All posts by MPolitics

France’s divided National Assembly keeps centrist speaker 

PARIS — France’s divided National Assembly on Thursday kept a centrist member of President Emmanuel Macron’s party as speaker after a chaotic early election produced a hung legislature. 

Speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, 53, has been at the head of the National Assembly since 2022 and she retained her post Thursday after three rounds of voting in the lower house of parliament. 

She received the support of Macron’s centrist allies and of some conservative lawmakers seeking to prevent her leftist contender from getting the job. Braun-Pivet won 220 votes, while communist lawmaker Andre Chassaigne got 207. 

The parliamentary election earlier this month resulted in a split among three major political blocs: the New Popular Front leftist coalition, Macron’s centrist allies and the far-right National Rally party. None won an outright majority. 

“We need to get along with each other, to cooperate. We need to be able to seek compromises,” Braun-Pivet told lawmakers in a speech following her election as speaker. “You will always find me by your side to do this, to dialogue with you, to innovate with you, to find that new path that the National Assembly must take.” 

Thursday’s opening session of the lower house of parliament came two days after Macron accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and other ministers but asked them to handle affairs in a caretaker capacity until a new government is appointed, as France prepares to host the Paris Olympics at the end of the month. 

Leaders of the New Popular Front on Thursday evening again urged Macron to turn to them to form the new government, insisting they won the most seats in the National Assembly. 

Yet the members of the coalition, which includes the hard-left France Unbowed, the Socialists, the Greens and the Communists, are still feuding among themselves over whom to choose as their prime ministerial candidate. 

Chassaigne, who was the joint candidate of the New Popular Front, criticized the job of speaker going to Macron’s centrists as a vote “stolen by an unnatural alliance.” 

It “gives us even more strength,” he added. 

Chassaigne blamed conservative members of the Republicans party for participating in “tactics that led to not changing anything,” describing the move as “giving nausea.” 

Speaking from Woodstock, England, where he was attending a summit of leaders from Europe, Macron declined to comment on the French political situation and refused to say when he intends to name a new prime minister. 

“I will not answer that question,” he said. 

Politicians from the three main blocs and smaller parties had waged a battle for the job of speaker, with each camp seeking to make a show of force in the hope that it would influence Macron’s decision. 

Unions and left-wing activists staged protests Thursday across the country to “put pressure” on Macron to choose a prime minister who comes from the New Popular Front. 

There is no firm timeline for when the president must name a new prime minister.

Threat to Europe, US will not end with Ukraine, officials warn

washington — Ending the war in Ukraine will likely not be enough to end the threat to Europe or even the United States, in the view of several top European diplomats and the top U.S. general in Europe.

The officials, speaking Thursday at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, described the war and their nations’ support for Ukraine as existential, but said a Ukrainian victory against invading Russian forces would be just the start.

“The outcome on the ground is terribly, terribly important,” said U.S. General Christopher Cavoli, who heads U.S. European Command and serves as the supreme allied commander for NATO.

“But we can’t be under any illusions,” Cavoli said. “At the end of a conflict in Ukraine, however it concludes, we are going to have a very, very big Russia problem. … 

“We are going to have a situation where Russia is reconstituting its force, is located on the borders of NATO, is led by largely the same people as it is right now, is convinced that we’re the adversary, and is very, very angry.”

Germany’s foreign and security adviser was equally blunt.

“By the choice of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, we are entering a phase of a long, drawn-out conflict with Russia,” Jens Plötner told the audience in Aspen.

“Its bloodiest manifestation, at the moment, is the war in Ukraine. But obviously it’s not the only one,” Plötner said. “We have seen hybrid activity across Europe. We have seen hybrid activity in the United States. We have seen Russia reaching out to Africa. We have seen Russia rekindling ties with Tehran or, even worse, Pyongyang.

“So, I think all of this is part of the bigger picture, which we need to acknowledge.”

Plötner declined to comment directly on a Russian plot, first reported by CNN earlier this month, to kill the chief executive of Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s leading defense companies. But he said arrests have been made and that Germany’s security agencies are on high alert.

“We know that the ones [plots] we have been able to thwart were not the last ones,” he said.

Russia has denied any involvement in the plot to kill the Rheinmetall executive, dismissing the news reports as fake.

“Such reports cannot be taken seriously,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Germany and other European countries have increasingly raised concerns about Russian-linked networks working to erode support for Ukraine.

In April, German authorities arrested two Russian-German men on espionage charges, alleging one of them had agreed to carry out attacks on U.S. military facilities to sabotage the delivery of military aid to Ukraine.

Earlier this month, U.S. intelligence officials alleged Russia was again seeking to interfere in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in an effort to boost candidates perceived as favorable to Moscow, especially with respect to the war in Ukraine.

Jonatan Vseviov, secretary-general at Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned Thursday that now, especially, the West must be wary of Putin’s mind games of “fear and false hope.”

“His foreign minister, I think yesterday, talked about peace. This is him laying a trap,” Vseviov said in Aspen. “And it would be enormously foolish for us to fall into this. [Putin’s] not interested in peace. He’s interested in derailing our policy.”

Vseviov also warned against allowing Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling to paralyze Western decision-making and support for Ukraine.

The comments by Vseviov, Plötner and Cavoli came against the backdrop of the Republican National Convention, where supporters of Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump briefly distributed signs reading “Trump will end the Ukraine war.”

Trump’s choice for vice president, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, has argued in favor of a negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Some Europeans accuse Vance of downplaying the threat posed by Putin. And at a security conference in Munich earlier this year, Vance said, “The best way to help Ukraine, I think, from a European perspective, is for Europe to become more self-sufficient.”

Some European officials have pushed back against criticism that Europe is not doing enough for its self-defense, pointing to an initiative to develop a European deep-strike precision missile capability to counter Russia’s own missile buildup.

The top U.S. general in Europe, Cavoli, also rejected the Republican criticism.

“This is a different Europe than the Europe we complained about for years,” he said. “This is a Europe that recognizes what the burden is and that it’s got to be shared. And it’s got organizations that are preparing the sharing.

“This is exactly the partner we’ve been looking for for three decades. It’s exactly the time when U.S. contribution will produce the most value,” he said.

