Here’s a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week:
The United States called on Sudanese military forces to release all civilian leaders in detention, amid growing international condemnation of the military takeover. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the U.S. support for a civilian-led transition to democracy while speaking to Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after his release from military custody.
Sudanese Security Forces Arrest 3 Leading Pro-Democracy Activists
The United States said it is prepared to return to Vienna for talks aimed at restoring a 2015 Iran nuclear deal that has been stalled for months, adding it is possible to “quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance with the JCPOA.” Iran said Wednesday it would resume talks with world powers about its nuclear development program by the end of November.
Iran Agrees to Resume Nuclear Talks
First ‘X-gender’ passport
The U.S. State Department announced Wednesday it has issued the first U.S. passport with an X-gender marker for nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people. The move follows a commitment to ensure “the fair treatment of LGBTQI+ U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender or sex.”
US State Department Issues First ‘X-Gender’ Passport
The State Department is creating a new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy to focus on tackling cybersecurity challenges at a time of growing threats from opponents. There will also be a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology, who will lead the technology diplomacy agenda with U.S. allies.
US State Department Creates Bureau to Tackle Digital Threats
The United States encouraged all United Nations member states to join the U.S. in supporting Taiwan’s “robust, meaningful participation throughout the U.N. system” and in the international community, consistent with Washington’s “One China” policy. Calling Taiwan “a democratic success story,” Blinken said Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the U.N. system is “not a political issue, but a pragmatic one.” China said Taiwan has no right to join the United Nations.
US Calls for Renewed Taiwan Participation at UN
On the 50th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Resolution 2758, a senior U.S. official said the international community benefits from “Taiwan’s expertise to address some of today’s most difficult global challenges,” while explaining how China is misusing U.N. Resolution 2758 to block Taiwan from participating in the U.N. system.
U.S. officials said the Biden administration seeks cooperation with Turkey, a NATO ally, on common priorities but will not shy away from addressing disagreements while promoting the rule of law and respect of human rights globally. The remarks came after Turkey declared 10 ambassadors from Western countries “persona non grata” for calling for the release of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala.
Turkey to Banish 10 Western Ambassadors, Erdogan Says
Iran said Wednesday it would resume talks with world powers about its nuclear development program by the end of November.
The U.S. State Department is aware of the reports but did not have “any further details,” a spokesman said, about new negotiations from the other parties to the 2015 international pact aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear arms development, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“As we have said many times, we are prepared to return to Vienna, and we believe that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance with the JCPOA by closing the small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of the sixth round of talks in June,” he said.
“As we have also been clear, this window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith,” he added.
The 2015 agreement included the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union, but former U.S. president Donald Trump pulled out of it in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions against Iran.
Trump said at the time the provisions of the deal were not tough enough to deter Tehran’s nuclear arms program.
Since then, Iran has said it has ramped up its enrichment of uranium to a 60% purity level, but not to the 90% enrichment level that is considered weapons grade. Iran has over recent years continually denied it intends to assemble nuclear weapons and says its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes.
On Wednesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, who serves as Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, wrote on Twitter, “We agree to start negotiations before the end of November. Exact date would be announced in the course of the next week.”
The EU and the world powers have been hard-pressed to get negotiations restarted since the election of a hard-liner in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is willing to restart talks if Iran is willing to adhere to its earlier commitments on the nuclear agreement and end its stepped-up enrichment of uranium.
But Vienna-based talks between the U.S. and Iran conducted through intermediaries made little headway before being interrupted by Raisi’s election. The talks have been suspended for the last four months.
Robert Malley, U.S. special representative to Iran, on Monday warned Iran that the U.S. had undisclosed “other options” if Iran’s nuclear work advances, although he said the Biden administration preferred diplomacy.
Some of the material in this story came Agence France-Presse and Reuters.your ad here
Eyes in Beijing and Moscow are trained on Central Asia, prompted by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The security threat in Afghanistan and the desire to shut off Central Asia from other powers, such as the U.S., is motivating Beijing and Moscow to cooperate and gloss over their differences, according to Emil Avdaliani, director of Middle East Studies at Georgian think tank Geocase.
“They purposefully avoid forming an alliance as that — as Moscow and Beijing argue — would constrain their foreign policies rather than create better conditions for coordination,” Avdaliani told VOA.
While China is the economic power in the Central Asian region, Russia plays more of a role as security guarantor, according to Avdaliani.
