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France denies UN report that its airstrike in Mali killed 19 civilians

The French defence ministry has denied the findings of a UN investigation into an air strike in central Mali in January, which concluded that French aircraft had killed 19 civilians.

France denies UN report that its airstrike in Mali killed 19 civilians
Illustration photo - French troops deployed in Mali. Photo Michele Cassini/AFP

In a statement on Tuesday, the ministry said it “maintains with consistency and reaffirms strongly” that “on January 3rd, French armed forces carried out an air strike targeting an armed terrorist group identified as such” near the village of Bounti in the west African country of Mali.

The statement added that the ministry had “numerous reservations about the methodology used” to carry out the UN probe.

As a result, Paris “cannot consider that this report provides any evidence whatsoever that contradicts the facts as described by the French armed forces,” it said.

Some residents of Bounti told journalists at the time that French warplanes had struck a wedding party near the remote village, and not a meeting of jihadists as claimed by France.

The United Nations mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, subsequently launched an investigation into the affair.

In a report summarising the investigation’s findings, the UN on Tuesday said a wedding had in fact taken place and had “gathered about 100 civilians at the site of the strike”.

It added that about five armed people, who are thought to be members of the jihadist group Katiba Serma, attended the celebrations.

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FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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