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Amnesty International Accuses EU of Being Complicit in Libya Migrant Abuse

Rights group Amnesty International says European nations are taking steps to prevent refugees and migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, trapping them in a system that exposes them to torture and abuse.

In a report issued Tuesday, Amnesty says European governments are “knowingly complicit” because they give technical support to Libya’s Department Combating Illegal Migration, give training and equipment to Libya’s Coast Guard and make agreements with local authorities and armed groups to encourage efforts to stop human smuggling.

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centers where they are subjected to systematic abuse,” said Amnesty International Europe Director John Dalhuisen.

Faced with an influx of refugees and migrants in recent years, European nations have responded with measures such as closing borders and working with governments on the other side of the Mediterranean to try to prevent people from making what can be a dangerous crossing. More than 3,000 people have died trying to make the trip this year.

The International Organization for Migration said Tuesday that so far in 2017 the number of migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea was down 53 percent compared to the same period last year. About 70 percent of the 166,000 arrivals landed in Italy.

The top countries of origin are Nigeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Bangladesh.

Amnesty International based its report on interviews with 72 refugees and asylum seekers in Italy and Tunisia, as well as meetings with Libyan officials and United Nations representatives.

The report says the European Union and its members “have pursued their own goal of restricting the flow of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean with little thought, or seeming care, for the consequences for those trapped in Libya as a result.”

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses,” Amnesty said.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his government can be proud of its treatment of migrants, and that its efforts have helped shine a light on the human rights situation in Libya.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the European Parliament that while the EU should have taken action earlier, it has been engaged on the issue for several years.

“I’ve said many times that our goal is to close the detention centers,” Mogherini said. “We need to give these people the opportunity to leave Libya, safely, toward a better life”

She said this year the EU has assisted more than 15,000 migrants who were trapped in Libya. Mogherini also acknowledged that returning home is not an option for people who face war or persecution, saying there is a need to “open new avenues to come to Europe or other safe places.”

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France Seeks Ways to Boost Anti-jihadi Force in Africa

Presidents, princes and diplomats are coming to Paris on Wednesday to breathe life into a young African military force that aims to counter the growing jihadi threat in the Sahel region.

Nearly five years after France intervened to rout Islamist extremists in northern Mali, then controlled by an al-Qaida affiliate, the threat has spread to neighboring countries in the volatile region. It has also spawned new jihadi groups, including one that claims affiliation with the Islamic State group, recently defeated in Iraq and nearly pummeled in Syria.

The five-nation force, known as G5 Sahel, was launched in Bamako, Mali on July 2 with French President Emmanuel Macron present. It aims to tackle the jihadi menace, organized crime and human trafficking. Macron has taken the lead on convincing partners to help make the force viable, because the fate of the Sahel region impacts Europe.

“Terrorists, thugs and assassins” must be eradicated, he said in Bamako.

Made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad, the fledgling force is to grow to a 5,000-strong army by March but is still in need of soldiers, training, operational autonomy and funding.

Wednesday’s conference at a chateau in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, brings together the leaders of the five nations making up the force, plus European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Officials from the European Union, the African Union and the U.N. are also attending, as well as envoys from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While funding is not the leading topic, Saudi Arabia could be among those announcing a contribution, an official in the French president’s office said. A special funding conference is to be held in February.

Wednesday’s meeting aims to “increase mobilization” for the force, militarily, politically and financially, said the official, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

In recent months, security forces and the U.N. peacekeeping mission have been prime jihadi targets in the Sahel.

Four U.N. peacekeepers and a Malian soldier were killed in two attacks in Mali less than a month ago. In Niger, 13 soldiers died in October, weeks after four U.S. troops and four Niger soldiers were killed in a remote corner of Niger. Burkina Faso also saw August attack that killed 18 in an upscale restaurant in its capital of Ouagadougou.

The G5 Sahel force will at first concentrate on the border regions shared by Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, where it led its first operation in November and where numerous attacks have been centered.

French officials estimate extremists to number no more than 1,000 — compared to several thousand in northern Mali in 2013, when France intervened. But the numbers are deceptive, failing to reflect the danger and difficulty of hunting down an enemy in a vast region the size of Europe that is covered with difficult rock and desert terrain.

“The Sahel countries face a fleeting enemy that can get support from the population, that can easily disappear… because a camp of these terrorists resembles a camp of shepherds or civilians,” a top military official said. “The identification, the localization remains very difficult.”

He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly in keeping with military rules.

