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‘At least 55% of French ‘dissatisfied’ with Macron’

Monitoring Desk

PARIS: Over half of the French people broadly disapprove of President Emmanuel Macron’s job performance, according to a new poll that took place around the time Paris joined US-led airstrikes on Syria, and amid protests over reforms.

As many as 55 percent of the respondents said they are “dissatisfied” with the president’s performance, says Ifop poll, published by Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

The study was conducted online and by telephone, from April 12 to 21, with a sample of nearly 2,000 people polled.

People were asked: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with Emmanuel Macron as President of the Republic?” Only 44 percent of those polled said they were, with five percent of those “very satisfied” and 39 percent “rather satisfied.” Around 23 percent said they were “very dissatisfied,” and 32 percent “rather dissatisfied.” One percent did not answer.

A previous Ifop poll released on Wednesday showed that only 42 percent approve of Macron as the leader. Less than one-third of those polled (30 percent) said that Macron was “in touch with people’s concerns.” The survey was conducted between April 12 and 16 and included 1,200 people.

The past three months have seen thousands protesting Macron’s decision to adopt wide-ranging reforms.

Earlier this week, riot police in the French capital fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters angry at Macron’s decision to pursue job cuts and salary freezes across the public sector, including education, transport, and the courts.

Students and staff at Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Rennes universities have also voiced their outrage with the new reforms. Macron’s initiative to rebuild the education system was resisted by students who occupied universities across the country and had them shut down.

There are also mounting concerns about France’s involvement in coalition strikes against the Syrian government. Dozens of protesters gathered in Paris on Saturday to denounce “the false pretext” of this intervention and show their support for the government of Bashar Assad.

Macron confirmed last week that jets from the Armée de L’Air were part of an operation to strike military targets and suspected stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria.

The aerial bombardments, also involving the US and UK, were in response to reports of a chemical attack in Douma, allegedly carried out by Assad’s forces – an allegation that has been denied by both Damascus and Moscow.



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‘There’s a price to be paid for threatening Israel’

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman cautioned Iran that “there is a price to be paid” for jeopardizing Israeli security. In April, Tehran slammed Israel for hitting a Syrian base, reportedly killing seven Iranians.

“Those who threaten [Israel] need to understand there is a price to be paid,” Lieberman said on Sunday, speaking to Kan, Israeli public radio. “The State of Israel is acting out of a lack of choice and in today’s situation we have no other choice.”

Tensions between Iran and Israel flared following an airstrike on Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province on April 8. Iran and the Russian military accused Israel of being behind the attack, which, according to Iranian news agencies, claimed the lives of seven of its military personnel.

“The attack was a blatant violation of international law which would strengthen terrorists,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said at the time.

“The Israeli regime’s aggression against Syria is a breach of that country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and contradicts all international regulations and principles.”

Israel did not initially comment on the attack. Later, however, a senior Israeli official told a New York Times columnist that Tel Aviv was behind the strike.

The attack was the first reported incident of the kind since February, when the IDF struck the same military site after it claimed that an Iranian drone had crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria.

In line with Israel’s narrative that Iran is trying to establish a serious military presence in Syria, the Israeli defense minister said that “We will not allow for Syria to become a military base [for Iran].” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned on Friday that the IDF “will not shy away from action against those who threaten our security.”

Hossein Salami, the second-in-command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, responded that Israel should “not trust” its air bases, as they are “within range of our fire.”

The latest escalation in rhetoric follows the statement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday that Iran’s atomic agency was ready with “expected and unexpected” reactions if Washington ditches the 2015 nuclear deal, as US President Donald Trump has threatened to do.

The deadline for the US leader to sign a waiver to extend the deal is May 12.

The 2015 landmark nuclear accord was signed by the US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia, lifting economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limitations on its nuclear program.

While Trump has slammed the nuclear agreement on numerous occasions, describing it as “the worst deal ever negotiated,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly stated that all nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the Joint Comprehe-nsive Plan of Action (JCPO-A) have been implemented.

Tehran has developed a range of “options” if the US decides to scrap the deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS’ Face the Nation in an interview.

“We have put a number of options for ourselves, and those options are ready,” Zarif said, adding that the options include “resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities.”

