‘Real risk’ of Islamic State fighters on migrant boats, Italy warns

Mediterranean migrant boats headed for Europe could be carrying fugitive Islamic State fighters, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has asserted. He’s been hosting African, EU and UN officials at a Rome conference.

Migrants, most of them from Eritrea, jump into the water from a crowded wooden boat

The recent military evictions of the Islamic State militia — in the likes of Syria — presented an “absolute and real risk” of jihadi fighters trying to slip into Europe, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told a conference on migration and security in Rome Tuesday.

“It is in our interests to defeat the business model of traffickers whose profits are used to finance organized crime and, we have the evidence for this, terrorism,” Alfano said.

Angelino Alfano Defeat traffickers, urges Alfano

At the same time, he warned against “exploitation of the immigration issue in order to stir up fears and gain easy consensus.”

Represented at Tuesday’s conference were 13 European and African countries, including partly lawless Libya.

Alfano’s remarks precede Italy’s March 4 parliamentary election in which the arrival of more than 600,000 migrants over the past four years is a key issue — underscored by last Saturday’s drive-by attack in Macerata by an Italian neo-Nazi.

Watch video01:53

Racial motive suspected in Italy drive-by shooting

Italy coordinates the vast majority of sea rescues between northern African and its southern coast, including islands such as Lampedusa.

On Monday, former prime minister and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi blamed part of the problem on populist former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose center-right opposition alliance is polling strongly.

“If in Italy migrants are arriving, it’s because someone made war with Libya, and the premier was Berlusconi,” Renzi said, referring to NATO’s 2011 air strike campaign against the late Moammar Gadhafi regime.

On Sunday, Berlusconi claimed Italy had been left with a “social bomb ready to explode” by center-left Democratic Party governments, once led by Renzi.

Watch video00:52

Silvio Berlusconi on immigration in Italy

Last week, the EU’s border agency, Frontex, launched a replacement Mediterranean operation called Themis, removing the obligation of the previous mission, Triton, to bring all those rescued only to Italy, to include, for example, Malta.

Frontex spokeswoman, Izabella Cooper, said no rescued migrants would be taken [back] to transit non-EU nations such as Tunisia and Libya, where conditions have been widely deplored but instead to the “nearest place of safety” in accordance with international maritime law.

Under an Italy-led deal to assist Libya’s coast guard, arrivals in Italy from the largely lawless Mediterranean nation dropped 26 percent last year — while an EU deal with Turkey largely shut down the so-called Balkan route.

Instead, pressure has shifted west to Algeria and Morocco as migrants, still intent on reaching Europe, head for Spain, some via its African outposts of Ceuta and Melilla.

Watch video07:25

Refugees in Italy as Europe’s new slaves

More than 26,300 migrants reached Spain last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Spain, which a decade ago began costly deterrence and repatriation deals with sub-Saharan countries, faces a new situation, according to non-governmental groups.

Flows will intensify “along the Western Mediterranean route,” warned Estrella Galan, secretary general of the asylum-assistance group Commission for the Protection of Refugees (CEAR) last month.

“If we don’t change our policies we are going to continue an endless cycle of replicating migration patterns from one location to another,” she said.

ipj/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)


Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta won low turnout election by landslide, say officials

The electoral commission has said fewer than half of eligible voters took part in the re-run presidential poll. Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga had boycotted the October 26 presidential election.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and official

Incumbent Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta won Thursday’s re-run presidential election with 98.2 percent of the vote, the electoral commission said on Monday.

The commission’s head, Wafula Chebukati, said turnout for the disputed poll was nearly 39 percent.

Read more: Kenya repeats presidential election with opposition boycott

Watch video01:27

Kenyans count cost of deeply divisive election re-run

The head of the Kenyan opposition, Raila Odinga, had called on his supporters to boycott the vote due to a lack of electoral reforms. Odinga, who was nonetheless listed on the ballot, received 0.96 percent share of the final tally.

“I’m satisfied that we were able to meet these conditions that have enabled the commission to deliver … a free, fair and credible election,” Chebukati said.

Chebukati had warned ahead of the election that his commission could not guarantee its credibility.

