Kamis, 05 April 2012

Items of political interest from France.....


Socialist presidential hopeful François Hollande received a welcome endorsement Wednesday from former rival, and the mother of his four children, Ségolène Royal.

By Sophie PILGRIM  (text)
A campaign stop in the city of Rennes, Brittany, gave Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande a boost on Wednesday, when his ex-partner, 2007 presidential socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, gave him a powerful endorsement speech.
The endorsement is a clear signal that Hollande and Royal have patched up their differences after their rumoured acrimonious separation before Royal’s failed 2007 run for the presidency. It was noted in France at the time that Hollande elected to not vocally back or campaign on behalf of Royal.
Organisers were expecting around 10,000 people but by 7pm, when Royal was supposed to be at the podium, thousands more were still waiting outside.
“This is a shambles!” one of the security guards shouted as the crowd outside surged against the barriers and started chanting. In total, some 18,000 people turned up, making Rennes one of the Socialists' biggest campaign rallies yet. As one of the supporters who managed to get inside rightly whispered, “Such a queue can only mean one thing for Hollande... And it's certainly not a bad one!”
Even among the many that were unable to get into the main hall, where Royal and Hollande delivered their speeches, the crowds remained cheerful. “We might not be able to see him from here but at least we can hear him!” declared a group of students from Rennes who had camped out in front of a barrier by the exit.
Supporters came from all over the western region of Brittany to attend the rally, travelling many hours by car, coach or train.
After a shaky few weeks of creeping gains from the incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande was in need of a boost in order to secure the top spot in the first round of the election, just 18 days away. At the rally, spirits were running high after Royal's hearty endorsement. “François is our candidate," she told the crowd. "We don’t have a moment to lose…he is the only one who can win on the Left."

Syndicate contentFRANCE 2012: THE ELECTION BLOG
Clearly buoyed by her words - if not a little irked by her popularity - Hollande went on to lay out his plan of action for his first three months in office. With his detailed "agenda of change", he promised to freeze fuel prices, slash government salaries by 30 per cent and boost welfare payouts for families. The crowd’s enthusiastic response seemed to spur the normally somewhat controlled Hollande on. He even managed to leave plenty of time for some Sarkozy-bashing, much to the delight of the crowd. Hollande jibbed, “The man who claims he's the boss of everything... But who's responsible for nothing!” This taunt prompted a chorus of pantomime cheers, boos and whoops from the Brittany crowd.

A Royal affair
When Royal faced off against Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round of the 2007 president election, she received a massive 63 per cent of the vote in Rennes. Despite her meagre slice in the Socialist primary vote last October (7 per cent nationwide), she remains hugely popular in Brittany, where she heads the regional council of Poitou-Charentes.
“We've always had a soft spot for Ségolène in Brittany,” 70-year-old pensioner Françoise told FRANCE 24. “But we're happy to support whoever the Socialist party thinks is fit to run against Sarkozy.”

Socialist Party campaigner Jean-Paul agreed, perhaps indicating the party’s awareness that they need to remain unified to win this election after a bruising vote to find the party’s candidate for the presidency and years of fractious political infighting. “Between me and my friends we almost all voted for either Ségolene Royal or Martine Aubry in the Socialist primary, but that doesn't make us anti-Hollande. Quite the contrary! We support the party as a whole,” emphasised Jean-Paul.
As a nod to her popularity in the region, Hollande – who barely mentioned Royal at the start of his campaign – spoke warmly of the mother to his four children. “Ségolène is here as a symbol of unity, a unity that was missing in 2007 and is there now, strong, irreversible.”
Hollande clearly hopes this endorsement will tip the balance in his favour, and thus avoid becoming the party’s fourth failed Socialist presidential candiate in a row.


Left-wing candidate rallies thousands for Bastille march

Thousands of people rallied Sunday in Paris in a show of support for left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. France 24 talks to the people who came from across the country to join the march.

By Joseph BAMAT  (text)
Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon led thousands of supporters in a festive campaign march to Bastille square in Paris on Sunday. With five weeks left before the first round of France’s presidential election, Mélenchon has been gaining increasing support from voters and threatening incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy's most serious challenger, Socialist Party candidate François Hollande.
While the Socialist candidate has slowly been shedding his once significant lead in voter intention surveys, from as high as 39% in October to around 27% in the latest surveys, Mélenchon increased his support from around 5% to 11% support during the same period. Mélenchon is leading the Left Front coalition that is farther to the left ideologically than France’s main opposition Socialist party.
Grey skies and light rain did little to curb the marchers' enthusiasm. Members of the French Communist Party, who are allied with Mélenchon for the election, were out en masse for Sunday's march, but the gathering had also attracted many other leftist sympathisers. The parade-like march that featured flat-bed trucks blasting music, bright red balloons and flags column slowly advanced from Paris' 11th arrondissement to Place de la Bastille - a busy square steeped in the symbolism of the French Revolution.
Alizée Minkur, 23, a recent university graduate who studied political science and is looking for work, said she was still unsure if she would vote for Hollande or Mélenchon. “I was curious to hear Mélenchon’s speech at the Bastille and find out what changes he will propose. I am also here to march against the dictatorship imposed by the financial markets,” Minkur said. As a university student she was a member of the Socialist Party’s youth movement, but quit. “They were not far enough to the left for me,” Minkur explained.

