Fear of losing Church support in polls may sway Senate vote on death penalty measure - Monday, 01 May 2017
Local indigenous communities and weavers in focus at Mindanao Tapestry event - Sunday, 30 April 2017
Nice, France — France’s far-right leader Marine le Pen faces the biggest test yet of her six-year drive to improve the image of her party as she seeks to entice new voters needed to make her president.
Her task was underlined on Friday when her National Front (FN) party removed its interim leader Jean-Francois Jalkh after reported comments about a Holocaust denier.
To stand a chance of winning, le Pen will need to convince people like pensioner Jacques Villain and student Marina Campana ahead of the final round of the presidential election on May 7.
Both of them backed defeated candidates in the first round last weekend and now face a choice between le Pen and pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron in the run-off.
Villain, a retired pensioner in Nice, supported defeated conservative Francois Fillon while Campana, a 19-year-old who attends university in the southern city, voted for far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon.
But both ruled out a vote for le Pen, saying the main reason was her association with racism which she attempted to erase when she took over FN in 2011.
Villain, out for a walk on the famed waterfront promenade in Nice that was the scene of a deadly Islamist-inspired truck rampage last July, said he would vote for Macron out of duty, not conviction.
“The National Front is not a normal party,” he said. “It brings back bad memories” of France’s past.
Campana told AFP ahead of a campaign rally by le Pen in Nice on Thursday: “There are things she says on immigration and security and I just don’t agree.”
Their views are far from universal — some voters encountered in the traditionally right-wing city said they would switch to le Pen — but there remains wariness among a large part of the electorate.
This explains in part why polls show le Pen would lose the second round by a large margin, 40 percent to 60 percent for Macron, if it were held today.
One in four Fillon supporters and fewer than one in five Melenchon voters currently plan to vote for her, according to an Ifop poll released Thursday.
Tricky balancing act
This dynamic gives the 48-year-old le Pen a tricky balancing act ahead of the runoff: Keeping her core far-right supporters happy, while appealing to a wider electorate who need to be reassured.
She gave a hint of this on Thursday evening as she addressed the rally in Nice that mixed attacks on Macron — the candidate of the banks and “oligarchs” — with messages to moderate voters.
The tone was markedly different from her speeches of the last fortnight which dwelt extensively on immigration, the threat from radical Islam and the perceived loss of French identity.
She quoted Jean Jaures — a famed former Socialist leader beloved on the left — and namechecked Charles de Gaulle, the founder of the French republic and hero on the right.
“I don’t look at your origins, your religion, your sexual orientation, or the colour of your skin. That doesn’t interest me. What interests me is you,” she said at one point.
Le Pen also addressed anxiety among voters about her plans to pull France out of the European Union and replace the bloc with a club of independent nations.
“I’ve heard the fears expressed,” she said, explaining how she would invite European leaders immediately after her election to talks to repatriate powers to national capitals.
The former lawyer would then call a referendum on the deal. “Nothing will be done without you, nothing will be done against you,” she said.
Notably absent was her proposal to withdraw France from the eurozone and return to the franc — one of her signature policies backed by only a minority of voters, polls show.
Herve Le Bras, a veteran sociologist and expert on the far-right in France, says conservative voters, particularly the elderly, are still wary of the FN which they view as too radical.
“They are in favour of changing things, but not for turning the table upside down,” he told AFP.
He said he thinks le Pen was disappointed by her first-round score of 21.3 percent and says the FN has progressed slightly nationwide, “but it’s not a tidal wave.”
“I think she was very disappointed and is hoping to make up for it with a bigger score in the second round,” he said.
Le Pen had announced Monday she was stepping aside as FN leader in order to focus on the presidential campaign.
On Friday, her stand-in Jalkh was hastily replaced by Steve Briois, mayor of an FN-controlled town in northern France, after Jalkh was accused of praising the work of a convicted Holocaust denier.
The party says Jalkh denies calling academic Robert Faurisson’s research “rigorous.” AFP
Monday, 01 May 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary
Srinagar, India — An unprecedented ban on Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter in Indian Kashmir has highlighted social media’s role in energising an insurgency that has roiled the disputed Himalayan region for decades.
Authorities in the Kashmir valley this week ordered Internet service providers to block 15 social media services for at least one month, saying they were being misused by “anti-national and anti-social elements.”
The move followed an upsurge in violence in the region, where authorities say social media are being used to mobilize stone-throwing protesters behind increasingly frequent civilian attacks on government forces.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley, one of the world’s most heavily militarized spots, where most people favour independence or a merger with Pakistan.
One senior police officer said the power of social media to mobilize large groups of civilians was “worrying the security forces much more than the armed militants.”
“Social media is misused to mobilize youth during anti-militant operations,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces in Indian Kashmir for decades.
But the violent civilian protests, which often mobilize around the anti-militant operations conducted by government forces, are a relatively new phenomenon.