Wafula Chebukati, head of the Kenyan electoral commission Wafula Chebukati, head of the Kenyan electoral commission

Read more: Kenyans divided as they mark Mashujaa ‘Heroes’ Day

After Chebukati announced the results, Kenyatta called for peace, adding that he expected legal challenges to the final outcome.

“My victory today is just part of a process that is likely to once again be subjected to a constitutional test through our courts … I will submit to this constitutional path regardless of the outcome,” he said.

A disputed vote

The vote, which was marred by street violence, took place following a decision by the country’s Supreme Court to order a re-run of the August 8 presidential election. The court said the electoral commission had committed “irregularities and illegalities” in the run up to the first vote.

But on the day of the re-run, Odinga called on the country to “not participate in any way in the sham election … Convince your friends, neighbors and everyone else not to participate.”

Odinga also told his supporters to refrain from protesting, but demonstrations nevertheless erupted in several opposition strongholds, including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. At least three people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and police.

On Monday, US ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec warned ofescalating tensions in the country, saying Kenyans needed “to resolve the deep divisions that the electoral process has exacerbated.”

Read more: In Kenya, politics split on ethnic divide

Watch video01:09

Protests and violence mar Kenyan election

amp/jm (AP, Reuters, dpa)

Courtesy: DW

Kenya repeats presidential election with opposition boycott

At least three people have been killed in clashes across Kenya. Calling it a “sham election,” Kenya’s opposition leader urged supporters to boycott the vote and refrain from protesting amid fears of violence.

Police face off against protesters in Kenya

At least three opposition protesters died from gunshot wounds on Thursday during clashes amid Kenya’s contentious rerun of a presidential election annulled by the country’s top court in September.

Minutes before polls closed, Kenya’s electoral chief Wafula Chebukati said voting in four counties will be postponed until Saturday due to violence, including Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori and Siaya.

Read more: In Kenya, politics split on ethnic divide

Police clashed with protesters in several opposition strongholds, including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, where demonstrators reportedly set fires, blocked roads and thrown stones. However, national police chief Joseph Boinnet told reporters that security forces’ actions did not amount to a crackdown.

“We don’t use excessive force. In every situation we respond to the breakdown of law and order, our response has always been proportionate and measured,” Boinnet said.

Watch video01:09

Protests mar Kenya’s repeat election

‘Sham election’

Turnout appeared significantly lower compared to August’s election, which witnessed nearly 80 percent turnout, according to local media.

“We should be seeing a very huge crowd lining up to vote, but on the contrary, today the polling station isn’t very busy,” a polling agent told DW in Nairobi.

Read more: ‘My withdrawal not to blame for confusion,’ Odinga tells DW

Although all the names of the candidates from the August vote remain on the ballot papers, the main opposition challenger, Raila Odinga has called for a “national resistance movement” to boycott the election.

“Do not participate in any way in the sham election,” Odinga told a rally in central Nairobi. “Convince your friends, neighbors and everyone else not to participate.” He called for a rerun election governed by a new, reformed electoral commission within 90 days.

Police face off against protesters in KenyaSupporters of Kenya’s opposition clashed with police in several parts of the country, prompting fears of widespread political violence

Fears of violence

In Nairobi, one voter told DW: “It is my right and my duty to vote for the security of this nation.” Despite the opposition’s boycott, some of Kenyatta’s supporters braved the polling stations to cast their vote.

After casting his vote, Kenyatta said the country needed to separate ethnic loyalties from politics in order for the country to move forward.

“What we have is a problem of tribalism, and tribalism is an issue that we must continue to deal with and fight with as we continue to develop our country,” Kenyatta said. “We cannot achieve our goals if we continue to embark on tribalistic policies.”

Read more: Kenya election: From ‘fair and peaceful to democratic crisis

Security was tight going into the election after 37 people had died in violence after the August vote, with most of the victims shot dead by police.

The head of the election commission said last week he could not guarantee a free and fair vote, citing interference from politicians and threats of violence against his colleagues.

Watch video04:18

Kenya: ‘Not even a single voter’ at some polls

The uncertainty in Kenyan political life increases the risk of violence, according to Pat Thaker, regional director of Middle East and Africa for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit.

