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French Drivers Block Roads in Fuel Tax Protest

Drivers in France are planning to block roads across the country to protest rising fuel taxes, in a new challenge to embattled President Emmanuel Macron.

 

Protesters pledge to target tollbooths, roundabouts and the bypass that rings Paris on Saturday. The government is preparing to send police to remove protesters and threatening fines.

 

The taxes are part of Macron’s strategy of weaning France off fossil fuels. Many drivers see them as emblematic of a presidency seen as disconnected from day-to-day economic difficulties.

 

The protesters have dubbed themselves the “yellow jackets” because they wear fluorescent vests that all French drivers must keep in their vehicles in case of car troubles.

 

Separately, ambulances briefly blocked Paris’ Champs-Elysees on Friday to protest new rules on ambulance financing and put pressure on Macron’s government.

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British Lawmakers: License Hand Car Washes to Combat Modern Slavery

British lawmakers are calling for hand car washes to be regulated and licensed to combat the modern-day slavery that is being carried out “in plain sight.”

The Environmental Audit Committee said in a report that authorities are not doing enough to prevent the “flagrant rule-breaking” and exploitation of workers at the tens of thousands of hand car washes around the country. Many of them operate on shopping center parking lots and other disused spaces.

More than a quarter of the reports of alleged labor abuses referred to the Modern Slavery Helpline last year were about hand car washes.

“Hand car washes are a common sight in our towns and cities,” said Committee Chair Mary Creagh. “Yet they hide the widespread exploitation of workers through illegally low pay, poor working conditions and in some cases, forced labor.”

The committee report said thousands of workers in Britain are believed to be slaves. Many of them are thought to be Eastern European men trapped in debt bondage, forced to work in unsafe conditions, stripped of their documents and subjected to threats, abuse and violence.

The hand car washes are also blamed for water pollution as the chemicals used flow unchecked into storm drains.

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Turkish Police Detain 13 Academics, Activists in Raids 

Turkish police have detained 13 academics, activists and journalists over links to a jailed businessman and human rights defender, and allegations that they sought to topple the government by supporting mass protests during 2013, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Friday.

Anadolu Agency said professors Betul Tanbay and Turgut Tarhanli of Istanbul’s Bosphorus and Bilgi universities, and journalist Cigdem Mater were among those detained in simultaneous police operations in Istanbul and in three provinces.

They were being questioned over their links to the Anatolia Culture Association founded by Osman Kavala, a philanthropist businessman who was arrested a year ago and accused of attempts to “abolish” the constitutional order and the government. No indictment has been issued against him.

Anadolu said police are searching for seven other people linked to the association, which says it aims to promote peace and minority rights through culture.

The group is suspected of trying to bring down the government by fomenting “chaos and disorder” through their alleged involvement in efforts to expand anti-government protests that grew from opposition to the cutting down of trees at Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Authorities suspect that Kavala used the association, as well as a foundation that he also headed, to finance and organize efforts to broaden the protests, the agency reported.

The detentions drew criticism from the European Union, which called the development “alarming,” and from human rights groups.

“The repeated detentions of critical voices and the continued widespread pressure on civil society representatives run counter to the Turkish government’s declared commitment to human rights and to fundamental freedoms,” the EU said a statement.

The statement said the detentions would be raised during a high-level EU visit to Ankara next week.

Amnesty International’s Turkey Strategy and Research Manager Andrew Gardner said: “This latest wave of detentions of academics and activists, on the basis of absurd allegations, shows that the authorities are intent on continuing their brutal crackdown of independent civil society.”

​Since an attempted coup in 2016, Turkey’s government has been accused of stifling freedom of expression by arresting thousands of people for alleged connections to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the failed attempt, or links to terror groups. It has purged many more people from state institutions and jailed dozens of journalists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called Kavala “Turkey’s Soros,” a reference to American billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations have funded education, health, justice and media projects around the world. Pro-government media in Turkey accuse Kavala of engaging in anti-government conspiracies.

Eleven prominent activists, including Amnesty International’s former Turkey chairman, were arrested last year at their hotel on an island off of Istanbul while training. They were eventually released from jail pending the outcome of their trial for supporting terror groups.

