Posts Tagged ‘Macron’

Libyan Military Strongman Haftar Visiting Russia

August 12, 2017

MOSCOW — Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar was due to arrive in Moscow on Saturday ahead of a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, RIA news agency reported, citing a Russian negotiator.

Haftar is expected to meet Sergei Lavrov on Monday, Lev Dengov, head of the Russian contact group on Libya, told RIA. It was not immediately clear what the pair would be discussing.

At the end of July, Haftar and Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj committed during talks in France to a conditional ceasefire and to elections, but a Italian naval mission aimed to help the country curb migrant flows has fueled tension this month.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army controls much of eastern and southern Libya.

It has rejected a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli that is struggling to assert authority over an array of armed factions which have been competing for control since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar has held talks with Russian officials before and in January he was given a tour of a Russian aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

The head of the U.N.-backed government visited Moscow in March, and the Kremlin said then it wanted to help repair the damage it said had been done by Western involvement in the country.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

Courts orders France to provide water, sanitation to Calais migrants

July 31, 2017


© DENIS CHARLET / AFP | Migrants and refugees walk in a field towards the Marcel Doret industrial estate, near the French Channel port of Calais, northern France, on July 28, 2017.


Latest update : 2017-07-31

France’s highest administrative court on Monday rejected the government’s appeal against an order to provide water and sanitation facilities for hundreds of migrants sleeping rough in the northern port of Calais.

In a written decision seen by AFP, the Council of State said the state’s failure to provide for the migrants’ basic needs “exposed them to inhuman and degrading treatment, dealing a serious and clearly illegal blow to a basic right.”

The council noted that migrants, “who find themselves in a state of destitution and exhaustion, have no access to running water, showers or toilets and cannot therefore wash themselves or their clothes.”

The situation had caused some to develop skin diseases such as scabies and impetigo or infected wounds, “as well as serious psychological troubles,” the council found.

The court upheld a June 26 order by a court in the northern city of Lille for the state to supply the migrants with running water, toilets and showers.

The Lille court also demanded that those migrants who decide to seek asylum in France be offered a place in a reception centre wherever there was space available.

Several hundred migrants are camped out in and around Calais — the main launchpad for attempts to smuggle across the Channel to Britain by truck.

The interior ministry and the city of Calais had appealed against the Lille court’s ruling in June, saying the provision of services would lead to the proliferation of new “Jungles”, as the sprawling makeshift camp demolished last year in Calais was known.

The case was taken by a group of migrants and NGOs, who complained that the state was violating the migrants’ basic rights.

France’s new centrist government has taken a tough line on Calais, with Interior Minister Gerard Collomb saying he does not want the city to become an “abscess”.

Last week, President Emmanuel Macron softened his tone somewhat, saying he aimed to find shelter for all those living on the street by the end of the year.

French MPs vote for transparency — Embrace Macron’s plan to clean up politics

July 29, 2017


© Jacques Demarthon, AFP | Members of Parliament debate the ‘moralisation of political life’ bill at the National Assembly, Paris, July 28, 2017.

Text by Anna SANSOM

Latest update : 2017-07-29

After an election season plagued by scandals over fake jobs and nepotism, French MPs have approved a wide-ranging bill aimed at introducing more transparency into public life.

After promising to restore the public’s faith in politicians, French President Emmanuel Macron  succeeded in convincing France’s National Assembly to adopt the first reading of a bill on the “moralisation of public life” overnight Saturday in a bid to make French politics more transparent and free from nepotism and conflicts of interest.

After nearly 50 hours of debate and after scrutinising more than 800 amendments, members of parliament (known in France as deputies), adopted the first part of the bill aiming to restore “confidence in public life” by 319 votes to 4, then approved a second part of the bill by 203 votes to 37.

In his inaugural speech as president in May, Macron said: “France is only a model for the world if it is exemplary. My mandate will restore the confidence the French need to believe in themselves.”

Macron put financial and ethical probity in public life at the centre of his presidential campaign after corruption scandals rocked his rivals, notably François Fillon of the conservative Les Républicains party and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who were both accused of creating fake jobs for family or friends.

Several MPs, including Le Pen and leader of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) movement Jean-Luc Melenchon, are also facing enquiries about the possible misuse of European Parliament funds.

