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French Election: Macron and Le Pen to Clash in TV Presidential Debate




Image source, Getty Images

Four days before France votes on its next president, the two remaining candidates go head to head in their only televised debate.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has fallen behind Emmanuel Macron in the opinion polls but millions of voters are still undecided.

For two and a half hours they will take part in Wednesday night’s duel in the hope of gaining an advantage.

Mr Macron emerged as clear winner in 2017 and went on to become president.

Although he won the first round of the vote 10 days ago, more than half of the electorate backed either far-right or far-left candidates.

The burning issue for voters has been France’s spiralling cost of living and that is bound to play a big part in the debate, broadcast on the two biggest TV networks. It has also been a successful focus of Marine Le Pen’s campaign.

Significance of debate

Televised confrontations between the top two candidates have been a highlight of French presidential elections for almost five decades. The last debate attracted 16.5 million viewers so it could play a crucial role with undecided voters.

The TV duels have proved most decisive when the polls are close. In 1974, conservative Valéry Giscard d’Estaing went on to beat Socialist François Mitterrand after performing well in their debate. Mitterrand did better in the rematch in 1981 and won the run-off vote.

And this is the first time since then that the same candidates square off in two consecutive elections.

The 2017 debate was a disaster for Ms Le Pen, who appeared exhausted and unfocused in front of a confident and articulate Emmanuel Macron. He was already well ahead in the polls and trounced his far-right opponent by securing two-thirds of the vote.

This time around it will be a much closer race and a strong performance by Ms Le Pen could win over a big section of undecided voters. She has halted her campaign since Monday to concentrate on the debate and her rival may not have the easy ride of five years ago.

The gap in the opinion polls has widened slightly since the first round vote in which the incumbent president won 27.85% and Ms Le Pen came second with 23.15%. But they are still fluctuating wildly, suggesting Mr Macron will secure between 53% and 57% of the vote.

Marine Le Pen will need to perform far better than in 2017 to have a chance of victory. Both the debate and the race appear to be her rival’s to lose.

What the candidates stand for

The choice for voters is far clearer than five years ago, when Emmanuel Macron won with very little experience as a politician.

Image source, Getty Images

His strict Covid policies alienated many voters and he has been accused of acting as a “president for the rich”. He is more popular in the big cities but has secured the support of other mainstream left and right parties for his pro-EU liberal and global outlook.

Marine Le Pen has toned down her nationalist, anti-EU rhetoric but she still plans to revise France’s relationship with the European Union and Nato. She is traditionally more popular in rural, poorer areas.

What to expect

The debate will cover eight main themes from cost of living to social and international issues.

Cost of living: This is a strong point for Ms Le Pen, whose first-round success is widely attributed to her decision to focus on pocket-book issues at a time of high inflation and stagnating living standards for working families. Mr Macron will seek to highlight that unemployment is down to a 13-year low.

Foreign affairs: Ms Le Pen is vulnerable here for her links to Russia, although she has condemned the invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday appealed to French voters to back Emmanuel Macron because of a Russian bank loan to her party and what he called “selling political influence to Putin”.

Social issues: Here Ms Le Pen will aim to highlight her proposed generous pension benefits and spending on health. That could appeal to supporters of. far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came third with almost 22% of the vote. Her rival argues her social policies are unaffordable at a time of record budget deficit.

Immigration: Another hot-button issue for Marine Le Pen. She has toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric but her programme has been called “racist” by Mr Macron. She wants to prioritise French nationals over foreigners for social benefits and a plan to end residency rights for all those who have not worked for a year. During his tenure, Mr Macron has highlighted the need for migrants to accept French values and warned against “separatism”.

Environment: They both promise to build more nuclear power stations but that’s as far as they agree. Marine Le Pen wants to stop building wind turbines and end subsidies to renewable energy. Mr Macron is likely to secure the Green vote for his plan to phase out coal and gas,

Race for the French Presidency

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Pennsylvania Primary: Trump-backed ‘Dr Oz’ in Cliffhanger Vote Count




Image source, Reuters

A Trump-backed celebrity doctor’s campaign to run as the next Republican senator for Pennsylvania has come down to a nail-biting conclusion.

Mehmet Oz, a surgeon best known for his appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, is facing a cliffhanger vote count after the party primary.