Jacques Ambroise, 48, from Normandy.
Jacques Ambroise, 48, wore the familiar red of the CGT union and French Communist Party, both of which he belongs to. “I am sceptical of the Socialist Party, who was already in power,” Ambroise, a railroad worker from the region of Normandy, said. “I hope the Left Front will continue to bring together more and more voters and that Mélenchon will get a good score in the first round. I think it’s possible,” he said.
Pierre Butheil, 53, and Elina Angles, 64 came by train all the way from the southern city of Montpellier for Sunday’s march. They didn’t belong to any political party but joked that they belonged to the “Left Front” coalition. “We want a real change to the left, and Francois Hollande is incapable of making that change,” Angles said. She dismissed Hollande’s call to cast a “useful vote” in his favour in order to beat incumbent Sarkozy. “For me the useful vote is for Mélenchon,” Angles said.
Eric Tempir, 37, and Pierricq Berleux, 29, from Brittany.
Eric Tempir, 37, and Pierricq Berleux, 29, had travelled to Paris from Brittany. They said they were there to support Mélenchon, but also in support of the peoples of Greece, Spain and Italy who were suffering from EU imposed austerity measures. “We are here for a new Europe,” Tempir said. “We were inspired by [Mélenchon’s] call to take back the Bastille, because we have to take the fight to the street. Our march is peaceful, we are not fascists, but we will have to fight to keep the rights our parents won.”

Xavier, 20, and Sylvain, 18 –both science students about to start university– said they were curious to see how this rally would unfold. “We share the ideas expressed by Mélenchon and we wanted to add our small contribution to this day,” Sylvain said. “Other left-wing candidates also have good ideas, but only Mélenchon has the ability to bring people together,” Xavier added.
Samuel Durand, 70, from the Ardeche region.
Maelle Sopena, 40, was carrying a sign reading “out of work artist”. She said her dream was to see a constitutional assembly in France before she died. “For the time being, Mélenchon is the only credible candidate, he is the only one with the necessary charisma to mobilize people,” Sopena said.
Samuel Durand, 70, is a retired bee keeper from the south-central Ardeche region. He described himself as “very much an environmentalist” but said he did not have confidence in France’s Green party. He said he was particularly interested in preventing shale drilling in France. “Mélenchon has strongly come out against shale gas drilling,” Durand explained. “He has the clearest position on the issue.”
Mariam Barry, 34, from the Paris suburbs.
Mariam Barry, 34, (pictured right) is a nurse in the suburbs of Paris. A native of Ivory Coast she has lived in France for nearly 10 years and cannot vote in the election. “I am here because Mélenchon stands up for what’s important to me,” Barry said. “He will defend public nursery schools, raise the minimum wage, protect abortion rights, and help undocumented workers.” Barry was part of Femmes-Egalité group that was taking part in the march to the Bastille.


Sarkozy accused of exploiting arrests of Islamist radicals

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's opponents suggested Wednesday he had been "stage-managing" the televised arrests of suspected Islamist extremists in order to give himself a boost in the upcoming presidential poll.

By News Wires (text)
AFP - Opponents of France's President Nicolas Sarkozy accused him Wednesday of stage-managing a high-profile round-up of suspected Islamists in order to boost his re-election hopes.
Police carried out their second wave of arrests of suspected extremists in a week, just as Socialist flagbearer and opinion poll frontrunner Francois Hollande unveiled a detailed plan for his hoped-for first year in office.
Coverage of Hollande's plans was drowned out on rolling news networks by images of the arrests, conducted by teams of heavily-armed and masked police accompanied on the dawn swoop by forewarned television crews.
Hollande was to return to the front later Wednesday at his first joint camapign appearance with his former partner, Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party's defeated 2007 candidate.
The arrests came in the wake of a murderous shooting spree last month by a self-declared Al-Qaeda supporter, and were ordered by independent anti-terror magistrates, but Sarkozy's opponents accused him of seeking to exploit them.
"Police operations of this sort, under the authority of the judiciary, should not be done, it seems to me, in the form of a stage-managed advertising campaign," said centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.
"Security and staged events are different things," he said.
Hollande, who has seen his lead in April 22 first round voting intentions whittled away since last month's attacks but is still forecast to win a May 6 run-off, was more cautious, and did not accuse Sarkozy directly.

But he did suggest that the right-wing president, who has a reputation as a tough law-and-order campaigner, "could or should have done more beforehand" if the suspected groups posed a security threat in France.
And the leader of his Socialist Party, Martine Aubry declared: "I'm for being tough, not for making a spectacle, and I'm always shocked when the television crews are there. Let the judiciary do its work."
Last month, 23-year-old extremist Mohamed Merah was killed by a police sharpshooter after a two-week series of attacks which saw him kill three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a trainee rabbi.
Prosecutors said Merah had boasted before his death of being an Al-Qaeda militant, but that he appeared to have radicalised himself with Islamist reading in prison before making a short trip to Afghanistan.

Since the shootings, France has also cracked down on a banned domestic Islamist group, Forsane Alizza, suspected of planning kidnappings. Thirteen alleged members were charged Wednesday under anti-terror legislation.
But the fresh arrests -- concentrated in the southern port city of Marseille and the northern town of Roubaix -- targeted "lone individuals with Mohamed Merah's profile" according a police source.
In Roubaix, a dozen journalists, some of them tipped off by officials, were on hand to witness police armed with assault rifles make two arrests, of a man wearing a traditional North African robe and of a woman.
"He's done nothing. He's a son of France. Because he has a little beard, wears a djellaba and goes to the mosque to pray, they say he's violent, he's a terrorist," said the 28-year-old suspect's 64-year-old father.
"There were a dozen of them. They didn't even ring the doorbell. They just smashed in the door. Why didn't they knock?" demanded the young man's mother, insisting that her son was no radical.
Sarkozy, meanwhile, was campaigning in the French Indian Ocean territory of Reunion, a one-day stopover in a bastion of the left, before a planned return to Paris on Thursday to launch his economic programme.
Hollande stole a march on the president's long-awaited launch with 35 concrete proposals of his own, including a freeze on fuel prices, a tax of 75 percent on the revenues of the super-rich and a cut in presidential wages.

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