In the three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing’s gradual engagement with Central Asian countries had been focused on the economic front, with state-backed investments in hydrocarbons, mineral extraction, pipeline construction, transportation, power generation and, recently, industrialization of non-energy fields. China also has developed security coordination with regional powers through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Main security backer
Moscow has been the dominant security partner for the countries within the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization framework and has been the largest supplier of arms. Russia remains the main security backer of Central Asia, accounting for 62 percent of the regional arms market, while its economic dominance dropped from 80 percent of the region’s total trade in the 1990s ($110 billion) to just two-thirds that of Beijing ($18.6 billion).
“Lately there has been a trend of China becoming a security player, too,” Avdaliani told VOA. “First, there are reports of a Chinese military base in Tajikistan and perhaps some security presence in the north of Afghanistan. China is also increasingly engaged in military drills with Central Asia states.”
Beijing’s arms transfers through donations and sales to the regional countries, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, were modest until 2014. Since that year, China has ramped up arms transfers to the region, according to a Wilson Center report this year.
China built its Tajik military outpost in 2016, with facilities in the country’s mountainous Gorno-Badakhshan province near the Afghan border.
Other bordering nations
In addition to Russia, China has cooperated with Pakistan and Iran, countries that border Central Asia, and have economic, security or political interests in that region.
Another regional power is India, which, like China, aims to maintain security in Afghanistan. India worries about a spillover of the insurgency into the disputed territory of Kashmir, which borders Afghanistan.
“Beijing is clearly the dominant power in Central Asia, with India likely to lose some of the influence it used to enjoy over Kabul as a result of the substantial aid it provided before the U.S. withdrawal,” said Alexander Cooley, director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.
China’s relationship with India has been tense as a result of border clashes and India’s embrace of the Quadrilateral strategic grouping, Cooley told VOA.
The grouping, also known as the QUAD, is a strategic dialogue among the United States, India, Japan and Australia that involves coordination and cooperation among the member countries, all of which have strained relationships with China.
China-Russia security agenda
Beijing’s and Moscow’s security agendas are complementary, according to Cooley, and can be mutually accommodated because each views the region as key to its own security, and neither wishes for the United States to return.
“Russia is concerned about potential instability on Central Asian borders, maintaining security cooperation with the Central Asian states and curbing the influx of refugees into Eurasia,” Cooley told VOA. “China is primarily concerned with ensuring that the Taliban clamp down on Uyghur groups residing near the border and securing the Afghan and Tajik borders with Xinjiang.”
Russia may not be happy, though, Cooley said, about China’s recently increased security footprint in Central Asia — including the military facility in Tajikistan, expanded military exercises with the Central Asian states, surveillance technologies “transferred” to Central Asian cities and increased activities by Chinese private security companies to help protect Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects.
“But the two countries have every reason to reject talk of ‘competition’ and emphasize their joint opposition to U.S. hegemony and the U.S.-led liberal international order,” Cooley underscored.
Leaders of Germany’s newly-installed Bundestag – the lower house parliament – said Wednesday they will not extend the “epidemic situation of national scope” when it expires next month, though certain public health measures will remain to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The declaration of the health emergency allows the federal and state governments to order key coronavirus prevention measures without the approval of parliament. It was first established by the Bundestag in March 2020 and has been repeatedly extended.
But speaking to reporters in Berlin, leaders of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) – winners of last month’s parliamentary elections and likely members of the new government – said they plan to let the designation expire when it lapses November 25.
They said even though COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise, the situation had fundamentally changed, most significantly because about two-thirds of the population had been vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.
But SPD Parliamentary Group Deputy Chairman Dirk Wiese said that November 25 will not be a “freedom day” from all COVID-19 safety measures, and the nation needs to go through the coming winter responsibly. He said the group agreed to transitional arrangements that will allow German states to enact “low-impact safeguards” until the beginning of spring.”
But Wiese said that one thing is certain, “there will no more be school closures, lockdowns or curfews again, as these measures are also disproportionate in the current situation.”
The lawmakers said some measures, like obligatory mask wearing in public spaces, restrictions on entry to certain venues to only those who have been vaccinated or financial support for workers who have been hit hard by the pandemic, will stay in place until March.
In addition, individual states can still decide to implement stricter measures, if needed.
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press.
In an effort to stop a 4th wave of COVID, Russian authorities have decided to halt commercial activity and social gatherings. Russia’s national inoculation strategy is falling short: only 33% of the population is fully vaccinated. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from the VOA Moscow bureau.
A British court will consider this week whether Julian Assange, founder of the Wikileaks website, can be extradited to the United States on charges of hacking and theft. The two-day hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday in London’s high court.