Separately on Friday, police detained 86 people, most of them former Air Force personnel, in operations across Turkey and were looking for 100 others for alleged links to Gulen’s movement, Anadolu reported.

More than 15,000 people have been purged from the military since the coup, Turkey’s defense minister has said.

The cleric denies involvement in the coup. 

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Report: Russia Has Access to UK Visa Processing

Investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider are suggesting that Russian intelligence has infiltrated the computer infrastructure of a company that processes British visa applications.

The investigation, published Friday, aims to show how two suspected Russian military intelligence agents, who have been charged with poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury, may have obtained British visas.

The Insider and Bellingcat said they interviewed the former chief technical officer of a company that processes visa applications for several consulates in Moscow, including that of Britain.

The man, who fled Russia last year and applied for asylum in the United States, said he had been coerced to work with agents of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, who revealed to him that they had access to the British visa center’s CCTV cameras and had a diagram of the center’s computer network. The two outlets say they have obtained the man’s deposition to the U.S. authorities but have decided against publishing the man’s name, for his own safety.

The Insider and Bellingcat, however, did not demonstrate a clear link between the alleged efforts of Russian intelligence to penetrate the visa processing system and Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who have been charged with poisoning Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March this year.

The man also said that FSB officers told him in spring 2016 that they were going to send two people to Britain and asked for his assistance with the visa applications. The timing points to the first reported trip to Britain of the two men, who traveled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Anatoly Boshirov. The man, however, said he told the FSB that there was no way he could influence the decision-making on visa applications.

The man said he was coerced to sign an agreement to collaborate with the FSB after one of its officers threatened to jail his mother, and was asked to create a “backdoor” to the computer network. He said he sabotaged those efforts before he fled Russia in early 2017.

In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of the agents of Russian military intelligence GRU accused of the March nerve agent attack on double agent Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents’ real names and the media, including The Associated Press, were able to corroborate their real identities.

The visa application processing company, TLSContact, and the British Home Office were not immediately available for comment.

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Turkey Rejects Saudi Claim on Khashoggi’s Killing

Turkey has dismissed Saudi Arabia’s latest version of events in the October 2 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi authorities announced this week 11 people are being charged with the writer’s killing and that the death penalty is sought for five. The country’s deputy public prosecutor alleged Khashoggi was killed in a  rogue operation that went wrong when a fight broke out as he was being injected with a drug and tied up.

“I have to say that I did not find some of the [Saudi] statements satisfactory,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Thursday.

Cavusoglu went on to repeat Ankara’s claim Khashoggi was the victim of premeditated murder.

Turkey’s political leadership has been at the forefront of challenging Saudi Arabia about the killing, forcing its leadership to repeatedly change its story.

Senior members of Turkey’s ruling AK Party joined hundreds of supporters and friends at an Istanbul mosque on Friday to pray for Khashoggi and vow that justice will be done.

“We are going to be defenders of his cause. What we want is not revenge but justice,” said Yasin Aktay, deputy AK head and friend of Khashoggi, addressing mourners.

“There are 15 people defined as perpetrators [in Khashoggi’s death], but they didn’t make this decision on their own. This is the story being sold to us, and we don’t believe in it,“ he added, criticizing Saudi Arabia’s latest version of Khashoggi’s killing.

Saudi Arabia’s changing story

In the first few days following Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi officials maintained that the journalist left the consulate after a visit for marriage documents.

Following sustained pressure by Ankara, through a campaign of leaks to international media of information about the killing, Saudi Arabia finally acknowledged the writer died in the consulate.

On Thursday, columnist Abdulkadir Selvi of Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper wrote that a 15-minute recording of Khashoggi’s killers undermines Riyadh’s claim the death wasn’t premeditated.

“The Saudi team discusses how to execute Khashoggi. They are reviewing their plan, which was previously prepared, and reminding themselves of the duties of each member,” wrote Selvi, who has close links to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey has already shared a seven-minute audio recording capturing Khashoggi’s killing with its Western allies and Saudi authorities. Until now, it has been widely assumed the tape was the key piece of evidence held by Turkish investigators. The claim of further recordings is likely to increase pressure on the Saudis and, in particular, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Erdogan has repeatedly alluded to the crown prince’s alleged involvement, a charge Riyadh strongly denies. Washington, a key ally of the crown prince, continues to back him publicly. And analysts suggest the US is increasingly looking to Erdogan for a resolution of the diplomatic crisis, given his country’s pivotal role in the death investigation.

