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Valerie Pecresse, the conservative who could become France’s first woman president

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(Last Updated On: January 12, 2022)

Fifteen years ago, Valerie Pecresse quelled a student uprising over her university reforms with the same blend of consensus-building politics and reformist mettle that she believes will now propel her to the French presidency, Reuters reported.

Chosen to run last month by rank-and-file members of the conservative Les Republicains party, voter surveys show Pecresse could beat President Emmanuel Macron in April’s election. If she succeeds, she would become France’s first woman head of state.

In an office adorned with framed cinema posters, Pecresse, 54, reeled off a list of woes facing France that speak of her social and fiscal conservatism: poor control of national borders, violent city ghettos and a growing pile of debt, read the report.

“We need to restore order, both on our streets and in our national accounts,” she told Reuters.

A minister for higher education and then the budget during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, Pecresse said last week she would bring out “the power hose” to clean up trouble neighbourhoods where the state had lost authority and lawlessness prevailed.

According to the report critical of Macron for “burning a hole in the state coffers” during the pandemic, Pecresse has promised to reform France’s generous pension system and cut a bloated public wage bill – both pledges she says Macron has failed to deliver on.

Her style, she says, is “two-thirds (Angela) Merkel and one-third (Margaret) Thatcher”.

“I am a woman who consults, decides and acts,” she said. “The one-part Thatcher is to say ‘I’m not for turning’,” referring to a phrase in a 1980 speech when the conservative British leader refused to back down on liberalising reforms.

Pecresse pointed to the cutting of hundreds of jobs at her head office to make way for more high-school staff, reduced spending and higher investment as proof she gets things done. In 2020, she won a second mandate to run the greater Paris region.

Opponents who had nicknamed her “the blond” had paid the price, she said. Asked if France was ready for a woman president, she replied: “Voters on the right have shown they’re ready, and they can be the most reticent to trust a woman.”

‘UNBENDING’

Pecresse’s party, which traces its origins to Charles de Gaulle, dominated French politics for much of the post-war era. But after Macron redrew the landscape in 2017, it has struggled to unite its centre-right and staunchly conservative factions.

According to Reuters the defection of a senior conservative lawmaker to the campaign bid of far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour on Sunday underscored the challenge she faces keeping a feuding party together.

Opinion polls show her in a close-fought race with Marine Le Pen, leader of the traditional far-right, for the second spot in the election’s run-off vote. Zemmour follows close behind. Should she make it, she would be the most dangerous opponent for Macron, the surveys suggest.

Born in an upmarket Paris suburb and educated at France’s elite ENA school for politicians and civil servants, Pecresse is a moderate in a conservative party that has lurched rightwards as the far-right fuels anti-immigrant sentiment and a desire among many voters to get tough on law and order.

Pecresse has toughened her language on immigration and identity, seeking to neutralise the threat from Le Pen and Zemmour, whose promise to “save France” from Islam has polarised France.

She says she would end the automatic right to French citizenship for people born in France and stiffen judicial sentences in places where police have lost control, read the report.

On a table in Pecresse’s office sits a photograph of Samuel Paty, the teacher decapitated by a Chechen-born teenager in a suburb of Paris in 2020 because he used caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a lesson on free speech.

Pecresse said the teacher’s portrait would follow her to the Elysee Palace if she won the election.

“We have to be unbending in the respect of our values,” Pecresse said. “In the public space, the law comes before faith. It’s the same rights, the same duties for all.”

World

Saudi-led coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen

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(Last Updated On: January 22, 2022)

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen denied targeting a detention centre in Yemen’s Saada province, saying the facility hit was not a site restricted from strikes, the Saudi official news agency SPA reported on Saturday.

A Reuters witness said several people, including African migrants, died in the Friday attack that reportedly killed at least 60 people.

“The coalition will inform the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen (OCHA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the facts and details,” the state news agency said, citing a coalition spokesman.

He said the target in Saada was not on no-targeting lists agreed upon with the OCHA, was not reported by the ICRC and did not meet the standards stipulated by the Third Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War, Reuters reported.

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Bomb blast kills 3 people in eastern Pakistan

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2022)

A bomb blast ripped through a crowded market in eastern Pakistan on Thursday (January 20), killing three people and wounding over 20, police said, Reuters reported.

A police spokesman, Arif Rana, told Reuters it was a bomb, saying a time device rigged to a motorcycle exploded outside a shop in the market.

A nine-year-old boy is among the three dead, he said.

“I was around 12 feet or so away from the place, but the blast was so severe that we didn’t know what had happened. Then the fronts of some shop caught fire, and a couple of the shop assistants were injured. A man in the house over there died. A child was passing by, both his legs were blown off. I picked him up, but he was dead. It was a very severe blast,” said a resident who witnessed the explosion.

According to Reuters a newly formed separatist group based in southwestern Balochistan province claimed responsibility in a text message sent to a Reuters reporter.

It said a bank was the target of the attack. Police said they were investigating, saying it was premature to link this to Pakistan Super League (PSL) Twenty20 cricket tournament scheduled to start in a week or so.

Baloch separatists have been fighting a low-key insurgency against the Pakistani government to demand a greater share in the local mineral rich resources, Reuters reported.

They usually attack government interests or Chinese projects in the province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, but an attack in a city like Lahore is rare.

China is involved in the development of the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea and other projects in the province as part of a $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is itself part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, read the report.

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World

Russia’s Putin hosts Iranian counterpart in Kremlin

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(Last Updated On: January 20, 2022)

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted on Wednesday (January 19) his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi for talks in Moscow as Russia tries to help salvage a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran, Reuters reported.

Putin and Iranian Raisi held discussions on the issues of bilateral cooperation Kremlin said, Reuters reported.

Raisi said that a visit to Russia could be a turning point in political, trade and economic relations between the two countries, Russian News Agency RIA Novosti reports.

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