“Obviously the rest of the world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken,” he said.



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Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters): The first big showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies is set for Wednesday when the justices hear a challenge to the lawfulness of his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.

The case represents a test of the limits of presidential power. Trump’s policy, announced in September, blocks entry into the United States of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Chad previously was on the list but Trump lifted those restrictions on April 10.

The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban or any other major Trump immigration policy, including his move to rescind protections for young immigrants sometimes called Dreamers brought into the United States illegally as children. It has previously acted on Trump requests to undo lower court orders blocking those two policies, siding with him on the travel ban and opposing him on the Dreamers.

Trump’s immigration policies – also including actions taken against states and cities that protect illegal immigrants, intensified deportation efforts and limits on legal immigration – have been among his most contentious.

The conservative-majority Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on Wednesday on the third version of a travel ban policy Trump first sought to implement a week after taking office in January 2017, and issue a ruling by the end of June.

The lead challenger is the state of Hawaii, which argues the ban violates federal immigration law and the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religion over another.

“Right now, the travel ban is keeping families apart. It is degrading our values by subjecting a specific set of people to be denigrated and marginalized,” Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Doug Chin said in an interview.

The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 signaled it may lean toward backing Trump when it granted the administration’s request to let the ban go into full effect while legal challenges played out.

In another immigration-related case, the justices on April 17 invalidated a provision in a U.S. law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence. Trump’s administration and the prior Obama administration had defended the provision.

Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the United States from terrorism by Islamic militants. Just before the latest ban was announced, Trump wrote on Twitter that the restrictions “should be far larger, tougher and more specific – but stupidly that would not be politically correct!”

The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims, pressing that point in lower courts with some success by citing statements he made as a candidate and as president. As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

The Justice Department argues Trump’s statements as a candidate carry no weight because he was not yet president. The policy’s challengers also point to views he has expressed as president, including his retweets in November of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British political figure.

In a court filing last week, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing Tru-mp in court, said those retw-eets “do not address the mea-ning” of the travel ban policy.

Francisco cited Trump statements complimentary toward Muslims and Islam, including in a May 2017 speech in Saudi Arabia.

In defending the ban, the administration has pointed to a waiver provision allowing people from targeted countries to seek entry if they meet certain criteria. The State Department said that as of last month 375 waivers to the travel ban had been granted since the policy went into effect on Dec 8.

Some former Republican senators and officials who served in Republican former President George W. Bush’s administration have signed onto legal briefs asking the high court to invalidate the ban.

“I think the travel ban is a terribly misguided policy that appeared to be motivated more by a political intention of the president than by any real national security need,” John Bellinger, the State Department’s top legal advisor during the Bush administration, said in an interview.

The arguments in the case follow U.S. missile strikes this month in one of the targeted countries, Syria, after Trump’s administration blamed President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons attack on Syrian people near Damascus.

“Lots of people have pointed out the hypocrisy of the president on the one hand being willing to bomb Syria and on the other hand being unwilling to accept refugees and immigrants from that country who are trying to escape,” lawyer Omar Jadwat of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the travel ban in a separate case in Maryland, said in an interview.

Venezuela and North Korea also were targeted in the travel ban but those restrictions were not challenged in court.



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UAE says Qatari jets intercepted civilian plane

DUBAI (Reuters): The United Arab Emirates said Qatari fighter planes intercepted a civilian aircraft carrying 86 passengers to Bahrain on Sunday, UAE state news agency WAM reported.

Quoting its civil aviation authority, the agency said the UAE civilian craft had to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision. It did not name the airliner involved.

Both countries have accused each other of a series of mid-air incidents since Abu Dhabi and other powers imposed travel, diplomatic and trade sanctions on Qatar in June.

The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, accuse Qatar of supporting regional foe Iran as well as extremists. Qatar has denied the charge and acc-used the four countries of trying to curtail its sovereignty.

There was no immediate comment by Qatari officials on the accusation.

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Suicide bombing in mosque kills 4

F.P. Report

MAIDUGURI: At least four people including two suicide bombers were killed in an attack at a mosque on Sunday in northeastern Nigeria, police said.