Illegal to employ close family members

If the bill passes into law, it will become illegal for ministers, MPs and local executive bodies to employ “close” family members (including spouses, civil partners, parents, children and so forth). Breaking the law could entail a three-year prison sentence and a €45,000 fine plus the reimbursement of any salaries paid.

Fillon was put under formal investigation for misuse of public funds earlier this year amid allegations that he had arranged for his British wife Penelope to be paid at least €680,000 in taxpayers’ money over a 15 year-period for a fake job as a parliamentary assistant. Fillon was also accused of giving two of his children fake jobs when he was a senator and they were still students. However, Fillon has denied breaking any laws.

The new bill calls for any “family link” (a member or former member of the family) to be declared to the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life (HATVP) before they are employed. Members of parliament would also need to declare the hiring of family members to the assembly. (The rules will apply to employing a family member of another MP.)

The ‘parliamentary grants system’, which enables deputies and senators to award funds to local organisations, will be gradually phased out by 2024. According to the French media, €147 million of these have so far been awarded in 2017, up from €138 million last year. Politicians will also face intense scrutiny if they reward clients and organisations in return for their support.

Prevention of conflicts of interest

MPs’ expense will be subjected to more control and will only be reimbursed upon proof of receipts or if they specifically request an advance.

According to figures quoted in French daily Le Parisien, MPs currently receive an indemnity of €5,373 for expenses while senators received €6,110.

Members of parliament will no longer be able to receive remuneration from public or semi-public agencies if the legislation passes.

The bill also restricts what other work parliamentary members can undertake, which includes forbidding them to provide private consulting during their time in office.

However, they can act as consultants if they began advising their clients more than a year before the start of their time in office. Nonetheless, advising companies that are involved in public projects would be forbidden.

A “public register” would also be created that would list the MPs who could be facing a conflict of interest and presidential candidates will in the future need to declare their various financial activities and interests.

So far Macron appears to be making good on his promise to “end nepotism and conflicts of interest” in French political life.

Voters these days demand more integrity in politics, Macron said in March, adding: “I believe in zero tolerance.”

Macron’s go-it-alone style raises eyebrows in Europe

July 28, 2017


© POOL/AFP/File / by Valérie LEROUX, Clare BYRNE | Recent unilateral policy initiatives by French President Emmanuel Macron and his government has sparked criticism abroad

PARIS (AFP) – France’s Emmanuel Macron, a europhile who celebrated his election to the strains of the EU’s anthem “Ode to Joy”, has caused surprise by going it alone on migration and picking a protectionist fight with top ally Italy, observers say.Two controversial announcements Thursday — one by the French president, one by his government — have led Macron’s commitment to working with his EU partners on solutions to shared problems to be called into question.

The first was on migration.

During a visit to a refugee shelter Macron announced that France would set up migrant processing “hotspots” in Africa, including in war-torn Libya, with or without the support of other EU member states.

“We’ll try to do it with Europe but we in France will do it,” he declared — his aides later conceding that the scheme was “not possible at the moment” because of Libya’s dire security situation.

In Brussels, officials were caught off guard by the unilateral plan aimed at preventing migrants piling into rickety boats bound for Europe.

European Commission sources said they had received assurances that France’s position was “completely aligned” with that of the bloc — but they still ruled out migrant centres based outside the EU of the type mooted by Macron.

No sooner had that foray by France’s crusading new leader been digested than his government antagonised Italy by announcing the nationalisation of a shipyard that had been promised to a state-run Italian firm.

Rome, already smarting over being sidelined by Macron on a ceasefire deal in its former colony Libya, reacted with fury to the move which stood in stark contrast to the anti-interventionist message that Macron hammered home on the campaign trail.

Macron insisted the move was temporary until the two sides reached a deal on joint ownership of STX that protected French jobs and assured Italy would play a “major role” in the shipbuilder.

But Italy was seething.

“Nationalism and protectionism are not an acceptable basis on which to conduct relations between two leading European countries,” Italy’s finance and economic development ministers fumed.

– European disunity –

Italy’s centrist Corriere della Sera newspaper said the affair had revealed Macron as “a nationalist”, while Germany’s Handelsblatt economic daily said it “cast a new light on his commitment” to Europe.

“How can Europe be united if a European partner is not considered a reliable shareholder?” Handelsblatt wondered, referring to the jobs argument put forward by France.

