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Hollande presses Putin on Syria crisis

French President Francois Hollande visited Moscow on Thursday to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to engage in efforts to agree a peaceful transition of power in Syria. Hollande also had time to crack a joke about Depardieu.

Hollande presses Putin on Syria crisis
Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP

Hollande, making his first visit to Russia since being elected president in May, will seek to reconcile France's vision of a post-Assad Syria with Moscow's insistence that only Syrians can decide their destiny.

Accompanied by his partner Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande will also be looking to find the same personal chemistry with Putin that existed with his predecessor and vanquished rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

Asked In a press conference on Thursday whether the two leaders would discuss French actor Gerard Depardieu, now a proud resident of Russia, Hollande said: "There is one thing certain with President Putin and that is we will talk about everything."

The French president also attempted to make light of the Depardieu furore, without specifically naming the now infamous French tax-exile.

When asked about giving French visas to Russian investors Hollande said: "We must limit immigration but that should not discourage a Russian investor or an entrepreneur, even artists or other famous people from coming to France.

"We don't stop anyone from coming to Russia," Hollande said to much laughter.

Syria top of the agenda

In a radio interview early Thursday, Hollande said he intended to discuss political transition in Syria with Putin and voiced cautious optimism that the leaders could bring their opposing positions closer.

"We will discuss this question and I hope Putin and I will manage to have a dialogue about the transfer of power," Hollande told Echo of Moscow radio station in comments translated into Russian.

France has been one of the strongest international backers of urgent action to bring about a power transfer in Syria that excludes Assad and can end a two-year conflict that according to the United Nations has claimed 70,000 lives.

Russia has denied it has a policy of propping up Assad, a long-term ally, but has not backed calls for him to stand down, saying this must be the Syrians' decision.

Taking a conciliatory approach, Hollande stressed his willingness to find a common language with Putin, whom he described as frank, while acknowledging that Putin would not back his call for Assad to stand down.

"When (Putin) says something, he says it honestly and it is his position," Hollande said. "That is President Putin… We do not yet share one position but it is changing and should come to a consensus decision."

The two men have met once before in Paris in June last year when their differences on the Syria conflict were laid bare in a press conference after the talks.

Hollande stressed Russia's key role as a member of the United Nations Security Council, where it has vetoed resolutions that would have put pressure on Assad to end hostilities.

"A lot will depend on the position of President Putin and on our position too, of course. We must finally start the process of political dialogue that has not yet started on the territory of Syria."

"President Putin and I both understand all the seriousness of the situation. And even though our positions at the moment differ, we want to find the best solution for Syria."

Hollande expressed optimism that international powers would find apolitical solution to stop the raging conflict from spiralling in the coming weeks.

"I think that in the next few weeks we will manage to find a political solution that will stop the conflict from escalating," he said.

Hollande spoke before a Friends of Syria meeting of foreign ministers wasto begin in Rome and United States Secretary of State John Kerry met Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib to discuss greater aid for the rebels.

France has led moves to have the opposition Syrian National Coalition recognized internationally as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

On a mission to find common ground with Russia, Hollande said that he would bring up rights issues, without specifying, but added that he "would not like to use any provocative approach."

Human Rights Watch had urged the French leader in the run-up to the visit to press Putin on the rights situation in after the worst year for "human rights in Russia in recent memory." 

Hollande also downplayed the fallout from Putin's decision to grant citizenship to French star Gerard Depardieu in a whirl of publicity after the actor rowed with the French authorities over high tax demands.

"I'm sure the Russian president made a choice that does not damage our interests," he said.

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TRAVEL

UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 

READ ALSO:

The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?

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