Tag Archives: West Europe

COVID-19: BioNTech reveals commitment to ‘supplying’ Taiwan with Pfizer vaccine.

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BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China, including Taiwan.

Germany’s BioNTech said Thursday it still intends to provide Taiwan with coronavirus vaccine doses after the island’s health chief warned “political pressure” had scuppered a deal with the company.

Taiwanese health minister Chen Shih-Chung said Wednesday that negotiations with the German firm to acquire five million Pfizer/BioNTech shots fell through in December “because someone doesn’t want Taiwan to be too happy”.

His comments raised concerns China might be trying to hinder Taiwan’s inoculation drive.

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Authoritarian Beijing regards democratic and self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and tries to keep the island diplomatically isolated — including keeping it locked out of the World Health Organization.

In a statement on Thursday, BioNTech said discussions to supply Taiwan with doses were still ongoing.

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“BioNTech is committed to help to bring an end to the pandemic for people across the world and we intend to supply Taiwan with our vaccine as part of this global commitment,” it said.

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines are seen on a countertop at the Chiba Rosai Hospital in Ichihara, Chiba perfecture on February 17, 2021, as the country launches its inoculation campaign against the virus. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

The brief statement did not address Chen’s comments or explain why the December deal did not materialise.

BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China, including Taiwan.

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Beijing has a long history of pressuring both Chinese and international companies when it wants to punish Taiwan.

It the first comments on the issue, China’s foreign ministry on Thursday accused Taiwan of “carrying out political manipulation and hyping up political issues”.

“We wish to provide necessary assistance Taiwanese compatriots in their fight against the epidemic,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, without addressing whether China had played any role in the delayed December deal.

Foson has not responded to requests for comment.

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Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed — with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far — by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out the effective tracing.

But it has struggled to locate adequate vaccine supplies and only recently announced a supply of five million doses by American pharmaceutical giant Moderna and 200,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX.

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#Newsworthy

Thousands of France Protesters ‘unlawfully detained’ – AI.

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The legislation, since scrapped, would have restricted publication with so-called malicious intent of photos of on-duty police officers, a move condemned as a curb on press freedom.

A slate of detentions carried out on December 12 during a Paris protest by tens of thousands of people against France’s controversial security bill were “arbitrary”, Amnesty International France said Monday.

Out of 142 people who were arrested, including 124 who were taken into custody, “nearly 80 percent faced no charges in the end”, a study by the French branch of the rights watchdog concluded.

A similar proportion of detainees to charges laid was seen in the “yellow vest” movement that peaked in late 2018 and early 2019, according to Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz.

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AIF, which joined an umbrella group opposed to the security bill, said it had “legitimate concerns over the possibility that there were arbitrary arrests and other violations of human rights”.

The legislation, since scrapped, would have restricted publication with so-called malicious intent of photos of on-duty police officers, a move condemned as a curb on press freedom.

AIF’s Anne-Sophie Simpere, the report’s author, told AFP the December 12 protest march in central Paris did not see “notable violence”, adding: “Nothing seems to justify what happened in terms of arrests or charges.”

The report focused on police questioning, medical certificates and judicial documents in 35 cases of people who were held but not charged. Two were held for nearly five hours, while the other 33 were held overnight.

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A heavy police contingent preceded the marchers and flanked them on both sides, preventing any of them from leaving the protest, AFP journalists reported at the time.

‘Vague laws’
On the basis of witness testimony and video footage, Amnesty said arrests were not preceded by “audible warnings” and at moments when no “significant disorder” was noted in the march.

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Alexis Baudelin, a lawyer who was taken into custody, told AFP: “I was surprised by the strategy… At each intersection, the security forces charged on non-violent demonstrators without reason or warning.”