The local government already frequently blocks mobile Internet services in the volatile Kashmir valley, but it is the first time they have banned specific social media services in the interests of public order.
The Kashmir valley has been tense since April 9, when eight people were killed by police and paramilitaries during election day violence.
Since then, students angered by a police attempt to detain suspected protest ringleaders on college grounds have held regular demonstrations, frequently clashing with police.
Kashmir’s tech-savvy young — 70 percent of the population is under 35 — have increasingly turned to social media to express their anger as well as to mobilize demonstrations.
“If they (the government) take away our means of communication and protest we will keep finding new ones,” said Asim, a university student who gave only his first name.
Political scientist Noor Ahmed Baba told AFP the conflict was now “playing out in the social media space.”
“The present government wants to silence the people. The violence of suppression will generate more violence,” said Baba, a political scientist with the University of Kashmir.
‘Shooting the messenger’
Young Kashmiris have also used their mobile phones to record videos of killings and other rights abuses by government forces and upload them on Youtube.
One video circulated online this month depicted a Kashmiri man tied to the front of an army jeep, apparently as a human shield against stone-throwing protesters.
Indian police took the rare step of registering a criminal case after the footage went viral, sparking outrage in India.
But no arrests have yet been made and India’s Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi even appeared to support the use of a human shield, saying “if it has to be done again, it should be done again.”
Another video showed an Indian paramilitary soldier being heckled and slapped by protesters outside a polling station.
But security expert Ajai Shukla said banning social media was “unlikely to control or diffuse the situation.”
“It is at best a temporary solution, but also means shooting the messenger,” he told AFP.
“It indicates poor security management. Politically it is a double disadvantage and from a strategic and technical (military) operations point of view it achieves nothing.”
Kashmir’s armed insurgency in has significantly weakened since its peak in the 1990s.
But dozens of Kashmiri youths have joined its ranks since last July, when security forces killed the popular young leader Burhan Wani.
The death of the charismatic rebel — himself a social media sensation who regularly uploaded video messages — also sparked a wave of popular protest. AFP
More than 100 people died and thousands more were injured in clashes between protesters and government forces last year, the worst violence to hit the Himalayan region since 2010.
One student activist said the ban on social media would remove one of the few remaining outlets for peaceful protest in Kashmir.
“Social media is our media, everyone’s media. We’re in it to show the world what is done to us generation after generation,” said the activist, who asked not to be named.
“Indian politicians and media misrepresent us. This has to end. How else do we protest without being called terrorists?” AFP
Monday, 01 May 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary
The explosive dawn of the Donald Trump presidency is energizing comedians and satirists as TV ratings boom, shows proliferate and top talents vie to portray the commander-in-chief as a buffoon.
Into the crowded market dives a new offering — “The President Show,” starring Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik as the Republican leader broadcasting his own reality show from the Oval Office.
The weekly program, which made its debut Thursday on Comedy Central, caricatures Trump as a child-like fool bent on bypassing the mainstream media, spliced with advice from a liberal pundit and a trip to New York where wife Melania has changed the locks.
“I have the power to destroy any country on earth, but I promise you it’ll be America First,” says Atamanuik in character, repeating Trump’s campaign slogan and reinforcing the liberal stereotype of the president as an ignorant blowhard.
But to win the ratings war there’s stiff competition.
In the weekly market there is “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” on TBS, the first feminist political satire show on mainstream US television; “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver on HBO; and the long-running and most-widely watched comedy show “Saturday Night Live” on NBC.
Weeknights there is “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS, whose satirical tone has overtaken rival NBC entertainer Jimmy Fallon in the ratings; and “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central.
“Right now satire sees itself as more important than it has been in a very long time,” says Dannagal Young, associate professor communication at the University of Delaware.
“In recent memory I don’t think that we have seen a time that is as frightening, especially for the left, as this moment.”
Way to cope
If ratings and advertising sales are up, so too are career fortunes.
Alec Baldwin has swapped headlines about tussling with paparazzi for rave reviews for his Trump impersonation on SNL that portrays the president as an idiot or a pawn.
Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of the White House spokesman, also on SNL, reportedly riled the president and has driven headlines.
Comedians say there are rich pickings in an administration has defied so many norms, from Trump refusing to fully divest from his businesses to concerns about nepotism and Russian meddling in the election.
That Trump is notoriously thin skinned makes him more fun to goad.
Satire “has the ability to help people cope,” said Stephen Groening, assistant professor in the department of comparative literature, cinema and media at the University of Washington.
The ability to laugh, get perspective and enjoy the fact that other people find times “challenging and absurd, has value,” he says.
Bee, Oliver and Noah take a more nuanced, issue-driven approach, woven with righteous anger and a call to arms that urges viewers to call their senator, protest or to donate to organizations.
“Stand-up comedians are increasingly taking a political activist, public intellectual role,” says Maggie Hennefeld, who teaches cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. AFP
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