France’s Political Parties Are Banding Together To Stop Le Pen







After a heated presidential election, French independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen appear set to face each other in the runoff on May 7.


Early projections on Sunday predicted Macron would win with 23.7 percent of the vote and Le Pen would take home 21.7 percent. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and conservative Republican party leader François Fillon were narrowly edged out of the final round. Those numbers were early estimates released after polls closed at 8 p.m. local time. 


“This result is historic,” Le Pen said on Sunday evening, surrounded by celebrating supporters. The far-right leader repeated her vow to tighten France’s borders that rampant globalizations was putting French civilization at risk. She also renewed her calling to curb immigration, adding that the vote would present the French a choice between a safe country or “the free circulation of terrorists.” 


Amid fears of Le Pen’s anti-European Union and anti-immigrant vision taking hold over the country, French and European politicians began throwing their support behind Macron almost immediately after Sunday’s results were announced. Figures across the political spectrum came together to back Macron, appearing to form a “cordon sanitaire” against the prospect of a Le Pen presidency. 


 


“In one year we have changed the face of French politics,” Macron said on Sunday evening. “I want to be the president of patriots against the threat of nationalists.”




In his concession speech, conservative candidate for The Republicans and former Prime Minister François Fillon called on supporters to vote for Macron. “This defeat is mine and it is for me and me alone to bear it,” Fillon said. “Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right.” 




  



Benoit Hamon, the candidate for the ruling Socialist Party who suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday, also threw his weight behind the centrist candidate. “I appeal to fight the National Front as strongly as possible by voting for Emmanuel Macron, even though he doesn’t belong to the left,” Hamon said.




He was joined in his appeal by Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. “The presence of a candidate of the extreme-right in the second round of the presidential election, 15 years after the shock of April 2002, calls for a clear and strong position from all Republicans. That’s the reason why I’m calling on them to vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election to defeat the National Front,” Cazeneuve said in a statement. 




The opposition to Le Pen from a wide swath of France’s politicians and parties is reminiscent of the last time the National Front entered the second round, in 2002. Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, then head of the party, was soundly defeated after voters from the left and right rallied against him.


Le Pen’s opponents hope she will suffer her father’s fate. While she has worked hard to make the party’s program more acceptable to a wide array of voters than it was under her father’s leadership, polls still predict Macron to comfortably win the matchup,







Throughout the race, Macron’s pro-EU stance has also found favor in Brussels and Berlin, while his campaign accused the Kremlin-funded media outlets of trying to interfere in the vote. European leaders on Sunday did not hesitate to congratulate him on the result. 






In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman issued a statement wishing Macron “all the best.”


Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel congratulated Macron on Twitter, wishing him success in an “optimistic” European project. 


European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also expressed good wishes. 







Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon was the only front-runner who refused to endorse Macron on Sunday. Like Le Pen, Mélenchon is a staunch critic of the European Union and various other international institutions.




Mélenchon’s refusal to support Macron may potentially cost the centrist candidate crucial votes from the left in the runoff. 


Some of Mélenchon’s supporters appeared bitter on Sunday night. 


“I am staying home. The game is over, Macron is president already. I have no job. Macron, Le Pen, all the same,” Fahrid, a 37-year-old voter told Reuters. Fahrid said he would not vote in the second round. 


 


 


 


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The First Round In The French Presidential Elections Marked A Political Earthquake






PARIS ― The wait is finally over. At the end of a historic campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen decisively defeated Jean-Luc Mélenchon and François Fillon in the first round of the French presidential election.


Sunday’s results are a landmark moment in France’s recent political history. As many as four candidates stood a chance of advancing to this year’s runoff, and for the first time ever in the history of the Fifth Republic, neither the Republican Party nor the Socialist Party will have a candidate in the second round. 


Macron, the centrist candidate who formed his own party, En Marche! (which translates roughly to “Onward!”), is set to win the first round of the election with 23.8 percent of the vote, according to projections on Sunday night. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for the former economy minister who ran without support from any of the main four parties in Parliament.