“It’s getting harder to see how Kenya can return to normality or ‘business-as-usual’ for the remainder of this year – and even into next year. The uncertainty in the political environment is set to continue at least for the rest of this year, and potentially increases the risk of violence, like we’ve seen after the 2007 election,” Thaker said.

“Kenyatta is almost certain to win the second round almost uncontested, which in turn will probably trigger further brinkmanship in the form of another legal position from the opposition. What you’re going to see is a lot of activity through the courts.”

Democracy ‘under siege’

In announcing its decision to annul the August 8 vote, the Supreme Court cited unconstitutional procedures and electoral systems that had been “infiltrated and compromised.”

The court did not detail what remedial measures should be put in place but ordered the electoral commission to conduct a new vote within 60 days.

Read more: Opinion: Kenya needs statesmanship, not brinkmanship

It was the first time an incumbent African president’s re-election had been blocked. Kenyatta responded to the court’s decision by calling the justices “crooks.”

Last week, Roselyn Akombe, a senior member of the electoral commission, resigned and went to New York. She claimed the electoral commission was “under siege” and that it could not guarantee a credible election.

Watch video03:45

Tensions rise over controversial Kenya election

ls/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)




Kenya court annuls presidential election result

Kenya’s Supreme Court has accused the electoral board of committing “irregularities” during the recent presidential vote. The annulment marks a setback for President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has called the judges “crooks.”

Watch video02:29

Kenya Supreme Court nullifies Kenyatta’s re-election

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday annulled the result of recent presidential elections, saying the electoral board committed “irregularities and illegalities.”

“A declaration is hereby issued that the presidential election held on August 8 was not conducted in accordance to the constitution and applicable law, rendering the results invalid, null and void,” said Judge David Maraga, announcing the verdict of four out of the court’s six judges.

Read more: Kenya: From the court of the people to the courts of law

The electoral board “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the elections in accordance with the constitution,” Maraga added. Two of the court’s judges dissented with the verdict, saying the will of the people should not be nullified due to challenges that arose during the electoral process.

New elections must take place within 60 days, according to the ruling.

Following the election, supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga took to the streets to demand Uhuru Kenyatta, dubbed Kenya's president, step downFollowing the election, supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga took to the streets to demand Uhuru Kenyatta, dubbed Kenya’s president, step down

Contested result

The electoral commission had pronounced President Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner of the election with 54.3 percent of the vote.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, Kenyatta’s challenger during the presidential election, had rejected the initial result in the wake of the vote, prompting violent protests that left at least 16 people dead and dozens more injured.

The Supreme Court’s ruling marks the first time a presidential result has been overturned in Kenya.

Tensions have risen after the general election, prompting fears of election-related violence in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Both Kenyatta and Odinga have been dogged before by political violence that erupted after the 2007 polls and left 1,100 people dead.

Raila Odinga celebrated the court's ruling in downtown Nairobi with his supportersRaila Odinga celebrated the court’s ruling in downtown Nairobi with his supporters

‘Against the will of the people’

President Kenyatta at first indicated that he respected the ruling even if he disagreed with it, saying it went “against the will of the people.”

“The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it,” said Kenyatta in a televised speech. “That is the nature of democracy.”

In later off-the-cuff comments, however, he called Maraga and his fellow judges “crooks,” and told suporters he was ready to campaign again.

Read more: Kenya elections: Three women make political history

Uhuru Kenyatta (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Kenya TV)Kenyatta has said he will campaign again on the same platform

‘Historic day’

Predictably, Odinga hailed the court’s announcement.

“This is a historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension for the people of the continent of Africa,” he said. “We are ready for elections but we don’t have confidence” in the electoral commission, he added.

The opposition leader called for the electoral board to be disbanded and its officials prosecuted. The commission later said it would shuffle some staff and ensure any members who violated the law will be brought to justice.

Odinga and his National Super Alliance, a coalition of opposition groups, were given access to the electoral commission’s electronic server to verify the result of the election.

