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2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Relief across Europe as Macron defeats Le Pen in French elections

French President Emmanuel Macron won re-election on Sunday, convincingly defeating his rival Marine Le Pen and prompting a wave of relief in Europe that the far-right had been kept out of power.

Relief across Europe as Macron defeats Le Pen in French elections
Emmanuel Macron gives his victory speech to supporters under the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP

The final results were released shortly before 2am and had the centrist incumbent Macron on 58.55 percent of the vote, beating his far-right rival Marine Le Pen who took 41.45 percent. 

Macron is the first French president to win a second term for two decades, but Le Pen’s result also marks the closest the far-right has ever come to taking power in France and has revealed a deeply divided nation.

READ ALSO As it happened: Macron wins re-election for a second term

The 44-year-old president faces a litany of challenges in his second term, starting with parliamentary elections in June, where keeping a majority will be critical to ensuring he can realise his ambitions to reform France.

READ ALSO Macron victory: What happens next? 

Several hundred demonstrators from ultra-left groups took to the streets in some French cities to protest Macron’s re-election and Le Pen’s score. Police used tear gas to disperse gatherings in Paris and the western city of Rennes.

In a victory speech on the Champ de Mars in central Paris at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, Macron vowed to respond to the anger of voters who backed his far-right rival, saying his new term would not continue unchanged from the last five years.

“An answer must be found to the anger and disagreements that led many of our compatriots to vote for the extreme right,” he told thousands of cheering supporters.

“It will be my responsibility and that of those around me.

He also pledged a “renewed method” to govern France, adding that this “new era” would not be one of “continuity with the last term which is now ending”.

Read the full report of Macron’s speech HERE.

In a combative speech to supporters in Paris in which she accepted the result but showed no sign of quitting politics, Le Pen, 53, said she would “never abandon” the French and was already preparing for the June legislative elections.

“The result represents a brilliant victory,” she said to cheers.

“This evening, we launch the great battle for the legislative elections,” Le Pen said, adding that she felt “hope” and calling on opponents of the president to join with her Rassemblement National party.

Read the full report of Le Pen’s speech HERE.

The result is narrower than the second-round clash in 2017, when the same two candidates met in the run-off and Macron polled over 66 percent of the vote.

For Le Pen, her third defeat in presidential polls will be a bitter pill to swallow after she ploughed years of effort into making herself electable and distancing her party from the legacy of its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Critics insisted her party never stopped being extreme-right and racist while Macron repeatedly pointed to her plan to ban the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in public if elected.

The results caused immense relief in Europe after fears a Le Pen presidency would leave the continent rudderless following Brexit and the departure from politics of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Macron’s victory “great news for all of Europe” while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said French voters “sent a strong vote of confidence in Europe today”.

EU president Charles Michel said the bloc could now “count on France for five more years” while Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen also congratulated him, saying she was “delighted to be able to continue our excellent cooperation”.

In another election Sunday, Slovenia’s three-time Prime Minister Janez Jansa, criticised by opponents as an authoritarian right-wing populist, was at risk of losing power to a party led by political newcomer Robert Golob.

Macron will be hoping for a less complicated second term that will allow him to implement his vision of more pro-business reform and tighter EU integration, after a first term shadowed by protests, then the pandemic and finally Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But he will have to win over those who backed his opponents and the millions of French who did not bother to vote.

The official turnout figure was just 71.99 percent, the lowest in any presidential election second-round run-off since 1969.

The hard-left third-placed candidate in the first round, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, had refused to endorse Macron.

He has his eyes firmly set on the June parliamentary elections.

READ ALSO French parliamentary elections: When do they happen and why are they important?

Mélenchon welcomed Le Pen’s defeat as “very good news for the unity of our people” but said Le Pen and Macron had barely managed to win a third of support from registered voters.

Macron “is submerged in an ocean of abstention and spoilt ballots”, he said.

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POLITICS

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

The last soldiers belonging to France's Barkhane operation in Mali have now left the African country, the French chiefs of staff said on Monday.

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

“Today at 13H00 Paris time (1100 GMT) the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the statement said.

The army had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pull-out “in an orderly and safe fashion”, it added.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

Friction developed over the junta’s delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries — personnel described by France as “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

‘Prevented caliphate’

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had “prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe”. 

Most high-ranking members of the “terrorist groups” had been “neutralised”, he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

In this file photo taken on December 07, 2021 shows the French flag and France-led special operations logo for the new Task Force Takuba, a multinational military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

BACKGROUND: France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

At its peak, France’s Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger’s capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have “around 2,500” troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise “more cooperative operations,” he said.

Frontline Niger

France will keep more than 1,000 men in Niger, where a tactical group will continue to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.

Niger is a frontline state in the fight against jihadism as the unstable region struggles with a string of military coups.

“The democratic regression in West Africa is extremely worrying,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French MPs ahead of a trip to the region in July. 

“However, in spite of these events (and) the withdrawal from Mali, France will continue to help West African armies fight terrorist groups.”

Niger is one of the biggest recipients of French aid, receiving 143 million euros ($146 million) last year.

READ ALSO: France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

The two sides will sign agreements for a French loan of 50 million euros and a grant of 20 million euros.

Niger, the world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index, has been badly hit by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then swept to neighbouring countries.

Niger is facing insurgencies both on its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and on its south-eastern frontier with Nigeria.

More than a thousand troops will be deployed in Niger, providing air support and training, according to French sources.

French troops are also in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, as well as in the east of Africa, in Djibouti.

READ ALSO: Macron agrees to return Benin sculptures ‘without delay’

Macron in June asked the government and military chiefs “to rethink our overall presence on the African continent by the autumn.”

He called for “a presence that is less static and less exposed” and “a closer relationship” with African armed forces.

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