“In the Khashoggi case, they have very good communication with Washington, said former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served in Washington.

This past week, a U.S. media report suggested Washington was looking into the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in exchange for Ankara’s easing pressure on Riyadh.

Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in the state of Pennsylvania and denies Turkey’s accusation of involvement in a failed Turkish coup in 2016.

Washington denies any deal, but U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday , “We continue to evaluate the material that the Turkish government presents requesting his extradition.”

Gulen’s extradition is a top diplomatic priority for Turkey even as it dismisses any talk of a deal.

“Turkey’s pending request for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the United States and the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder are two separate issues. They are not connected in any way, shape or form,” said a senior Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition,” he added.

Analysts point out it’s doubtful Washington could make such an offer, given Gulen’s extradition is a matter for the courts, which experts say is a potentially lengthy and challenging process.

Also, analysts say since Erdogan sees the Saudi crown prince as his chief rival in the region, his goals may extend well beyond an extradition.

“We are in a new phase, and there will be more cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey. And this is part of replacing Mohammed bin Salman,” said former Turkish diplomat Selcen.

“What Erdogan wants to harvest from this case of Khashoggi’s murder,” he added, “is to replace Mohammed bin Salman as the pivotal actor, the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the Middle East.”

Some observers suggest while Turkey has so far handled the Khashoggi case with skill, it could be in danger of overreach, given the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

But they say the U.S. and Saudi Arabia likely will continue to be on the defensive, especially that Turkey, which may well have more incriminating evidence in the case, is now calling for an international investigation.

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Britain’s May Sticks to Brexit Deal as Rebellion Grows

Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May came out fighting Friday in defense of her contentious draft Brexit deal, calling on the British public to back her. But critics within her party, who complain the proposed agreement would turn Britain into a “vassal state,” mounted a formal bid to oust her.

The proposed deal with the European Union, more than two years after Britons voted in a referendum to exit the bloc, has triggered half-a-dozen ministerial resignations.

It also prompted high drama in the House of Commons, where May received the most hostile reception a sitting prime minister has endured since 1940, when Neville Chamberlain was pushed out of office at the start of the Second World War.

The withdrawal deal has been pronounced “dead on arrival” by lawmakers across the political spectrum. They say the agreement won’t gain parliamentary backing in a planned vote next month. The deal would see Britain remaining in the EU’s customs union, which address imports and exports, for an indefinite period and subject to the bloc’s rules and regulations without having any say about them

May maintained during a radio interview Friday that she has negotiated the best deal possible, despite it crossing many “red lines” she had set previously. May and her loyalists say there is no alternative to the proposed withdrawal agreement that runs to 538 pages and took many months of tortuous negotiations to seal, because the alternatives are even more unpalatable for Britain or impossible to get the EU and its 27 member countries to accept.

May says the draft agreement is just a staging post, a temporary deal that’s in place while Britain negotiates over the next few years a fuller free trade deal with the bloc. Her supporters say it is no time for a change in leadership with just over four months to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU, deal or no deal.

“I am not sure any other prime minister could have done any better,” said Simon Hart, a Conservative lawmaker. “I will say one thing for the prime minister — you can never doubt her resilience and stoicism,” he added.

Partial relief

The prime minister got some relief Friday when a senior minister, Michael Gove, who had been rumored to be resigning to protest the draft deal, said he would be staying in the Cabinet.

It remains unclear, however, whether other prominent hardline Brexiters in May’s thinning Cabinet will follow Gove’s cue over the next few weeks and decide against tendering their resignations. So far, several other Brexiters in the Cabinet have indicated they will stay to work together to improve the deal. “Resigning and joining a rebellion is not going to help anything,” said one of their aides.

Whether their resolve will hold is another thing, if the internecine [destructive] rebellion against May gains momentum.

“Then they will have to consider how their choice plays out in any future leadership election they may want to compete in,” said a party official.