Protesters gather for a demonstration after French medical experts exonerated the gendarmes involved in the arrest of Adama Traore, a young black man who died in police custody in 2016, outside the “Tribunal de Paris” courthouse in Paris on June 2, 2020. – The Adama traore case sparked violent protests in the Paris suburbs and became a rallying cry for police brutality in France, which young, black men say is often targeted at them. The police chief of Paris defended his forces on June 2 against accusations of brutality and racism as anger over alleged police violence mounts in France as in the United States. French medical experts on June 29 exonerated the three gendarmes, dismissing a medical report commissioned by the young man’s family that said he had died of asphyxiation. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

The offensive tactic was aimed at preventing the formation of “Black Bloc” anarchist groups after two consecutive weekends of violent demos in Paris, the police said later.

Amnesty also pointed to “detentions based on vague laws”, notably one against “taking part in a group with the aim of planning violence”, cited in 25 of the cases studied.

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In only two of the cases studied had the detainees been carrying objects that could justify suspicions of violent intent.

“It’s a catch-all offence,” Simpere said. “You punish an act before it is committed.”

Such lack of precision can “unduly infringe on human rights”, the report said.

Lara Bellini, whose 16-year-old son was held for 20 hours before being released without charge, told AFP: “They (the police) told me he belonged to a malicious band. It was incomprehensible… My son is an activist, but he is in no way a violent person.”

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In five of the cases, police used a March 2019 law to slap a ban on appearing in Paris for up to six months.

The ban amounts to “punishment without trial” without even the possibility of appeal, Amnesty said, calling on parliament to scrap the legislation.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Emmanuel Macron says ‘non’ to lockdown.

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French President Emmanuel Macron has gambled by not imposing a third national lockdown to contain Covid-19 — against expectations and the advice of his most senior scientific advisers.

The 43-year-old leader opted to tighten existing restrictions on travel and shopping at a cabinet meeting on Friday after a week in which his government appeared to be preparing the public for new stay-at-home orders.

The move keeps France on a different path to its biggest neighbours Britain and Germany at a time when the more contagious UK variant of the disease is spreading rapidly across Europe.

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“Everything suggests that a new wave could occur because of the variant, but perhaps we can avoid it thanks to the measures that we decided early and that the French people are respecting,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper on Sunday.

He said that, unlike in other countries, the number of new coronavirus cases had barely increased last week, while other indicators — such as traces of the virus detected in waste water — were also reassuring.

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The French government put in place a strict night-time curfew after a second lockdown ended in December, while deaths of around 250 a day are currently less than a quarter of the number in Britain or Germany.

Macron was reported to have been concerned about the impact of another lockdown on a country struggling with the mental health consequences of nearly a year of restrictions, as well as a deep recession.

“Even when the path is narrow, you need to take it,” the JDD reported Macron as telling ministers at the meeting on Friday.

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“When you’re French, you have everything you need to succeed providing you dare to try.”

Images of anti-lockdown riots in the Netherlands last week are also said to have weighed on his thinking.

But by going against the instincts of health minister Veran and others on his coronavirus scientific council, Macron is taking personal responsibility for a decision with potential to backfire.

“Why Macron Said No” read the front-page headline of the JDD, making it clear who should be credited — or blamed — in the future.

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Election campaign – Many experts, citing studies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, argue that early lockdowns are the most effective because they tend to be shorter and reduce the overall economic damage.

“The situation is serious, but we think that we have the means to beat what’s going to happen. It’s worth a try,” an unnamed presidential adviser told Le Monde newspaper.

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Another made clear to the same newspaper that another lockdown had not been ruled out, meaning a change in approach was possible.

“If, in the coming days, we witness an incredible increase in the epidemic, then we’ll act,” the adviser said.

At stake, however, is the government’s credibility and the clarity of its messaging, just 15 months from a presidential election in which Macron is expected to face off against resurgent far-right leader, Marine Le Pen.

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As he bids for a second term, the French leader’s record on managing the coronavirus crisis — including the lockdowns, economic support packages and the vaccination campaign — will come under fierce scrutiny.

A poll published Sunday in the JDD showed only 36 percent had confidence in the government’s handling, while 64 percent did not.

Using an expression first used during the tumultuous inter-war years of France’s Third Republic, Le Pen has accused the government of acting “like a dead dog floating along in the water”.