Netherlands marks 10th anniversary of downing of MH17 airliner

Amsterdam — The Netherlands commemorated on Wednesday the 298 victims of flight MH17 with a ceremony attended by the bereaved and representatives from Malaysia, Australia, Britain, Belgium and Ukraine.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, as fighting raged between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, including 196 Dutch citizens, were killed, leaving the plane’s wreckage and the remains of the victims scattered across fields of corn and sunflowers.

Based on an international investigation, a Dutch court in 2022 said there was no doubt the plane was shot down by a Russian missile system and that Moscow had “overall control” of the forces of the separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine since May 2014. Russia denies any involvement.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, which took place at the MH17 monument in the village of Vijfhuizen near Amsterdam, loved ones read out loud the names of all the victims.

Mark Rutte, who was prime minister when the disaster happened and has been a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin ever since, drew applause for his efforts during his time in office to keep the international spotlight on the incident.

The Dutch court convicted two former Russian intelligence agents and a Ukrainian separatist leader in absentia of murder for their role in the transport into eastern Ukraine of the Russian military BUK missile system used to down the plane.

“Justice requires a long, long breath,” said Prime Minister Dick Schoof, who took office earlier this month, adding that “a conviction is not the same as having someone behind bars.”  

Commemorating the victims in his nightly video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “There is no doubt that the judicial process and the overall work of international justice will inevitably lead to entirely fair sentences for all responsible for this crime.”

His foreign minster, Dmytro Kuleba, wrote on X that Russia had twice killed the victims. “First with a missile. Second, with lies that abused their memory and hurt their relatives.”  

Moscow denies any responsibility for MH17’s downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine. However, the EU’s outgoing foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday called on Russia to finally accept its responsibility.

“The evidence presented makes it abundantly clear that the BUK surface-to-air missile system used to bring down Flight MH17 belonged beyond doubt to the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” Borrell said.

“No Russian disinformation operation can distract from these basic facts, established by a court of law.”

UK’s new government announces legislation for ‘national renewal’ as Parliament opens with royal pomp 

London — Britain’s new Labour Party government promised to calm the country’s febrile politics and ease its cost-of-living crisis as it set out its plans for “national renewal” at the grand State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

Stabilizing the U.K.’s public finances and spurring economic growth were at the center of Prime Minister Keir Starmer ‘s legislative agenda, announced in a speech delivered by King Charles III.

“My government will seek a new partnership with both business and working people and help the country move on from the recent cost of living challenges by prioritizing wealth creation for all communities,” the king said in a speech to hundreds of lawmakers and scarlet-robed members of the House of Lords.

Starmer campaigned on a promise to bring bold change to Britain at modest cost to taxpayers. He aims to be both pro-worker and pro-business, in favor of vast new construction projects and protective of the environment. The risk is he may end up pleasing no one.

In a written introduction to the speech, Starmer urged patience, saying change would require “determined, patient work and serious solutions” rather than easy answers and “the snake oil charm of populism.”

The King’s Speech is the centerpiece of the State Opening, an occasion where royal pomp meets hard-nosed politics, as the king donned a diamond-studded crown, sat on a gilded throne and announced the laws his government intends to pass in the coming year.

Labour won a landslide election victory on July 4 as voters turned on the Conservatives after years of high inflation, ethics scandals and a revolving door of prime ministers. Starmer has promised to patch up the country’s aging infrastructure and frayed public services, but says he won’t raise personal taxes and insists change must be bound by “unbreakable fiscal rules.”

Wednesday’s speech included 40 bills – the Conservatives’ last speech had just 21 – ranging from housebuilding to nationalizing Britain’s railways and decarbonizing the nation’s power supply with a publicly-owned green energy firm, Great British Energy.

The government said it would “get Britain building,” setting up a National Wealth Fund and rewriting planning rules that stop new homes and infrastructure being built.

Economic measures included tighter rules governing corporations and a law to ensure all government budgets get advance independent scrutiny. That aims to avoid a repetition of the chaos sparked in 2022 by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose package of uncosted tax cuts rocked the British economy and ended her brief term in office.

The government promised stronger protections for workers, with a ban on some”zero-hours” contracts and a higher minimum wage for many employees. Also announced were protections for renters against shoddy housing, sudden eviction and landlords who won’t let them have a pet.

The government promised more power for local governments and better bus and railway services – keys to the “levelling up” of Britain’s London-centric economy that former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised but largely failed to deliver.

Though Starmer eschewed large-scale nationalization of industries, the government plans to take the delay-plagued train operators into public ownership.

The speech said the government “recognizes the urgency of the global climate challenge” — a change in tone from the Conservative government’s emphasis on oil and gas exploration. As well as increasing renewable energy, it pledged tougher penalties for water companies that dump sewage into rivers, lakes and seas.

The speech included new measures to strengthen border security, creating a beefed-up Border Security Command with counter-terrorism powers to tackle people-smuggling gangs.

It follows Starmer’s decision to scrap the Conservatives’ contentious and unrealized plan to send people arriving in the U.K. across the English Channel on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

The speech also tackled an issue that has foxed previous governments: reforming the House of Lords. The unelected upper chamber of Parliament is packed with almost 800 members – largely lifetime political appointees, with a smattering of judges, bishops and almost 100 hereditary aristocrats. The government said it would remove the hereditary nobles, though there was no mention of Starmer’s past proposal of setting a Lords retirement age of 80.

There was no mention of lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, though that was one of Labour’s election promises.

While much of Starmer’s agenda marks a break with the defeated Conservative government of former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Starmer revived Sunak’s plan to stop future generations from smoking by gradually raising the minimum age for buying tobacco.

The speech confirmed that the government wants to “reset the relationship with European partners” roiled by Britain’s exit from the European Union in 2020. It said there would be no change to Britain’s strong support for Ukraine and promised to “play a leading role in providing Ukraine with a clear path to NATO membership.”

Wednesday’s address was the second such speech delivered by Charles since the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022.

He traveled from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage – past a small group of anti-monarchy protesters with signs reading “Down with the Crown” – before donning ceremonial robes and the Imperial State Crown to deliver his speech. Police said 10 members of an environmental activist group were arrested near Parliament over alleged plans to disrupt the ceremony.