“The two political parties that have governed France for years have been discarded,” Macron said on Sunday night. 


Le Pen, the head of the National Front party, will likely win 22 percent of the vote ― nearly 4 points more than she took home in the previous election. While it appears she didn’t come in first, her spot in the runoff marks a historic moment for the far-right, nationalist party. 



Fillon And The Crisis On The Right


The biggest disappointment of the night was for Fillon. The conservative Republican candidate will be eliminated in the first round with around 19-20 percent of the vote. While Fillon was the front-runner five months ago, allegations that he paid family members to work as parliamentary aides eventually meant the end of the former prime minister’s presidential aspirations.


Fillon’s defeat, combined with Macron’s victory, are likely to cause a serious crisis within the Republican Party. Fillon said on Sunday he plans to vote for Macron and urged his followers to do the same. “Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right,” Fillon said. 


Mélenchon, the left-wing candidate of La France Insoumise (“A France That Won’t Bow Down”) surged in the polls in the final weeks of the campaign and appears set to eventually take home 18-19 percent of the vote. Mélenchon ran a dynamic and innovative campaign, and while he didn’t manage to reach the runoff, he improved his 2012 score by 7 points. His strong personal results and the collapse of the Socialist Party may allow him to lay the groundwork for a vast citizens’ movement. 



Race To The Bottom For The Socialist Party


For Benoît Hamon, the candidate of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, hopes for a last-minute surprise did not pan out. A victim of the divisions within his own party and Mélenchon’s appeal, Hamon took home the worst score ever recorded by a candidate for his party in the presidential election.


There’s no doubt that Hamon’s defeat will bring more political leverage for his Socialist Party colleague, Manual Valls. Valls, a former prime minister, stunned in March by announcing his support for Macron rather than for Hamon, the candidate of his own political party.


This story first appeared on HuffPost France and was translated into English. 

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North Korea, With Characteristic Bluster, Threatens To Sink U.S. Aircraft Carrier

SEOUL, April 23 (Reuters) - North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, as two Japanese navy ships joined a U.S. carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific.


U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to rising tension over the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies.


The United States has not specified where the carrier strike group is as it approaches the area. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days” but gave no other details.


North Korea remained defiant.


“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary.


The paper likened the aircraft carrier to a “gross animal” and said a strike on it would be “an actual example to show our military’s force.”


The commentary was carried on page three of the newspaper, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a pig farm.


Speaking during a visit to Greece, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there were already enough shows of force and confrontation at present and appealed for calm.


“We need to issue peaceful and rational sounds,” Wang said, according to a statement issued by China’s Foreign Ministry.


Adding to the tensions, North Korea detained a Korean-American man in his fifties on Friday, bringing the total number of U.S. citizens held by Pyongyang to three.


The man, Tony Kim, had been in North Korea for a month teaching accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the institution’s chancellor Chan-Mo Park told Reuters. He was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport on his way out of the country.


North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.


It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.


North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.


It has also carried out a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions.


North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting Trump.


He has vowed to prevent the North from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike. 



WORRY IN JAPAN


North Korea says its nuclear program is for self-defense and has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday North Korea’s recent statements were provocative but had proven to be hollow in the past and should not be trusted.


“We’ve all come to hear their words repeatedly; their word has not proven honest,” Mattis told a news conference in Tel Aviv, before the latest threat to the aircraft carrier.


Japan’s show of naval force reflects growing concern that North Korea could strike it with nuclear or chemical warheads.


Some Japanese ruling party lawmakers are urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acquire strike weapons that could hit North Korean missile forces before any imminent attack.


Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the second largest in Asia after China’s.


The two Japanese warships, the Samidare and Ashigara, left western Japan on Friday to join the Carl Vinson and will “practice a variety of tactics” with the U.S. strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force said in a statement.