“We have the feeling of being knocked around without ever anticipating, without ever looking ahead, without ever taking the decisions that allow us to avoid, when it’s possible, lockdown number 1, number 2 or number 3,” she said last week.

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But in arguing against lockdowns, it may be that both Macron and Le Pen are out of step with public opinion.

A poll Sunday in the JDD, showed that 60 percent would be in favour of a lockdown, but most want schools and non-essential shops to stay open.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: AstraZeneca vaccines ‘not effective’ for age 65 and over – Macron

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The discussion about the right target age group for the vaccine has compounded controversy surrounding AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine appeared not to be effective for people over 65 years of age.

Speaking to reporters only hours before the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended the vaccine for adults of all ages, Macron also questioned Britain’s decision to delay the second dose of Covid vaccines to inoculate more people.

Macron said there was “very little information” available for the vaccine developed by the British-Swedish company and Oxford University.

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“Today we think that it is quasi-ineffective for people over 65,” he told the reporters, his office confirmed to AFP.

“What I can tell you officially today is that the early results we have are not encouraging for 60 to 65-year-old people concerning AstraZeneca,” he said.

Macron said he was awaiting the EMA’s verdict which came later Friday and also that of France’s own health authority “because they have the numbers”.

The French expert decision on the vaccine is expected at the start of next week, according to sources close to the health authority.

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“I don’t have any data, and I don’t have a scientific team of my own to look at the numbers,” Macron acknowledged.

Addressing the UK’s vaccination strategy of stretching the time between first and second doses in order to give the protection afforded by the first dose to the maximum number of people, Macron said “the objective is not to have the largest possible number of first doses”.

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In an attempt to speed up its vaccine rollout, UK health chiefs have delayed second doses for up to 12 weeks.

“When you have all the health agencies and the manufacturers who are telling you that for it to work you have to have two injections with a maximum of 28 days between the two, as is the case with Pfizer/BioNTech, and you have countries that have a vaccination strategy of only giving one injection, I am not sure that it’s totally serious,” said Macron.

“Scientists tell you that we accelerate mutations when you only give one injection because people are less well covered and therefore the virus adapts.

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“We lie to people when we say ‘you are vaccinated’. You have a first dose of a vaccine that is made up of two,” he added.

Meanwhile, Germany’s vaccine commission on Friday maintained its advice against using AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines on older people.

“The reason is because there is currently insufficient data on the effectiveness of the vaccines on people above 65 years old,” said the commission known as STIKO.

The advice by the panel of medical experts will be taken into account by the government as it officially draws up its decree on usage of the vaccine.

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The European Commission Friday published a redacted version of its contract with the drugs giant, hoping to prove the company had breached a commitment on vaccine deliveries.

Brussels is furious with the pharmaceuticals company after it warned that it would only be able to deliver a fraction of the doses the EU had been expecting once the vaccine is approved for use in the bloc.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: France Gov’t hints fresh lockdown

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The president of the government’s scientific advisory board, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, pleaded on Sunday for a swift decision.

The French government admitted on Wednesday that current restrictions designed to contain the spread of coronavirus were not enough, raising the prospect of a third nationwide lockdown.

“Maintaining the current regime looks very unlikely”, spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a cabinet meeting, amid concern about the spread of the more contagious UK variant of Covid-19.

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A nationwide night curfew, which was introduced on January 14, is “not sufficient at this stage”, Attal added, leaving the government to study new options.

President Emmanuel Macron was reported at the weekend to favour a new lockdown, but the government decided to hold off for several days to analyse the data on new infections and hospital admissions.

“It will probably be necessary to move towards a lockdown,” he said. “There is an emergency… The faster you take a decision, the more effective it is and can be of limited duration.”

The government has said it aims to keep schools open even under a new lockdown, unlike in neighbouring Germany and Britain where children are at home.

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France on Tuesday reported 22,000 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours, while 3,071 people are in intensive care in hospital, up nine percent over a week, according to the Covidtracker.fr website.

