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Darmanin Scraps Migrant Crisis Meeting With UK Counterpart After Johnson Letter

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French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told his UK counterpart Priti Patel on Friday that he had cancelled her invitation to a meeting this weekend after criticism of France by Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the Channel migrant crisis.

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In a message seen by AFP, Darmanin told Patel the letter from Johnson to President Emmanuel Macron suggesting France takes back migrants who cross the English Channel was a “disappointment”.

Referring to Johnson’s posting of the letter on social media, he added: “Making it public made it even worse. I therefore need to cancel our meeting in Calais on Sunday.”

Johnson‘s letter to Macron called on France to immediately start taking back all migrants who land in England after crossing the Channel, following the deadliest migrant disaster in the Channel, which killed at least 27 people when their boat foundered off Calais.

Taking back migrants “would significantly reduce – if not stop – the crossings, saving thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs” behind the trafficking, he said in the letter sent to Macron on Thursday evening.

When asked about the letter at a press conference on Friday, Macron said he was “surprised” by the British handling of the crisis.

“I’m surprised when things are not done seriously, we don’t communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers,” he said during a joint conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

‘A lot of raw emotion’

France was planning to host ministers from all Channel littoral states, including Patel, for a crunch meeting on the migrant crisis in Calais on Sunday.

A source close to Darmanin told AFP the meeting would be going ahead with the ministers from other European countries but added Patel was no longer invited after Johnson’s “unacceptable” letter.

“We consider the British Prime Minister’s public letter to be unacceptable and contrary to the discussions we had with our counterparts,” said the source, who asked not to be named.

“Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited to the interministerial meeting on Sunday, which is maintained in the format of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.”

Deadliest migrant disaster in the Channel

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when the inflatable boat lost air and took on water off the northern port of Calais on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille. A manslaughter probe has been opened.

Five suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing were arrested Thursday, according to French interior ministry officials.

Only two survivors, an Iraqi and Somali, had been found and they were recovering from extreme hypothermia and would eventually be questioned, the French interior ministry added.

A pregnant woman was among the victims, said Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart.

The disaster has shaken Calais residents, said FRANCE 24’s Wassim Cornet, reporting from the northern French port city.

Calais locals turn out for candlelight vigil after migrant tragedy

There was “a lot of raw emotion” following the tragedy, said Cornet. “A lot of people are also voicing their anger at the French government who they see as at least partly responsible,” he said.

“Most of the people we have spoken to today say they have lots of compassion for these migrants.”

Cornet said that despite the risks, many of the migrants he had spoken to in Calais have not been deterred from making the crossing because they have “seen so much worse” during their migrant journey.

EU migrant ministers to meet

A record wave of illegal migrants seeking to cross the Channel this year is a volatile issue for Johnson and Macron amid rising anti-immigrant sentiments in political circles in both countries.

According to French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures that doubled since August.

‘A major political problem for Boris Johnson,’ says FRANCE 24’s Angela Diffley

In Britain, Johnson’s Conservative government is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers.

Darmanin said France had arrested 1,500 people smugglers since the start of the year.

He said they “operate like mafia organisations”, using encryption to stop police tapping their phone conversations.

According to the British authorities, more than 25,000 people have arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Source: france24.com

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit

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Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.

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Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Original Source: france24.com

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant

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Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More

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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport

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French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

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