Two female suicide bombers sneaked into a mosque in Bama town of Borno State early morning and detonated explosives, killing themselves and two other male worshippers, said Edet Okon, state police spokesman.

Eight other people were injured, he added.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but police said it bears semblance with previous bombings by Boko Haram.

Bama, Borno’s second largest town was seized by Boko Haram late 2014, forcing thousands of residents to flee to Maiduguri, the state capital. The town was recaptured by Nigerian forces in early 2015.

Many of the displaced persons returned to the town three weeks ago after authorities assured them of security.



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Russian forces kill nine suspected militants in raid

Monitoring Desk

MOSCOW: The Russian National Anti-Terror Committee has said that at least nine suspected people were killed by Russian forces in a raid conducted in Dagestan on Saturday.

According to the statement, the operation against the terrorist was launched on Saturday Dagestan after Russian forces received a tip off that some suspected people were hiding in the city, who allegedly planned to commit an attack on May 1.

Dagestan, which lies immediately east of Chechnya, has seen a number of attacks in recent years, with several assaults against police claimed by the so-called Islamic State group.


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‘Democracy in India is in grave danger’

Monitoring Desk

MUMBAI: One of India’s best known politicians, former finance and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, quit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was undermining democratic institutions.

Sinha, who served as a minister in the first BJP-led governments headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has frequently spoken out over how the Hindu nationalist party has evolved since then.

“Democracy in India is in grave danger,” Sinha said, announcing his decision to quit at a meeting of a new political action group attended by several opposition politicians in Patna, the capital of Bihar.

“I’m not going to be a member of any other political party,” he said, adding, “My friends and I will lead a movement to save democracy in India.”

Sinha delivered his broadside as Modi prepares to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into a general election due by next year, with high hopes of securing a second term.

Aged 80 and no longer active in electoral politics, Sinha has criticised the Modi government on a range of issues, most recently through an open letter published earlier this week.

In that letter, Sinha urged the prime minister to speak and act more forcefully on vital issues, including recent horrific rapes that have reflected badly on the BJP.

In one case party members had appeared to support the Hindu men accused of raping an eight-year-old Muslim girl, and in another case in Uttar Pradesh a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker is alleged to have raped a teenager.

Sinha also said that India’s religious minorities had become alienated, and the weakest sections of society, the scheduled castes and tribes had been “exposed to atrocities as never before” and the guarantees given to them in the constitution were threatened.

On Friday, seven opposition parties moved to have Misra impeached for bending to political pressure and other shortfalls in his conduct.

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Iran vows “expected and unexpected” moves if US exits deal

TEHRAN (Reuters): Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday Iran’s atomic agency was ready with “expected and unexpected” reactions if the United States pulls out of a multinational nuclear deal, as US President Donald Trump has threatened to do.

“Our Atomic Energy Organization is fully prepared … for actions that they expect and actions they do not expect,” Rouhani said without elaborating in a speech carried by state television, referring to a possible decision by Trump to leave the accord next month.

The deal reached between Iran, the United States and five other world powers put curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Trump has called the agreement one of the worst deals ever negotiated. In January he sent an ultimatum to Britain, France and Germany, saying they must agree to fix what the United States sees as the deal’s flaws or he would refuse to extend the critical US sanctions relief that it entails.

US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said on Thursday Washington had been having “intense” discussions with European allies ahead of the May 12 deadline, when US sanctions against Iran will resume unless Trump issues new waivers to suspend them.

Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other parties respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

“Iran has several options if the United States leaves the nuclear deal. Tehran’s reaction to America’s withdrawal of the deal will be unpleasant,” Iranian state TV quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying in New York.

Foreign exchange controls “preventive” in case US exits

Rouhani said his government intended to prevent instability in the foreign exchange market after a possible Washington exit from the nuclear accord when the central bank this month slapped controls on markets in an attempt to unify the Iranian rial.

“This was a preventative blow against any American decision on May 12. They fully hoped to … cause chaos in the (foreign exchange) market. I promise to the people that the plot of the enemy has been thwarted, and whether or not the nuclear deal remains in effect, we will have no problem,” Rouhani said.

On April 9, Iran moved to formally unify the country’s official and open market exchange rates and banned money changing outside of banks, after its currency, the rial, plunged to an all-time low on concerns over a return of crippling sanctions.