For all its royal trappings, it is the King’s Speech in name only. The words are written by government officials, and the monarch betrayed no flicker of emotion as he read them out.

“The king has zero agency in this,” said Jill Rutter, senior research fellow at the Institute for Government think tank.

UK union fails to win recognition at Amazon site after losing ballot, Amazon says

LONDON — The GMB union has failed to secure the right to formally represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in Coventry, central England, Amazon said on Wednesday.

The ballot result on union recognition is a blow for the U.K. trade union movement as victory in the ballot would have forced the U.S. e-commerce giant to negotiate labor terms with a U.K. union for the first time.

The Coventry workers have been involved in a dispute over pay and union recognition for more than a year and have carried out numerous strikes.

The GMB union has argued Amazon frustrated its recognition bid by recruiting hundreds of additional workers at the site so the union no longer had the numbers to make the ballot threshold.

Amazon’s treatment of workers has been in the spotlight for years. It has historically opposed unionization, saying its preference has been to resolve issues with employees directly rather than through unions.

However, in 2022, workers at its warehouse in Staten Island, New York, forced the company to recognize a trade union in the U.S. for the first time.

That was seen as key moment for the union movement. However, Amazon workers at two other New York warehouses and one in Alabama have since voted against unionizing.

Amazon does interact with unions in countries such as Germany and Italy. But that is largely because it is required to by government.

Amazon employs about 75,000 in the UK, making it one of the country’s top 10 private sector employers.

Britain’s new Labor government has promised to give workers more rights and unions more power.

It plans to update trade union legislation, removing restrictions on trade union activity and ensuring industrial relations are based around good faith negotiation and bargaining.

Labor says British employment laws are outdated, a drag on economic growth and a major factor in the U.K.’s worst period of industrial relations since the 1980s.

Paris mayor takes pre-Olympics dip to prove Seine clean

Paris — The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, swam in the murky waters of the Seine on Wednesday to demonstrate the river is now clean enough for outdoor Olympic swimming events.

Wearing goggles and a wet suit, the 65-year-old city leader swam breaststroke before immersing her face and beginning a front crawl, covering around 100 meters up and downstream.

She was joined by senior local officials and by Tony Estanguet, a triple Olympic gold medalist in canoeing who heads the organizing committee for the Paris Games, which open next week on July 26.

“Today is a confirmation that we are exactly where we meant to be,” Estanguet said. “We are now ready to organize the games in the Seine.”

Despite an investment of $1.5 billion to prevent sewage leaks into the waterway, the state of the Seine has brought suspense to the build-up to the Paris Games.

But since the beginning of July, with heavy rain finally giving way to sunnier weather, samples have shown the river to be ready for the open-water swimming and the triathlon.

“On the eve of the Games, when the Seine will play a key role, this event represents the demonstration of the efforts made by the city and the state to improve the quality of the Seine’s waters and the ecological state of the river,” Hidalgo’s office said on Tuesday.

The Socialist politician had originally planned to swim last month but had to delay because bacteria indicating the presence of fecal matter were found to be sometimes 10 times higher than authorized limits.

The long wait for her dip had sparked jokes and memes on social media, with one viral AI-generated image showing her looking like the wrinkled Gollum character from the Lord of the Rings movies after her amphibious exploit.

President Emmanuel Macron, who had promised to join the Seine bathers, was a notable absentee as he is occupied by a political crisis caused by his decision to call snap parliamentary elections last month.

The Seine is set to be used for the swimming leg of the Olympics triathlon on July 30-31 and Aug. 5, as well as the open-water swimming on Aug. 8-9.

Strong currents

The locations chosen for open-water swimming have also caused difficulties at past Olympics, notably ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and those in Tokyo in 2021.

“It’s been raining all over France. Summer has been very late to arrive and so have the good results,” said Marc Valmassoni from clean-water campaign group Surfrider which has been conducting weekly tests on the Seine since last year.

“They’re not excellent, they’re not terrible, they’re average. But at this time the water is swimmable.”

Cleaning up the Seine has been promoted as one of the key legacy achievements of Paris 2024, with Hidalgo intending to create three public bathing areas for the city’s residents next year, a century after swimming was banned.

“We’re not doing it for three days of competition in the Seine,” Estanguet told AFP during an interview last week. “We’re going it above all for environmental reasons… I’m proud that we’ve served as an accelerator.”

Authorities have invested in new water treatment and storage facilities in and around Paris, as well as ensuring that thousands of homes and canal boats without wastewater connections are linked up to the sewerage system.

Major storms still overwhelm the Paris underground waste-water network, however, some of which dates back to the 19th century.

Japan-Germany security cooperation troubles North Korea, China

washington — North Korea and China are watching for possible regional impacts from Japan’s recent enhanced security cooperation with Germany.

This weekend, Japan will hold joint drills with Germany around the Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island. Spain is slated to join them there, while France will join Japan next week for drills over Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture bordering the Pacific Ocean.

At a joint press conference in Berlin late last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said defense cooperation will be enhanced by the planned visits of German aircraft and frigates to Japan and of a Japanese training fleet to Hamburg this summer.

North Korea slammed the security cooperation as “collusion” that crossed a “red line” and is “reminiscent of the Second World War,” according to North Korea’s state-run KCNA on Monday.

“The defeated war criminal nations are in cahoots to stage a series of war games escalating the regional tensions,” KCNA continued.

Kishida said Japan hopes to work with Germany “to deal with the deepening military cooperation between Russia and North Korea as well as China’s moves related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” according to Nippon.com, a news agency based in Tokyo.

Kishida and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed in Berlin on Friday to boost their security cooperation after attending a NATO summit in Washington. It was Kishida’s first trip to Germany as prime minister.

Pact enters into force

Also on Friday, a military supply-sharing pact that aims to exchange food, fuel, and ammunition between Japan and Germany entered into force. The agreement was signed in January.

Beijing said the cooperation between Japan and Germany should not create tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Monday that “cooperation between countries, including military and security ties, should not target any third party or harm their interests.”

Maki Kobayashi, Japanese cabinet secretary for public affairs, told VOA’s Mandarin Service during the NATO summit that Japan has been working “very closely” with NATO countries on security issues and joint exercises.

