TPM World News

LONDON (AP) — London police, already stretched by a series of major incidents around the capital, are putting more officers on the street to reassure the public after a driver plowed into a crowd of people leaving a mosque early Monday. One man died at the scene and 10 people were injured.

Police say a suspect was arrested immediately after the attack, which is being treated as a terrorist incident.

“Extra officers are on duty in the area to help reassure the local community,” Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said. “They will be there for as long as they are needed. Communities will see additional officers patrolling across the city and at Muslim places of worship.”

Police said the 48-year-old man who was driving the van has been arrested and taken to a hospital as a precaution. He was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. It was not immediately clear why no charge had been made in relation to the one death.

The attack will stretch the capacity of authorities in Britain, who have faced four attacks in recent months, together with a major fire that has killed dozens. London’s Mayor Sadiq Mayor Khan, the first Muslim to serve in that position, urged the public to focus on shared values and urged the city to stand together in an unprecedented period in the capital’s history.

“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect,” he said. “The situation is still unfolding and I urge all Londoners to remain calm and vigilant.”

Eyewitnesses told British media that the van seemed to have veered and hit people intentionally. Sky News reported that the mosque’s imam prevented the crowd from beating the attacker until police arrived.

Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organization, said that based on eyewitness reports, it seems to be a “deliberate attack against innocent Muslims.”

The Finsbury Park mosque was associated with extremist ideology for several years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, but was shut down and reorganized. It has not been associated with radical views for more than a decade.

It is located a short walk away from Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal football club in north London.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she would chair an emergency security Cabinet session later Monday. She said her thoughts were with the injured, their loved ones and emergency officials who responded to the incident.

Britain’s terrorist alert has been set at “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.

Earlier this month on London Bridge, attackers used a vehicle and then knives to kill eight people and wound many others on the bridge and in the nearby Borough Market area. Three Muslim extremists who carried out the attack were killed by police.

Manchester was also hit by a severe attack when a bomber killed more than 20 people at an Ariana Grande concert.

Read More →

VATICAN CITY (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Pope Francis encouraged her to work to preserve the Paris climate accord despite the U.S. withdrawal and shared her aim to “bring down walls,” and not build them.

Merkel and Francis met for about 40 minutes Saturday in the Apostolic Palace, focusing on the Group of 20 summit that Germany is hosting in Hamburg on July 7-8.

The Vatican said the talks focused on the need for the international community to combat poverty, hunger, terrorism and climate change.

Merkel told reporters she briefed the pope on Germany’s G-20 agenda, which she said “assumes that we are a world in which we want to work together multilaterally, a world in which we don’t want to build walls but bring down walls.”

Francis has consistently called for nations to build bridges not walls — including in reference to the border wall the Trump administration wants to build with Mexico.

Merkel said Francis encouraged her to fight for international agreements, including the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to curb heat-trapping emissions.

“We know that regrettably, the United States is leaving this accord,” Merkel said.

As he did when President Donald Trump visited last month, Francis gave Merkel a copy of his environmental encyclical, “Praise Be,” which casts fighting climate change and caring for the environment as an urgent moral obligation.

Francis issued the encyclical in the run-up to the Paris negotiations in hopes of urging a global consensus on the need to change the “perverse” development models which he said had enriched the wealthy at the expense of the poor and turned God’s creation into an “immense pile of filth.”

The audience began with Francis expressing his condolences over the death of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In his formal note of condolences, Francis called Kohl a “great statesman and convinced European” who worked tirelessly for the unity of his homeland and the continent.

In a particularly heartfelt tone, Francis said he was praying that the Lord gives Kohl “the gift of eternal joy and life in heaven.”

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — Spectacularly punished by voters who took away her majority in parliament, a politically wounded Theresa May sought to soldier on Friday as Britain’s prime minister, resisting pressure to resign after the failure of her high-stakes election gamble made the massive challenge of untangling Britain from the European Union only more complex and uncertain.

Having called an early election in hopes of getting an increased majority that could have strengthened her hand in Britain’s exit talks with the EU, May instead saw her majority evaporate completely — leaving her fortunes hanging by a thread.

