North Korean missile brushes past Air France plane

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Image courtesy of France24.com

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

The Tokyo-Paris Air France AF293 flight, gathering 316 passengers and 16 flight attendants, had a close encounter with North Korea’s last missile last Friday, according to French media. The weapon was spotted 100 kilometers away from the plane and felt in the Japanese sea.

Air France assured that the plane’s route map was standard and the trajectory continuously double-checked to prevent accidents when navigating in highly dangerous flight zones. The company therefore extended further its prohibited airspace area in the North Korean surroundings.

 

Malaysia launched contest for best “gay prevention” videos

 

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Image courtesy of “RT.com”

-Article by Maneesha Khalae

Last June, the Malaysian government announced a competition on the health ministry’s official website where participants submit videos dedicated to teenagers embracing “gender confusion.” The winner will receive up to 4282 Malaysian ringgit ($1000) when the competition ends in August. The overarching topic of the contest being “Value Yourself: Healthy Lifestyle Practice,” the government-selected themes are focused on prevention, control, and the issues and consequences of homosexuality.

Despite the outcry from local LGBTQ activists such as Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik who denounce the contest as alienating and dangerous for an already vulnerable demographic, the Malaysian deputy director general of health, Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, declares it is aimed to “tap the creativity” of teenagers’ minds about sexual and reproductive health. However, while homosexuality prevention is one of Malaysia’s main social concerns, instructive sexual education for teenagers is still missing. According to a 2011 report from the Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, 65% of teenagers in rural areas of the country, such as Kelantan and Terengganu, claimed that their main source of sexual information was friends.

This competition announcement comes when conditions for LGBTQ Malaysians have been worsening due to the rapid rise of social and religious conservatism, which marked a shift from the more liberal attitudes in the 1970s and 1980s. It is important to note that in addition to being socially taboo, homosexuality remains forbidden and punishable by law.

A few months ago, Malaysia gained a certain notoriety for intending to ban “Beauty and The Beast” for a purportedly “gay moment” between the characters Le Fou and Gaston. The film was eventually allowed to be screened in full without any cuts. However, the screening of a 2011 Vietnamese film, ‘Lost in Paradise,’ depicting a romantic relationship between two men, was canceled at a local Penang Performing Arts Center after State Religious Affairs Committee Chairman Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim sent an official letter to the organizers regarding its “sensitive” content. The Chairman of Muslim Network of Penang, Hafiz Nordin, quipped: “If they really are Malaysians, they should know that such movies should not be screened for the public. This can be construed by some as a way of promoting homosexuality in our country.”

Malaysia remains a state which criminalizes homosexuality on many levels, even going so far as to organize seminars, in 2012, for parents on how to “spot” indicators of possible homosexual tendencies in their children. The government-established signs of potential homosexuality were intrinsically based on clichés: men wearing tight clothes and carrying large handbags, and women spending large amounts of time in the company of other women.

Former French Health Minister, Women Rights Advocate, and Holocaust Survivor Simone Veil dies at 89

 

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Simone Veil giving a speech at the French National Assembly in 1974 (image courtesy of Konbini.com)

– Article by Alice Ferré

On June 30th, France said goodbye to another one of its most influential figures. Simone Veil, politician and member of the Academy – the higher honorary title for the French intelligentsia, – “embodied tradition and modernity,” as a “great lady from the old times” standing like a symbol of women rights progress and European hope.

But Simone Veil also incarnated darker moments of France’s history, like the Shoah. Growing up in a Jewish household for cultural rather than religious reasons, she received a patriotic and secular education in the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1940, her family falls apart: her father, who cherished an unconditional love for his country and the principles of “La République,” that he defended during World War I, was forbidden to exercise his job, deprived of his citizenship, and arrested by the Germans three years later.

The 16-year-old Simone got deported with her mother and sister one year after, on April 13th, 1944 to Auschwitz-Birkenau; Simone escaped the gas chambers upon the advice of one deportee who told her to pretend she was 18. Simone and her sister survived the death march organized by the Nazis from Auschwitz to Loslau in January 1945, although her mother won’t. Her father and brother died without leaving a trace.

While some would be forever altered by such inhumane catastrophe, others found in it incredible strength and energy, as if having a family and a job constituted a victory on Nazism. Simone Veil certainly belonged to that second category of people. She kept her tattooed concentration camp number, 78651, on her arm as a reminder of her past. It acted as a fuel during her battles.

Studies, marriage, children… and a political career. “To be and remain independent, a woman must have a job,” declared Veil, although her husband originally opposed this idea. In the late 1960s, only 40% of women were active. Veil also supported the youth during the 1968 protests that hit France and led to many bloody clashes between the police and students. Contrarily to others from her generation, she stated that the French lived in an immobile, frozen society.