Supervised by independent technology experts, Odinga claimed to have discovered that the electoral commission’s computers were manipulated to hand Kenyatta the victory.

‘Tainted’ officials

Musalia Mudavadi, another leading figure in the National Super Alliance, also hailed the court’s decision in an interview with DW.

Like Odinga, he called for the prosecution of some electoral officials, calling them “tainted.”

Mudavadi also told DW that the electoral board “had succeeded in hoodwinking international observers,” adding that “the whole issue of observers need to be looked at afresh because they are usually hoodwinked to rubberstamp illegal activities.”

Watch video00:30

Odinga: ‘Very historic day’ for Kenya

ls/ng (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)



Courtesy, DW

Kenyatta takes the lead in Kenya’s divisive election as Odinga rejects results

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken a significant lead in Kenya’s tense elections, according to early results. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has already rejected the emerging tally, calling it “fake.”

Watch video02:20

High turnout in Kenyan general election

With more than 10 million ballots counted, Uhuru Kenyatta (photo) was officially leading with 55 percent of the vote against his challenger and longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga’s 44 percent, according to results released early Wednesday by the electoral commission (IEBC).

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, however, has rejected the results of the divisive vote, saying they were “fake.” Despite Kenyatta’s lead by more than 1.1 million ballots, Odinga remained adamant that the projected numbers were false.

Regardless of the initial projections, the contest between Odinga and Kenyatta was expected to stay close. With growing opposition claims of an alleged plot to rig the vote and the brutal murder of the electoral commission’s top IT manager last week, the atmosphere in the country remained tense.

Opposition candidate Raila Odinga casting his vote (Bryan Jaybee / Anadolu Agency )Opposition candidate Odinga cast his vote at the Kibera Primary School in one of Africa’s largest slums

Kenya’s elections took place a decade after the infamous 2007 vote, which resulted in widespread violence leaving more than 1,100 people dead and 600,000 displaced, and which foreign observers agreed was riddled with irregularities.

Candidates running for the highest office in the country need a simple majority to win a five-year term. Up to 20 million Kenyans cast their ballots at 41,000 polling stations on Tuesday.

The presidential vote was held concurrently with the election of 47 governors, 47 senators and 290 members of the lower house. Final results are expected later on Wednesday at the earliest, but election officials have up to a week to declare the outcome.

A close race

As he voted, Kenyatta said he would step down if he lost and called on Odinga’s party to do the same. “In the event that they lose, let us accept the will of the people. I am willing myself to accept the will of the people, so let them too,” he said.

There were a total of eight candidates running for the presidency, but 55-year-old Kenyatta and 72-year-old Odinga seemed to be the absolute front-runners by a long stretch.

Read more: How Kenyan youth could swing the 2017 election

The two men represent different ethnic communities of Kenya. The Kikuyu group has supplied three of Kenya’s four presidents since independence from the UK in 1963. Odinga has drawn support from the Luo ethnic community whose rivalry with the Kikuyu has defined most of Kenya’s post-independence history.

A vote for peace and prosperity

From local politicians to international observers, people in Kenya were hoping for peaceful elections. DW correspondent Sella Oneko said that voters “hope that everything will pass quickly, so that things go back to normal.”

“Many people are very disillusioned and feel that elections and politicians haven’t and won’t improve things,” Oneko said. In one of the latest surveys, high living costs, corruption, a lack of jobs and the drought were the voters’ most serious concerns.

Analysts believe that, no matter the outcome, the losing candidate is likely to make allegations of election fraud – which many fear could spark violence similar to that of 2007.

“It seems almost inevitable that whoever loses will question the result,” Nic Cheeseman, professor of African politics at Birmingham University in England, told the AFP news agency.

“The question is not whether or not they will accept the result but what they will do when they don’t accept it.”

Obama: ‘Respect the will of the people’

Former US President Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, called on voters to ensure a stable democratic process.

“I urge all Kenyans to work for an election – and aftermath – that is peaceful and credible, reinforcing confidence in your new constitution and the future of your country,” Obama said in a statement on Monday.

Voters stand in line at a polling station in one of Africa's largest slums, Kibera (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)Voters stood in long lines at a polling stations

“I urge Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement. Respect the will of the people.”

