Russia, the United States and powers from Europe and the Middle East outlined a plan on Saturday for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, but differences remained on key issues such as President Bashar al-Assad’s fate. A day after gunmen and suicide bombers went on a rampage through Paris, killing at least 127 people, foreign ministers and senior officials from more than a dozen countries agreed to work for a ceasefire in Syria’s civil war, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it would not apply to Islamic State. French President Francois Hollande pledged a “merciless response” to the attacks, which he said had been organized by the Islamist militant force. France is part of the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the group in Syria and Iraq.
France’s resurgent far right is vying for a shining moment this weekend, when the National Front is facing the Socialists in an election for a vacant seat in parliament. Sunday’s vote in the Doubs region is the first electoral test since the January terror attacks. It has raised political tensions as the nation waits to see whether the party’s anti-immigration message captures more hearts than the message of unity the French government is trying to preserve. The National Front’s candidate for the seat, Sophie Montrel, warns against the “Islamic peril” in France, while her Socialist opponent, Frederic Barbier, hopes to capitalize on the unity that bound the nation after the attacks on the satiric Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Kosher grocery store that killed 17. The trauma wrought by three radical Muslims boosted the sagging profile of Socialist President Francois Hollande. Since then, he has worked to limit a backlash against France’s 5 million-strong Muslim population and ensure that youth living on society’s margins become active members of French society.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone that elections planned for Sunday in eastern Ukraine were illegitimate and would not be recognised by European leaders, a Berlin government spokesman said on Friday. Ms Merkel and Mr Putin held a joint telephone conversation with French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ms Merkel’s spokesman Georg Streiter said at a government news conference. He said in the call there were diverging opinions on Sunday’s “so-called elections” in the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. “Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law,” he said, adding that the vote would violate an agreement endorsed by Russia and further complicate efforts to end the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Sunday’s separatist poll is aimed at electing leaders and a parliament in a self-proclaimed autonomous republic.
French President Francois Hollande is set to take the axe to his beleaguered government after it suffered humiliating losses in local elections in which the far-right National Front (FN) made historic gains. The outcome of the first nationwide vote since Hollande was elected in 2012 was described as “Black Sunday” by one Socialist lawmaker. The FN won control of 11 towns and was on track to claim more than 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide, its best ever showing at the grassroots level of French politics and a stunning vindication of leader Marine Le Pen’s efforts to extend its appeal. It was also a night to savour for France’s main opposition, the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy performed strongly across the country, seizing control of a string of towns and cities, including some once considered bastions of the left.
A candidate for the French far-right National Front (FN) party has won a by-election in the south-east, amid signs the party is gaining in strength. Laurent Lopez won a seat in the Var regional council, defeating the centre-right UMP with 53.9% of votes. Speaking on TV, FN leader Marine Le Pen said the results showed “a real desire for change by the French”. The party, once seen as a pariah in French politics, has made significant gains in popularity in recent months. It has been expanding its appeal to disillusioned Socialist and opposition UMP voters with promises on crime and illegal immigrants. Sunday’s run-off poll was for a seat in the town of Brignoles, near Toulon. Observers say the FN win there suggests the party may make gains in the 2014 municipal and European Parliament elections.
Back-room deals, black lists and bitter duels. Political and personal intrigue has wormed its way into Sunday’s final round of French legislative elections. President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is battling to assure a solid majority and fulfill his vows to boost growth in Europe and redefine the presidency as one beholden to the people. Barring surprises, the Socialists and their allies should win enough seats to control the crucial 577-seat lower house of parliament, after a strong showing in the first round a week ago. To get there, the party is trying to fend off conservatives who dominated parliament under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. They’re also trying to shame those in the mainstream right who are cutting vote-getting deals with the extreme right, anti-immigrant National Front, which is conniving for its first real presence in parliament in more than a quarter century. “The right no longer knows where it lives. It no longer knows what it is,” said Economy Minister Pierre Moscovici this week on France 2 TV. “It’s lost its markers, its identity, its values.”
Dutch cheese, Hungarian wine, rotten tomato and flan were just a few buzzwords thrown around in the French Twitter community on Sunday, when users wittily tweeted in code to skirt a French law prohibiting voting predictions in the first round of the presidential election. French election regulations ban anyone from leaking predictions before polls closed at 8 p.m., resulting in fines up to $100,000. In response, French Twitter users posted predictions and voting tallies using nicknames for the candidates to evade the attention of election officials appointed to monitor social networking sites for violations. They also paid homage to their past by using the hashtag #RadioLondres, a reference to codes broadcast from London’s BBC to resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, the AFP reports. “Tune in to #RadioLondres so as not to know the figures we don’t want to know before 8:00 pm,” the AFP reports of one ironic tweet.
François Hollande has moved a step closer to becoming the first Socialist president of France in a generation by beating the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the first round of elections for the Elysée. But the surprisingly high vote for the extreme-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, boosted the overall figures for the right and meant that the final runoff vote on 6 May remains on a knife-edge. Partial results from the beginning of the count showed Hollande – a former Socialist party leader, rural MP and self-styled Mr Normal – with a clear lead at more than 28%, compared with Sarkozy on about 26%. Hollande’s is one of the left’s best ever results and will raise momentum for next month’s final run-off. The Socialist party is seeking to return to the presidency for the first time since François Mitterrand’s re-election in 1988. But Sarkozy’s total will be seen as a personal failure. It is the first time an outgoing president has failed to win a first-round vote in the past 50 years and makes it harder for Sarkozy to regain momentum. The final runoff vote between Hollande and Sarkozy now depends on a delicate balance of how France’s total of rightwing and leftwing voters line up.
Voting began Sunday in France in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s uncertain bid for re-election, with polls showing that many French are dissatisfied with his response to concerns about the economy and jobs. The voting will winnow down a list of 10 candidates from across the political spectrum to two finalists for the decisive runoff on May 6, which will set a course for the next five years in this pillar of the European Union. Polls for months have showed that the conservative Sarkozy – who has been relatively unpopular for months, if not years – and Francois Hollande, a Socialist, are likely to make the cut. “This is an election that will weigh on the future of Europe. That’s why many people are watching us,” said Hollande after voting in Tulle, a town in central France. “They’re wondering not so much what the winner’s name will be, but especially what policies will follow. That’s why I’m not in a competition just of personalities. I am in a competition in which I must give new breath of life to my country and a new commitment to Europe,” he added, urging a big turnout from voters.