Symbol of women empowerment and emancipation, she became the first woman General Secretary of the Superior Council of the Magistrature. She struck the most impactful move of her career as Ministry of Health in 1974 – a job she thought wasn’t suited for her, being a former Magistrate.
On November 26th, Simone Veil gave a pro-abortion speech as the “Laissez-les vivre” (“Let them live”) protesters waited anxiously outside of the Palais-Bourbon. The debate was virulent: Anti-abortion Jura deputy René Feït played the heartbeats of an eight-week fetus while Maine-et-Loire deputy Jean Foyer compared abortion clinics as “slaughterhouses where corpses of little humans pile up.” Manche deputy Jean-Marie Daillet brought up the image of embryos “threw away in crematoria,” before declaring he was not aware of Simone Veil’s past.

Simone Veil won the anti-abortion debate, and the law was approved and passed in 1975.

Her battle for abortion rights got her revered and hated. For many years, she was the constant target of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right National Front party. In 1979, a brawl broke out when National Front supporters tried to disrupt a meeting she was speaking at in Paris. Veil then shouted: “Vous ne me faites pas peur! J’ai survécu a pire que vous!” — “You do not frighten me! I have survived worse than you!”

Most importantly, Simone Veil served a country that deported her family. She was a woman who was often depicted as the “only powerful, strong man of the government.” “To impose herself, a woman needs to be authoritative. I would have never reached my goals if I had not had such personality,” she explained.

She reached the position of President of the first European Parliament in 1979 with the great encouragement and appreciation of French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, working towards a peaceful future for Europe with all her heart, fighting for a united continent away from the atrocities of war. Veil only left the political sphere in 1990 to join the Constitution Council where she became a watchdog for the respect of French laws from 1998 to 2007.

France did apologize and thank her for her pious services in 1995 when she became the President of the Shoah Memorial Foundation; then-President Jacques Chirac recognized France’s responsibility in the genocide. In 2009, Simone Veil received the highest honorary medal, the Legion of honor.

At Veil’s funeral, President Emmanuel Macron saluted her, announcing she would be buried in the Pantheon, the Parisian mausoleum where 72 of the most appreciated cultural and historical figures rest. Veil, who also received the full military honors during the ceremony, will be the fifth woman buried there.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced new government after ongoing corruption investigation leaves doubt on ministers’ integrity

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (image courtesy of Ouest-France)

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

On June 9, a preliminary investigation was launched to enlighten an alleged fund embezzlement by major figures of the centrist party MoDem and extreme-right party National Front.

France’s new government was affected by the investigation as many ministers, also members of the MoDem party, resigned this week. Those concerned are the Minister of the Armies Sylvie Goulard, the Minister of European Affairs Marielle de Sarnez, and the Minister of Justice and MoDem party leader Francois Bayrou, who had viscerally supported President Macron during his campaign. The Minister of Territorial Cohesion Richard Ferrand also resigned after rumors of a real estate affair that would have benefited his wife in 2011.

The information that put oil on fire was disclosed by the famous weekly satirical newspaper “Le Canard Enchaine,” the same publication that unveiled the Fillon scandal and caused the rightist candidate his presidential bid last January.

Although the government was supposed to be redesigned after the legislative election results on Sunday- as the tradition wants it –  to reinforce the executive power by limiting ideological cohabitation between the legislative and the executive branch, the reform took an unexpected turn.

“Le Canard” accused Francois Bayrou, as the same time as the now-former Minister of Justice was working on “a moralization of the political life” law project to fight corruption and facilitate transparency in politics, and other MoDem European deputies of using the European Parliament’s funds to pay their personal aides, thus creating fake jobs. On June 8, a former MoDem employee, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed to the highest Paris court, that he had been remunerated as a parliamentary aide to MoDem-affiliated deputy Jean-Luc Bennhamias in 2011 while his contract postulated he was simply working for the party.

This method of falsely recruiting party members as parliamentary aides increased over the years in the MoDem, according to France Info. Each European deputy or national deputies and senators have at their disposal a 24.000 euro-credits to pay their assistants, would they be either in Brussels, Strasbourg, or other circumscriptions. They are not allowed to employ aides that already have a position in their party, as it not only creates illegal mandate accumulations but also fake jobs. This fund embezzlement means the party leader and members don’t spend much of the party’s money.

Mr. Bayrou told the French newspaper “Le Monde” that his decision was “a personal choice” that will “simplify” the current investigation. Echoing Mr. Bayrou, Mrs. Goulard, who quit the day before, said her move was out of “good faith,” regarding the ongoing investigation planning over her party.

Edouard Philippe’s second government remains in line with President Macron’s promises of parity and involvement of civil personalities and new faces. Mrs. Nicole Belloubet, who now replaces Mr. Bayrou as the Minister of Justice, was a former law teacher; Mrs. Genevieve Darrieussecq, 61, a doctor and the mayor of a small town in West Southern France, was named as Minister of the Armies.

“La République en marche” wins the most parliamentary seats as France faces a historically low voter turnout

-Article by Alice Ferré

On Sunday, the presidential party “La République en marche,” in coalition with the MoDem, won 361 over 577 seats in the French National Assembly during the second round of the legislative election, achieving the most outstanding majority since 1958.

