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‘Returning life to normal is the absolute priority’: Macron visits Caribbean in wake of Hurricane Irma

French President Emmanuel Macron travelled Tuesday to the hurricane-hit Caribbean, rebuffing criticism over the relief efforts as European countries boost aid to their devastated island territories.

'Returning life to normal is the absolute priority': Macron visits Caribbean in wake of Hurricane Irma
AFP
Macron's plane touched down in Saint Martin as anger grew over looting and lawlessness in the French-Dutch territory after Hurricane Irma.
   
Speaking in Guadeloupe earlier, Macron said the government began preparing “one of the biggest airlifts since World War II” days before Irma hit on Wednesday.
   
“Now is not the time for controversy,” he said, adding: “Returning life to normal is the absolute priority.”
   
The French, British and Dutch governments have faced criticism for failing to anticipate the disaster, with an editorial in The Telegraph newspaper calling the response “appallingly slow.”
   
Touring Saint Martin, Macron was at times jeered by people waiting for aid supplies or hoping to catch flights for France in order to escape the devastation across the island.
   
“We've been here since six in the morning and we're still waiting, under a blazing sun,” said one woman in a crowd of people hoping to leave as soon as possible.
   
Another woman asked: “Why are you here?”
 
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But Macron said that “everybody who wants to leave will be able to,” with officials saying that about 2,000 of the 35,000 residents on the French side of Saint Martin had already left in recent days.
   
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrived Tuesday in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, where he met with some of the nearly 1,000 military personnel sent to bolster relief efforts and security.
   
He was also expected to visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.
   
“The UK is going to be with you for the long term,” Johnson had told residents in a video message.
   
He has dismissed the criticism as “completely unjustified,” calling the relief effort “unprecedented.”
 
A mother picking up her daughter, a survivor who flew to Paris on Monday, said government help was non-existent on Saint Martin.
 
“They gave us phone numbers but they didn't work. Only social media and solidarity worked,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 
“People were left to their own devices. They had to set up militias and take turns defending themselves” against looters, she said.
   
“All the gangs came to the French side… with guns and machetes. It's unbelievably chaotic.”
   
Macron, who is due to visit Saint Barthelemy Wednesday, said he wanted to “disarm” St. Martin.
   
“There is an endemic problem on the island, that preexisted this crisis, which is weapons,” he said. “It's a challenge we must face.”
 
'Expensive legacy of empire'
 
The British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean are highly dependent on aid, making them what The Times called “an expensive legacy of empire.”
   
In France, opposition figures have accused Macron's fledgling government of bungling the response to the disaster.
   
Radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon has called for a parliamentary inquiry and far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the government had left islanders to “fend for themselves.”
   
There has also been criticism of the Dutch response.
   
“They reacted far too late. The French were much quicker on Saint Martin to evacuate people,” tourist Kitty Algra told Dutch newspaper AD.

EMMANUEL MACRON

Macron to make live TV broadcast to France

French president Emmanuel Macron will make a live TV broadcast to the nation about the war in Ukraine.

Macron to make live TV broadcast to France

Macron will be on TV on Wednesday at 8pm, the Elysée confirmed earlier on Wednesday.

Macron also tweeted the announcement, saying that his speech will be on the subject of the war in Ukraine.

His office added that the president’s speech “will not touch on other matters” – Macron has only until Friday to confirm whether or not he is running for re-election.

It is widely considered to be extremely unlikely that he would not stand in the April elections, but all candidates have until Friday, March 4th, to make their declaration.

Macron’s team had previously announced a rally in Marseille on Saturday, March 5th, which was expected to be the first official campaign event, but on Tuesday this was cancelled because of the ongoing international crisis.

Macron was at the forefront of international efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and since Russia invaded Ukraine he has remained in close contact with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and has also spoken – at the request of Zelensky – to Russian premier Vladimir Putin.

 
The Local will be following Macron’s speech live from 8pm HERE.
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