He was neck and neck with former hedge fund executive David McCormick.

The race is being closely watched as a test of former President Donald Trump’s hold over the Republican party.

The contest in this key presidential swing state is one of a number taking place across the country to determine who will stand for office in the midterm elections in November.

The midterms fall halfway through a president’s term in office. They decide who controls the two chambers which make up Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives.

At present, the Democratic Party controls both chambers, but by very slim majorities. And historically, the party that holds the White House has tended to suffer losses in the midterms.

The primaries decide which party’s candidates will run against each other in the midterms, and their election will play an important part in determining the rest of US President Joe Biden’s presidency.

Five states held primary elections on Tuesday, making it the busiest date on the 2022 midterms calendar so far. Here are some of the projected results:

Pennsylvania: Pro-Trump Republican state legislator Doug Mastriano won the race to become the Republicans’ nominated candidate for governor of the state. He has been a vocal supporter of Mr Trump’s baseless claim that he won the 2020 presidential electionNorth Carolina: Trump-backed US Congressman Madison Cawthorn lost a Republican nomination contest to defend his seat amid a number of controversies. In the last few months, the 26-year-old has been charged with carrying a weapon to an airport, claimed he had been invited to orgies by Republican colleagues, faced criticism for appearing in a leaked naked tape and called Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug”North Carolina: Congressman Ted Budd – endorsed by Mr Trump – defeated former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory to become the Republicans’ nominee. He will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, the first black woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. The race is expected to be competitive Idaho: Republican governor Brad Little defeated a challenge by his own Lt Gov Janice McGeachin. The two have been locked in a power struggle as Trump-backed Ms McGeachin issued orders while Mr Little was out of state last year, including barring mask mandates.

Earlier this month, Mr Trump’s pick for the Ohio Senate primary cruised to victory against his opponents. But Pennsylvania’s primary has gone down to the wire.

Despite Mr Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz, the race stayed in a three-way dead heat until polls closed.

The Republican contest was shaken up by a late surge from right-wing commentator Kathy Barnette.

But Mr McCormick came from behind, with the race narrow enough to be in recount territory.

Pennsylvania primary marks test of Trump’s strength

By Nomia Iqbal, BBC News

Dr Oz arrived at the venue and did a thumbs up to us and said he was feeling good. Taking to the stage he thanked everyone who supported him and made it clear he wasn’t conceding.

He said victory would be his in the end. But his closest rival Dave McCormick – who wasn’t backed by Mr Trump – said the same thing.

The results are still being counted but at the moment it’s within the margins for a recount. The full count of the actual ballots could take days.

It feels a lot like 2020 when we were here for the presidential race. In the end Pennsylvania projected for Biden taking him over the threshold.

Tonight was a critical test of the former President Trump’s ability to back winners… He wants to use the Primaries to prove his dominance over the Republican Party.

Mr Trump really got behind Dr Oz – whether his base did is yet to be decided.

The eventual Republican winner will take on Lt Gov John Fetterman, who easily won the Democratic Senate nomination on Tuesday night – two days after announcing he had suffered a stroke.

On Monday, the left-wing Democrat’s team said he had undergone surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator.

Mr Fetterman, a Harvard-educated former mayor who sported hoodie sweatshirts instead of suits on the campaign trail, remained in hospital on the night of his election victory, with his wife speaking at a campaign event in his place.

Image source, Twitter/@JohnFetterman

In a White House statement on Tuesday night, Mr Biden congratulated Mr Fetterman and argued that the Republican candidates were “too extreme”.

But a controversy that dogged Mr Fetterman in his primary campaign is certain to be raised by Republicans during the general election.

In 2013, during Mr Fetterman’s second term as mayor of Braddock, a town of around 2,000 outside Pittsburgh, he pursued an innocent black jogger who he wrongly thought had been firing a gun near his home.

Mr Fetterman, who is a hulking 6ft 8in and was armed with a shotgun during the confrontation, has refused to apologise for the incident.

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Ukraine War: Snake Island and Battle for Control in Black Sea




Image source, PLANET LABS PBC

Right from the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Snake Island was given a vital and almost mythical status in the war. This unremarkable, rocky outcrop in the Black Sea was seized by Russia and has become a battleground of strategic value.