France’s nearly 4,000-strong Barkhane force, launched in 2014, scouts out armed extremists and gives critical air, intelligence and other support to the G5 Sahel force. A 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission is also in Mali to try to stabilize the volatile country.

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Istanbul Hosts Summit Against Trump’s Jerusalem Recognition

Twenty-two leaders in the Islamic world were gathering in Istanbul Wednesday in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The meeting comes as unrest in the Middle East continues, along with growing criticism over the Jerusalem move.

The gathering is under the auspices of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, OIC. Turkey currently leads the OIC and the emergency summit was called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I am inviting the countries who value international law and fairness to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine,” Erdogan told leaders at the start of the gathering Wednesday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Bangladeshi President Abdoul Hamid and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are among the 22 heads of state and government due to attend. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with 23 other counties, will be represented at the foreign minister level.

Some of the sharpest criticism came from Abbas, who told leaders on Wednesday that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State was  — in his words — “a crime,” and said the Palestinians would not accept a U.S. role in the peace process “from now on.” “We are here today to say together and in clear language: Jerusalem was, still is and will always be the capital of the State of Palestine,” Abbas said.

While there has been widespread criticism of Trump’s Jerusalem decision, questions remain of whether anger over the move can overcome political divisions within the Islamic world, in particular, among Arab leaders.

“The Arab world cannot take a unified stance without the consent of Saudi Arabia or Egypt,” wrote Hurriyet daily news columnist Barcin Yinanc Tuesday. “The House of Saud, as well as Egypt’s current military ruler Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, both need U.S. support to maintain power and also to stand against Iran, which they see as gaining predominance with its advances in Iraq and Syria,” Yinanc said.

The situation is further complicated by existing tension between summit host Erdogan and key players. “Saudi Arabia is more and more distancing itself from Turkey,” noted Huseyin Bagci, international relations professor at Ankara’s Middle Eastern Technical University. A possible sign of that distance is the absence of the Saudi King and Crown Prince at the Istanbul summit.

Divided leaders

Officially, Saudi Arabia has sharply criticized Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A Saudi statement called the move “unjustified and irresponsible” and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.”

But Turkish pro-government media have accused Riyadh of tacitly approving Trump’s move, and in Ankara there are growing suspicions that Riyadh’s allegiances could be shifting.”There is belief that this already exists, since Trump’s famous sword dance with the Saudi leaders,” said political columnist Semih Idiz of the Al Monitor website, referring to Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. Idiz points to pronouncements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Iran, “and when you read in between lines, his [Netanyahu’s] support of the growing Saudi-U.S. relationship has left people in Turkey thinking that there is this axis already there of Saudi-Israel and U.S,” Idiz said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu, speaking on Turkish television Tuesday, chided some Arab countries for failing take a more robust stance against Washington, saying Donald Trump “scares them.” “It seems that some Arab countries refrain from challenging Trump,” said the Turkish top diplomat.

Despite the serious diplomatic obstacles, Erdogan hopes the summit will set up an action plan to counter Trump, under the title of the Istanbul Declaration.

Erdogan has spearheaded opposition among both Muslim and European leaders to oppose the U.S. leader’s decision on Jerusalem. During his visit to Ankara Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed Erdogan’s stance.

Wednesday’s summit gives the Turkish president a world stage at a time when he has been facing growing isolation from some of his traditional allies. The differences among the countries attending the summit are expected to pose a challenge for Erdogan. But with violent confrontations still breaking out over Jerusalem, observers expect him to capitalize on the expressions of anger and stress the need for a strong and united stance.

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Putin Declares ‘Mission Accomplished’ on Syria; but, Could It Prove Premature?

Vladimir Putin confirmed last week he would seek a fifth term as Russia’s president next March — and this week, he kicked off his re-election campaign, not in his home country, but overseas in the Middle East.

With stops in Egypt, Turkey and Syria, where he declared Monday that Russia’s military had accomplished its goal of saving President Bashar al-Assad from ouster, an upbeat Putin appeared eager to stoke national pride and showcase how he has restored Russia’s Soviet-era role as a serious power.

Putin’s re-election is assured — polls show an easy win for the man who has dominated Russian politics for nearly two decades — but he and his aides reportedly fear voter apathy and seem determined to secure a large turnout in March and a big legitimacy-boosting vote.

Cutting a figure on the world stage as a power broker, and showing off a new set of friends from the shores of Tripoli to the Persian Gulf, play well at home, say analysts.