“China has been saying there is an attempt at creating NATO in Asia, which is not correct,” she said.

Rather, she said, Japan has been seeking closer ties among like-minded countries “to share situational analyses and also align some policies” in support of an international order based on the rule of law.

In Berlin, Kishida and Scholz also agreed to enhance economic security including safeguarding the resilience of supply chains for key items such as critical minerals and semiconductors.

Cooperation seen two different ways

In Washington last week, the leaders of NATO and four Indo-Pacific countries, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, discussed how to ramp up their combined defense capacity.

“A union of defense industrial bases between NATO and IP4 countries would have significant and positive implications for international peace and stability,” said Matthew Brummer, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

“Japan has recently moved to provide surface-to-air missiles to the United States, which then sends them to Ukraine,” he added.

In December, Tokyo agreed to ship Japanese-made Patriot guided missiles to backfill U.S. inventory after taking a major step away from its pacifist self-defense policies and easing its postwar ban on the export of lethal weapons.

“In general, the NATO-IP4 cooperation is a good thing, since it symbolizes the recognition that both the Indo-Pacific theater and the European theater are linked,” Elli-Katharina Pohlkamp, visiting fellow of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations based in Berlin said via email.

However, she continued, “Strengthening NATO-IP4 ties could exacerbate tensions with China and Russia, who may perceive this cooperation as a containment strategy,” and encourage countries like North Korea to align more closely with them.

Adam Xu contributed to this report.

Spain confirms body found is missing UK teen’s

MADRID — Spanish authorities confirmed on Tuesday that a body found in a remote area of the island of Tenerife a day earlier was that of a missing British teenager and that the injuries sustained were compatible with an accidental fall.

“We have a positive ID,” a court spokesperson said. “Fingerprinting confirms that the body belongs to Jay Slater, and the death was due to multiple traumas compatible with a fall in the mountainous area.”

Earlier, the same spokesperson said it would take some days before autopsy results were available.

Slater’s mother, Debbie, issued a statement through the British overseas missing persons charity LBT Global acknowledging the “worst news.”

“I just can’t believe this could happen to my beautiful boy,” the statement read. “Our hearts are broken.”

The body was found Monday morning by a Civil Guard mountain rescue group.

Slater, 19, went missing on June 17, and his phone was last traced to the Masca ravine in a remote national park on the Canary Islands archipelago.

The remains were found with Slater’s possessions and clothes close to the site of his mobile phone’s last location, LBT Global said on Monday.

Matthew Searle, chief executive of LBT Global, which has issued several statements on behalf of the family, said it would help repatriate Slater’s body and belongings and make funeral arrangements.

“There will, of course, be many more hurdles for the family to face in the coming days, and we will work with them to make this horrific time as easy as possible,” he said. 

Nobel laureates call on Belarus’ leader to release all political prisoners

Tallinn, Estonia — Dozens of Nobel Prize laureates are calling in an open letter on Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to free all political prisoners, after 18 seriously ill activists were released this month.

The Belarusian human rights group Viasna counts almost 1,400 political prisoners, including its Nobel Peace Prize-winning founder Ales Bialiatski.

Many of Belarus’ most prominent opposition figures are behind bars while others fled abroad as authorities cracked down severely on opponents as protests gripped the country in 2020. But only one well-known figure was among the 18 prisoners whom Lukashenko allowed to be freed earlier this month.

The letter from Nobel winners urged Lukashenko to follow through with more releases.

“You have a unique opportunity to turn the page on the past and enter history not only as an uncompromising ruler but also as a political leader who has shown wisdom and compassion, responsible to your people and their future,” said the letter that was posted Friday on the website of Belarusian political scientist Dmitry Bolkunets.

The 58 signatories include literature prize winners Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus, J.M. Coetzee, Herta Mueller, and peace prize laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Oscar Arias, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, Juan Manuel Santos, Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa.

French PM poised to take caretaker role in deadlocked France       

Paris — French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal was set to resign but stay on as head of a caretaker government Tuesday, officials said, with no replacement in sight as divided parliamentary groups succumb to infighting.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to accept Attal’s resignation after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting — the first since his allies got roundly beaten in a snap National Assembly election called to “clarify” the political landscape.

But he was also likely to ask the prime minister and his team to stay on as a caretaker government with restricted powers until after the Paris Olympics, which open on July 26.

This would also give political parties more time to build a governing coalition after the July 7 election runoff left the National Assembly without an overall majority.

A broad alliance — called New Popular Front (NFP) — of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber.

Macron’s allies came second with 164 seats and the far-right National Rally (RN) third at 143.

The divided NFP alliance has been scrambling to come up with a consensus candidate for prime minister.

But internal conflicts — notably between the LFI and the more moderate Socialists — have thwarted all efforts to find a personality able to survive a confidence vote in parliament.

‘Shameful’

Over the weekend, the Socialists torpedoed the hopes of Huguette Bello, 73, a former communist MP and the president of the regional council in France’s overseas territory La Reunion, who had support from the other left-wing parties.

The LFI, in turn, rejected Laurence Tubiana, an economist and climate specialist without political affiliation, who had the backing of the Socialists, Communists and Green party.

Leftist deputy Francois Ruffin on Tuesday called the NFP’s infighting “shameful,” while Green deputy Sandrine Rousseau said the disagreements made her “very angry.”

On Saturday, Attal was voted in as leader of his party’s National Assembly contingent, as he eyes his own future outside government, saying he would “contribute to the emergence of a majority concerning projects and ideas.”

Macron and Attal, observers say, are still hoping to find a right-of-center majority in parliament that would keep both the LFI or the far-right RN out of any new coalition.

Once Attal resigns, he and other cabinet members will be able to take their seats in parliament and participate in any coalition-building.

Parliament reconvenes on Thursday and will start by filling the National Assembly speaker job and other key positions.

Cracks have appeared between Attal and his former mentor Macron, whom the prime minister appears to blame for the electoral defeat only six months after being appointed France’s youngest ever head of government at 34.

Macron still has almost three years to go as president before elections in 2027, at which far-right leader Marine Le Pen is expected to make a fresh bid for power.