Still, rather than resign, May clung to the hope that her Conservatives might still be able to govern by making deals with another party or group of parties. She was planning to seek Queen Elizabeth II’s approval — a largely symbolic step — to form a government later Friday.

The shock result and the prospect that the EU will now be negotiating with a shaky British government cast dark clouds over the Brexit negotiations just 10 days before they are due to start. The pound lost more than 3 cents against the dollar.

With 649 of 650 seats in the House of Commons declared, May’s bruised Conservatives had 318 seats — short of the 326 they needed for an outright majority and well down from the 330 seats they had before May’s roll of the electoral dice. Labour has 261.

The recriminations were immediate and stinging.

“This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said. “And our leader needs to take stock as well.”

Left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was among those calling on May to resign, said Friday morning that people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending. He ruled out the potential for deals or pacts with other progressive parties in Parliament.

“The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change.”

The results confounded those who said Corbyn was electorally toxic. Written off by many pollsters, Labour surged in the final weeks of the campaign. It drew strong support from young people, who appeared to have turned out to vote in bigger-than-expected numbers.
As she was resoundingly re-elected to her Maidenhead seat in southern England, May looked tense and did not spell out what she planned to do.

“The country needs a period of stability, and whatever the results are the Conservative Party will ensure we fulfill our duty in ensuring that stability,” she said.
Many predicted she would soon be gone.

“Clearly if she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government, then she, I doubt, will survive in the long term as Conservative Party leader,” former Conservative Treasury chief George Osborne said on ITV.

British media reported later Friday that May had no intention of resigning.

The result was bad news for the Scottish National Party, which lost about 20 of its 54 seats. Among the casualties was Alex Salmond, a former first minister of Scotland and one of the party’s highest-profile lawmakers.

The losses complicate the SNP’s plans to push for a new referendum on Scottish independence as Britain prepares to leave the EU. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the idea of a new independence referendum “is dead. That’s what we have seen tonight.”

May had hoped the election would focus on Brexit, but that never happened, as both the Conservatives and Labour said they would respect voters’ wishes and go through with the divorce.

Despite the surprise election result, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he doesn’t believe voters have changed their minds about leaving.

But speaking Friday on Europe 1 radio, he said “the tone” of negotiations may be affected.

“These are discussions that will be long and that will be complex. So let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “I’m not sure that we should read, from the results of this vote, that Britons’ sovereign decision on Brexit has been cast into doubt in any way.”

EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the EU is prepared to stick to the timetable that calls for negotiations to start in mid-June, but said it would take a few hours at least to see how the results of the election play out in forming a government.
“Without a government, there’s no negotiation,” he said Friday morning by phone on Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio.

May, who went into the election with a reputation for quiet competence, was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the “dementia tax.” As the polls suggested a tightening race, pollsters spoke less often of a landslide and raised the possibility that May’s majority would be eroded.

Then, attacks in Manchester and London that killed a total of 30 people brought the campaign to a halt — twice, sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism. Corbyn accused the Conservatives of undermining Britain’s security by cutting the number of police on the streets.

Eight people were killed near London Bridge on Saturday when three men drove a van into pedestrians and then stabbed revelers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Voters were left flustered Friday by the fast-moving events.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” Peter Morgan, 35, said in London. “I was kind of hoping it would just go the way that the polls suggested it would and we could have a quiet life in Westminster but now it’s going to be a bit of a mess.”

Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said Britain had seen an election “in which the personal authority of a party leader has disappeared in an unprecedented way.”

“If she had got the majority she wanted, she would have been a supreme political colossus,” he said. “She did not get that and she’s a hugely diminished figure. She’s a zombie prime minister.”

___

Gregory Katz, Sophie Berman and Niko Price contributed to this story.

Read More →

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — Flexing his diplomatic muscles, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had “extremely frank, direct” talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, pushing for cooperation on Syria and against the Islamic State group but also launching an extraordinary attack on two Russian media outlets he accused of spreading “lying propaganda.”

The two leaders emerged from their first meeting — discussions at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles that lasted more than an hour longer than planned — clearly still at odds on multiple issues, but also seemingly keen not to let their differences define their fledgling relationship.

