International Latest News

Man slaps French president in the face, yells ‘down with Macron’

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face by a man in a crowd of onlookers while on a walkabout in southern France, media reports said.

Macron’s security entourage quickly intervened to pull the man to the ground and move Macron away from him. Two people were arrested in connection with the incident, broadcasters BFM TV and RMC radio reported.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the incident was an affront to democracy.

The incident took place while Macron was on a visit to the Drome region in south-eastern France, where he met restaurateurs and students to talk about how life is returning to normal after the Covid-19 epidemic.

The French president reached out his hand to greet one man, in a green T-Shirt, with glasses and a face mask.

The man could be heard shouting out “Down with Macronia” (“A Bas La Macronie”) and then he delivered a slap to Macron’s face.

Two of Macron’s security detail tackled the man in the green T-shirt, while another ushered Macron away. But Macron remained in the vicinity of the crowd for a few more seconds, and appeared to be talking to someone on the other side of the barriers.

The presidential administration said there had been an attempt to strike Macron, but declined further comment.

The identity of the man who slapped Macron, and his motives were unclear. While slapping the president, he could be heard shouting “Montjoie Saint-Denis,” which was the battle cry of the French armies when the country was still a monarchy.

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India gets global help to tackle its worsening Covid crisis

New Delhi: As India’s tally of covid-19 infections crossed three lakh for the sixth consecutive day on April 28, more countries pledged to support the world’s hardest-hit hotspot with supplies of medical equipment and oxygen required to treat thousands of critically ill patients who are desperately looking for treatment.

The US, France, Germany, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Russia have pledged support to India as it battles a ferocious second wave of covid-19 infections that has brought the country’s health infrastructure on the verge of collapse.

India has received 318 Oxygen Concentrators from the US, and 500 BiPAPs, 250 oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies from Singapore, that landed in the covid-battered country on an Air India flight.

Key US business groups such as the US-India Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce, besides chief executive officers of more than 40 companies, announced the formation of a “Global Task Force on Pandemic Response: Mobilizing for India.”

Some major companies like Apple Inc., Google Inc, Microsoft Corp. and Deloitte have already announced aid for India.

Shortages of key drugs, lack of oxygen and hospital beds are among the challenges confronting health care workers.

France is sending eight oxygen generators, five containers of liquid oxygen and 28 ventilators in the first tranche of aid.

The country’s foreign ministry said that each oxygen generator can fulfill the needs of 15 critically ill patients.

“As many countries are doing, what Australia will do is we will provide an initial package…of support and to deliver this as soon as possible,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Canberra.

The 27-member European Union said, “Urgently needed oxygen, medicine and equipment will be delivered over the coming days by EU member states to India, following the country’s request for support through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.”

As part of this effort, Ireland was to dispatch 700 oxygen concentrators, an oxygen generator, 365 ventilators; Belgium was to send 9,000 doses of antiviral drug remdesivir; Romania to help with 80 oxygen concentrators and 75 oxygen cylinders; Luxembourg to send 58 ventilators; Portugal to dispatch 5,503 vials of remdesivir and 20,000 litres of oxygen; while Sweden was to channel 120 ventilators.

Saudi Arabia’s aid of 80 MT of liquid oxygen is enroute via the sea route, Hong Kong is sending 800 oxygen concentrators. India will also get six Cryogenic oxygen containers from the UAE.

Sources said that Germany is sending a mobile oxygen production unit which will be made available for three months along with 120 ventilators and 80 million KN95 masks.

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Pakistan police use tear gas on anti-France protesters

Lahore: Pakistan police used tear gas and water cannon on thousands of supporters of an Islamist anti-blasphemy party after the arrest of their leader, who has called for the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed — deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

Saad Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was detained in Lahore, party officials said.

His arrest was confirmed by police, but they did not say on what charges.

He had been trying to organize a march on the capital on April 20 to demand the expulsion of the French ambassador.

AFP staff saw police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters who blocked streets and intersections in Lahore, the country’s second biggest city.