A total of 74,106 people have died in France, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, including 352 in the previous 24 hours.

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#Newsworthy

Storyline: France threatens ‘veto’ on sluggish Brexit deal

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The European Parliament has warned that it will need to see the text within days if it is to properly examine it in time to enact it by the end of the year.

European doubts over a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain boiled over on Friday with France threatening a veto as tricky negotiations entered what could be their final hours.

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EU and UK negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost were locked in last-minute debates over fishing rights, fair trade rules and an enforcement mechanism to govern any deal.

But, with time running out for the accord to be ratified before the end of the year and ahead of Britain’s departure from the EU single market, EU capitals are getting cold feet.

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“If there’s a deal that isn’t a good one, we’d oppose it,” France’s minister for European affairs Clement Beaune told Europe 1 radio, adding that “every country has the right to veto”.

A European diplomat told AFP that Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark share France’s concerns that in the rush to conclude a deal, Barnier will give too much ground on rules to maintain fair competition.

Britain’s nearest neighbours suspect Germany and the European Commission are too keen to agree a deal to avoid the damaging economic fallout.

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“We don’t want to lock in an unbalanced relationship for decades to come,” the diplomat said.

“We are not going to want to explain to our companies why they are being undercut in their market by enterprising British corporates in a less regulated environment.”

Germany currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is also the bloc’s biggest economy and most influential country.

Asked about the state of the talks, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Europe “is ready to reach an agreement with Great Britain, but not at any price”.

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“It’s clear that there are red lines, yet there is always room for compromise,” Steffen Seibert told reporters.

Thus far, the capitals have remained united behind Barnier, who has been battling Frost long into the night as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces his own choice about whether to compromise.

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“Time is in very short supply. We are at a difficult point in the talks,” Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters.

“What is certain is that we will not be able to agree a deal that does not respect our fundamental principles on sovereignty and taking back control.”

Red lines
A European source with knowledge of the talks said reports of an imminent conclusion to the eight months of wrangling were “premature”, suggesting big differences remained.

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British officials have complained that the EU has made new demands late in the process that London sets up an independent body to regulate state subsidies.

Downing Street insisted anew that its red lines will apply once Britain leaves a post-Brexit transition period on December 31: controlling UK borders, regulating its own state subsidies and managing its fishing waters.

And European leaders will now want to see what Barnier is planning at their summit on December 10.

Some diplomats suggest that EU capitals could allow Britain to crash out of the single market without a deal in January and then return to new trade talks later in 2021.

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A European envoy told reporters on Thursday that Barnier “was millimetres away from the red lines” he had been given to protect European access to British waters and ensure a level-playing field for trade.

But the host of next week’s summit, European Council president Charles Michel, hailed Barnier’s work and urged unity “until the last minute, the last second of the procedure”.

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#Newsworthy

France Gov’t Unveils $118BN Economic Stimulus Plan

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French officials say programme will be Europe’s largest relative to GDP, likely to create around 160,000 jobs by 2021.


The French government has detailed its 100 billion euro ($118bn) stimulus plan to erase the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis over two years, lining up billions of euros in public investments, subsidies and tax cuts.

The plan – dubbed “France Relaunch” – earmarks, in particular, 35 billion euros ($41bn) for making the euro zone’s second-biggest economy more competitive, 30 billion euros ($35bn) for more environmentally friendly energy schemes and 25 billion euros ($30bn) for supporting jobs, officials told the Reuters news agency ahead of its official presentation late on Thursday.

With the plan equating to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), France is ploughing more public cash into its economy than any other big European country as a percentage of GDP, one of the officials said.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said he hoped the economic recovery plan would create 160,000 jobs by 2021.

Speaking on RTL radio, he also said the plan aimed to erase the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis over two years as well as helping to avert widespread job losses.

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Risky bet
It is a high-stakes political move for President Emmanuel Macron. His government is banking on the plan to return the economy to pre-crisis levels of activity by 2022 after suffering this year what the finance ministry expects to be its worst post-war recession with a contraction of 11 percent, among the biggest slumps in Europe.