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Syrian rebels withdraw from enclave northeast of Damascus

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) : Syrian rebels began withdrawing from an enclave northeast of Damascus on Saturday and will go to northern Syria, state TV and a rebel official said, in a surrender agreement that marks another victory for President Bashar al-Assad.

The withdrawal will restore state control over the eastern Qalamoun enclave, some 40 km (25 miles) from Damascus.

Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, is seeking to wipe out the last few rebel encl-aves near Damascus, building on momentum from the def-eat of the insurgency in eastern Ghouta, which had been the last major opposition stronghold near the capital.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a fact-finding mission collected samples on Saturday at an eastern Ghouta site where an alleged chemical weapons attack took place on April 7. The mission arrived in Damascus a week ago.

France and the United States have accused Russia of obstructing access to the site, where medical relief agencies say dozens of people were killed. The alleged attack led rebels to give up the last town they held in eastern Ghouta.

Russia and Damascus say the attack, which triggered Western missile strikes on Syria, was fabricated.

State TV said rebel fighters and their families would be transported from eastern Qalamoun to Idlib and Jarablus, a rebel-held territory at the border with Turkey, with 3,200 militants and their families expected to leave on Saturday.

The spokesman for one of the rebel groups in eastern Qalamoun said the insurgents had agreed to the deal after intensified Russian shelling killed six people in areas near the town of al-Ruhaiba earlier this week.

“This made the Free (Syrian) Army factions sit at the negotiating table with the Russian side and an agreement was reached the most important articles of which are the surrender of heavy weapons and the departure of fighters to the north,” Said Seif of the Ahmad Abdo Martyr brigade said.

A first convoy of 10 buses had left Ruhaiba and was being searched in a nearby area before continuing to the north.

Meanwhile, the Syrian military and its allies pressed the bombardment of a besieged enclave south of Damascus.

State TV footage showed clouds of smoke rising from the al-Hajar al-Aswad district, part of an enclave including the Palestinian Yarmouk camp that is held by Islamic State and other jihadist groups.

A commander in the regional military alliance that fights in support of Assad said jihadist positions were being targeted with all types of weapons. “Daesh positions are being targeted by Syrian army helicopters,” the commander added, using an acronym for Islamic State.

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Austria, Netherlands ‘contribute to the flourishing of racist political movements’

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: Turkey’s Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik slammed a decision by Austria and the Netherlands to bar Turkish politicians from campaigning in the respective countries ahead of the upcoming June elections.

“The Netherlands followed suit after Austria and announced that they will not allow election campaign speeches and meetings before 24 June elections for our citizens living there. On the one hand, they block the exercise of most fundamental democratic rights and on the other hand they argue that ‘there are negative developments in terms of democracy in Turkey,’” Celik tweeted, referring to a recent progress report released by the European Commission.

In the report, the European Commission praised Turkey’s migration policy, economic growth and strengthening regional cooperation but also claimed there was “serious backsliding on the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and freedom of expression.”

“If democracy had the right to complain about this hypocrisy, it would have first sued those politicians who take such positions. It is obvious that Austrian and Dutch PMs do not hinge upon democratic values while taking these decisions. They just send their greetings to anti-Turkish and racist political movements,” Celik said.

“With these approaches, Austria and the Netherlands only poison democratic values in their own countries. They contribute to the flourishing of racist political movements which are also hostile against EU values. Austria and the Netherlands must act with common sense. Should the door to damaging democratic values opened once, it will never be closed. Through this door, populism sneaks in first, then racist politics take over and finally politics of hatred prevail,” he added.

“With these decisions Austrian and Dutch PMs do harm to their own countries. In both countries, racist political movements flourish due to such approaches. Pursuing a certain way of democratic approach in Europe and another way out of Europe is not acceptable. If they want their statements on democracy to be credible, first of all they must take decisions far from anti-Turkish approach,” Celik said.

Austria’s right-wing coalition government is strongly opposed to Turkey joining the European Union, and its opposition to Turkish politicians campaigning in the country is now new. Austria has passed a law giving the government greater powers to ban foreign political gatherings.

Austria and the Netherlands are home to large Turkish communities.