But in France at home the first nationalisation since 1981 was widely cheered, giving its youngest ever leader a boost after polls showed his ratings tumbling over his planned spending cuts.

Le Monde newspaper called it a “well-timed political act” that would help him win back support on the left.

“But Mr Macron is tarnishing his European image somewhat,” it noted.

A former government adviser said Macron’s EU flag-waving during the campaign masked a belief that Europe served chiefly to enhance France’s standing.

“He is committed to the European ideal, but far less so than to French sovereignty,” the adviser, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP, adding: “Having good relations with Angela Merkel doesn’t change that.”

For Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Macron is a man in a hurry, who brings to mind ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“Like all new presidents he’s discovering his powers and giving into the temptation to use them to the max,” Heisbourg said.

– ‘Superman if he succeeds’ –

So far Merkel and other EU leaders have embraced the Frenchman’s can-do approach and been content to let him play the role of Europe’s top diplomat with US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

But Stefani Weiss, director of the Brussels office of the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation, warned Germany was starting to “look a little frustrated by this energetic president who is juggling a lot of balls.”

“We can only hope he is not overwhelmed by all the initiatives and not overestimating what he can do,” she cautioned.

So far Macron’s diplomatic efforts have mostly been crowned in success.

On Tuesday, he got the two rival authorities in lawless Libya to agree a conditional ceasefire.

But stemming the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe could seriously test his mettle.

“If he succeeds, everyone will say ‘he’s the boss, he’s Superman. But if he fails, they’ll say ‘those arrogant French’. It’s risky,” said Heisbourg.

by Valérie LEROUX, Clare BYRNE

Russia used Facebook to try to spy on Macron campaign – sources

July 27, 2017


By Joseph Menn

July 27, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign earlier this year by creating phony Facebook personas, according to a U.S. congressman and two other people briefed on the effort.

About two dozen Facebook accounts were created to conduct surveillance on Macron campaign officials and others close to the centrist former financier as he sought to defeat far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and other opponents in the two-round election, the sources said. Macron won in a landslide in May.

Facebook said in April it had taken action against fake accounts that were spreading misinformation about the French election. But the effort to infiltrate the social networks of Macron officials has not previously been reported.

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Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in the French election by hacking and leaking emails and documents. U.S. intelligence agencies told Reuters in May that hackers with connections to the Russian government were involved, but they did not have conclusive evidence that the Kremlin ordered the hacking.

Facebook confirmed to Reuters that it had detected spying accounts in France and deactivated them. It credited a combination of improved automated detection and stepped-up human efforts to find sophisticated attacks.

Company officials briefed congressional committee members and staff, among others, about their findings. People involved in the conversations also said the number of Facebook accounts suspended in France for promoting propaganda or spam – much of it related to the election – had climbed to 70,000, a big jump from the 30,000 account closures the company disclosed in April.

Facebook did not dispute the figure.

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Seeking Friends of Friends

The spying campaign included Russian agents posing as friends of friends of Macron associates and trying to glean personal information from them, according to the U.S. congressman and two others briefed on the matter.

Facebook employees noticed the efforts during the first round of the presidential election and traced them to tools used in the past by Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit, said the people, who spoke on condition they not be named because they were discussing sensitive government and private intelligence.

Facebook told American officials that it did not believe the spies burrowed deep enough to get the targets to download malicious software or give away their login information, which they believe may have been the goal of the operation.

The same GRU unit, dubbed Fancy Bear or APT 28 in the cybersecurity industry, has been blamed for hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and many other political targets. The GRU did not respond to a request for comment.

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Fancy Bear

Email accounts belonging to Macron campaign officials were hacked and their contents dumped online in the final days of the runoff between Macron and Le Pen.

French law enforcement and intelligence officials have not publicly accused anyone of the campaign attacks.

Mounir Mahjoubi, who was digital director of Macron’s political movement, En Marche, and is now a junior minister for digital issues in his government, told Reuters in May that some security experts blamed the GRU specifically, though they had no proof.

Mahjoubi and En Marche declined to comment.

There are few publicly known examples of sophisticated social media spying efforts. In 2015, Britain’s domestic security service, MI5, warned that hostile powers were using LinkedIn to connect with and try to recruit government workers.