Russian state media lavished round-the-clock coverage of his whirlwind trip from his plane as it flew escorted by Russian jet fighters into Syria, and from the ground as he was thanked by Assad at a Russian military base –  as well as in Cairo, where he signed a deal for the construction of a nuclear reactor on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. It also was the case from Ankara, where during a news conference to mark their eighth meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan kept referring to Putin as “my dear friend.”

In Syria, Putin said ‘mission accomplished’ regarding the Russian rescue of Assad, providing him with the opportunity to announce a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.

Praising Russian troops at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Putin talked of their triumph, declaring in remarks broadcast in Russia: “You have shown the best qualities of a Russian soldier — courage, valor, team spirit, decisiveness and excellent skills. The Motherland is proud of you.”

He made no mention, though, of the civilian casualties from indiscriminate Russian airstrikes — or that his intervention has helped to prop up a blood-soaked dictatorial regime by critically weakening the armed non-jihadi opposition to Assad.

Since September 2015 when Putin launched his military intervention in Syria, Russia’s profile in the Middle East has risen, defying early Western predictions that involvement in the tangled Syrian conflict would result in disaster for Moscow.

Then-President Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ash Carter, predicted Putin’s mission was “doomed to failure,” arguing Russia would be caught in a Vietnam-style quagmire.

That didn’t happen — or not so far.

Putin’s plunge into Syria was prompted initially by his suspicion that Arab spring-era uprisings were Western-fomented – insurrections aimed at unseating strongmen and dictators that could spread to Russia, according to Dmitri Trenin, author of the new book What is Russia up to in the Middle East?

“To Putin, all this looked like an Arab rerun of the ‘color revolutions’ that swept across the old Soviet buffer, from Georgia to Ukraine. Sparks from Arab revolutions could ignite Russia’s geopolitical underbelly,” writes Trenin.

And tactical success has turned the Syria intervention into a cornerstone in Putin’s broader ambition for Russian influence, according to analysts, allowing him to expand Moscow’s sway in a region where the U.S. is perceived now as eager to shrink its role and avoid messy entanglements.

Seizing on U.S. setbacks and missteps, the Kremlin has clawed back some of the Soviet Union’s former clout in the Middle East, allowing him, much as his Soviet predecessors, to project global influence and military might and to amass bargaining chips for negotiations with the West in other disputes.

Moscow has “emerged from its military engagement in Syria with the most connections in the region,” Trenin argues, while nimbly avoiding “falling into the cracks of Middle Eastern divides: Shia versus Sunni; Saudi versus Iran; Iran versus Israel; Turkey versus Kurds.”

Putin has been courting traditional U.S. allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and even Israel. He received more leaders from the Middle East in Moscow than Barack Obama did in the last two years of his presidency and his meetings with the region’s leaders have continued apace during Donald Trump’s first months in the White House.

How long Russia can continue to avoid the treacherous cracks remains to be seen.

Retired U.S. general Colin Powell famously remarked once, “you break it, you own it.” Putin will own Syria but the hostility involving embittered sectarian foes may be impossible to manage. Russia’s balancing act between the Kurds and the Turks will be difficult to maintain, and Iran’s agenda for Syria, Lebanon and Iraq may over time clash with Russia’s, as well as the Kremlin’s eagerness to cosy up to the Saudis.

“The war in Syria is not over. The fragmented territory today, foreign military occupations, and conflicting political agendas might lead to new confrontations,” says Ziad Majed, a French academic and author of the book Syria: The Orphaned Revolution.

In Libya, Russia has been seeking a greater role with a possible ambition to add a naval facility there to the one it will maintain in Syria, say analysts. Russian diplomats and generals have been courting Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who has made little secret of his desire to rule the strife-torn North African state.

And Russia has been inserting itself into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Last year, Putin offered to host peace negotiations in Moscow between the Israelis and Palestinians. This week, the Russian leader was quick to pounce on U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam, as Israel’s capital, upending decades of American diplomacy and breaking ranks with the international community.  

The U.S. move “doesn’t help the Mideast settlement and, just the other way around, destabilizes the already difficult situation in the region,” Putin said during a news conference in Ankara with Erdogan, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S. plan to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

As U.S. diplomats have learned over the years, attempting to resolve the standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is a challenging task.

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Princes William, Harry Set for ‘Last Jedi’ London Premiere

Princes William and Harry are due on the red carpet for the European premiere of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” in which the royal siblings reportedly make a cameo appearance.

Royal officials refuse to comment on reports that the princes played stormtroopers in the sci-fi saga when they visited the film’s set in April 2016.

But star John Boyega has said the royal duo filmed a scene during their visit to London’s Pinewood Studios, though it’s unclear whether it made the final cut.