And talk of renegotiation is being rebuffed by EU officials, who on Friday cautioned that the agreement is the best they can do and there can be no changes.

“This is a good deal for both sides,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday. “No one was tricked into anything,” said Kurz, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year. He warned that the only alternative would be for Britain to leave the EU without any deal, which “would hurt Britain badly.”

Mounting leadership challenges

Gove’s decision not to resign didn’t stop more Conservative lawmakers from lodging formal letters with party authorities calling for a vote of no confidence in May as party leader, the first stage in a leadership challenge.

As May started her effort to sell the deal to the public, John Whittingdale, a Brexiter and former culture secretary, filed his letter, joining more than two dozen other Conservative rebels who have publicly called for her to step aside.

“I believe that the agreement that is being proposed does not deliver Brexit in the way that I and many others want to see. It leaves us locked in indefinitely into the customs union. I also don’t think it can get through the House of Commons,” he wrote.

May’s party critics accuse her of going from her oft-stated position that “no deal is better than a bad deal” to one where she appears to accept “any deal is better than no deal.”

“It is no good trying to pretend that the deal honors the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone it doesn’t,” said Esther McVey, who resigned this week as works and pension minister.

Time on May’s side

Whether the deal honors what the majority of Britons voted for in June 2016 may be a moot point, say analysts. In trying to sell a deal that satisfies neither Brexiters, who want a sharp break with the EU, nor Remainers, who say staying as a member of the bloc is the only thing that won’t damage Britain, May, if she can see off the rebellion, has time on her side, they say.

She is banking on securing a majority next month for her deal when parliament is scheduled to vote formally on it, by daring lawmakers across the political spectrum — all the opposition parties have formally come out against the deal — to let a “no-deal Brexit” go ahead, likely triggering a recession and leaving behind it bankrupt businesses and ruined livelihoods.

The fear of quitting the EU without a deal seems to be persuading some lawmakers who dislike the agreement to accept they have no option but to back it.

“The most likely alternative is we leave the EU with no deal at all,” wrote Nicky Morgan, a former Conservative minister, in an article for The Guardian newspaper. “And I believe that would be deeply damaging to our economy and our constituents. I cannot sign up to that.”

Party officials, known as Whips, were mounting a feverish effort Friday to dissuade Conservative lawmakers from insisting on holding a no-confidence vote on May’s leadership. Their biggest fear is that if they are unable to do so before lawmakers head back to their constituencies, where the draft agreement is highly unpopular among grassroots Conservatives, then the prime minister will not be able to avoid a leadership challenge and the rebellion will gather steam, analysts say.

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Ex-Macedonia PM Gruevski Seeking Refugee Status in Hungary

Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski sought asylum at a Hungarian representation outside Macedonia before reaching Hungary earlier this week and submitting his formal application for refugee status, Budapest said on Thursday.

Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after 10 years in power, fled his Balkan homeland six months after being sentenced to two years in prison on corruption-related charges.

Macedonian police issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to show up to begin his sentence following a Nov. 9 court ruling against his motion for a reprieve.

Gruevski’s refugee status application could put Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a tight spot. He supported the fellow nationalist Gruevski in the run-up to Macedonia’s 2017 election and praised his party’s efforts in halting migrants passing through the Balkans northwards towards Western Europe.

A senior Hungarian official declined to say in which country Gruevski had first sought Hungarian asylum or how he later made his way to the Immigration and Asylum Office in Budapest where he submitted documents and secured a hearing.

“According to my knowledge he made a statement regarding threats to his safety … that justified that his hearing should be conducted not in a transit zone but in Budapest,” said Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s cabinet chief.

Speaking to reporters, Gulyas would not say whether the Hungarian government was involved in helping Gruevski get to Budapest or whether he arrived by land or air. He said Hungary played no role in Gruevski’s exit from Macedonia.

Police in Albania, which borders Macedonia, said later on Thursday that Gruevski had crossed Albanian territory into Montenegro to the north on Sunday evening as a passenger in an Hungarian embassy car. It was unclear whether Gruevski then transited Serbia to reach Hungary further north.

Albanian police said Interpol notified them of an arrest warrant for Gruevski only on Tuesday, when the ex-premier announced on his Facebook page that he was in Budapest and seeking asylum.