U.S. prosecutors appealed a British district court verdict from January, which ruled that Assange should not be extradited because it was possible he could commit suicide in a maximum-security U.S. prison.
That premise will be challenged by prosecutors, said lawyer Nick Vamos, a former head of extradition at Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, now a partner at London-based law firm Peters & Peters.
“What the U.S. government (has) now done is come forward with a specific assurance about exactly how, where and in what condition he will be detained. So, provided his medical condition and his risk of suicide hasn’t changed, then you would assume that the U.S. government (has) met the test that the district judge in the first judgment set them,” Vamos told VOA.
Other developments since the January ruling could affect the case. Sigurdur Thordarson, a former Wikileaks insider-turned-FBI informant, has said he fabricated evidence used by the prosecution.
Meanwhile last month, Yahoo News published a story alleging the CIA plotted to kidnap or even kill Assange in 2017 when he sought asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Yahoo said the story was based on interviews with 30 former U.S. intelligence and national security officials.
Vamos said the defense will claim there is political motivation behind the extradition request.
“It will be argued that, well, if the CIA were willing to assassinate him — that’s one arm of the U.S. government — then really, you can’t trust the other arm of the U.S. government, the Department of Justice, to act fairly and to prosecute him in accordance with human rights standards and what we would consider to be a fair trial,” he said.
The CIA and U.S. lawyers leading the extradition appeal have yet to comment on the Yahoo story. Former CIA director and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Megyn Kelly Show podcast in September that all actions taken were “consistent with U.S. law.”
“We desperately wanted to hold accountable those individuals that had violated U.S. law, that had violated requirements to protect information and had tried to steal it. There is a deep legal framework to do that. And we took actions consistent with U.S. law to try to achieve that,” Pompeo said.
In 2010 and 2011, Assange oversaw the publication by Wikileaks of tens of thousands of diplomatic cables and military reports relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the leaks exposed abuses by the U.S. military.
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 after facing accusations of rape in Sweden, a case that was later dropped. He stayed there for seven years until Ecuador allowed British police to arrest him in April 2019. He was then jailed for 50 weeks for breaching bail.
Now 50, he is currently being held in Belmarsh prison in London, as he is considered a flight risk.
Experts say the extradition case raises vital questions about freedom of the press.
“There is the huge, huge issue of global media freedom and the way that this case could set a terrible precedent for any journalist, any publisher, trying to expose the misdeeds and wrongdoing of government, so that government can be held accountable,” Julia Hall of Amnesty International said in an interview with VOA.
Assange faces 18 U.S. federal charges relating to allegations of hacking, theft of classified material and the disclosure of the identities of U.S. informants, which prosecutors say put the informants’ lives at risk.
A verdict on the extradition appeal will likely take several weeks. Whoever loses can appeal the decision to Britain’s Supreme Court, which could take several years. However, Supreme Court judges may rule against considering the case, Vamos said.
“It has to be on a point of law of general public importance. The Supreme Court doesn’t hear factual disputes and doesn’t hear arguments that have been settled well before in lower courts,” he told VOA.your ad here
Global pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions are just a fraction of what’s needed to prevent catastrophic global warming. That’s the warning from the United Nations, ahead of the critical COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Britain next week – where world leaders will try to agree on further action to combat global warming. Henry Ridgwell looks at what is at stake ahead of the meeting.
Journalists who cover Russia’s space program say they may adopt a more cautious approach to their reporting after several aspects of Roscosmos were effectively declared off limits.
A Federal Security Service (FSB) order, which took effect October 11, lays out information that it says could be used to threaten national security if received by foreign organizations or citizens.
The order doesn’t directly mention news gathering and is not a blanket ban on coverage of Roscosmos, but in a digital age where reporting is shared online or via social media, journalists say they could risk being in violation of the order.
It is also a provision of Russia’s foreign agent law, which brings further implications for media.
Spanning 60 types of information, the FSB details content from military, intelligence and space programs that it says could be used to threaten security. At Roscosmos, those topics include financial details, project timelines and some of its space programs; information about plans and restructuring at the space agency; and details on new technologies and materials.
Roscosmos did not respond to a request for comment on how the new order could affect foreign and domestic reporting and referred VOA to the FSB.
The FSB did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.
Independent journalists and media analysts describe the order as a “tightening of the screw” and say it will make it harder to report in a transparent and independent way on the space program.
