French government furious over new military letter warning Macron of ‘survival’ of France

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The government of French President Emmanuel Macron reacted with fury on Monday after a group of serving French soldiers published an open letter warning that “civil war” was brewing over his “concessions” to Islamism, weeks after a similar message from elements in the military rocked the elite.

The letter, posted on the website of the right-wing Valeurs Actuelles magazine late Sunday, echoes the one published by the same publication last month but appears to have been written by an unknown number of younger troops still in active service.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, a close ally of Macron, accused the anonymous signatories of the second letter of lacking “courage” while Defence Minister Florence Parly dismissed it as part of a “crude political scheme”.

Prime Minister Jean Castex meanwhile told Le Parisien newspaper that the letter was a “political manoeuvre” by the “extreme right”.

But it was welcomed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen, seen as Macron’s main rival for next year’s presidential election.

She had also been blamed by some in the government over the previous letter, which was signed by a handful of officers and around 20 semi-retired generals.

‘Generation of fire’

“We are not talking about extending your mandates or conquering others. We are talking about the survival of our country, the survival of your country,” said the latest letter, which was addressed to Macron and his cabinet.

The authors described themselves as soldiers from the younger generation of the military, a so-called “generation of fire” that had seen active service.

“They have offered up their lives to destroy the Islamism that you have made concessions to on our soil,” they wrote.

They claimed also to have served in the Sentinelle security operation within France, launched after a wave of jihadist attacks in 2015.

They charged that for some religious communities “France means nothing but an object of sarcasm, contempt or even hatred”.

“If a civil war breaks out, the military will maintain order on its own soil… civil war is brewing in France and you know it perfectly well,” the letter said.

In contrast to the previous missive, the latest letter can be signed by the public, with Valeurs Actuelles saying more than 160,000 had done so by Monday afternoon.

‘Is this courage?’

A high-ranking officer in military headquarters told AFP the armed forces would not let the letter go without a response.

“A firm reminder will be made by the command on the respect of duty,” said the officer, who asked not to be named, adding that remaining apolitical was essential to maintain the military’s credibility.

“One can have personal convictions but the armed forces are apolitical and have absolute loyalty to the elected president. If you feel bad, you can leave the army with a clean conscience,” the officer said.

“I believe that when you are in the military you don’t do this kind of thing in hiding,” Darmanin told BFM television. “These people are anonymous. Is this courage? To be anonymous?”

“It is part of a crude political scheme,” Parly told the same channel. “It uses all the rhetoric, the vocabulary, the tone, the references which are those of the extreme right.”

Analysts say Macron has tacked to the right in recent months to prevent Le Pen and her National Rally party from exploiting a series of attacks in late 2020 blamed on Islamist extremists who recently immigrated to France.

Civil war “is brewing,” responded Le Pen during a visit to western France. “In any case, it is a risk. Of course, there is always a risk of civil war,” she said, adding that she welcomed the second letter as she had the first.

“It is clearly not a call to insurrection,” she said. “Otherwise I would not be supporting it.”

Castex had labelled the rare intervention in politics by military figures in last month’s letter “an initiative against all of our republican principles, of honour and the duty of the army”.

Armed forces chief of staff General Francois Lecointre said those who signed it would face punishments ranging from enforced full retirement to disciplinary action.


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Slavery then and how: How does France address its colonial legacy?

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The discussion got heated in this very studio last week when we asked about the French president commemorating the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon, a reformer but also a tyrant who restored slavery. This Monday, the same Emmanuel Macron took part in ceremonies for the 15th annual national day of commemoration of enslavement and its abolition.

We ask about the civics and politics of remembrance, particularly when a nation is one year away from a presidential election and Macron’s main rival, from the far right, clamours against so-called political correctness. 

Yet it is about more than how a nation deals with its past and its identity. Slavery and indentured service still exist today. They’ve adapted surprisingly well to globalisation. The migrant crisis reveals the routes and networks of human trafficking. How are we unwittingly contributing to the enslavement of others and what can be done to stop it?

Produced by Alessandro Xenos, Juliette Laurain and Imen Mellaz.

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Behind the scenes of French TV show ‘Fort Boyard’

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How is “Fort Boyard”, one of the most famous TV game shows in France, made? We give you the keys to the fort! We discover how the challenges are designed and tested. We also see how, behind the thick walls of the fort, hundreds of professionals – hosts, directors, camera operators, animal tamers, technicians, workers and decorators – have been working hard to enthral viewers every summer for more than 30 years.

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France commemorates national day of the abolition of slavery

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French President Emmanuel Macron is leading a ceremony in Paris on Monday to commemorate the country’s national day of the abolition of slavery and to pay tribute to the victims of the slave trade. This year, the country is also celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Taubira law, which in 2001 officially recognised slavery as a “crime against humanity”.

This is the third time that Macron will lead the ceremony, which is taking place at the Luxembourg Gardens in the heart of Paris. There, the French president will make his way to a monument that celebrates the abolition of slavery.

Also attending the ceremony are members of the government’s cabinet, including interior minister Gérald Darmanin, justice minister Éric Dupond-Moretti, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, and culture minister Roselyne Bachelot.

Follow the ceremony live on FRANCE 24 by clicking on the player above.

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French economy will return to pre-Covid levels by 2022, finance minister says

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The French economy will return to its pre-Covid-19 levels of economic activity by the first half of 2022, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday, reaffirming also his target of 5% economic growth for France in 2021. 