Gulyas said Budapest had not yet received an official request from Macedonia to extradite Gruevski, adding Hungary would act “in line with the laws” if that happens. He said there was an extradition agreement between the two countries.

Asked if Gruevski was being protected by Hungarian authorities, Gulyas said Budapest had applied “the appropriate security protocol”, and was assured he would not leave the country. Gruevski had not met Orban this week, he added.

On Wednesday, a Fidesz party spokesman said Gruevski was a politician who was being persecuted by Macedonia’s leftist government. Gulyas declined to comment on this.

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EU Says Romania Has Backtracked on Court Reforms

The European Commission complained Tuesday that Romania has gone back on court reforms, urging Bucharest to revive efforts immediately to fight corruption and ensure judicial independence.

The European Union’s executive arm highlighted growing concerns about threats to the rule of law and democratic values in not just Romania but other member countries such as Poland and Hungary.

“I regret that Romania has not only stalled its reform process, but also reopened and backtracked on issues where progress was made over the past 10 years,” Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said, presenting a report.

“It is essential that Romania gets back on track immediately in the fight against corruption and also ensures an independent judiciary,” he said.

The former Dutch foreign minister also expressed concern about restrictions on press freedom under Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s left-wing government in Bucharest.

“We need the media to be able to work free from pressure,” he told a press conference later.

Timmermans, the EU’s pointman on rule of law threats, issued eight recommendations for Romania, including immediately suspending procedures to appoint or dismiss prosecutors.

He also urged Romania to freeze the implementation of changes to the criminal code.

The commission said it will continue to follow Romania closely and will assess the situation before the end of the executive’s mandate next year.

“We don’t do this to punish, we do this to help,” Timmermans told reporters, stressing it was part of a cooperative dialogue with Romania.

In contrast, the Commission last year launched action that could result in unprecedented sanctions against Poland’s right-wing government over allegations that it posed a “systemic threat” to the rule of law.

The European Parliament launched a similar action in recent months against Poland’s ally Hungary, though member states could veto the sanctions that would result in their losing EU voting rights.

For months, the Commission has been expressing concern about changes to Romania’s penal code pushed through by the Social Democratic Party-led government, which its critics say are unconstitutional and threaten judicial independence.

During a debate last month in the European Parliament with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Union stressed the need for progress in Romania before it assumes the bloc’s rotating presidency in January.

‘Not ready for this’

Juncker warned Romania not to undermine its bid to join Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, where Bucharest needs a recommendation from the Commission and unanimous support from the other 27 EU member countries.

Romania and neighboring Bulgaria’s bid to join the Schengen zone — which is composed of 22 EU nations and four non-EU countries — have been blocked since 2007.

The Schengen area is one of the pillars of the European project, enshrining the right to free movement.

Bulgaria fared far better in the commission report, with Timmermans hailing its progress on judicial reform as well as fighting corruption and organized crime.

Prosecutors have had some success in clamping down on corruption in Romania, which has a reputation as one of the EU’s most graft-ridden countries, but the government accuses them of overstepping their power.

After winning elections in late 2016, the government attempted to water down anti-corruption legislation, but abandoned the plans in face of the biggest wave of protests since the collapse of communism in 1989.

In a non-binding vote, the European Parliament on Tuesday also warned Romania against undermining the independence of its courts and the fight against corruption before it assumes the EU presidency.

On Tuesday, The Romanian government appointed George Ciamba, a 52-year-old experienced diplomat, as Europe minister in order to prepare for the bloc presidency.

Iohannis, who hails from Romania’s center-right, had claimed that the leftist government is “not ready for this” presidency after Ciamba’s predecessor Victor Negrescu, 33, resigned late last week.

No public explanation was given but Romanian press reports said colleagues had blamed Negrescu for failing to ease EU concerns about Romania’s upcoming presidency.

Dancila insisted Romania was ready for the job and accused Iohannis of harming the country.

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Czech Opposition Pushes for No-Confidence Vote Over PM’s Investigation

Czech opposition parties on Tuesday called on Prime Minister Andrej Babis to resign and agreed to push for a no-confidence motion in his government after a news report that said his son had been sent abroad to hinder a fraud investigation.