The social media and networking companies themselves rarely comment on such operations when discovered.

Facebook, facing mounting pressure from governments around the world to control “fake news’ and propaganda on the service, took a step toward openness with a report in April on what it termed “information operations.”

The bulk of that document discussed so-called influence operations, which included “amplifier” accounts that spread links to slanted or false news stories in order to influence public opinion.

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris and Jack Stubbs in Moscow.; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Ross Colvin

Libyan PM Al-Serraj and Haftar agree to ceasefire at Paris talks

July 25, 2017


Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-07-25

Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and his main rival, General Khalifa Haftar, agreed to a conditional ceasefire at Paris talks on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the talks on Tuesday, stating that he hoped to “facilitate a political agreement” between the head of Libya’s unity government and the powerful Egyptian-backed commander when they met at a chateau in La Celle Saint-Cloud, outside the French capital.

The Paris talks follows a first contact between Sarraj and Haftar in Abu Dhabi in May. That meeting was seen as a tentative step towards reconciliation in Libya, which has been mired in conflict and chaos since the 2011 uprising, when longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by rebels supported by a French-led NATO air campaign.

Can Macron’s Libya talks deliver

July 25, 2017
© Khalil Mazraawi, Ludovic Marin, Fethi Belaid, AFP | France’s Emmanuel Macron is hoping to score a diplomatic coup when he hosts Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar (left) and the country’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (right) on Tuesday.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Brenna DALDORPH

Latest update : 2017-07-25

French President Emmanuel Macron will host talks on Tuesday between Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and his main rival, General Khalifa Haftar, in a landmark meeting all three are hoping to benefit from.

Image result for Khalifa Haftar, photos

Khalifa Haftar

Officials at the Elysée Palace say Macron will be hoping to “facilitate a political agreement” between the head of Libya‘s unity government and the powerful Egyptian-backed commander when they meet at a chateau in La Celle Saint-Cloud, outside the French capital.

The Paris talks follows a first contact between Sarraj and Haftar in Abu Dhabi in May. That meeting was seen as a tentative step towards reconciliation in Libya, which has been mired in conflict and chaos since the 2011 uprising, when longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by rebels supported by a French-led NATO air campaign.


Currently, Libya numbers two rival parliaments and three governments (the latest was formed in UN-brokered talks and was meant to replace the other two). So far, Haftar has rejected the authority of Sarraj’s UN-backed government as his forces gain ground in the east of the country supported by Egypt and United Arab Emirates.

But, this month, Sarraj set out a new political roadmap for his war-torn country, including the scheduling of presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2018. There is hope that weapons could be set aside and a political solution could be reached.

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Libya’s two strongmen: Fayez al-Sarraj meets Khalifa Haftar — File photo from AFP

Priority for Macron

Western intelligence services fear that Islamic State (IS) group jihadists may capitalise on the chaos to set up bases in Libya as they are chased from their former strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

This fear prompted a shift in French policy: in May, Macron’s newly appointed administration said it was reviewing its position on the Libyan conflict and openly called for a united national army — including Haftar — to battle Islamist militants.

Macron promised during his campaign to prioritise the fight against jihadist militants and, in his first week, travelled to Mali to pay a visit to the French troops that make up the Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism force, created to address the threat across the Sahel. He returned to Mali again in July. Macron has said Libya is a priority for his administration.

“The situation in Libya is extremely worrying for the region because it is positioned on the doorstep of Europe — and, thus, France,” said an official at the Elysée palace on Monday. “For reasons of regional stability, the fight against terrorism and the fight against illegal immigration, the president of the republic wanted to immediately take initiatives for Libya.”

Mattia Toaldo, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says there’s another reason that the French president has leapt on this opportunity to arrange talks between Sarraj and Haftar: because it is the easiest of his priorities to tackle.

“If you compare it with the other priority dossiers — Syria, Russia and the Sahel — facilitating the organisation of elections in Libya doesn’t seem like the hardest task,” Toaldo said. “Macron has already achieved a lot just by convening the summit. It’s taken months for anyone else to get the two sides together, but Macron did it quickly.”

There’s another reason why Macron may find it (marginally) easier to work on Libya, according to Toaldo. On June 22, Ghassan Salamé was appointed as UN special envoy to Libya. Salamé is a Paris-based Lebanese academic, Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs and professor of International Relations at Sciences Po.