In an interview with DW before the vote, Odinga laid out his conditions for accepting the election results.

“In the unlikely event that I lose fairly, I will definitely accept the will of the people,” he said, adding that if he won he would make rooting out corruption a top priority, along with efforts to unite the country.

“Basically, they have been looking out for their friends,” Odinga said about the government under Kenyatta’s leadership. “So, it is not even the communities that are benefiting. That has polarized the country, because other people feel completely excluded from the governance structure.”

Watch video02:22

Kenya’s voters: young and disenchanted

ss, jm/cmk (dpa, AFP, AP)



Courtesy, DW

Macron Decisively Defeats Le Pen in French Presidential Race



Emmanuel Macron Delivers Victory Speech

France’s president-elect spoke at the Louvre after defeating the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Photo by Christian Hartmann/Reuters. Watch in Times Video »

PARIS — Emmanuel Macron, a youthful former investment banker, handily won France’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating the staunch nationalist Marine Le Pen after voters firmly rejected her far-right message and backed his call for centrist change.

Mr. Macron, 39, who has never held elected office, will be the youngest president in the 59-year history of France’s Fifth Republic after leading an improbable campaign that swept aside France’s establishment political parties.

The election was watched around the world for magnifying many of the broader tensions rippling through Western democracies, including the United States: populist anger at the political mainstream, economic insecurity among middle-class voters and rising resentment toward immigrants.

Mr. Macron’s victory offered significant relief to the European Union, which Ms. Le Pen had threatened to leave. His platform to loosen labor rules, make France more competitive globally and deepen ties with the European Union is also likely to reassure a global financial market that was jittery at the prospect of a Le Pen victory.

Continue reading the main story

Her loss provided further signs that the populist wave that swept Britain out of the European Union and Donald J. Trump into the White House may have crested in Europe, for now.

“I understand the divisions of our country that have led some to vote for extremists,” Mr. Macron said after the vote. “I understand the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that a great part among us have also expressed.”

Mr. Macron pledged to do all he could in his five-year term to bring France together. “I will do everything I can in the coming five years to make sure you never have a reason to vote for extremism again,” he said later Sunday evening, standing before the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre, once the main residence of France’s kings, as thousands of flag-waving supporters gathered in the courtyard to celebrate.

But the election results showed that many people chose not to vote for either candidate, signaling skepticism about his project. And Mr. Macron quickly made clear that he understood the magnitude of the task before him after an often angry campaign.


Supporters Elated by Macron’s Election

French citizens hoping the centrist candidate would become France’s next president were overcome with joy and relief as the final result came in.

By CAMILLA SCHICK and STEFANIA ROUSSELLE on Publish DateMay 7, 2017. Photo by Eric Feferberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

“It is my responsibility to hear and protect the most fragile,” he said.

With nearly 100 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Macron had 66 percent, compared with 34 percent for Ms. Le Pen, according to the official count from the Interior Ministry.

The outcome was a watershed for Ms. Le Pen’s party, the far-right National Front, giving it new legitimacy even though the results showed that the party remains anathema to much of the French electorate for its history of anti-Semitism, racism and Nazi nostalgia.

As significant for France and for Mr. Macron’s future, nearly 34 percent of eligible voters did not cast a ballot or cast a blank or null one, suggesting that a large number of people could not bring themselves to vote for him. The abstention rate was the highest since 1969.

That lack of support presaged a difficult road ahead as Mr. Macron tries to build a legislative majority to push through his program. French parliamentary elections are next month. Currently, he has no party in Parliament.

Among the odds stacked against Mr. Macron, a former economy minister in the departing Socialist government, are deep doubts about the merits of a market economy.

“We saw the emergence of very strong anticapitalist forces,” said Gaspard Koenig, the director of the French think tank Generation Libre.

“You have 50 percent of the electorate that reject the market economy in a very radical way,” Mr. Koenig added. “Thus, he must during the next five years convince people that there are alternatives to the destruction of capitalism that can help them.”

