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AFP and Tribune Wires

PARIS — Far-right presidential candidate Marine le Pen yesterday delivered a ferocious attack on her globalist rival Emmanuel Macron, saying voters faced a choice “for or against France.”
The candidates’ starkly differing visions on France’s future are at the heart of the May 7 election run-off — with Macron, a 39-year-old former banker embracing free trade and the EU, while le Pen wants to seal France’s borders and quit the euro.
“The country Mr Macron wants is no longer France, it’s a space, a wasteland, a trading room where there are only consumers and producers,” le Pen told a cheering crowd of some 4,000 supporters in the Riviera city of Nice, a rightwing stronghold.
“It’s no longer a nation but a splintered multicultural society... where the only law is the survival of the fittest,” said le Pen, who got fresh badnews Thursday in the “fake jobs” scandal afflicting her National Front (FN) party.

“This election is a referendum for or against France… I’m asking you to choose France,” she said.
But Le Pen, who the latest polls suggest is some 20 points behind her rival, also sought to cast a reassuring image aimed at broadening voter support for her anti-immigrant, anti-EU camp.
“I pay no attention to your origins, your religion, your sexual orientation, the color of your skin,” she told the flag-waving crowd. “That doesn’t interest me, what interests me is you.”
She has campaigned fiercely since she and Macron qualified Sunday for the runoff, while Macron was accused of a laggardly start to his second-round efforts but has stepped up the pace over the past 24 hours.
‘Neither banker, nor racist’
The former economy minister, speaking at nearly the same time as Le Pen on French television, said he aimed to heal the divide in France over its relationship with the EU.
“I will defend (the EU) by reforming it,” he said. “Our challenge is to reconcile our citizens with the EU... which we need to provide more protection to our citizens amid globalization.”
Macron was booed and heckled on Wednesday when he visited a Whirlpool factory in the northern city of Amiens, his hometown, where the US appliances giant is threatening to partially outsource production to Poland.
The besuited candidate had been meeting with union representatives kilometers away from the plant, but he was upstaged when Le Pen showed up at the factory unannounced.
Her appearance forced a hasty change in plans and Macron ended up spending more than an hour debating with workers amid chaotic scenes as dozens of TV camera teams crowded around him.
He left the incident relatively unscathed, and even shook hands with some workers before leaving.
Macron and Le Pen topped the first round of the election on Sunday to advance to the runoff, but not everyone is happy with the line-up.
On Thursday, students demonstrating against both candidates clashed with police in Paris, hurled bottles at the officers who responded with tear gas.
Black-clad demonstrators broke off from a 1,000-strong crowd of mostly teens waving signs that said “Neither the banker, nor the racist.”
The latest poll suggests Macron will defeat Le Pen by a margin of 21 points in the runoff on May 7, and figures from France’s traditional left and right — both absent from the second round — have backed him too.
Le Pen journeyed to the Mediterranean coast Thursday to spend the morning aboard a fishing trawler, seeking to portray herself as the protector of small-time producers.
Five million euros
The “Battle of Amiens” at the Whirlpool factory — as leftwing daily Liberation called it — was the standout moment of the election so far, even though the candidates were not at the site at the same time.
Much of the campaign was dominated by the legal woes engulfing conservative Francois Fillon, whose campaign was dogged by allegations he paid his wife millions in public money for little work. He lost in Sunday’s first round.
But on Thursday there was a reminder of the allegations of wrongdoing also hanging over Le Pen.
Investigators probing alleged FN expenses fraud at the European Parliament said the sum involved was now believed to be nearly five million euros ($5.5 million), more than twice an initial estimate.
The parliament accuses the FN of using funds meant for parliamentary assistants to pay staff, including a bodyguard to work in France between 2012 and 2017, which contravenes the assembly’s rules.
In March, Le Pen invoked her immunity as an MEP in refusing to submit to questioning by French prosecutors until after the election.
“Five million euros, that’s nonsense,” said Wallerand de Saint Just, National Front party treasurer.                            

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said yesterday it is investigating President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn over payments he received from Russian government-linked firms.
The Department of Defense said it was probing whether the retired lieutenant general failed to obtain required prior approval before accepting money from foreign governments.
Flynn was specifically warned when he retired in 2014 that he had to get advance permission before accepting consulting fees, salaries, gifts, or travel expenses from a foreign government.
Flynn, the former defenseintelligence chief, was fired by the White House after 24 days as Trump’s top national security aide over his communications with Russia’s US ambassador, amid intense concern that Moscow had directed a concerted effort to interfere in last year’s presidential election.