The initial rebound following the end of a nationwide lockdown in May appears to be tapering off. Furlough measures have helped contain unemployment for now, but it could rise sharply in the coming months.

A cut in business taxes and a big boost for environmentally friendly energy production are two of the elements in France’s $118bn economic stimulus programme [File: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg]

Looming over the grim outlook are presidential elections in April 2022, leaving Macron no time for another shot at a defining policy transformation before he faces voters.

The economic recovery plan also aims to put Macron’s pro-business push back on track with already-flagged cuts in business taxes worth 10 billion euros ($12bn) annually and fresh public funds to boost France’s industrial, construction and transport sectors.

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Officials said the transport sector would get 11 billion euros ($13bn) with 4.7 billion euros ($5.5bn) targeting the rail network in particular while energy-efficient building renovations would be spurred with four billion euros ($4.7bn) for public buildings and two billion euros ($2.4bn) for homes.

The hydrogen industry, increasingly seen as a key building block in the transition away from fossil fuels, would get two billion euros ($2.4bn) over the two years of the stimulus plan.

Another one billion euros ($1.2bn) would be offered in direct aid for industrial projects, including 600 million euros ($709m) to help firms relocate overseas plants back to France.

‘Very French’
The government estimates that France Relaunch will return economic output to 2019 levels in 2022, according to officials at the prime minister’s office, while also having a lasting impact that will raise potential growth by one percentage point 10 years from now.

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“It’s a wise mix of short-term boosts to demand via job protection and longer-term supply via investment,” Allianz’s chief economist Ludovic Subran told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media). “But it’s very French in the way it aims to resolve everything in one plan. There are no contingencies for supporting businesses and households in response to a changing pandemic.”

Governments across Europe are planning additional stimulus as the coronavirus continues to hammer economies. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling bloc on Tuesday backed plans allowing for extraordinary deficit spending next year.

But many countries have already stretched their finances. In France’s case, emergency spending has pushed the debt burden to around 120 percent of economic output – a level the central bank has warned the government should not exceed.

Some 80 billion euros of the overall cost of the French plan will weigh directly on the budget deficit, with EU subsidies offsetting 40 billion euros ($47bn), officials said.


#Newsworthy…

Update: France reform proposal for Lebanon in details.

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France proposed a detailed draft list of sweeping reforms it is pressuring Lebanon to implement by year’s end.


French President Emmanuel Macron, in a visit to Lebanon, has offered to help provide the crisis-hit nation with vital aid if its politicians make good on long-overdue reforms.

Speaking at the palatial French ambassador’s residence in Beirut from where Greater Lebanon was proclaimed by colonial France 100 years ago, Macron said he would rally international aid at an October donor conference aimed at rebuilding the capital after a devastating explosion last month and halting the country’s economic demise.

But “we will not give Lebanon a carte-blanche, or a blank check,” he added, noting that everything was conditional on whether the country’s fractious leaders could unite around change.

Even before the August 4 explosion that killed at least 190 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged wide swaths of Beirut, Lebanon had been drowning in economic crisis.

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Its government was seeking $20bn in financial aid, half from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme and the other half from development funds pledged by a host of donor nations at a 2018 donor conference. An additional sum of nearly $5bn is now needed for the reconstruction of Beirut, as well as humanitarian assistance.

French President Emmanuel Macron and French Health Minister Olivier Veran visit Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut [Stephane Lemouton/Reuters]

Macron said Lebanese leaders had pledged to form a government with 15 days, which must then implement a host of reforms within one to three months.

Before the meetings on Tuesday, the French embassy distributed a “draft programme for the new government”, to the heads of political blocs, which Noble Reporters Media has obtained.

The French draft proposals get into the nitty-gritty details of public policy in Lebanon, underlining some laws and projects and sidelining others.

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Here are the main points:

COVID-19 and the humanitarian situation

  • The government will prepare and disseminate a coronavirus pandemic control plan “that includes support for the most vulnerable people”.
  • It will strengthen social safety net programmes for the population.