Macron said he spoke to Putin about LGBT rights in Chechnya and about the rights of embattled NGOs in Russia, vowing he would be “constantly vigilant” on these issues. Putin emphasized the need for closer cooperation between Russia and France, two nuclear-armed permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Speaking with remarkable frankness, Macron tore into the state-funded Russian media outlets Sputnik and Russia Today, for spreading what he said were “serious untruths” during the French election.

“When press outlets spread defamatory untruths, they are no longer journalists, they are organs of influence. Russia Today and Sputnik were organs of influence during this campaign, which, on several occasions produced untruths about me and my campaign,” Macron said.

“I will not give an inch on this,” he said. “Russia Today and Sputnik … behaved as organs of influence, of propaganda, of lying propaganda.”

Macron was the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the Group of Seven summit over the weekend, where relations with Russia were a key topic.

His invitation to the Russia leader was a surprise after the tough stance on Russia Macron took during the French election. Macron’s aides also claimed that Russian groups launched hacking attacks on his campaign.

Moscow strongly denied all allegations of meddling in the French election that Macron won on May 7. Putin on Monday again poo-pooed the idea as unfounded press speculation.

But he also defended his March meeting with Macron’s rival in the presidential race, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Putin described Le Pen as a politician who wants to develop friendly ties with Russia and said it would have been strange to rebuff her overtures.

He said the meeting with Le Pen didn’t represent an attempt to sway the race. Putin added that Russia had been well-aware of opinion polls predicting Macron’s victory.

Macron said he was firm on other issues, too.

He said any use of chemical weapons in Syria — where Russia is propping up the government of President Bashar Assad — is a “red line” for France and would be met by “reprisals” and an “immediate riposte” from France.

He did not specify what form such reprisals could take, but France flies warplanes over Syria and Iraq, striking Islamic State targets as part of an international coalition.

Macron portrayed the meeting as just a first step in resetting the country’s relations with Russia.

“Big things are built over time,” he said. “It was an exchange that was extremely frank, direct, with a lot of things that were said.”

“We have disagreements, but at least we talked about them,” he added.

The leaders’ first handshakes — relatively brief and cordial — after Putin climbed out of his limousine at Versailles were far less macho than Macron’s now famous who-will-blink-first handshake showdown with President Donald Trump when the two leaders met for the first time last week.

Putin said he and Macron agreed to discuss pursuing closer cooperation on anti-terror efforts, with a proposed exchange of experts to work toward that goal.

On Syria, Putin underlined the importance of securing the Syrian state, adding that it’s essential for combatting terrorism. Macron took the same stance, saying: “I want us to organize a democratic transition but also preserve a Syrian state.”

“Failed states in that region are a threat for our democracies,” and fuel terrorism, he said.

Later Monday, Putin was visiting a newly built Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center near the Seine River that includes the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The site was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy amid criticism from human rights groups.

Ostensibly, the reason for Putin’s visit was for him to tour an exhibition in Versailles about the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s trip to Paris. But it became an opportunity for him and Macron to go over all the thorny issues that divide them, and see where they have common ground.

Human rights activists protested Monday in Paris over the situation of gays in the Russian republic of Chechnya, holding a banner “Stop homophobia in Chechnya” near the Eiffel Tower.

The Macron-Putin relationship got off to a less-than-ideal footing during Macron’s presidential campaign.

Macron had strong words for Russia in his race for the presidency, saying France and Russia don’t share the same values. Putin bet — wrongly — on Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, hosting her at the Kremlin in March, before Macron then handily beat her.

___

Leicester contributed from Paris.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States watched Russians hack France’s computer networks during the election and tipped off French officials before it became public, a U.S. cyber official told the Senate on Tuesday.

France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following a hacking attack on centrist Emmanuel Macron’s successful presidential campaign. France’s government cybersecurity agency is investigating what a government official described as a “very serious” breach.

The leak came 36 hours before the nation voted Sunday in a crucial presidential runoff between Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The election commission said the leaked data apparently came from Macron’s “information systems and mail accounts from some of his campaign managers” — an attack that mimicked Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

“We had become aware of Russian activity. We had talked to our French counterparts and gave them a heads-ups — ‘Look, we’re watching the Russians. We’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here’s what we’ve seen. What can we do to try to assist?'” Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He said the U.S. also is working closely with German and British counterparts.

