debris, all that was left of a big building, and hauling off bits of wreckage as they looked for survivors. Occasionally they raised their hands and called for quiet, listening for sounds of life.

Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city. In Izmir, drone footage showed rescue workers stood atop a hill of rubble where a building once stood, working to lift slabs of masonry.

Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria’s Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust.

Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake, which was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.

In the Syrian rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-storey building once stood.

“There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.

Raed al-Saleh of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said they were in “a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble”.

The casualty toll in northwestern Syria was expected to increase, a spokesperson for the U.N. office for coordinating humanitarian affairs in northwestern Syria said.

“It just adds on to all the layers of suffering,” said Madevi Sun-Suon, the spokesperson.

In the Syrian government-held city of Hama, a Reuters journalist saw an apparently lifeless child carried from the ruins of a building.

Syrian state television showed rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said.

Erdogan said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts in Turkey.

In the Turkish city of Malatya, a rescue worker crawled into a collapsed building, trying to identify a survivor trapped under the wreckage, in footage released by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).

“What colour are you wearing? Are you wearing pink? Please take care of yourself for the moment, I cannot see anything else,” the rescue worker could be heard saying.

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