“Many people in Macron’s team probably had Salamé as a professor,” Toaldo said. “Salamé is basically French. That was one factor that contributed to this meeting coming together much faster than talks that other countries tried to arrange. Macron can enjoy that little win. Then again, I hope France doesn’t have any illusions about how easy it will be after.”

Gains for the leaders

Macron isn’t the only one with political capital to gain during this meeting, Toaldo added.

“One of the things that lured Haftar to Paris is the possibility of a five-minute photo op with Macron,” he said. “It will do a lot for his international standing. Just last year, Haftar was an outcast.”

Back then, it was unclear what Haftar could do militarily: his men’s control was restricted to a region in the northeast of Libya. Now, the tables have turned and it is his opponents whose control has been reduced to a small area, this time in the country’s northwest.

“Haftar is in a more powerful position,” Toaldo said. “The situation on the ground has changed. Haftar is also backed by Egypt and the UAE, who seem to be on the winning side in the region.”

According to Toaldo, Sarraj is also attending the meeting with the hope of gaining standing by getting Macron’s support.

“Seraj doesn’t have real, consolidated support within Libya — he’s just a political figure in a country where political figures don’t matter,” Toaldo said. “He is similar to [the US-backed former president of Afghanistan, Hamid] Karzai. These men are strong only because external powers give them strength.”

Meeting goals

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Elysée officials set out a more concrete goal for the talks.

“We want to see a joint declaration tomorrow between the two main actors,” officials said. “That would be the first time that they accept to agree on a vision of diplomatic transition for the months to come.”

For Toaldo, this may be aiming too high. He said the Libyan leaders won’t want to be seen as making too many concessions, fearing a backlash at home. After the meeting in Abu Dhabi, Sarraj bore the brunt of the criticism, he noted, even though some rumours had exaggerated the extent of his concessions.

“My guess is that they will come to an agreement about a framework for further negotiations,” Toaldo said, “But nothing more binding than that. My hope, however, is that it is more substantial than just a Kodak moment for these three leaders.”


Libya’s Top Strongmen Meet in Paris With Macron

July 24, 2017

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Libya’s two strongmen: Fayez al-Sarraj meets Khalifa Haftar — File photo from AFP

PARIS (AFP) – Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj will hold talks near Paris on Tuesday with Khalifa Haftar, the powerful military commander based in the country’s east, the French presidency said.

French President Emmanuel Macron will host the meeting, the presidency said in a statement on Monday.

“France intends, through this initiative, to facilitate a political agreement” between the two rivals as the newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassam Salame, takes office, the statement said.

Tuesday’s talks, which were first reported by France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday, would be the second between Sarraj and Haftar in the space of three months after they met in Abu Dhabi in May.

Sarraj this month laid out a new political roadmap for his violence-wracked country, including the scheduling of presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2018.

Political rivalry and fighting between militias have hampered Libya’s recovery from the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled and longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was killed in the aftermath.

Sarraj’s Government of National Accord has been struggling to assert its authority since it began work in Tripoli in March 2016. Haftar’s rival administration based in the remote east has refused to recognise it.

Western intelligence services fear that Islamic State jihadists are capitalising on the chaos to set up bases in Libya as they are chased from their former strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Libya has also become the main springboard for migrants seeking to reach the European Union by sailing to Italy in often flimsy and overloaded boats.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told newspaper Le Monde in June that Libya was “a priority” for Macron and said there was “a security risk because of the trafficking of all kinds, including humans” from Libya.

“In consultation with all its partners, France intends to show its support for the efforts to build a political compromise, under the aegis of the United Nations, which unites… all the different Libyan actors,” Monday’s statement from the Elysee Palace said.

“The challenge is to build a state capable of meeting the basic needs of Libyans and endowed with a regular unified army under the authority of the civil power.

“It is necessary for the control of Libyan territory and its borders, to fight terrorist groups and arms and migrant traffickers, but also with a view to a return to a stable institutional life.”


France to Host Talks With Libya’s Premier Amid Falling Poll Number for Macron, Firing of Top French General, Budget Cuts

July 24, 2017

PARIS — France said it will host talks on Tuesday between Fayez al-Serraj, head of Libya’s U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, and Khalifa Haftar, a powerful military commander in the divided country’s east who has so far rejected his authority.