Rogers also said the U.S. is still working on a comprehensive cyber policy to counter what he called a “brave new world” in the cyber domain. He said the United States is improving its ability to defend against cyberattacks, but “I would also tell myself, Rogers you are not moving fast enough.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Moon Jae-in declared victory in South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday after his two main rivals conceded, capping one of the most turbulent political stretches in the nation’s recent history and setting up its first liberal rule in a decade.

Moon, a liberal former human rights lawyer who was jailed as a student by a previous dictatorship, favors closer ties with North Korea, saying hard-line conservative governments did nothing to prevent the North’s development of nuclear-armed missiles and only reduced South Korea’s voice in international efforts to counter North Korea.

This softer approach might put him at odds with South Korea’s biggest ally, the United States. The Trump administration has swung between threats and praise for North Korea’s leader.

Moon, the child of refugees who fled North Korea during the Korean War, will lead a nation shaken by a scandal that felled his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who sits in a jail cell awaiting a corruption trial later this month.

Moon smiled and waved his hands above his head as supporters chanted his name at Gwanghwamun square in central Seoul, where millions of Koreans had gathered for months starting late last year in peaceful protests that eventually toppled Park.

“It’s a great victory by a great people,” Moon told the crowd. “I’ll gather all of my energy to build a new nation.”

Tuesday’s election saw strong turnout — about 77 percent of 42.5 million eligible voters. Moon had a relatively low share of the total vote — 41.4 percent according to an exit poll — but there were many more major candidates than in 2012, when Park won 51.5 percent, beating Moon by about a million votes.

Over the last six months, millions gathered in protest after corruption allegations surfaced against Park, who was then impeached by parliament, formally removed from office by a court and arrested and indicted by prosecutors.

Moon’s two biggest rivals, conservative Hong Joon-pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, were expected to garner 23.3 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, according to the exit poll, which had a margin of error of 0.8 percentage points.

Moon will be officially sworn in as South Korea’s new president after the election commission finishes the vote count and declares the winner Wednesday morning. This forgoes the usual two-month transition because Tuesday’s vote was a by-election to choose a successor to Park, whose term was to end in February 2018.

Moon will still serve out the typical single five-year term.

Moon was chief of staff for the last liberal president, the late Roh Moo-hyun, who sought closer ties with North Korea by setting up large-scale aid shipments to the North and by working on now-stalled joint economic projects.

Hong, the conservative, is an outspoken former provincial governor who pitched himself as a “strongman,” described the election as a war between ideologies and questioned Moon’s patriotism.

Park’s trial later this month on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges could send her to jail for life if she is convicted. Dozens of high-profile figures, including Park’s longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and Samsung’s de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, have been indicted along with Park.

Moon frequently appeared at anti-Park rallies and the corruption scandal boosted his push to re-establish liberal rule. He called for reforms to reduce social inequalities, excessive presidential power and corrupt ties between politicians and business leaders. Many of those legacies dated to the dictatorship of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, whose 18-year rule was marked by both rapid economic rise and severe civil rights abuse.

As a former pro-democracy student activist, Moon was jailed for months in the 1970s while protesting against the senior Park.

Many analysts say Moon likely won’t pursue drastic rapprochement policies because North Korea’s nuclear program has progressed significantly since he was in the Roh government a decade ago.

A big challenge will be U.S. President Donald Trump, who has proven himself unconventional in his approach to North Korea, swinging between intense pressure and threats and offers to talk.

“South Koreans are more concerned that Trump, rather than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will make a rash military move, because of his outrageous tweets, threats of force and unpredictability,” Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, wrote recently in Foreign Affairs magazine.

“It is crucial that Trump and the next South Korean president strike up instant, positive chemistry in their first meeting to help work through any bilateral differences and together deal with the North Korean challenge,” she said.

___

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told the annual Victory Day parade on Red Square that the horrors of World War II demonstrate the necessity of countries working together to prevent war.

Russia celebrates the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany every May 9 to honor those who fought and died for their country.

“This monstrous tragedy was not able to be prevented primarily because of the connivance of the criminal ideology of racial superiority and due to the lack of unity among the world’s leading nations,” he said.