But the Pentagon investigation, launched in early April, appears focused on the more than $33,000 Flynn earned to attend an RT television gala in December 2015, where he sat at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It could also extend to the $530,000 Flynn was paid to lobby for Turkey during last year’s presidential election campaign.
Such payments possibly violate Defense Department and US constitutional prohibitions on retired military personnel conducting activities involving foreign governments without advance clearance. Flynn ended a 33-year army career as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during 2012-2014.
The Flynn probe adds to a number of investigations in Congress and the Department of Justice relating to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which US intelligence says was designed to boost Trump’s prospects to win the presidency.
The Pentagon confirmed its investigation after the House oversight committee released a 2014 letter the DIA sent to Flynn advising specifically that he needed advance permission from Congress before accepting any payments from foreign governments.
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the oversight panel, said there was no sign the retired three-star general had the required permissions to attend the gala, nor that he reported the payment when seeking to renew his security clearance a month later.
“Personally, I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz said after a briefing on the issue by officials of the DIA.
“He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment but to engage in that activity,” Chaffetz told reporters.
Elijah Cummings, the Democratic vice chairman of the committee, said the reporting violations may constitute felony crimes that could bring up to five years imprisonment.
Cummings also lashed out at the White House for not providing any documentation on Flynn in response to the committee’s request.
“I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn ... after the president fired him,” Cumming said.
“It makes the American people think White House has something to hide,” he added.
But Flynn has denied any wrongdoing.
Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner, in a statement, said Flynn had kept the DIA informed about the Russia trip at the time.
“General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of DoD, extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings.”
Facing punishment?
Chaffetz said Flynn is now facing possible punishment from the Pentagon, including being forced to give up the payments.
In a parallel development, with concerns mounting that Republicans are stalling the Russia probe, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that two top former officials — ex-acting attorney general Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James Clapper — will testify on May 8.
Both were deeply involved in the investigation into Russian interference during the second half of last year under former President Barack Obama.           

New China fears in Taiwan after Trump snub

Saturday, 29 April 2017 00:00 Published in Nation

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s fears that it will become a bargaining chip between China and the United States worsened Friday after a snub by President Donald Trump, who said he would not do anything to upset Beijing.
Trump rattled China in December after taking a congratulatory call from the self-ruling island’s new Beijing-skeptic President Tsai Ing-wen after his election, smashing decades of diplomatic precedent.
But after Tsai suggested another call could take place in an interview with Reuters Thursday, Trump said he did not want to risk his newfound “personal relationship” with China’s President Xi Jinping.
“I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader and I wouldn’t want to do anything that comes in the way of that. So I would certainly want to speak to him first,” Trump told Reuters in a separate interview.
Ties between Trump and Xi seem to have warmed recently after they met at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida earlier this month.
Since then, Trump has praised China for helping pressure North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
Taiwan’s presidential office stepped back from the idea of a call after Trump’s comments.
“We understand the priority of the US side in handling regional issues and have no current planning (for another call) at this stage,” it said in a statement Friday.  
Opposition lawmaker Chiang Wan-an called Trump’s reaction an “embarrassment” for Taiwan.
“Trump and Xi appear to have established very good relations. Taiwan needs to tread very carefully and be alert,” he told AFP.
The comments were a “serious slap in the face” for Tsai, added political analyst Edward Chen of Tamkang University.
“Tsai is throwing the ball into Washington’s court and Washington is saying no,” he said.
However, lawmaker Chao Tien-lin of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party said he thought Trump’s response was reasonable.
“Washington needs Beijing in handling the North Korea issue,” he said.
Concerns that Taiwan would become a bargaining chip were raised soon after Trump’s election, when he suggested he may abandon the “One China” policy that underpins US-China relations, unless he could strike better deals with Beijing.
He later went on to say he would honor the policy, which acknowledges that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.
Taiwan is a self-ruling democracy but China sees it as part of its territory to be reunified, by force if necessary.
The US is the island’s most powerful ally and arms supplier, despite having no official relations with Taipei after switching recognition to Beijing in 1979.
Relations between Taipei and Beijing have rapidly deteriorated since Tsai took the reins almost a year ago, ending an eight-year cross-strait rapprochement.
Beijing has cut all official communication with Taipei.  

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