Alexander Khokhlov, a space and science reporter who contributes to media outlets including TV Rain and Meduza, says the new measures may limit his coverage.
As a precautionary measure, Khokhlov said, he may have to focus only on news coming from Western agencies and companies.
“I rarely cover the topics listed in the FSB’s order; however, their formulation is rather broad. I will further refrain from writing and commenting on the Roscosmos’ activity,” said Khokhlov, who is also member of the Northwestern Federation of Cosmonautics of Russia.
“I might as well focus on covering SpaceX and its gradual progress toward building a colony on Mars,” Khokhlov said, referring to the private space program founded by U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Khokhlov, who has reported on Russia’s space missions and the rise of the private space sector in the U.S., said the regulations could limit what science journalists can cover.
Describing it as “yet another step toward the information vacuum in the field of cosmonautics in Russia” Khokhlov said, “The risks are already obvious for those trying to present an alternative point of view.”
He cited the large number of journalists labeled as foreign agents in the past year.
As of October 15, the Ministry of Justice website lists 32 news outlets and 56 journalists who fall under the designation of foreign agent, including independent networks that are part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Those added to the Russian Justice Ministry list must label all content, including news reports and personal social media posts, as content produced by a foreign agent. Individuals have to send in detailed reports of their finances. Failure to comply can result in fines and possibly criminal charges.
“It is a heavy legal and financial load for those (journalists) with the possibility for fines and even felony charges,” Khokhlov said.
Russia amended its existing foreign agent law in 2017, in response to the U.S. ordering news groups funded by Moscow to register under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Since then, Russia has used the designation against independent media, civil society organizations and even an election-monitoring group, in a move that critics say is aimed at punishing and discrediting critical and opposition voices.
Analyst Bach Avezdjanov, who until last year was a program officer for Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression program in New York, has been closely monitoring the impact of the law on the country’s independent press.
The FSB’s list “threatens further the already restricted information environment in Russia,” Avezdjanov told VOA.
“The Russian government does not hide its intent to arbitrarily designate anyone who collects, researches or reports for academic, journalistic or other purposes, information about Russia’s military and space program,” he said.
Avezdjanov said that regulations could be used to block reporting on allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
He cited an internal audit at the space agency that appeared to show corruption or mismanagement, which resulted in a loss of billions of rubles, and led to criminal cases.
But under paragraph 37 of the new FSB order, which bans information about financial or economic problems, such information “can no longer reach the eyes and ears of foreigners,” he said.
“In effect, the law built a new iron curtain around certain types of information,” Avezdjanov said.
This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service.
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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, was released from a Washington hospital Monday morning after an overnight stay early in his 12-day visit to the United States.
Bartholomew, 81, was scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden later Monday at the White House, and also to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The patriarch “is feeling well and is ready to continue” his official visit Monday, according to a tweet from Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Bartholomew is the patriarch of Constantinople, based in Turkey. He is considered first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope. He does directly oversee Greek Orthodox and some other jurisdictions, although large portions of the Eastern Orthodox world are self-governing under their own patriarchs.
Bartholomew was brought to George Washington University Hospital on Sunday night after he felt “unwell” due to the long flight here on Saturday and the busy schedule of events, according to the Greek Orthodox archdiocese. The hospitalization was recommended by his doctor “out of an abundance of precaution,” the archdiocese said.
Making the latest of several trips to the country during his 30 years in office, Bartholomew is expected to address concerns ranging from a pending restructuring of the American Greek Orthodox archdiocese to his church’s minority status in his homeland, Turkey. His schedule Monday includes a visit to the embassy of Turkey in Washington.
Also on Monday, Bartholomew is scheduled to give a speech via videoconference for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, according to the latest schedule released by the archdiocese. An earlier version of his schedule included an in-person visit.
In the evening, he is scheduled to attend a dinner at Georgetown University hosted by its president, John DeGioia, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, he is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame in an event highlighting efforts to improve Orthodox-Catholic ties, centuries after the two churches broke decisively in 1054 amid disputes over theology and papal claims of supremacy. And on November 2, he is scheduled to preside at a door-opening ceremony at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City. The shrine replaces a church destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.your ad here
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told British lawmakers Monday that the social media giant “unquestionably” amplifies online hate.
In testimony to a parliamentary committee in London, the former Facebook employee echoed what she told U.S. senators earlier this month.
Haugen said the media giant fuels online hate and extremism and does not have any incentive to change its algorithm to promote less divisive content.
She argued that as a result, Facebook may end up sparking more violent unrest around the world.