The runoff election was groundbreaking for being a choice between two political outsiders, as well as for its rancor and for an apparent attempt to sway the vote with the hacking of Macron campaign emails, similar to the attack directed at last year’s election in the United States.


How France Voted

Detailed maps of the French presidential election show how Emmanuel Macron decisively beat right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen.


Ms. Le Pen, 48, conceded the election not long after polls closed in France, saying voters had chosen “continuity,” denying Mr. Macron his outsider status and linking him to the departing Socialists.

The vote was a record for the National Front and, she said, a mandate for it to become a new “patriotic and republican alliance” that would be “the primary opposition force against the new president.”

Ms. Le Pen earned 10.6 million votes, close to twice the number her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, received when he ran a losing presidential campaign against Jacques Chirac in 2002. The 34 percent of the vote Ms. Le Pen won was the highest share the French had ever given to her party.

The election was also the first in which the National Front candidate — rather than being a pariah who was shut out of debates and kept off the front pages of major newspapers, as happened in 2002 — was treated more like a normal candidate despite the party’s anti-Semitic and racist roots.

After taking over the party leadership in 2011, Ms. Le Pen worked to distance the National Front from her father, its founder. Stéphane Ravier, a National Front senator and a close adviser to Ms. Le Pen, said the party needed to go further in remaking its identity.

“We will need to make some changes, do things differently,” he said in an interview as the returns came in. “We will have to talk about our positions on the euro with more pedagogy. We may also have to change the name of the party.”

In her concession speech, Ms. Le Pen acknowledged that the party had to “profoundly” renew itself to become a “new political force.”

Ms. Le Pen clearly failed to persuade enough voters that her party had sufficiently changed. Many of the votes Mr. Macron received on Sunday were no doubt cast less in support of him than in rejection of her. Nearly the entire political establishment spoke out against a Le Pen presidency.


Marine Le Pen Concedes French Election

The far-right French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, thanked her supporters and congratulated her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, after pollsters projected that he would be the next president.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and REUTERS. Photo by Joel Saget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video 

Mr. Macron formed his political movement, En Marche! (Onward!), a little more than a year ago. He was initially given a slim chance of winning in a country that has never elected a president from outside the traditional left-wing or right-wing parties, with the exception of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, a centrist who led from 1974 to 1981.

Since then, French politics has been dominated by the Socialists on the left and the Republicans (or their precursors) on the right.

Mr. Macron’s campaign benefited from canny timing and no small dose of luck, with the collapse of the governing Socialist Party under President François Hollande, the incumbent, who was so unpopular that he took the extraordinary step of not seeking re-election.

Mr. Macron was also helped by an embezzlement scandal that damaged the candidacy of the center-right candidate François Fillon, who, at the start of the campaign, seemed certain to claim the presidency.

Mr. Macron’s message — that his new movement was neither right nor left, but represented a third way, with elements of both — seemed to appeal to numerous urban voters, as well as to many young voters.

As the results appeared on a screen set up at the Louvre, Macron supporters shouted with joy. Some started singing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

“This is a historic moment,” said Jacques Pupponi, 60, who came with his children: Noé, 11; Dora, 12; and Eden, 13.

“I’ve lived moments like this before, in 1981,” he added, referring to the election of the Socialist president François Mitterrand. “I’m very happy about the score — it’s very, very important,” Mr. Pupponi said of Mr. Macron’s decisive victory.

For Mourad Djebali, 30, a Tunisian engineer who obtained French citizenship a few months ago, the result felt like a personal affirmation. “I’m moved,” Mr. Djebali said. “I recognize the France that has received me.

“It’s a great symbol of France,” he added. “It’s a sign of hope. Everyone doesn’t agree with each other, but that one thing we agree on is that we should not open the door to the extremes.”

Russian politicians see Le Pen as a ‘hope for change’ but expect Macron victory

Following Francois Fillon’s defeat in the first round of the French presidential race, Moscow is taking a close look at the two candidates left. Among many Kremlin politicians, Marine Le Pen is the new preferred choice.