Germany says it saw fewer security problems than expected during Euro 2024

BERLIN — German authorities had fewer security problems and crimes to deal with than they expected at the European Championship, the country’s top security official said Monday.

The tournament ended on Sunday with Spain beating England 2-1 in the final in Berlin and no reports of serious disturbances. That capped a month-long event that mostly saw only isolated and relatively minor incidents, a contrast with violence at some past tournaments.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said that about 2.6 million people attended matches in the 10 host cities, and another 6 million watched games in the designated fan zones.

Over the course of the tournament, it said, there were a total of about 170 arrests and 320 temporary detentions. Police recorded about 2,340 offenses linked to the tournament, including some 700 involving bodily harm and 120 thefts. There were about 140 cases involving violence against police officers.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the country had been “prepared for all conceivable dangers from Islamist terrorism, through hooligan violence to cyberattacks and dangerous drone flights.”

“There were significantly fewer security incidents and offenses than our security authorities had expected beforehand at an event with millions of people,” Faeser said in a statement. “Above all, the very high police presence across the country was decisive in this.”

Germany introduced temporary border controls at all its frontiers during Euro 2024, something that has become standard practice during such events in Europe’s nominally ID check-free travel zone, the Schengen area. Those are due to run through Friday.

They will then be dropped at the borders with Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. However, the government is ordering checks on the border with France before and during the upcoming Olympic Games, and longer-standing checks on the eastern and southern borders with Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland that were motivated by concerns about migration will be kept in place.

Russian court orders general under house arrest on fraud charges 

moscow — A court in Moscow ordered house arrest Monday for a general in custody on fraud charges, in a ruling that represents an about-face from just weeks ago, when the same court refused to release the general from jail.

Major General Ivan Popov was ordered to be placed under house arrest until at least October 11 by the 235th Garrison Military Court.

Popov, who had commanded the 58th Guards Combined Arms Army, was arrested in May along with several top military officials, including former Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, a close associate of then-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Some of these officials have been charged with bribery, while Popov has faced charges of fraud on an exceptionally large scale.

President Vladimir Putin dismissed Shoigu as defense minister on May 12, appointing him the secretary of the national security council. Shoigu had been widely criticized for Russia’s setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine and was accused of incompetence and corruption by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who launched a mutiny in June 2023 to demand the dismissal of Shoigu and military chief of staff General Valery Gerasimov.

Less than a month after Prigozhin’s failed uprising, Popov was dismissed. He said he had complained about problems that his troops were facing in Ukraine to the Russian military command, and that his dismissal was a “treacherous” stab in the back to Russian forces in Ukraine.

Popov’s forces were fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region in the southeast of Ukraine, which is now partially occupied by Russian forces. His dismissal came one day after the 58th Army’s command post in the occupied city of Berdyansk was hit in a Ukrainian strike, killing a high-ranking general.

Popov has been in detention since late May. His lawyers appealed the ruling to put him behind bars but lost. In a development that is relatively rare for the Russian justice system, authorities also filed a petition to release Popov under house arrest, but their request was initially turned down by the 235th Garrison Military Court. The investigators filed another request with the court, and it was approved Monday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the court to change its position on Popov’s pretrial detention.

Top EU leaders snub Hungary meetings after Orban’s outreach to Russia, China

Budapest, Hungary — Top officials of the European Union will boycott informal meetings hosted by Hungary while the country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, after Hungary’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Orban held a series of rogue meetings with foreign leaders about Ukraine that angered his European partners.

The highly unusual decision to have the European Commission president and other top officials of the body boycott the meetings in Budapest was made “in light of recent developments marking the start of the Hungarian [EU] presidency,” commission spokesperson Eric Mamer posted Monday on X.

Hungary took over the six-month rotating role July 1, and since then Orban has visited Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, China and the United States on a world tour he’s touted as a “peace mission” aimed at brokering an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

That angered many leaders in the EU, who said they had not been informed in advance of Orban’s plans and rushed to emphasize that the nationalist leader was not acting on behalf of the bloc during his surprise meetings with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Hungary’s European affairs minister, Janos Boka, lashed out at the commission’s decision, writing on X on Monday that the body ‘’cannot cherry pick institutions and member states it wants to cooperate with.”

“Are all Commission decisions now based on political considerations?” Boka wrote.

A Hungarian government spokesperson, Zoltan Kovacs, also suggested the decision was a product of political bias, writing on X: “Sacrificing the institutional setup for private political purposes and disregarding [the Commission’s] role for ideological and political motives.”

The decision by the European Commission applies to informal meetings hosted by Hungary and means senior civil servants will attend instead of top officials like the European Commission president, currently Ursula von der Leyen.

Orban’s government has gone against the European mainstream by refusing to supply Kyiv with weapons to deter Russia’s invasion and by threatening to block financial assistance to the war-ravaged country.

In an interview with Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet on Monday, Orban’s political director said that following his trip to Moscow — the first such visit from an EU head of state or government in more than two years — the prime minister had briefed the leaders of other EU countries “in writing about the negotiations, the experiences of the first phase of the peace mission and the Hungarian proposals.”

“If Europe wants peace and wants to have a decisive say in settling the war and ending the bloodshed, it must now work out and implement a change of direction,” said Balazs Orban, who is not related to the premier.

But von der Leyen accused Orban of trying to mollify the Russian leader with the trip, writing on X: “Appeasement will not stop Putin. Only unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”

Hungary’s government has long argued for an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations in the conflict in Ukraine but has not outlined what such moves might mean for the country’s territorial integrity and future security. It has exhibited an adversarial posture toward Ukraine while maintaining close ties to Moscow, even after its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Orban’s critics have accused him of acting against the unity and interests of the EU and NATO, of which Hungary is a member, and of pursuing an appeasement strategy concerning Russia’s aggression.

Ukraine needs 25 Patriot air defense systems and more F-16 jets, Zelenskyy says

Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukraine needs 25 Patriot air defense systems to fully defend its airspace and protect the entire country from Russian missile attacks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday, adding that he also wants Western partners to send more F-16 warplanes than those already pledged.

In his first news conference since returning from a trip to the United States, Zelenskyy said he is ready to work with Donald Trump if he wins November’s election. “I am not afraid” of that prospect, Zelenskyy said, adding he is convinced that most Republicans support Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Zelenskyy said on Sunday he was “appalled” by the attempt to assassinate Trump and wished him a speedy recovery.