Babis, a billionaire with farming, chemicals and media businesses, has long battled police charges that he manipulated the ownership of one of his firms a decade ago so that it would qualify for 2 million euros in European Union development aid.

He has denied any wrongdoing in what has become known as the Stork Nest scandal.

Six opposition parties said the case could not be properly investigated while Babis was still prime minister.

“[We] call on Andrej Babis to resign as prime minister until the Stork Nest case is investigated. This is the only way to ensure fair investigation,” the parties said in a statement.

Babis told parliament in March 2016 that the firm in question, a hotel and conference center outside Prague, was owned by his adult children and his partner’s brother at the time when the subsidy was approved. His two adult children and others have been charged in the case.

News website Seznam Zpravy tracked down Babis’ son Andrej in Switzerland where he lives with his mother, Babis’ ex-wife.

In what appeared to be a hidden camera interview on the doorstep of their apartment, Andrej Babis junior said he had been brought to Crimea so that he would not be called as a witness to the investigation.

He said that the person who brought him to Crimea was the husband of a psychiatrist who examined him and who had worked as an adviser for Babis senior in the past when he was finance minister.

Babis junior, who has received psychiatric treatment, said he did not believe him being moved to Crimea was his father’s idea.

“He [the man who took me there] took advantage of my father wanting me to disappear. Because of the Stork Nest affair,” Babis junior told the reporters, according to published footage.

Police had looked into the case and ruled that no crime had taken place, a police spokeswoman said.

Babis senior called the report a manipulation.

“To film a mentally ill man, secretly and in this way, that is heinous and revolting. This entire campaign is only aimed to put pressure on the investigators in the Stork Nest case, it is also used by the opposition,” Babis said in a statement from Sicily, where he was attending a conference on Libya.

The opposition parties lack the 101 votes in the 200-seat parliament that are needed to dismiss the prime minister.

The government includes Babis’ ANO party and the center-left Social Democrats. It also relies on votes from the Communist Party to have a majority in parliament.

The Social Democrats nor the Communists have indicated they would join the opposition in the vote.

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Trump Assails France, Macron in Salvo of Tweets

U.S. President Donald Trump launched verbal assaults Tuesday on France and President Emmanuel Macron, citing his low voter approval ratings and attacking French tariffs on U.S. wine exports and failure to meet NATO’s defense spending goal.

“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia,” Trump said first in a salvo of Twitter comments. “But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!” 

Trump has frequently attacked U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the West’s main defense alliance forged after World War II, for not yet meeting its 2024 goal of each country spending 2 percent of their national economies on defense, chiefly weapons and armed forces.

Eight of the 29 NATO countries are now meeting the 2 percent goal. French defense spending is at 1.82 percent of its gross domestic product, but Paris has announced plans to gradually boost military funding to reach the NATO goal by 2025. By comparison, U.S. defense spending is at 3.1 percent of its world-leading $19.4-trillion economy.

Trump has declared himself a “nationalist,” with an America First outlook on international relations. But Macron, with Trump listening nearby at Sunday’s centenary of the end of World War I in Paris, deplored rising nationalism throughout the world, declaring it a “betrayal of patriotism.”

Trump retorted Tuesday, “The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%. He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so! MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump, whose family business empire includes a Virginia vineyard that sells a variety of wines, also complained about French tariffs on U.S. wine exports.

France does charge higher tariffs on U.S. wines, but the monetary difference is relatively small, with five- to 14-cent tariffs on bottles of French wine imported into the U.S. versus 11 to 29 cents on U.S. exported wines headed to France.

Social media critics of Trump in the U.S. have mocked him for skipping a Saturday visit to a U.S. cemetery of World War I casualties because it was raining. Other world leaders in Paris visited their national cemeteries the same day and Trump White House chief of staff John Kelly, accompanied by other U.S. officials, made it to the American graveyard to lay a wreath honoring the war dead.

By way of explanation, Trump tweeted, “By the way, when the helicopter couldn’t fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving. Secret Service said NO, too far from airport & big Paris shutdown. Speech next day at American Cemetary in pouring rain! Little reported-Fake News!”