“Economic growth is back in the first quarter… I think we will have a strong growth in 2021,” Le Maire told France Info radio.

He ruled out a second economic stimulus plan on top of France’s current €100 billion ($122 billion) economic stimulus plan.

Le Maire added, however that it was fair to raise the issue of longer-term investment plans for France.

President Emmanuel Macron pointed last week to a “second period of recovery” that would see investment accelerated, triggering speculation in the press and among economists that a second round of stimulus was in the pipeline.


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France’s outdoor cafés, restaurants to reopen May 19, health minister confirms

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The reopening of outdoor bars and restaurants will go ahead on May 19, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Monday, as the number of Covid-19 cases in intensive care eases. 

“The prospects look rather good but we must not let down the guard,” Véran told LCI television.

The number of Covid-19 patients in French intensive care units fell below 5,000  on Sunday, for the first time since late March, according to health ministry data.

On May 19, non-essential business will be allowed to reopen while restaurants and cafés can admit customers outdoors, with a maximum of six people per table. The measures are part of a four-step easing of restrictions announced at the end of April. 

Foreign tourists are expected to be allowed to enter the country starting June 9 if they have a vaccination certificate or PCR test. The nightly curfew in some areas, currently starting at 7pm, is also set to be extended to 11pm.

Starting June 30, the night curfew and most other restrictions will be lifted if infection rates are kept under control, although Covid-19 prevention protocols will remain in place in public spaces. Nightclubs will stay closed.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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Thousands to march in France demanding real action on climate change

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Some 160 demonstrations calling for substantive action on climate change are set to take place across France on Sunday, a day before the Senate is expected to reject a bill that would enshrine a commitment to “environmental protection and biological diversity” in the French constitution.

President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to enshrine the fight against climate change in the French constitution via a referendum was in doubt on Sunday as senators appeared poised to torpedo the plan.

The initiative to state in the constitution that France “guarantees environmental protection and biological diversity, and combats climate change” originated in a citizen’s body set up by Macron last year.

Seeking the upper hand in what could be a key issue in next year’s elections, the president promised a referendum on the bill if it gained approval in both houses of parliament.

The National Assembly, where Macron has a majority, overwhelmingly voted in favour of the revision in March.

But on Monday, the bill goes to the Senate, where the right-wing Republicans hold the majority.

They have already decided “to empty the bill of its substance”, Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, a National Assembly deputy for Macron’s LREM party charged on Sunday.

He warned in the JDD weekly that changes “will prevent the agreement,” as under French law a referendum can go ahead only if it is approved in identical wording by both houses of parliament.

Macron’s office responded by telling AFP that the plan to change to constitution was “in no way buried”.

But a majority of senators takes issue with the word “guarantee” in the bill, which they say implies that environmental concerns would take priority over other constitutional principles.

JDD meanwhile, in a separate article citing anonymous sources, claimed that Macron had already given up on the referendum idea even before the Senate vote.

Condemnation by his political opponents was swift, with Green party boss Julien Bayou saying that Macron “as usual made a promise he couldn’t keep”.

Centre-right senator Bruno Retailleau said Macron was guilty of “hypocrisy”, saying the president “accuses us of obstruction to justify the cancellation of a referendum that he never wanted”.

Green deputy Matthieu Orphelin said the government had refused to negotiate with the Senate, thus “manoeuvring so the process wouldn’t succeed”.

The last referendum in France was in 2005, when voters were asked to back the creation of a European constitution.

It was rejected in a humiliating defeat for then-president Jacques Chirac.


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Is France’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign up to scratch?

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This week, we’re putting the Focus on the French government’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy, as it comes under criticism for a sluggish rollout. We’re at an arts centre which has been converted into the largest of the 24 inoculation hubs in Paris. Every day, up to 1,000 people can be vaccinated at the centre, free of charge – as long as enough doses are available.

We start with a look at the Covid-19 immunisation timetable as it currently stands and we discuss its challenges with infectious disease specialist Anne-Claude Crémieux.

We also see how the French population’s initial reluctance regarding inoculation has been replaced by a steady rise in demand. For those who are ready but not yet able to get the jab, the hunt is now on for those elusive leftover doses.

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France orders 10-day quarantine for arrivals from seven more countries

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France has ordered a mandatory 10-day quarantine for arrivals from seven additional countries in a bid to control the spread of Covid-19, a government source told AFP on Friday.

Turkey is now on the extended quarantine list coming into force at midnight on Saturday, as are Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the source said.

India, which has seen an alarming surge in Covid infection rates and deaths, was put on the list last month, only days after France also announced a ban on all flights from Brazil to stave off the P1 coronavirus variant.

Arrivals from Argentina, Chile and South Africa also already have to comply with the quarantine requirement.

Arrivals from the countries on the list will also have to provide a PCR test less than 36 hours old, though this rule will be waived for the new additions over this weekend, the source said.

Passengers will have to provide proof on arrival that they have a place to quarantine, and will be allowed to leave that place for two hours every day.


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Loaded legacy: Napoléon continues to divide France, 200 years after his death


This year marks the bicentenary of Napoléon Bonaparte’s death, but two centuries on, his legacy remains controversial. Was he a heroic reformer or a racist, misogynistic tyrant? While he contributed massively to the modern French state, there are also darker aspects to his legacy, such as his reintroduction of slavery to islands in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean in 1802. The debate over how and even whether to commemorate the emperor rages on in France. We take a closer look in this edition of French Connections.

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