Haugen said the algorithm Facebook has designed to promote more engagement among users “prioritizes and amplifies divisive and polarizing extreme content” as well as concentrates it.
Facebook did not respond to Haugen’s testimony Monday. Earlier this month, Haugen addressed a Senate committee and said the company is harmful. Facebook rejected her accusations.
“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Haugen’s testimony comes as a coalition of new organizations Monday began publishing stories on Facebook’s practices based on internal company documents that Haugen secretly copied and made public.
Haugen is a former Facebook product manager who has turned whistleblower.
Earlier this month when Haugen addressed U.S. lawmakers, she argued that a federal regulator was needed to oversee large internet companies like Facebook.
British lawmakers are considering creating such a national regulator as part of a proposed online safety bill. The legislation also proposes fining companies like Facebook up to 10% of their global revenue for any violations of government policies.
Representatives from Facebook and other social media companies are set to address British lawmakers on Thursday.
Haugen is scheduled to meet with European Union policymakers in Brussels next month.
Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.your ad here
A German woman received a 10-year prison sentence Monday for allowing a young Yazidi girl, who was being kept as a slave in Iraq by the woman and her husband, to die of thirst in the hot sun.
German authorities said the 30-year-old convert to Islam, identified only as Jennifer W., was a member of Islamic State in Iraq.
The Higher Regional Court convicted the defendant on charges including membership in a terrorist organization abroad, aiding and abetting attempted murder, attempted war crimes and crimes against humanity.
According to German news agency dpa, federal prosecutors accused Jennifer W. of letting the 5-year-old Yazidi girl die after the woman’s husband, an Islamic State fighter, chained the girl in a courtyard unprotected from the heat. Prosecutors said the defendant’s husband was punishing the girl for wetting her mattress.
Islamic State views the minority Yazidis as heretics. In 2014, IS fighters killed scores of Yazidi men in Iraq during an onslaught on the Yazidi town of Sinjar. IS also enslaved thousands of women and girls in acts that amounted to genocide, according to the United Nations.
Judge Joachim Baier said the child was “defenseless and helplessly exposed to the situation,” adding that the defendant “had to reckon from the beginning that the child, who was tied up in the heat of the sun, was in danger of dying.”
German media reported that the defendant, who is from Lohne in Lower Saxony, was raised as a Protestant but converted to Islam in 2013. She traveled to Iraq through Turkey and Syria in 2014 to join Islamic State, according to The Associated Press.
According to prosecutors, Jennifer W. was a member of IS’s armed “morality police” in 2015 and patrolled public parks in Fallujah and Mosul for women who did not conform to the group’s strict dress and conduct codes, AP reported.
The defendant was taken into custody in 2016 while trying to renew her identity papers at the German Embassy in Ankara, after which she was deported to Germany.
Prior to her sentencing, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office demanded that she serve a life sentence, while the defense asked for a maximum of two years in prison.
Some information for this story comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.your ad here
Noted Russian journalist Sergei Reznik, who specializes in anti-corruption investigations, has been added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list.
Reznik’s name was added to the wanted list over the weekend, local media reported. He is thought to be living outside of Russia.
No details for his placement on the list were provided, though some media reports cited law enforcement sources as saying that Reznik is wanted for the alleged “justification of Nazism.”
The accusation stems from unspecified social-media posts that appeared on accounts suspected of being connected to him, they added.
In 2013, Reznik, who is from the Rostov region, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of bribery and publicly insulting an official representative of the authorities. Later, he was sentenced to another 18 months in prison after a court found him guilty of false denunciation.
Reznik maintained his innocence and continued to work as an investigative journalist after serving the prison terms.
He says that a total of seven criminal cases have been opened against him with all of the alleged victims being prosecutors, judges, or police officials.
He also claims that over the past year, 15 statements from people in the Krasnodar region were submitted to the police and the prosecutor’s office against him and three of his colleagues.
The followers of French television talk-show provocateur Eric Zemmour like to compare him to America’s former President Donald Trump, believing he is the man to shake up France.
And they were delighted by an opinion poll published Friday suggesting that the 63-year-old Zemmour, an apologist for the Vichy regime which collaborated with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, could edge out far-right champion Marine Le Pen to secure a second-round face-off with President Emmanuel Macron in next April’s election.
Zemmour, who has been convicted twice in France for spreading racial hatred, was in characteristic colorful form as the poll came out, describing at a rally in Normandy the English as “our greatest enemies for a thousand years.” And even though he says he likes the Trump comparisons, he had critical words for the United States, too, saying the 1944 Allied landings may have freed France from the Nazis but that it was also an enterprise of “occupation and colonization by Americans.”