Russia claims Ukraine has sustained disastrous losses in a failed bid to recapture the island, including special forces, warplanes, helicopters and drones. Ukraine insists it has limited its campaign to attacking facilities on the island and boats.

The battle is not over and Russia is repeatedly trying to reinforce its exposed garrison, says UK defence ministry intelligence.

Snake or Zmiinyi Island is a fraction of a square kilometre in size and there are no more snakes to speak of. But there can be no doubt of its importance for control of the western Black Sea.

“If Russian troops succeed in occupying Snake Island and set up their long-range air-defence systems, they will control the sea, land and air in the north-west part of the Black Sea and in the south of Ukraine,” Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov told the BBC.


That is why Russia’s flagship Moskva sailed there within hours of the start of the war, telling Ukrainian soldiers on the island to give themselves up: “I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed,” said a Russian officer.

“Russian warship get lost,” came the now legendary response, although in far cruder language. The island was seized but weeks later the Moskva was sunk.

Losing the Moskva means Russia’s supply ships to the island now have minimal protection, says the UK, although, if it can consolidate its position, then it could dominate a large part of the Black Sea.

Threat to Ukraine, its neighbours and Nato

A reinforced Russian presence could be disastrous for Ukraine, strategically as well as economically.

Ukraine has already had to close its port at Odesa, suspending vital grain exports, but Mr Zhdanov fears the island could also be used as a second frontline.

“If the Russians succeed in installing long-range air defence systems then they will be able to defend their squadron, which can reach Ukraine’s coastline.”

It would also give Russian troops the chance to break into Transnistria, Moldova’s breakaway territory under Russian control that lies next-door to Ukraine and not far from Odesa.

However, Snake Island is a mere 45km (28 miles) away from the coast of Romania, which is part of the West’s Nato alliance.

UK naval analyst Jonathan Bentham believes a Russian S-400 air missile system on the island would be a “big game-changer”. If Russia were able to deploy a missile system, not only would Odesa come under threat, but Nato’s southern flank would be endangered, too, warns Romanian historian Dorin Dobrincu.

“This is very important for the Romanian government and people but also for the entire alliance. Russia would have the capacity to destroy cities and military capability in the east of our territory.”

Nato reinforced Romania’s borders from the start of the war, sending in Belgian and French forces.

But there are major economic risks, too, for Romania. Snake Island lies close to the mouth of the River Danube, which delineates Romania’s border with Ukraine. Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta is not far south and has been taking in container ships that are no longer able to sail to Odesa.

War in Ukraine: More coverage

Russian military-political analyst Alexander Mikhailov said troops on Snake Island could be in a position to control traffic into the north-western Black Sea and the Danube delta – the gateway to south-eastern Europe. “If there’s a military base or military infrastructure, it would be possible to block ships that enter the river as well as leave,” he told Russian media.

Romania’s Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre believes Russia may decide to annex the island and control as many Black Sea shipping routes as possible towards the Bosphorus in Turkey.

Historically, Snake Island was Romanian territory until it was ceded in 1948 to the Soviet Union, which used it as a radar base. As Romania came under Soviet influence until 1989, Bucharest accepted the arrangement.

Ukraine took control with the fall of the communism and eventually in 2009 the International Court of Justice drew up the island’s territorial limits, giving Romania almost 80% of the Black Sea continental shelf near the island, and Ukraine the rest.

Snake Island is not just of strategic use, because this part of the Black Sea is rich in hydrocarbon resources – so The Hague ruling means both countries possess reserves of petroleum and gas.

It may seem to be a small clump of rock with little obvious value, but its fate is a major element of Russia’s war.

Image source, Ukraine Postal Service

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Disabled Children ‘dumped’ in Ukrainian Institutions




There are claims that thousands of disabled Ukrainian children have been forgotten and abandoned in institutions that can’t look after them.

The human rights organisation, Disability Rights International, has carried out an investigation and found children with severe disabilities tied to beds in overrun children’s homes unable to cope.

The BBC has been given exclusive access to an institution in western Ukraine, where disabled children from the east have been left by their carers who fled to neighbouring countries.

Reporting by Dan Johnson

Filmed by Jonathan Dunstan

Produced by Ruth Clegg and Natalie Higgins

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