Western support is crucial for Ukraine as it tries to beat back Russia’s bigger and better-equipped invading army. Zelenskyy has proved talented at persuading friendly countries to provide ever more support, even if he doesn’t always get what he wants immediately.

A six-month delay in military assistance from the U.S., the biggest single contributor to Ukraine, meant that Kyiv’s forces “lost the initiative” on the front line, Zelenskyy said.

Since the U.S. aid resumed in April, Ukraine has been scrambling to block a Russian offensive in eastern areas.

Zelenskyy didn’t say how many Patriot systems Ukraine currently possesses, though it is far fewer than the 25 he says his country needs as Russia has battered the national power grid.

The U.S. and other NATO allies promised last week to provide Ukraine with dozens of air defense systems in the coming months, including at least four of the sophisticated and expensive Patriot systems.

F-16 warplanes pledged by Western countries are due to arrive in Ukraine in two waves: the first batch this summer, and the second by the end of the year, Zelenskyy said.

He acknowledged the deliveries won’t, on their own, be a game-changer in the war, given that the Russian air force is far larger. Ukraine will need more warplanes, he said.

Commenting on other issues, Zelenskyy said:

Russia should be present at a second international gathering to discuss peace. Russia was absent from the first meeting. There is no date for a second gathering.
A Ukrainian government reshuffle is in the cards. “We are discussing various changes with some ministers,” Zelenskyy said.
Efforts to mobilize more troops are going according to plan, though Ukraine doesn’t have enough training grounds and 14 brigades haven’t yet received promised Western weapons.

UN alarmed as childhood immunization levels stall

Geneva — Global childhood vaccination levels have stalled, leaving millions more children un- or under-vaccinated than before the pandemic, the U.N. said Monday, warning of dangerous coverage gaps enabling outbreaks of diseases like measles.

In 2023, 84% of children, or 108 million, received three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), with the third dose serving as a key marker for global immunization coverage, according to data published by the U.N. health and children’s agencies.

That was the same percentage as a year earlier, meaning that modest progress seen in 2022 after the steep drop during the COVID-19 crisis has “stalled,” the organizations warned. The rate was 86% in 2019 before the pandemic.

“The latest trends demonstrate that many countries continue to miss far too many children,” UNICEF chief Catherine Russell said in a joint statement.

In fact, 2.7 million additional children remained un- or under-vaccinated last year compared to the pre-pandemic levels in 2019, the organizations found.

‘Off track’

“We are off track,” World Health Organization vaccine chief Kate O’Brien told reporters. “Global immunization coverage has yet to fully recover from the historic backsliding that we saw during the course of the pandemic.”

Not only has progress stalled, but the number of so-called zero-dose children, who have not received a single jab, rose to 14.5 million last year from 13.9 million in 2022 and from 12.8 million in 2019, according to the data published Monday.

“This puts the lives of the most vulnerable children at risk,” O’Brien warned.

Even more concerning is that more than half of the world’s unvaccinated children live in 31 countries with fragile, conflict-affected settings, where they are especially vulnerable to contracting preventable diseases, due to lacking access to security, nutrition and health services.

Children in such countries are also far more likely to miss out on the necessary follow-up jabs.

A full 6.5 million children worldwide did not complete their third dose of the DTP vaccine, which is necessary to achieve disease protection in infancy and early childhood, Monday’s datasets showed. 

‘Canary in the coal mine’

The WHO and UNICEF voiced additional concern over lagging vaccination against measles — one of the world’s most infectious diseases — amid an exploding number of outbreaks around the world.

“Measles outbreaks are the canary in the coal mine, exposing and exploiting gaps in immunization and hitting the most vulnerable first,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.

In 2023, only 83% of children worldwide received their first dose of the measles vaccine through routine health services — the same level as in 2022 but down from 86% before the pandemic.

And only 74% received their second necessary dose, while 95% coverage is needed to prevent outbreaks, the organizations pointed out.

“This is still too low to prevent outbreaks and achieve elimination goals,” Ephrem Lemango, UNICEF immunization chief, told reporters.

He pointed out that more than 300,000 measles cases were confirmed in 2023 — nearly three times as many as a year earlier.

And a full 103 countries have suffered outbreaks in the past five years, with low vaccination coverage of 80% or lower seen as a major factor.

By contrast, 91 countries with strong measles vaccine coverage experienced no outbreaks.

“Alarmingly, nearly three in four infants live in places at the greatest risk of measles outbreaks,” Lemango said, pointing out that 10 crisis-wracked countries, including Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, account for more than half of children not vaccinated against measles.

On a more positive note, strong increases were seen in vaccination against the cervical cancer-causing HPV virus.

But that vaccine is still only reaching 56% of adolescent girls in high-income countries and 23% in lower-income countries — far below the 90% target.

A decade afterMH17 crash, victim’s father waits for Russia to say sorry

HILVERSUM, Netherlands — Quinn Schansman dreamed of becoming the youngest-ever CEO of an American company. A decade ago, he’d just finished the first year of an international business degree in Amsterdam as a step toward that lofty goal.

But the 18-year-old dual Dutch American citizen’s future — whatever it may have held — was cruelly cut short when he was one of the 298 people killed as a Soviet-era Buk surface-to-air rocket, launched from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels, destroyed Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

The conflict in Ukraine has since erupted into full-scale war following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

On Wednesday, Quinn’s father, Thomas Schansman, will read out his name and those of other victims during a commemoration marking 10 years since the tragedy at a monument near Schiphol, the airport flight MH17 left on its way to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.

Schansman has learned to live with the loss of his son, but what he still can’t accept is Moscow’s blunt denials of responsibility for the downing of the Boeing 777, which shattered in midair and scattered bodies and wreckage over agricultural land and fields of sunflowers in eastern Ukraine.

An international investigation concluded that the Buk missile system belonged to the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade and that it was driven into Ukraine from a Russian military base near the city of Kursk and returned there after the plane was shot down.