“To effectively combat terrorism, extremism, neo-Nazism and other threats, consolidation of the entire international community is necessary.”

The Soviet Union is estimated to have lost 26 million people in the war, including 8 million soldiers, and the immense suffering contributes to Victory Day’s status as Russia’s most important secular holiday.

“We feel a piercing blood relationship with a generation of heroes and victors,” Putin said.

Thick clouds forced the cancellation of the traditional dramatic conclusion to the parade — the roaring flyover by scores of military aircraft.

The Red Square parade is a highly ritualized display and marked changes in its order are unusual.

The Defense Ministry had said cloud-seeding planes would be deployed to disperse the overcast skies Tuesday above Moscow. That has been done previously when poor weather threatened. It wasn’t immediately clear if the planes had been deployed.

Parades were held across Russia’s sprawling expanse as well as in the Russia-annexed Crimea Peninsula, but the Red Square parade is the centerpiece of Russia’s observances.

About 10,000 soldiers participated, standing rigidly as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reviewed them while standing in an open-top limousine, then marching out to make way for a display of military vehicles ranging from armored cars to lumbering Topol ICBM launchers.

The parade gave the first public showing of Tor and Pantsir mobile surface-to-air missile that have been adapted for use in Russia’s Arctic forces, their white-and-black winter camouflage standing out amid the olive drab of other war machines.

“The armed forces of Russia are capable of repelling any potential aggression,” Putin said.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

ROME (AP) — Two wrecks of migrant ships in the Mediterranean have claimed as many as 245 lives, including those of at least five children, according to survivor accounts given to U.N. agencies and authorities in Sicily, where dozens of rescued migrants were taken.

Survivors of one wreck, some of them hospitalized in Pozzallo, Sicily, where they were being treated for hypothermia and exhaustion, told authorities who interviewed them that their traffickers had crammed some 130-140 people, apparently all from central African countries, into a motorized rubber dinghy designed to hold at most 20 people.

The dinghy started deflating on one end, the passengers quickly shifted their positions in the boat, and the craft tipped over, authorities said, based on numerous survivors’ descriptions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity since the shipwreck is being investigated.

The dinghy wasn’t equipped with any distress signaling equipment. The 50 or so survivors clung for hours to the wreckage of the dinghy until they were spotted by a patrol plane and rescued by a Danish cargo ship, which was dispatched to their aid by the Italian Coast Guard, which coordinates rescue operations.

One survivor is a Nigerian woman, whose 5-month-old baby died. The infant’s corpse was one of the few bodies so far recovered, authorities said.

Police in Sicily said in a statement that many of the survivors recounted that among the 80 or so who drowned was one of the smugglers who had been steering the boat.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said in Geneva, where it is headquartered, said that one of its partner agencies, the International Medical Corps, reported a shipwreck on Sunday off the Libyan coast in which 163 people are missing and feared dead. The U.N. agency said one woman and six men were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Many of those who brave the risky central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy are migrants from Africa seeking to flee from conflicts, political persecution at home or to find better economic opportunities in Europe.

Overall, UNHCR said Tuesday that more than 1,300 people have disappeared and are believed to have died this year while crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy, while some 43,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy.

The International Organization for Migration, in separate remarks, gave a lower estimate of the total number of migrant lives lost — 190 — in the two shipwrecks. It estimated about 80 people died from the sinking of the dinghy off Italy, and at least 113 following the shipwreck off the coast near Az Zawiyah, Libya.

IOM said its Rome branch, meanwhile, was reporting operations to help 6,612 people rescued from a dozen locations off Italy since Friday. IOM spokesman Joel Millman feared the better weather has been feeding the Mediterranean’s traditional summer migration surge.

“There is normally pent-up demand,” Millman said. “The summer tends to be very, very busy because sea conditions are better.”

And in Spain on Tuesday, officials said about 300 migrants tried to scramble across the 6-meter (20-foot) border fence separating Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco, with many throwing stones and other objects at police.

Melilla’s Interior Ministry said most of the migrants were pushed back by Spanish and Moroccan police, but about 100 managed to enter the city. It said three officers and three migrants were treated for injuries.