 

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Graph showing the proportion of parliamentary seats held by each party and their allies (courtesy of BFM.TV.fr)

 


Although Marine Le Pen’s National Front made it to the second tour of the presidential election in May, it seems to have lost its short-term glory, winning only eight seats in the Parliament. Major parties, including the Republicans, the Socialist Party, and France Insoumise, created coalitions with ideology-sharing, smaller political groups to maximize their number of seats – the National Front was the only party standing alone. The Republicans won 126 seats, the Socialist Party 46, and the France Insoumise 26.

French voters excelled in their voting abstention for this election: the first round was saluted by a 51,2% abstention rate which rose to 56,6% this Sunday. This result still questions the French’s acceptance towards President Macron even after a month and a half in office.

 

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Map of the abstention rate by districts (courtesy of LeMonde.fr)

 

 

 

“La République en marche” on its way to parliamentary majority

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-Article by Alice Ferré

It was a validation vote for “La République en marche” on Sunday’s first round of the French legislative elections. The newly founded presidential party (created by President Macron himself only two years ago) won most seats in the National Assembly with 32,32% of the vote – or between 390 and 430 seats over 577. The right party The Republicans and allies arrived second with 21,56% while the National Front and the “France Insoumise” arrived third and fourth with respectively 13,74% and 13,2%. The four parties will face voters once again this Sunday in a second round; “La République en marche” is expected to stay ahead with at least more than 400 seats over 577, one of the strongest parliamentary majority since 1958. Mainly, “La République en marche” would rule over 72 to 78,9% of the National Assembly, a positive sign for President Macron.

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Graph determining parliamentary seats after the first round on Sunday (courtesy of LeMonde.fr). 

However, the President’s main opposition may not remain in the party lines but on the street; this election’s abstention rate was 51.2% of the 47 million voters.

After the final results this Sunday, deputies will have to wait until June, 27 to become officially part of the National Assembly, and next week will announce the beginning of the parliamentary group forming. Parties like the National Front or the Socialist Party, owing little seats, opposing the majority party, and lacking important allies will encounter difficulties forming their group, which requires 15 deputies. The Republicans are likely to be divided over joining “La République en marche” as many of them had endorsed centrist President Macron during his campaign over the last months. Each group presents one of their members as their leaders, and the president of one of the political majority groups will be chosen to be the National Assembly Chairman.

The final step towards the officialization of this new assembly will be on July, 4. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will give a speech presenting his cabinet’s general political line and vowing it will be politically held responsible in front of the assembly, thus respecting the deputies’ representative power and voices.
This speech will be followed by the traditional “trust vote” introducing each new government; deputies will express their opinions on the legitimacy of the current administration. If the Prime Minister gets the majority vote, which is likely to happen this time, he is able to oversee the legislative branch under extreme and rare conditions to pass laws. A cabinet can be rejected only if the majority vote disavows it.

French President Macron’s hard line diplomacy on Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at Versailles on May 29, 2017 (image courtesy of wbur.org)

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

Three hundred years after Peter the Great’s visit to Versailles, Russian President Vladimir Putin was hosted in one of France’s most emblematic monument yesterday by French President Emmanuel Macron. While this venue seemed less official than the Elysée for a presidential meeting, the grandioseness of the golden palace set out that President Macron did not underestimate the importance of the international affairs to discuss, which included Ukraine, Syria, and human rights.

Over the past few years, the Franco-Russian relationship has plummeted to an unprecedented level as Russia tightened its grip on the Crimean region and destabilized eastern Ukraine, in disregard for the European Union’s sovereignty. In October 2016, former President François Hollande made it clear that President Putin’s visit to the opening of an Orthodox cultural center in Paris would have been inappropriate owing to Russia’s multiple vetoes on Syria at the United Nations Security Council. President Putin’s last unilateral visit goes back to 2012.

Wishing to advance the Ukrainian dilemma, President Macron explained during the conference that a “Normandy-like” meeting, gathering the Russian and Ukrainian presidents under the “chaperonage” of Berlin and Paris, would be needed to work on the Minsk agreement of February 2015. This meeting would be an ultimatum to Russia for possibly waiving its sanctions.

Regarding the Syrian conflict, President Macron called for an “inclusive” political solution in the long term to generate discussion “amongst all the parties, including Assad.” The talks would aim at limiting “the disintegration of Syria and fragilization of the region” while still fighting to eradicate the Islamic State and terrorism.

The news conference with the two leaders also presented an unexpected Russian news media backlashing from the French president.

President Macron had set a firm tone a few days earlier in an interview with the French weekly newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” by saying that before interlocutors such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Donald Trump, one has “not to miss any chance to gain respect in such power struggle.” 
In this optic, President Macron was intolerant in his critic of Russia’s controversial handling of human rights, such as the repression of the homosexual community and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). President Macron also shed light on Russia news media outlets such as the Kremlin-funded Russia Today and Sputnik, accusing them of having spread “fake news” to undermine his campaign.