In 2022, after a trial that lasted more than two years, a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a pro-Russian Ukrainian in absentia of murder for their roles in transporting the missile. They were given life prison sentences but remain at large because Russia refused to surrender them to face trial. One other Russian was acquitted.

Russia steadfastly denies any responsibility.

More legal action is underway at the European Court of Human Rights and the International Civil Aviation Organization Council to hold Russia to account under international law for the attack.

If those organizations rule that Moscow was responsible, Schansman says it will be a moment to celebrate — but it wouldn’t be the end of the story.

“That does not provide closure. For me, closure is the acknowledgment by Russia that they delivered the Buk, the recognition that they must also take responsibility for it,” Schansman told The Associated Press. “I want to hear apologies. The simple ‘Sorry.’”

Nationals of 16 countries killed

People killed in the crash were citizens of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, Canada, New Zealand, Vietnam, Israel, Italy, Romania, the United States and South Africa.

Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus will also be in the Netherlands for the commemoration. He honored families of the dead in a statement earlier this month, saying that 38 of the victims “called Australia home.”

“I pay tribute to their bravery, their strength and their perseverance. Seeking justice for those aboard flight MH17 has required many of those who loved them most to tell and re-tell their stories of loss in successive legal proceedings,” he said.

Dreyfus said the anniversary and a commemoration at Parliament House in Canberra would be “a moment to pause and remember those whose lives were tragically cut short in a senseless act of violence. It will be a moment to commit ourselves to continue to seek accountability for those responsible for this despicable crime.”

Schansman said he no longer cares if other people who were involved in firing the missile are brought to justice because “it won’t bring my son back.”

He just wants Russia to admit responsibility.

“The fact that for all these years — right up to today — they continue to deny and to spread disinformation, that hurts,” Schansman said. “That is irritating and it makes you at certain times a bitter person.”

Mark Rutte, the former Dutch prime minister who was in office when the Boeing 777 was shot down, said the disaster and its decade-long aftermath was “perhaps the most drastic and emotional event of my entire premiership. I have always tried to be a support to the relatives.”

Rutte’s administration helped coordinate a complex operation to repatriate the remains of the victims to the Netherlands. Thousands of people solemnly lined highways as convoys of hearses carried coffins from a military airbase to a barracks where the painstaking process of identification took place.

Wednesday’s ceremony will be held at the national MH17 memorial, a park near Schiphol Airport that is planted with 298 trees — one for each victim — and sunflowers, reflecting the flowers that grew at the crash scene.

And while Wednesday will mark the 10th anniversary of Quinn’s death, his name lives on. His sister Nerissa recently gave birth to her first daughter, named Frida Quinn Schansman Pouw.

Treason, espionage cases rise in Russia since start of Ukraine war

TALLINN, Estonia — When Maksim Kolker’s phone rang at 6 a.m., and the voice on the other end said his father had been arrested, he thought it was a scam to extort money. A day earlier, he had taken his father, prominent Russian physicist Dmitry Kolker, to the hospital in his native Novosibirsk, when his advanced pancreatic cancer had suddenly worsened.

The phone kept ringing and Kolker kept hanging up until finally his father called to confirm the grim news. The elder Kolker had been charged with treason, the family later learned, a crime that is probed and prosecuted in absolute secrecy in Russia and punished with long prison terms.

Treason cases have been rare in Russia in the last 30 years, with a handful annually. But since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, they have skyrocketed, along with espionage prosecutions, ensnaring citizens and foreigners alike, regardless of their politics.

That has brought comparisons to the show trials under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the 1930s.

The more recent victims range from Kremlin critics and independent journalists to veteran scientists working with countries that Moscow considers friendly.

These cases stem from the crackdown on dissent that has reached unprecedented levels under President Vladimir Putin. They are investigated almost exclusively by the powerful Federal Security Service, or FSB, with specific charges and evidence not always revealed.

The accused are often held in strict isolation in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison, tried behind closed doors, and almost always convicted, with long prison sentences.

In 2022, Putin urged the security services to “harshly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services, promptly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs.”

The First Department, a rights group that specializes in such prosecutions and takes its name from a division of the security service, counted over 100 known treason cases in 2023, lawyer Evgeny Smirnov told The Associated Press. He added there probably were another 100 that nobody knows about.

Treason cases began growing after 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine, threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the eastern part of the country and fell out with the West for the first time since the Cold War.

Two years earlier, the legal definition of treason was expanded to include providing vaguely defined “assistance” to foreign countries or organizations, effectively exposing to prosecution anyone in contact with foreigners.

The move followed mass anti-government protests in 2011-12 in Moscow that officials claimed were instigated by the West. Those changes to the law were heavily criticized by rights advocates, including those in the Presidential Human Rights Council.

Faced with that criticism at the time, Putin promised to investigate the amended law and agreed “there shouldn’t be any broad interpretation of what high treason is.”

And yet, that’s exactly what began happening.

In 2015, authorities arrested Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven in the western region of Smolensk, on treason charges in accordance with the new, expanded definition of the offense.

She was charged over contacting the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow in 2014 to warn officials there that she thought Russia was sending troops into eastern Ukraine, where the separatist insurgency against Kyiv was unfolding.

The case drew national attention and public outrage. Russia at the time denied its troops were involved in eastern Ukraine, and many pointed out that the case against Davydova contradicted that narrative. The charges against her were eventually dropped.

That outcome was a rare exception to the multiplying treason and espionage cases in subsequent years that consistently ended in convictions and prison terms.

Paul Whelan, a United States corporate security executive who traveled to Moscow to attend a wedding, was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage two years later, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He denied the charges.

Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the Roscosmos space agency and a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason in 2022 and sentenced to 22 years in prison. His prosecution was widely seen as retaliation for his reporting exposing military incidents and shady arms deals.

The FSB also went after scientists who study aerodynamics, hypersonics and other fields that could be used in weapons development.

Such arrests swelled after 2018, when Putin in his annual state-of-the-nation address touted new and unique hypersonic weapons that Russia was developing, according to Smirnov, the lawyer.

In his view, it was the security services’ way of showing the Kremlin that Russian scientific advances, especially those used to develop weapons, are so valuable that “all foreign intelligence services in the world are after it.”

Kolker, the son of the detained Novosibirsk physicist, said that when the FSB searched his father’s apartment, they looked for several presentations he had used in lectures given in China.  