Last year, TLP supporters brought the capital to a standstill for three days with a series of anti-France rallies.

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France votes on anti-radicalism bill that worries Muslims

Paris: France’s National Assembly approved legislation designed mainly to counter a rise in Islamism in towns and cities which the government says threatens national unity.

The bill is part of broader French efforts to fight extremism in recent years that gained new urgency after a teacher was beheaded in October and other attacks.

President Emmanuel Macron says the efforts are also needed to protect French values such as gender equality and secularism from encroaching fundamentalism in some communities.

But many French Muslims say the draft law limits religious freedom and unfairly targets them, and say France already has enough laws to fight terrorist violence. Critics call the bill a political manoeuver by Macron to win support from conservative and far-right voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.

France’s Muslim population is estimated to number about five million people, many whose family origins lie in Algeria or other parts of its former empire.

The country has suffered a wave of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, and tackling religious extremism, French identity and domestic security will be big issues in next year’s presidential election.

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France declines upgrade for Pak’s Mirage and submarines

New Delhi: France has decided against helping Pakistan upgrade its fleet of Mirage fighter jets, air defense system and Agosta 90B class submarines, a direct fallout of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s loud criticism of French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher, people familiar with the matter said.

France has also told Qatar, one of the countries that bought the Rafale fighters, not to allow Pakistan-origin technicians to work with the plane over concerns that they could leak technical information about the fighter to Islamabad as the omni-role jet is the front-line fighter of India. Pakistan is known to share vital defense data with China in the past.

Paris has already started putting the asylum requests from Pakistanis under detailed scrutiny in view of the strained ties between the two countries and the stabbing incident outside the former Paris office of the controversial Charlie Hebdo magazine.

In September, Ali Hassan, an 18-year-old of Pakistani origin, stabbed two persons with a meat cleaver outside the magazine’s previous office, unaware that the magazine had shifted out. His father, who lives in Pakistan, later told a local news channel that his son had “done a great job” and he is “very happy” about the attack.

Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was told about the French government’s decisions when he visited Paris on 29 October after New Delhi criticized the personal attacks on President Macron.

The French government’s decision not to upgrade the Mirage III and Mirage 5 fighter jets could severely impact the Pakistan Air Force which has had about 150 Mirage fighter jets manufactured by the French firm Dassault Aviation. Only half of them, however, are serviceable.

Pakistan had been buying Mirage jets for decades, some of them discarded by other countries, according to a 2018 AFP report, and has a facility outside Islamabad to refurbish the ageing fighter jets to keep them flying.

Diplomats in New Delhi and Paris said that Pakistan had recently requested France for upgrades to keep the fighter jets in the air. “The request has been declined,” one diplomat in Paris said.

Diplomats said a third request from Pakistan to upgrade its Agosta 90B class submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems that would allow them to stay underwater for longer has also been rejected by France.

Pakistan has three Agosta 90B submarines: Khalid, Saad and Hamza.

The French government’s decisions came soon after PM Khan, along with close ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, led the charge against President Macron after his statement on the beheading of a teacher near the school where he had shown his pupils caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, considered blasphemous by Muslims.

PM Khan followed up on his sharp criticism with an open letter to leaders of Muslim-majority countries that asked them to unite against “growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states”. Pakistan’s National Assembly went a step further to pass a government-supported resolution that demanded recall of Pakistan’s envoy to Paris. It later realized that Pakistan hadn’t had an ambassador in Paris for three months. (Hindustan Times)

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The challenge ahead for terror-hit France

By Rakesh Sood

France has faced its own share of terrorist attacks, including from among its own radicalized Muslims. The latest cycle, which has left the country in shock, began with the beheading of Samuel Paty, a school teacher on October 16, killed by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee who was enraged because Paty had shown caricatures of Prophet Mohammed during his lecture on “free speech” to students, after advising them that those offended could leave.

This was followed by a fatal stabbing of three, in a church in Nice by a 21-year-old recently-arrived Tunisian migrant on October 29.