Many of the thousands of economic migrants or refugees who have been brought to Italy after rescue at sea told authorities that they spent months in inhumane detention facilities in Libya, often suffering torture, sexual abuse or labor exploitation, before the smugglers sent them out to sea.

A Rome-based IOM spokesman, Flavio Di Giacomo, said in an interview in Tuesday’s La Stampa newspaper that there have been recent indications that some migrants have decided to flee the harsh conditions in Libya to return to their homelands, renouncing their dream of reaching Europe and safety, although “the majority take the risk of the sea.”

__

Keaten reported from Geneva. Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed.

Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at a href=’http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio%3c’www.twitter.com/fdemilio/a

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French voters elected centrist Emmanuel Macron as the country’s youngest president ever on Sunday, delivering a resounding victory to the unabashedly pro-European former investment banker and strengthening France’s place as a central pillar of the European Union.

A crowd of Macron supporters roared with delight at the news, jubilantly waving red, white and blue tricolor flags at a victory party outside the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Marine Le Pen, his far-right opponent in the presidential runoff, quickly called the 39-year-old Macron to concede defeat after voters rejected her “French-first” nationalism by a large margin.

The result wasn’t even close: Pollsters projected that Macron won 65 percent of the votes. Le Pen’s projected 35 percent score was lower than her polling numbers earlier in the campaign, and dashed her hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House would also carry her to France’s presidential Elysee Palace.

Macron’s victory marked the third time in six months — following elections in Austria and the Netherlands — that European voters shot down far-right populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe. The election of a French president who championed European unity could strengthen the EU’s hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain, which voted last year to leave the bloc.

In a statement minutes after the last polls closed Sunday night, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Macron’s victory.

“(This) testifies to the lucidity of the voters, who rejected the deadly project of the extreme right,” he said, adding that the presidential vote showed an embrace of the EU.

Many French voters backed Macron reluctantly, not because they agreed with his politics but simply to keep out Le Pen and her far-right National Front party, which is still tainted by its long anti-Semitic and racist history.

After the most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory, many voters rejected the runoff choice altogether. Pollsters projected that French voters cast blank or spoiled ballots in record numbers Sunday.

Macron now becomes not only France’s youngest-ever president but also one of its most unlikely. Until now, modern France had been governed either by the Socialists or the conservatives — but both Macron and Le Pen upended those political traditions.

Unknown to voters before his turbulent 2014-16 tenure as France’s pro-business economy minister, Macron took a giant gamble by quitting the government of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande to run as an independent in his first electoral campaign.

His startup political movement — optimistically named, “En Marche!,” or “Forward!” — caught fire in just one year, harnessing voters’ hunger for new faces and new ideas and steering France into unchartered political territory.

In a first for postwar France, neither of the mainstream parties on the left or the right qualified in the first round of voting on April 23 for Sunday’s winner-takes-all duel between Macron and Le Pen.

Despite her loss, Le Pen’s advancement to the runoff for the first time marked a breakthrough for the 48-year-old. She had placed third in the 2012 presidential vote, underscoring a growing acceptance for her fierce anti-immigration, France-first nationalism among disgruntled voters.

Le Pen immediately turned her focus to France’s upcoming legislative elections in June, where Macron will need a working majority to govern effectively.

“I call on all patriots to join us,” she said. “France will need you more than ever in the months ahead.”

Le Pen said she got 11 million votes. If confirmed, that would be double the score of her father, National Front co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, at the same stage in the 2002 presidential election.

The candidates’ polar-opposite visions presented the 47 million registered voters with the starkest possible choice. Le Pen’s closed borders faced off against Macron’s open ones; his commitment to free trade ran against her proposals to protect the French from global economic competition and immigration. Her desire to free France from the EU and the shared euro currency contrasted with his argument that both are essential for the future of Europe’s third-largest economy.

As well as capitalizing on voter rejection of the left-right monopoly on power, Macron also got lucky.

One of his most dangerous opponents, conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, was hobbled by allegations that his family benefited from cushy taxpayer-funded jobs for years.

On the left, the Socialist Party imploded, its candidate abandoned by voters who wanted to punish Hollande, France’s most unpopular president since World War II. Hollande himself realized he was unelectable and decided not to run again.

Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

He has promised a France that would stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin but that also would seek to work with the Russian leader on what he says will be one of his top priorities: fighting the Islamic State group, whose extremists have claimed or inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015.

France has been in a state of emergency since then and 50,000 security forces were used to safeguard Sunday’s vote.

Macron is expected to keep up French military operations against extremists in Iraq and Syria and Africa’s Sahel region, and maintain pressure on Russia over Ukraine and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

With the United States, Macron says he wants continued intelligence-sharing and cooperation at the United Nations and hopes to persuade Trump not to pull the U.S. out of a global emissions-cutting deal against climate change.

Domestically, Macron inherits a deeply troubled and divided nation of 67 million people. The French are riven by anxieties about terrorism and chronic unemployment, worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google.

His proposed remedies include both economic reforms and his own infectious, upbeat optimism that France need not resign itself to continuing economic and social decline, especially as part of an EU competing together against other powers.

The campaign ended Friday night with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating. Macron’s team said the hack aimed to destabilize the vote. But the timing of the leak appeared too late to have a significant impact on voting intentions.

___

Angela Charlton, Samuel Petrequin, Lori Hinnant, Tomas Adamson, Philippe Sotto, Raphael Satter contributed.

 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French voters decided Sunday whether to back pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron or far-right populist Marine Le Pen as their next president, casting ballots in an unusually tense and important presidential election that also could decide Europe’s future.

With Macron the pollsters’ favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. A security scare caused by a suspicious bag prompted the brief evacuation of the Louvre museum courtyard where Macron plans to celebrate election night.

France’s Interior Ministry said voter turnout at midday was running slightly lower than during the last presidential runoff in 2012. The ministry said 28 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared with a half-day tally of 31 percent five years ago.

Commentators think a low turnout would benefit Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote.

Macron voted in the seaside resort of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron. Le Pen cast her ballot just a hundred kilometers away in Henin-Beaumont, a small town controlled by her National Front party.

Macron, 39, a former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker who ran as an independent, was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home. For security reasons, he was driven to his polling station nearby.

Le Pen, 48, was able to vote without any incident after feminist activists were briefly detained a couple of hours earlier Sunday for hanging a big anti-Le Pen banner from a church in the northern town.

Meanwhile, police and soldiers worked to secure the symbolic Paris venues where the next president will celebrate victory.

The grand internal courtyard of the renowned palace-turned-museum Macron picked for his celebration party reopened after several hundred journalists preparing for the election event had to leave because of the security alert over the suspicious bag.

The museum itself was not evacuated, and tourists continued entering and leaving the site. The Louvre already was being heavily guarded after an extremist attacker targeted soldiers near the museum during the presidential campaign. Paris police said the evacuation was a “precautionary measure.”

If Le Pen wins, she plans to celebrate at the Chalet du Lac in the Bois de Vincennes, a vast park on Paris’ eastern edge.

The most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating the hack, which Macron’s team says was aimed at destabilizing the vote.

France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron. The leaked documents appeared largely mundane, and the perpetrators remain unknown.

The fate of the European Union may hang in the balance as France’s 47 million voters decide whether to risk handing the presidency to Le Pen, who dreams of quitting the bloc and its common currency, or to play it safer with Macron, an unabashed pro-European who wants to strengthen the EU.

Global financial markets and France’s neighbors are watching carefully. A “Frexit” would be far more devastating than Britain’s departure, since France is the second-biggest economy to use the euro. The country also is a central pillar of the EU and its mission of keeping post-war peace via trade and open borders.

The vote will help gauge the strength of global populism after the victories last year of a referendum to take Britain out of the EU and Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign. In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook the racist and anti-Semitic past of Le Pen’s National Front party.

Le Pen has broadened the party’s appeal by tapping into — and fueling — anger at globalization and fears associated with immigration and Islamic extremism. Macron has argued that France must rethink its labor laws to better compete globally and appealed for unity and tolerance that Le Pen called naive.

Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades. The winner will have to try to build a parliamentary majority in elections next month to make major changes.

John Leicester in Paris, Alex Turnbull in Henin-Beaumont and Chris den Hond in Le Touquet contributed.

 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

LiveWire