Aftermath of the Beirut explosion

  • The government will facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid – provided by the international community and coordinated by the United Nations – in an “expeditious, transparent and effective manner”.
  • It will put in place governance mechanisms to allow the disbursal of aid in a “transparent and traceable manner”.
  • It will begin reconstruction based on a needs assessment by the World Bank, EU and UN that estimated the value of damages caused by the explosion at up to $4.6bn.
  • The government will rapidly launch tenders for the reconstruction of Beirut’s port according to “neutral” standards.
  • It will conduct an “impartial and independent investigation” into the port explosion “that enables the full truth to be established regarding the causes of the explosion, with the support of Lebanon’s international partners … within a reasonable timeframe”.
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Reforms

  • The government will regularly exchange views with civil society regarding its programme and the reforms it entails.
  • It will immediately resume stalled negotiations with the IMF and rapidly approve measures requested by the lender, including a capital controls law and a “full audit” of the Central Bank’s accounts.
  • The French proposal also called for the approval of a timetable for working with the IMF within 15 days of the government gaining confidence. 

It goes on to propose time limits for sector-specific reforms.

Electricity sector

Within one month, the government will:

  • Appoint officials to the National Electricity Regulatory Authority according to Law 462/2002 “without amendments”, and provide the Authority with the resources to carry out its work.
  • Launch tenders for gas-fired power plants to plug Lebanon’s massive energy gap.
  • “Abandon” the controversial Selaata power plant project in its current form. The project is one President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement party have insisted on.

Within three months, the government will:

  • Announce a timetable for raising the price of electricity, “provided that this will first affect the most financially wealthy consumers”.
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Capital controls

Within one month:

  • Parliament should finalise and approve a draft law on capital control that should “immediately be implemented for a period of four years” after it is approved by the IMF.

Governance, judicial and financial regulations

Within one month, the government will:

  • Hold a meeting to follow up on the 2018 donor conference in which the international community pledged $11bn in soft loans, and launch a website dedicated to following up on projects, financing and related reforms.
  • Complete judicial, financial and administrative appointments, including members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority and regulatory bodies in the electricity, telecommunications and civil aviation sectors, “in accordance with transparency and competency-based standards”.
  • Approve in Parliament a law on the independence of the judiciary.
  • Launch a study on Lebanon’s public administration by an “independent international institution” such as the World Bank or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “with a specialised office”.
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Fighting corruption and smuggling

Within one month, the government will:

  • Appoint members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and grant it the resources to launch its work.
  • Launch the track to accede to a 1997 OECD treaty on combating corruption.
  • Implement customs reforms with immediate effect.

Within three months, the government will:

  • Establish “control gates” and strengthen oversight at the Beirut and Tripoli ports and at the Beirut airport, as well as at other border crossings.

Public procurement reform

Within one month:

  • Parliament will prepare, adopt and implement a bill on public procurement reform.
  • The government will grant the Higher Council for Privatization the human and financial capabilities necessary to carry out its tasks.
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Public finances

Within one month:

  • Prepare and vote on a “corrective finance bill that explicitly clarifies the status of accounts for the year 2020”.

By the end of the year:

  • Prepare and approve a “harmonised” budget for the year 2021.

Elections

  • “The government will ensure that new legislative elections are organised within a maximum period of one year.”
  • “The electoral law will be reformed with the full inclusion of civil society, allowing Parliament to be more representative of the aspirations of civil society.”

At his speech later on Wednesday, however, Macron seemed to walk back his proposal for early polls, saying there was “no consensus” on early elections and that other reforms were the priority.


#Newsworthy…

Fourteen go on trial in France amid Charlie Hebdo attack.

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Trial opens in Paris for 14 suspects accused of helping gunmen attack French magazine and Jewish supermarket in 2015.


Fourteen people have gone on trial in Paris on charges of assisting the gunmen who attacked the weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket five years ago, leaving 17 people dead.