President Emmanuel Macron’s statement at Paty’s memorial service describing him as a symbol of “freedom and reason” and vowing that French freedom of expression means that “we will not give up our cartoons” has provoked angry reactions from Muslims in other countries, fuelled by incendiary responses from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and Malaysian leader Mahathir bin Mohamed.

Erdogan said that “Macron needs a mental health check” and called for a boycott of French goods, leading France to recall its ambassador in protest. Behind his animus are growing differences on Turkish military interventions in Libya, in eastern Mediterranean against Greece and in supporting Azerbaijan against Armenia.

If France sees itself as the torchbearer for democratic, liberal and secular values, Turkey under Erdogan (who has been in power since 2003 and ensured his continuation till 2028 through constitutional manipulations) has reversed the Ataturk reforms of the 1930s to reclaim its Islamic identity and role in a neo-Ottoman avatar.

Imran Khan, facing domestic political unrest, issued a series of tweets blaming Macron for “hurting the sentiments and provoking millions of Muslims”. Parliament passed resolutions seeking the recall of its ambassador from Paris before realising that the new appointee hadn’t even joined. Mahathir Mohamed’s tweet that Muslims have the right “to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” was taken down by Twitter for being offensive. Ironically, none of them has uttered a word about the incarceration of a million Uighur Muslims by China.

PM Narendra Modi condemned the terrorist act conveying solidarity with France, even as foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was in Paris for talks where the radicalization of Muslim communities would have been discussed.

France is home to six million Muslims, the largest concentration in Europe. It has been aware of growing radicalization in certain sections of the community.

The challenge for France is not easy. The idea that education, hard work and following French laws and customs led to upward mobility has been challenged in recent years and Covid-19 has only highlighted it.

A recent opinion poll among Muslims in France revealed that while an encouraging 60% believed that freedom of expression should include satire, the same poll also indicated that over 75% were unwilling to include caricatures of Prophet Muhammed as acceptable satire.

This is the gap that Marine Le Pen, Macron’s most likely opponent in the 2022 election, will exploit with her populist, nationalist and anti-European Union platform. This is also the gap that Macron needs to bridge with his proposed legislative initiative.

(The article appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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France warns citizens as Muslim world seethes

Paris: France warned its citizens living or travelling in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions as anger surged over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

A rift between France and Muslim nations is growing after French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this month that Islam was in “crisis”.

From proposing stricter laws to uphold the principle of secularism to using terms like “Islamic separatism” and Islamic terror attacks”, Macron’s comments have evoked severe backlash from countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran among others.

France’s foreign ministry issued safety advice to French citizens in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iraq and Mauritania, advising them to exercise caution. “They should stay away from any protests over the cartoons and avoid any public gatherings.”

Tension escalated after French teacher Samuel Paty was killed on October 16 near his school in broad daylight. He had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. Since the crime, French officials were perceived as linking the killing to Islam.

While eulogizing the teacher on October 21, Macron declared that “France will not give up cartoons”.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Macron and even questioned the mental state of his French counterpart.

As the discourse seeped to the general populace on social media, many accused France of using secularism to persecute Muslim minorities in France and #BoycottFrenchProducts trended on Twitter.

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France calls on citizens to learn to live with COVID-19

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron called on citizens to learn to live with the coronavirus after infections spiralled higher in recent weeks.

“To overcome the health crisis, we must learn to live with the virus,” Macron tweeted, calling on people to show unity and assume responsibility to contain the epidemic resurgence, Xinhua news agency reported.

Macron said he had chaired a defense council over the epidemic situation “to organize with the best possible conditions taking into account the epidemic evolution,” the start of the new academic year and work condition, after social mixing during summer vacation had led to faster virus spread and increasing clusters.

The president pledged “clear rules everywhere to allow everyone to regain confidence.”

As of August 26, France confirmed 3,304 new coronavirus cases. Some 33 active clusters were detected, bringing the total to 352.

A total of 248,158 infections have been identified since the epidemic outbreak, according to the country’s Health Public Agency.

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