The elder Kolker, who had studied light waves, gave presentations that were cleared for use abroad and were given inside Russia, and “any student could understand that he wasn’t revealing anything (secret) in them,” Maksim Kolker said. 

Nevertheless, FSB officers yanked the 54-year-old physicist from his hospital bed in 2022 and flew him to Moscow, to the Lefortovo Prison, his son said.

The ailing scientist called his family from the plane to say goodbye, knowing he was unlikely to survive prison, the son said. Within days, the family received a telegram informing them he had died in a hospital.

Other cases were similar. Valery Golubkin, a 71-year-old Moscow physicist specializing in aerodynamics, was convicted of treason in 2023. His state-run research institute was working on an international project of a hypersonic civilian aircraft, and he was asked by his employer to help with reports on the project.

Smirnov of the First Department group, which was involved in his defense, says the reports were vetted before they were sent abroad and didn’t contain state secrets.

Two other recent high-profile cases involved a prominent opposition politician and a journalist.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a journalist who became an activist, was charged with treason in 2022 after giving speeches in the West that were critical of Russia. After surviving what he believed were attempts to poison him in 2015 and 2017, Kara-Murza was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, where his family fears for his deteriorating health.

The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was arrested in 2023 on espionage charges, the first American reporter detained on such charges since the Cold War. Gershkovich, who went on trial in June, denies the charges, and the U.S. government has declared him to be wrongfully detained.

China, Russia start joint naval drills 

BEIJING — China and Russia’s naval forces kicked off a joint exercise Sunday at a military port in southern China, official news agency Xinhua reported, days after NATO allies called Beijing a “decisive enabler” of the war in Ukraine.

The Chinese defense ministry said in a statement that forces from both sides recently patrolled the western and northern Pacific Ocean and that the operation had nothing to do with international and regional situations and didn’t target any third party.

The exercise, which began in Guangdong province Sunday and is expected to last until mid-July, aimed to demonstrate the capabilities of the navies in addressing security threats and preserving peace and stability globally and regionally, state broadcaster CCTV reported Saturday, adding it would include anti-missile exercises, sea strikes and air defense.

Xinhua News Agency reported the Chinese and Russian naval forces carried out on-map military simulation and tactical coordination exercises after the opening ceremony in the city of Zhanjiang.

The joint drills came on the heels of China’s latest tensions with NATO allies last week.

The sternly worded final communiqué, approved by the 32 NATO members at their summit in Washington, made clear that China is becoming a focus of the military alliance, calling Beijing a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The European and North American members and their partners in the Indo-Pacific increasingly see shared security concerns coming from Russia and its Asian supporters, especially China.

In response, China accused NATO of seeking security at the expense of others and told the alliance not to bring the same “chaos” to Asia. Its foreign ministry maintained that China has a fair and objective stance on the war in Ukraine.

Last week, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Bering Sea also came across several Chinese military ships in international waters but within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, American officials said. Its crew detected three vessels approximately 124 miles (200 kilometers) north of the Amchitka Pass in the Aleutian Islands, which mark a separation and linkage between the North Pacific and the Bering Sea.

Later, a fourth ship was spotted approximately 84 miles (135 kilometers) north of the Amukta Pass.

The U.S. side said the Chinese naval vessels operated within international rules and norms.

France celebrates national day as political crisis rumbles on 

Paris — France celebrated military victories of the past at its annual Bastille Day parade Sunday, while its present political future appeared far from clear.

President Emmanuel Macron inspected French and allied units which took part in France’s World War II liberation 80 years ago.

And Paris welcomed the Olympic flame to the city, less than two weeks before it hosts the Summer Games.

But behind the pomp — itself in a reduced format while Olympic preparations blocked the traditional Champs Elysees route — France’s tense search for a government appeared to be at a stalemate.

All eyes were on the host, Macron, who last year cut a more impressive figure, hosting rising superpower India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they watched France’s military might roll down the Champs Elysees.

There was no international star guest this year, and there were no armored vehicles as a reduced number of troops marched down the less majestic Avenue Foch.

This month’s snap elections, called by Macron to clarify France’s direction after the far right sent shockwaves through the political establishment by coming first in EU polls, left the country without a parliamentary majority.

Government in limbo

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is hanging on as caretaker head of government but the centrist has reportedly fallen out with Macron and is now focusing on his own future, taking charge of his reduced party in parliament.

Other figures are mobilizing with an eye on the 2027 presidential race, but there is little sign of a majority emerging from parliament, split between three camps.

With government in limbo and Macron barred by the constitution from calling fresh elections for at least 12 months, far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen is eyeing the 2027 campaign with relish.

Meanwhile, a rapidly cobbled-together left-wing alliance, the New Popular Front (NFP), now has the most MPs but no outright majority and no clear candidate for PM.

Firebrand hardliner Jean-Luc Melenchon and his France Unbowed (LFI) party have alienated many even on the left and would be rejected by the center and right.

But LFI represents a large chunk of the NFP and, along with some greens and communists, had been touting Huguette Bello, the 73-year-old former communist and president of the regional council on Reunion in the Indian Ocean, as premier.

But on Sunday she declined the role, saying that there was no consensus behind her candidacy, notably because of opposition from the center-left Socialist Party, and that she wanted the NFP to agree to another name quickly.

The European Union’s second largest economy, a nuclear-armed G7 power and permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is thus rudderless, a troubling situation for markets and France’s allies alike.

Against this backdrop, the reduced and rerouted parade risked becoming a new symbol of drift, even with the addition of the arrival in Paris of the Olympic Torch, ahead of the July 26 to August 11 Games.

Olympic relay

No tanks took part, and only 4,000 foot soldiers marched, down from 6,500 last year. The military fly-past saw 45 airplanes and 22 helicopters soar over Paris.

Regiments honored on the parade included those from France’s allies and former French colonies that took part in the country’s 1944 World War II liberation.

The parade’s final section turned to the upcoming games.

Colonel Thibault Vallette of the elite Cadre Noir de Saumur cavalry school and 2016 equestrian gold medalist at the Rio Games rode the torch down the route before relay runners were to carry it around the capital.

1 2 3 551