Frankreich Präsidentschaftswahl Macron und Le Pen (Reuters/C. Hartmann)

With conservative Francois Fillon finishing third in Sunday’s first round vote, the Kremlin lost its favored French presidential candidate. While centrist Emmanuel Macron is now largely seen by Russian politicians and experts as the most likely to win the run-off election on May 7, they suggested that as a president he won’t help to solve France’s political woes.

For the Kremlin, Fillon’s election defeat is not good news. Among France’s four main presidential candidates, he pursued the closest ties with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. The two politicians have been on friendly terms since they both served as prime ministers between 2007 and 2012.

Frankreich Wahl Francois Fillon Rede in Paris nach der Niederlage (Reuters/C. Hartmann)Many saw Fillon as Moscow’s preferred candidate

During that time, Putin and Fillon spent many hours in negotiations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last year. “They indeed keep friendly relations,” he added. Speaking of his former colleague, Putin himself described the Republican candidate as a “tough negotiator” and “without any doubt a highly professional and decent person.”

During the election campaign, Fillon demonstrated his friendly leanings toward Moscow, calling the Western sanctions against Russia “totally ineffective.” Speaking of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, he repeatedly cited the right to “self-determination.”

Macron wary of Russia  

In contrast to Fillon, front-runner Emmanuel Macron is the most unfavorable candidate for Moscow. Although intending to maintain dialogue with Russia, the 39-year old politician urged the European Union to take a hard line on any possible interference in the election process in Europe, “Bloomberg” reported in February, citing an unidentified official from his campaign.

The report came a day after Macron’s campaign chief Richard Ferrand accused Russia of carrying out cyberattacks on the campaign’s computer network. He also accused Moscow of using fake news in an effort to discredit Macron ahead of the election.

Watch video02:47

Macron and Le Pen in French runoff

The former economy minster won almost 24 percent of the vote in the first round on Sunday, closely followed by right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, who garnered 21.3 percent. For Russia, this outcome hardly came as a surprise, with some politicians and political analysts in Moscow suggesting that Le Pen is unlikely to beat Macron in the second round. “It is obvious that the Western world will do anything to prevent Le Pen from gaining the presidential seat,” The State Duma deputy with ruling United Russia party, Sergei Zheleznyak, told reporters on Monday. “They don’t need a president of France, who advocates the independence and sovereignty of his country, preserving national identity and traditional values, who is ready for a dialogue and equal cooperation with other countries and opposes the sanctions policy,” he added, apparently referring to the Western establishment.

During her visit to Moscow in late March when she met Vladimir Putin, Le Pen pointed out that she is “in favor of developing relations with Russia” and called for cooperation with Moscow in the fight against terrorism. In 2014, her party, the National Front, received a 9 million euro ($9.8 million) loan from a Russian bank after French financial institutions denied it a credit.

Clinton and Trump in the French manner

Deputy chairman of Russia’s Communist Party Ivan Melnikov pointed out that Le Pen and the two leading presidential candidates who hadn’t made it to the second round – Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon got roughly 60 percent of the votes in total. “These are the candidates who declared a course for cooperation with Russia. Mr. Macron must consider that now,” the Russian politician said.

USA | Ende der 3. Präsidentschaftsdebatte 2016 in Las Vegas (REUTERS/M. Blake)The US and French elections – can parallels be drawn?

Meanwhile, State Duma deputy Zheleznyak suggested that the close first round finish between Macron and Le Pen created intrigue for the runoff in May. The head of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, compared France’s upcoming vote with the recent presidential election in the United States, which saw Hillary Clinton defeated by Donald Trump. In France, just like in the US, “hopeless tenacity in preserving the previous policy on the one hand will compete with hope for change on the other,” Kosachev wrote on his Facebook page. The only difference is that in the US “hopelessness was female,” he added, referring to Clinton, “and here it’s vice versa.”

The politician also added that the likely outcome – a Macron victory – will not solve France’s problems, but only postpone them. Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, echoed this thought. In an interview with news agency Interfax he said he doesn’t believe that as a new president Macron could lead the country out of political and economic crisis. “It looks like he is a product of a political combination of circumstances rather than a representative of any distinct political program,” Lukyanov  said, referring to the French politician. “If so,” he added, “the situation might only get worse in the future, and then the new political reality will not be better than the old one.”