During the talks, President Emmanuel Macron aims to show France’s support for U.N-backed efforts to stabilize the country, “which would based upon the involvement of all the different factions in Libya,” his office said in a statement.

Unconfirmed reports of the talks had been circulating since last week.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Libya’s two strongmen: Fayez al-Sarraj meets Khalifa Haftar


Popularity tumbles for France’s Macron: poll

Popularity tumbles for France's Macron: poll
Photo: AFP
A poll out Sunday shows the popularity rating of France’s new President Emmanuel Macron has slumped 10 points to hit 54 percent over the past month.

While Macron has made a strong start on the world stage and won a solid majority in parliament, his first three months in power have not been completely trouble-free.

He was widely criticised by opponents and the press as heavy-handed after a row over budget cuts that ended with the resignation of a highly-regarded military chief.

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President Macron and Pierre de Villiers clashed over the French military’s budget. Now de Villiers is gone and Macron’s poll numbers have slipped

The 39-year-old leader has also backed a controversial bill to toughen France’s security laws that includes measures some rights groups have branded as draconian.

His majority in parliament has drawn concern, with opponents and several newspapers expressing concern over the concentration of power in the presidency.

According to an Ifop poll carried out for Journal du Dimanche newspaper, the number of French people satisfied with his performance fell 10 points from 64 percent in June.

Macron’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe marked an eight point drop to hit 56 percent of French people happy with him, said the poll of 1,947 adults carried out from July 17th-22nd.

France’s youngest-ever president, who has sought to project an image of authority since taking office in May, made clear during the row with the military boss that he would brook no insubordination as commander-in-chief.

The leftist Liberation newspaper said Macron’s “little authoritarian fit” could be a sign he was drunk on power and said it was time for him “to grow up a bit”.

A relative newcomer to politics who won election on a tide of disaffection with mainstream politics, Macron has enjoyed a honeymoon with voters, drawing particular praise for standing up to US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

France Wants Major Powers to Make ‘Proposals’ to Syrian Warring Parties

July 19, 2017

PARIS — France wants major powers involved in the Syrian crisis to join a contact group that would make proposals to warring parties, in an effort to break a deadlock in political negotiations, the French foreign minister said.

Emmanuel Macron’s election victory has given Paris a chance to re-examine its policy on Syria. The change being proposed is to drop demands that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as a pre-condition for talks, although French officials still insist he cannot be the long-term future for Syria.

France now appears to be aligning its foreign policy with the U.S. priorities of fighting terrorism and seeking better ties with Russia, a move that it calculates could give it a role as a go-between between the two powers, especially on Syria.

“This initiative presumes that we don’t set a pre-condition to the talks that Bashar al-Assad must leave,” Jean-Yves le Drian told CNews in an interview carried Wednesday on its website. That should encourage Russia to enter the process, he said.

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Jean-Yves le Drian

Le Drian gave no details on what new proposals might be offered, a potential format for the contact group or how it would affect existing peace efforts under the auspices of the United Nations, which have limped on for several years with no visible progress.

The foreign ministry and president’s office did not respond to questions on the initiative.

Macron has said he hoped that such a group would comprise the five permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – regional powers and opposition and government officials.

A Middle Eastern diplomat said the U.S. President Donald Trump had agreed in principle to the idea during last week’s visit to Paris, although he wanted the group to comprise only the Security Council members.

Macron, a centrist elected in May, said in June he no longer considered Assad’s departure a pre-condition for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador Alexei Borodavkin said Moscow saw this as a positive development.

“What is important I think is that this initiative is also based on the assumption which was announced by President Macron that France is no longer demanding that Assad should immediately resign,” he said.

The French idea of a contact group has already been broached to some of the potential parties, although several French diplomats said it the idea was still vague.

Steffan de Mistura, the UN mediator for the Syria talks now being conducted, commented on the proposal in Geneva last Friday, after the seventh round of those talks in Geneva.

“In fact the UN would be in a position therefore of doing what we’re doing at the moment but with one difference, that you would have those countries who are actually very influential, being in a position also perhaps influencing directly during the talks,” de Mistura said. “Should I be against that? That’s exactly what the UN needs to have and wants to have.”

(Reporting by John Irish and Tom Miles, editing by Larry King)