Later he told reporters: “I understand that the Americans and the English want to be considered as liberators but it’s they who supported Nazi Germany against us [between the wars] because they considered that France had too much influence in Europe.” But he added that it was in the past and he praises Britain for leaving the European Union.
Zemmour, the son of Jewish Algerian immigrants who fled to France during Algeria’s war for independence, has yet to declare his candidacy in next year’s presidential race. Nonetheless, he is already shaking up the election and, according to his detractors, adding toxicity.
Next year’s French election had seemed settled with a likely rerun of 2017, when Macron draws support from across the political spectrum to rout Le Pen. Few had expected the controversial Zemmour to emerge as a candidate. His views on French history have drawn widespread condemnation, including his praise for the Vichy regime, which he says protected French Jews by handing to the Germans only foreign-born ones.
That claim is hotly disputed by professional historians and his take on recent history has been denounced by leading members of France’s Jewish community, including Noémie Médar, president of the Jewish association Fonds Social Juif Unifié, who says Zemmour “lies about historical realities.”
Zemmour, onetime host for the French right-wing channel C-News, is now running second and ahead of Le Pen in some opinion polls, apparently doing a better job of attracting both traditional Conservative voters and far-right supporters in a union des droites, or right-wing alliance. Some French commentators wonder whether he can beat Macron in a runoff, saying that with France in such a volatile and angry pandemic mood a surprise Black Swan event, like a terror attack, on the eve of the vote could give him a winning surge.
“His profile, his strategy and the state of public opinion are reminiscent of the election of Donald Trump in the United States in 2016,” according to journalist Bernard Gorce of La Croix, a daily Catholic newspaper. Even so, few believe that even if he blows Le Pen out of the way in the first round of voting in a crowded field of competitors, he has the potential to deny Macron reelection.
Hurt or help Macron?
Macron is polling consistently first in opinion polls, coming in with support from around a quarter of likely voters, and in a run-off not one poll has indicated he would face a serious challenge from Zemmour, or Le Pen for that matter. In fact, Zemmour’s name on the ballot could persuade more left-wing voters to come out to back Macron.
Not that Emmanuel Macron’s aides want to highlight that. They have a vested interest in talking up Zemmour as a political threat. While not admitting it publicly, they acknowledge the electoral rise of the maverick talk-show pundit and so-far undeclared candidate is a blessing in disguise for the embattled French President. They estimate Zemmour, an anti-migrant critic who wants foreign first names banned in France and immigration stopped, will boost Macron’s reelection fortunes and possibly ensure him a bigger win than otherwise. “Zemmour helps us,” an aide told VOA.
Last week, Le Pen, leader of the National Rally, made light of Zemmour’s challenge, pouring doubt on the accuracy of opinion polling. “We know very well that we cannot actually measure the opinion of the French,” she said during an interview with BFMTV. She added she was afraid of no one.
But her support is waning, as Zemmour’s backing grows. “We are witnessing the collapse of the very heart of the electorate of Le Pen,” Jean-Daniel Lévy, of the pollster Harris Interactive, told Le Point magazine.
Zemmour focuses on immigration and Islam. In September on CNews, he announced: “Young people of immigrant background…are all thieves, they are all murderers, they are all rapists.”
He also targets so-called elites and Brussels, Washington, and London, saying France should shrug off their influence. Citing Charles de Gaulle, the legendary late French President, he says France should withdraw from NATO’s integrated military command structure as De Gaulle did in 1966. Nicolas Sarkozy returned France to the command structure more than a decade ago during his presidency. Gay rights and the ‘feminization’ of the West are among his other themes.
“We are caught between exuberant Islamic demography and this deconstructive discourse in the name of the so-called equality of men and women, in the name of freedom of homosexuals,” he said last month at a populist gathering in Hungary. He also warned in Budapest about whites being replaced in their countries and urged them to have more kids.
The pundit, and author of more than a dozen bestsellers mainly on French decline and how to restore France to greatness, makes much of Le Pen’s poor chances of beating Macron, arguing anti-Macron voters should give him a chance. “She cannot win. She made the wrong strategic and tactical choices,” he said recently.
Whether his support will continue to grow is a subject that divides pollsters and commentators, with some arguing that if he does declare formally, he will at some stage or other have to come up with detailed policies on the economy, pandemic control, taxes and government spending which could all too easily shatter his current electoral coalition.