Stars of the film including Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Mark Hamill are expected at Tuesday’s gala screening at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

The screening is a benefit for the princes’ charity, the Royal Foundation.

The film had its world premiere Sunday in Los Angeles.

A previous version of this story did not make clear that the royal set visit was in April 2016.

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Offshore Wind Debut Reflects Roadblocks in France’s Climate-Fighting Ambitions

The skies were threatening, but that didn’t dampen the speeches and celebrations at this gritty, Brittany port.

“Floatgen, I wish you good wind and fair seas,” French sailor Catherine Chabaud announced to a crowd of dignitaries, before sending a champagne bottle smashing against a wind turbine towering over the dock.

The launch of the $29.5-million pilot a few weeks ago not only represents France’s first floating turbine — capable, its builders say, of powering up to 5,000 homes — but the country’s first, up-and-running foray into offshore wind power.

“The next step is going commercial,” said Bruno Geschier, chief sales and marketing manager for Ideol, the company coordinating the Floatgen project that is supported by a European consortium of businesses and research groups. “Commercial scale means having 50 of those babies, with much larger wind turbines powering hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people.”

That may happen in less than a decade, Geischer predicted — even as the French government plans to cut nuclear power’s massive share of France’s energy mix.

Indeed, Brussels-based industry group WindEurope predicts France is set to become Europe’s second biggest wind energy producer by 2030, after Germany — with wind generating roughly one-quarter of the country’s electricity, compared to just over four percent today.

“We’re no longer talking about doing renewables because it’s good for the planet. There’s also a very strong economic drive for doing renewables now, because costs have come down extremely fast,” said WindEurope’s Chief Policy Officer Pierre Tardieu. “This is true for France of course, but it’s also true for Europe as a whole.”

Leadership ambitions

France’s wind potential fits into President Emmanuel Macron’s broader ambition to help lead the battle against climate change. That will be on display Tuesday, when Paris holds an international summit on climate financing — two years after nations cinched a historic emissions-cutting pact in the French capital.

More broadly, most European Union countries are on track to meet 2020 EU targets of 20 percent of energy coming from renewables, the bloc says, even as they consider ratcheting up existing 2030 goals.

But lofty ambitions don’t always match reality. France, for example, counts among several EU members expected to fall short of the 2020 targets.

In November, too, French environment minister Nicolas Hulot scrapped a 2023 deadline for slashing nuclear share of the energy mix from 75 percent to 50 percent, acknowledging the date was unrealistic.

Even powerhouse Germany, which derives one-third of its energy from wind and solar, currently relies on coal for 40 percent of its energy — one ramification of its abandonment of nuclear power.

Still, the Floatgen launch reflects French efforts to transition from regional laggard to future wind power leader as it embarks on a massive energy overhaul.

“I think that the French government understands that it’s not possible in the world today to continue just with nuclear power,” said Greens Party Senator Ronan Dantec. “It’s important for the industry in France, for the future of the electricity market— because nuclear is very expensive— to have this strategy to develop renewable energy.”

Powering the oceans

Today, Floatgen puts France on a shortlist of countries piloting floating wind turbines. The cutting-edge technology depends on cables fixed to the ocean floor and can be deployed in deeper waters than its fixed-bottom counterparts — taking advantage of often stronger and more stable ocean winds.

Other countries are ahead. In October, Britain launched the world’s first floating wind farm off the Scottish coast, capable of powering up to 20,000 homes.

“We’re late, let’s be honest,” acknowledged France’s Junior Environment Minister Sebastien Lecornu during the Saint-Nazaire inauguration, as he ticked off a raft of reasons, from groups opposing new turbines to a tangle of red tape.

Yet France may soon be catching up. Even in this centralized nation, the shift to renewables is beginning to happen locally, as towns and regions capitalize on dropping prices and the promise of green energy. That includes the western Pays de la Loire region, where the port city of Saint-Nazaire is located. 

“We have everything it takes to make this region big in terms of building wind turbines, both on land and offshore,” said Regional Council Vice-President Paul Jenneteau, who notes the Floatgen turbine alone created 70 jobs.

“Imagine offshore wind farms here,” he added. “Obviously those jobs are going to multiply.”

WindEurope’s Tardieu agrees, predicting Europe’s wind industry will generate more than half-a-million jobs by 2030, more than double today’s numbers.

“We’re talking about blades being produced in Portugal, offshore wind substructures in Poland, gear boxes in Belgium,” he said.