The Japanese force did not specify where the exercises were taking place, but by Sunday the destroyers could have reached an area 2,500 km (1,500 miles) south of Japan, which would be east of the Philippines.


From there, it could take three days to reach waters off the Korean peninsula. Japan’s ships would accompany the Carl Vinson north at least into the East China Sea, a source with knowledge of the plan said.


U.S. and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test, something the United States, China and others have warned against.


South Korea has put its forces on heightened alert.


China, North Korea’s sole major ally, opposes Pyongyang’s weapons programs and has appealed for calm. The United States has called on China to do more to help defuse the tension.


Last Thursday, Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea,” after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike.”


(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; editing by Ralph Boulton and Jason Neely)




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Hundreds Of Iraqis Flee Heavy Fighting In Mosul






MOSUL, Iraq, April 23 (Reuters) - Heavy two-way traffic of carts carrying children, clothes, and the elderly crowded the main Baghdad-Mosul road on Sunday as hundreds of Iraqis fled heavy fighting or made their way back to areas seized back from Islamic State.


Families paid no heed to the sound of heavy mortar, artillery and machine gun fire raging in the background as U.S.-trained Iraqi forces battled Islamic State some two km.(about a mile) away.


Some had walked miles to a government checkpoint where the men were placed in army trucks and sent for security screening to ensure no militant sleeper cells get out of the city. Women and children were put on busses and sent to camps housing hundreds of thousands, some displaced since the offensive to retake the Islamic State stronghold began in October.


“We left because of darkness, hunger, and death. There are bullets and air strikes. We were injured, our children were injured,” said Younnes Ahmed, who was fleeing al-Thaura district with his family, their clothes all piled on a cart. There was a deep bullet wound on his hand.


A group of young men further inside the city sat on the street as soldiers gave them back identification cards they had taken to conduct background checks before letting them go.



Most houses were reduced to rubble, either because of air strikes or Islamic State bombs. Cars were hollowed out.


“Islamic State blew up my house with TNT to shield against air strikes,” said Hossam Saleh who now lives in rubble because he has nowhere to escape to.


Others were walking back into the city, eager to reclaim their homes after their neighborhoods had been retaken from Islamic State by U.S.-backed security forces.


“We left because of the air strikes but have now returned. But we want the government to restore services like electricity and water and to allow us to drive instead of using carts,” said Mosaab Mohamed who was walking back into Mosul with his family.


Iraqi forces have taken much of Mosul from the militants who overran the city in June 2014. The military now controls the eastern districts and are making advances in the west.


Islamic State fighters, holding out in the Old City, are surrounded in the northwest and are using booby traps, sniper and mortar fire to defend themselves.


Three policemen were killed in a suicide attack south of Mosul. A group of about 10 assailants, including four suicide bombers, had tried to infiltrate a Federal Police helicopter base in Al-Areej, a police captain told Reuters.



WATER


Those who have returned say the government has been slow to restore services even to western districts that had been retaken a while ago.


“We are besieged in the Resala area. There are stray bullets from other areas where there is fighting; three children have died,” said Mohamed Sobhi.


“Water and aid cannot reach us. I call on the government to redistribute the people in areas like ours into other safer areas in Mosul.”


Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still trapped in western Mosul, where Iraqi forces are making slow progress against Islamic State in what is a labyrinth of narrow streets.


As of April 20, some 503,000 people have been displaced from Mosul, of whom 91,000 have returned, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. The U.N. migration agency, the IOM, puts the displaced figure at 334,518 people as of April 23.


Still, there were signs of a slow return to commerce on Sunday, with one man setting up a cigarette stand and a family selling candy bars and water on the Mosul-Baghdad road, and residents were eager to rebuild.


“We do not want anything from the government, we just want to be alllowed to help ourselves. If we can have letters allowing us to go other places we will get our own water, and transport it back,” said Omar Khaled as he carried his infant son back into the city.


(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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