Only 11 of the suspected accomplices appeared in the packed courtroom on Wednesday to face charges of conspiracy in a terrorist act or association with a terror group – the other three fled to territory controlled by ISIL (ISIS) in Syria or Iraq before the January 2015 attacks on the publication’s offices and the supermarket in the French capital.

The three attackers were shot dead by police in separate stand-offs.

Reporting from Paris, Noble Reporters Media learnt the trial will be “very closely watched” in France until it wraps up in November.

“The attacks shocked so many people, prompting an enormous outpouring of grief,” she added.

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Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, was targeted after publishing derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were shot dead when French brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed its offices in eastern Paris on January 7, 2015. The attackers also killed a police officer as they left the scene.

A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, who had become close to Cherif Kouachi while they were in prison, killed a 27-year-old police officer, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, during a traffic check in Montrouge, outside Paris.

Then on January 9, Coulibaly killed four men during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket.

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The perpetrators of the attacks had links with al-Qaeda and ISIL. Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were killed when officers carried out a nearly simultaneous operation at a printing shop where they were holed up in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.

Lawyers for the victims enter the courtroom for the opening of the trial [Charles Platiau/Reuters]

Caricatures reprinted
Over the next two-and-a-half months, the court will hear from some 150 experts and witnesses.

The suspected accomplices face charges including financing terrorism, membership in a terrorist organisation and supplying weapons to the attackers.

The defendants tried in absentia include Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s partner at the time of the attacks, and brothers Mohamed and Mehdi Belhoucine.

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As the court proceedings got under way, Charlie Hebdo reprinted in its Wednesday issue the hugely controversial caricatures that stirred outrage in the Muslim world when they were first published nearly a decade before the attacks. Physical depictions of the prophet are forbidden in Islam and deeply offensive to Muslims.

“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who was wounded in the attack, wrote in an editorial published on Wednesday.

The publication of the cartoons drew fresh condemnation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry, which said the decision to print them again was “deeply offensive”.

But French President Emmanuel Macron defended the “freedom to blaspheme” and paid tribute to the victims of the attack.

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“A president of France should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist or editorial staff because there is freedom of the press which is rightly cherished,” he said on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote in a Twitter post: “Always Charlie”.

The 2015 attacks prompted a rally of solidarity in Paris at the time, drawing more than four million people, many holding signs with the slogan “I Am Charlie.”

Dozens of world leaders and statespeople also linked arms in a march under high security to pay tributes to the victims of the attacks.


#Newsworthy…

France’s satirical paper reprinting caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

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The move comes a day before 13 men and one woman accused of assisting the 2015 attackers of the paper go on trial.


The French satirical paper whose Paris offices were attacked in 2015 is reprinting the caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that the gunmen who opened fire on its editorial staff cited as their motivation.

The move was announced on Tuesday, a day before 13 men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics go on trial on charges of terrorism on Wednesday.

In an editorial this week accompanying the caricatures, the paper said the drawings “belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten nor erased”.

The January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and, two days later, a kosher supermarket, touched off a wave of killings claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group across Europe.

Seventeen people died in the attacks – 12 of them at the editorial offices – along with all three attackers.

The attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, claimed their attack on the newspaper in the name of al-Qaeda. As they left the scene at Charlie Hebdo, they killed a wounded policeman and drove away.

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Two days later, a prison acquaintance of theirs stormed a kosher supermarket on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, claiming allegiance to ISIL. Four hostages were killed during the attack.

The Kouachi brothers had by then holed up in a printing office with another hostage. All three attackers died in near-simultaneous police raids.

The supermarket attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, also killed a young policewoman.

The artwork depicting members of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo [File: Francois Guillot/AFP]

Blasphemy
The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in 2006 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests by Muslims who believe depicting the Prophet is blasphemy.

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Charlie Hebdo, infamous for its irreverence, regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths and republished them soon afterwards.

The paper’s Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.

Laurent Sourisseau, the paper’s director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week’s edition.

“Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular,” wrote Sourisseau, also known as Riss.


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