Reality check

Yet Saint-Nazaire also offers a reality check. A few meters from the Floatgen celebrations, a line of riot police faced off against workers protesting economic reforms. The pungent smell of teargas and burning tires hung in the air.

“We face an uncertain future,” said Mathieu Pinault, a member of the CGT trade union as he mingled with fellow protesters. His longtime employer, a fuel-and-coal-based heating plant, is slowly shutting down.

“The new energies don’t offer reliable jobs,” Pinault added. “They offer precarious, part-time employment.”

Renewable energy advocates disagree.

“Wind energy today already represents thousands of jobs,” said Ideol marketing manager Geischer. “It could represent much more than that, local jobs, but also brainpower.” 

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Britain’s Top Diplomat Raises Detainee’s Case in Iran Talks

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson raised the case of a detained dual national on Sunday when he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a two-day trip to Tehran.

The British Foreign Office says Johnson raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly plotting against Iran’s government, during a “worthwhile visit” to the country.

The Foreign Office said both Johnson and Rouhani “spoke forthrightly” during their nearly hour-long meeting and “agreed on the need to make progress in all areas,” without elaborating.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband says she faces trial on new charges Sunday that carry the possibility of an additional 16-years imprisonment, but Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi said last month that her verdict has been finalized.

Efforts to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker who has been held since April 2016, are believed to top Johnson’s agenda. Johnson recently complicated those efforts by saying incorrectly that she was training journalists when arrested. He has since apologized.

London is considering repaying Tehran some 400 million pounds from a pre-1979 arms deal. Both sides say the money isn’t related to Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Johnson met with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear program, earlier Sunday.

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France’s Republicans Set to Elect Leader to Challenge Macron

In his first seven months in office, President Emmanuel Macron has faced little opposition. But come Sunday, the once-dominant Republicans elect a new leader they hope might recover the party’s voice.

The front-runner to lead the party of former presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy is Laurent Wauquiez, an ambitious 42-year-old who, like Macron, passed through the elite ENA school and promises to shake up the political establishment.

There are few policy parallels between the two men, however. Wauquiez is a relentless critic of the 39-year-old president, dismissing him as out of touch with rural France, weak on security and too much in favor of closer European integration.

In his campaign to lead the party, Wauquiez has charted a rightward path to attack Macron’s social and economic reforms.

“The right is waking up. It is back and I want to be clear: We’re not going to be told what we can say or think any more,” Wauquiez told Reuters. “The future of France’s democracy cannot be a centrist swamp that gathers both Socialists and right-wingers around Macron.” 

​A party divided

Wauquiez will inherit a party in disarray, divided in its response to both Macron’s poaching of party stalwarts and economic policy that encroaches on their turf.

Its candidate Francois Fillon was eliminated in the first round of this year’s presidential election, and the party has had a caretaker interim leader since.

Wauquiez bills himself as the champion of small-town, rural France — a France, he says, with which Macron has no connection as he pursues a “start-up nation.”

“They have no roots, they are completely out of touch with reality in this country,” Wauquiez told a rally in Provins, outside Paris, referring to Macron and his lieutenants.

Addressing campaign rallies in open-collar shirts, Wauquiez says Macron’s tax policy will hammer the middle class and pensioners, denounces his labor reforms as a sham and accuses the government of being too soft on radical Islam.

He has also drawn up future battlelines over the deeper European integration sought by Macron. 

Not all party loyalist are sure

“He is the leader the right needs,” said Jacqueline Mercier, 72, after a rally in Paris. “He is young, he is dynamic and his ideas truly represent us.”

Not all party loyalists agree, and there is discord among its lawmakers, too. While Wauquiez is popular with more conservative supporters, his bid to take the party fishing in waters of the far-right National Front alarms party moderates.

Several senior-ranking party members have warned they could jump ship.

“If the right turns its back on the center, we will be in opposition for 20 years,” said Mael de Calan, one of two junior politicians challenging Wauquiez’s leadership bid.

​Polls project outright win

Even so, inside Macron’s camp, some ministers are cautioning against underestimating the threat of Wauquiez.

“We need to be wary because he is very gifted, very strong and there’s nothing he won’t do. He will establish a violent fight,” Gerald Darmanin, Macron’s budget minister and former member of The Republicans, told the newspaper Le Monde.

Polls show Wauquiez winning 60 to 75 percent of the votes on Sunday for an outright first-round win. More than 230,000 party members have the right to take part in the online election, but far fewer are expected to do so.

France is scheduled to hold its next presidential election in 2022.

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