According to a poll released on Thursday 25 May, French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is set to win an absolute majority in parliament in legislative elections next month, indicating that the new leader may have enough support to carry out an ambitious reform agenda.
In an OpinionWay poll for financial daily Les Echos, President Macron was seen getting 310 to 330 of the 535 mainland seats in the lower house of parliament – effectively more than the required 289 seats necessary for a majority. The latest poll results are similar to a raft of other recent polls which have suggested that President Macron’s start-up Republic On the Move (LREM) party would displace the Socialists as the largest party in the house and outrank the conservatives. The latest poll indicates that the Socialists are seen getting only 25 to 30 seats in Parliament, with the Republicans winning between 140 to 160 seats.
President Macron is planning to pass a reform of labour regulations by the end of September before kicking off overhauls of the unemployment insurance system and professional training later in the year and tackling pension schemes in 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron disclosed Wednesday shortly after holding talks with security chiefs that the French parliament will be asked to extend by several months emergency powers, which were first introduced in 2015, in order to counter the threat of terrorist attacks. The move comes just days after a terrorist attack in Manchester, United Kingdom, killed 22 people.
President Macron, who reviewed national security with defense chiefs following Monday night’s suicide bomb attack on a concert venue in northern England, disclosed on Wednesday that he would ask lawmakers to extend the special powers, which are due to expire in mid-July, until 1 November 2017. A statement released by the Elysee palace disclosed that President Macron told his government to devise additional measures for countering the security threats beyond the emergency powers and produce a draft bill to put to parliament in the coming weeks. He also gave instructions for a task force comprised of all the French security services to be swiftly established to coordinate actions against attacks. Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb disclosed that French authorities had learned from British investigators that the suspect in the Manchester bombing, who has been identified as British-born Salman Abedi, had travelled to Libya and probably Syria. Speaking to BFMTV, Collomb disclosed “today we only know what British investigators have told us – that someone of British nationality, of Libyan origin, suddenly, after a trip to Libya and then probably to Syria, becomes radicalised and decides to carry out this attack.” Asked if he believed Abedi was supported by a network, Collomb stated: “this is not known yet – but maybe. In any case, (he had) links with Daesh (IS) that are proven.” In the wake of the attacks that have occurred in France, the performance of France’s intelligence services have come under close scrutiny, with Collomb stating that Britain could just as easily have been the target then as well.
Three weeks into his presidency, and facing parliamentary elections next month, President macron will want to be seen as being decisive in dealing with the threat of attacks after his presidential rivals portrayed him as being weak on security matters. The attack in Manchester, which has been claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, killed 22 people and wounded dozens more, striking a chord in France where more than 230 people have died in the past two years in attacks carried out by Islamist militants. The Manchester attack had parallels with the November 2015 Islamist attack on the Bataclan concern hall in Paris – one of several bombings and shooting on the same night in the French capital. IS also claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.
The emergency rules, which give French police wider search and arrest powers, were first introduced after Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in and around Paris in November 2015.
Manchester Terror Attack
On Monday 22 May, twenty-two people were killed and a further 64 were injured in a suicide bombing at Manchester Arena, at the end of a concert by American singer Ariana Grande. A number of people remain missing. Monday’s attack is the worst terrorist attack to take place in the UK since the 7 July 2005 bombings, in which 52 people were killed by four suicide bombers.
According to officials, a man set off a homemade bomb in the foyer at 22:33 BST on Monday. The explosion occurred near the entrance to Victoria railway and tram station. The station has since been closed and all trains have been cancelled. The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has said, via IS channels on the messaging app Telegram, that it was behind the Manchester attack, however this has not yet been verified.
On Tuesday, police confirmed the arrest of a 23-year-old man in Chorlton, south Manchester, in connection with the attack, with British authorities identifying the suspected suicide bomber as Salman Abedi. The following day, Home Secretary Amber Rudd disclosed that Abedi was “likely” to have not acted alone as reports emerged that three men were arrested in Manchester. Abedi’s 23-year-old brother was arrested on Tuesday. It has been reported that Salman Abedi had already been on the radar of the British security services.
The UK threat level is now up on its highest level of “critical,” – meaning that more attacks may be imminent. This means that military personnel will be deployed to protect key sites. Prime Minister Theresa May has disclosed that soldiers will be placed in key public locations to support armed police in protecting the public, these include Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, embassies and the Palace of Westminster, which has been closed to the public following police advice and will not re-open until further notice, a statement on its website said. Military personnel may also be seen at other events over the coming weeks, such as concerts, and the will be working under the command of police officers.
The UK threat level has been judged to be severe for nearly three years – effectively meaning that an attack is considered highly like. In recent months however the temps of counter-terrorist activity has increased, with the BBC reporting that on average an arrest has been made every day. In the wake of the attack in Westminster in Mach 2017, which was carried out by Khalid Masood, police and security officials have been warning that further attacks were almost inevitable. However they also believed that those were more likely to be low-tech, involving knives and vehicles. The fact that the Manchester attack involved explosives is worrying. Furthermore, while it may not have been at the level of complexity seen in Paris in 2015, when multiple attackers sent from Syria used guns and suicide belts, security officials will now have to acknowledge the seriousness of this threat.
Western governments warned this month that terrorists are planning to kidnap foreigners in tourist hotspots across the Philippines following a foiled abduction attempt by Islamist group Abu Sayyaf last month.
The United States Embassy has warned that there is a kidnapping threat on the western island of Palawan, which is one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines. According to the travel advisory, “the US Embassy has received credible information that terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals in the areas of Palawan.” The warning identified two locations: the capital city of Puerto Princesa and a nearby underground river that attracts thousands of visitors every day. It comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted that security has been increased on the island of Palawan. Similar warnings have been issued by the Canadian and British embassies, highlighting concerns in the Philippines, Bohol, Dumaguete, Siquijor and Cebu in particular.
Puerto Princesa is located around 240 miles from the southern islands that are strongholds for the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and which has kidnapped foreigners in the past. While the militant group has typically targeted coastal areas after travelling from their southern island strongholds on speedboats, they may be changing their tactics in a bid to kidnap foreigners to seek larger ransom payments, which in turn fund their operations.
Last month, ASG militants attempted to carry out a kidnapping on Bohol island, in central Philippines, however they were foiled after authorities became aware of the plot. Security forces discovered the militants just a day after they arrived on speedboats from Bohol and engaged them in a gun battle. According to the authorities, nine militants, three soldiers and on policeman were killed in the clashes, with another militant dying in police custody. The Bohol raid occurred just days after the US Embassy issued a warning of kidnappings in Bohol and the neighbouring island of Cebu.
Last year the militant group beheaded two Canadian citizens while in February, it beheaded an elderly German sailor. All three hostages were killed after ransom demands were not met. In 2001, the group raided a resort in Puerto Princesa’s Honda Bay, abducting three Americans and seventeen Filipinos. One of the Americans was beheaded, a second was killed in a military rescue attempt a year later while the third was freed.
The UK Foreign Office has issued a new travel alert, warning that militant group Boko Haram is “actively planning to kidnap westerners to raise ransom money.” In its advice, it disclosed, “we have received reports that Boko Haram is actively planning to kidnap western foreign workers in Bama local government area of Borno state, along the Kumshe-Banki axis,” adding “if you are working in areas where there is a Boko Haram presence, especially in the north east of Nigeria, you should be alive to the potential risk of kidnapping as a means by the terrorist group to raise funds.” The Foreign Office issued the warning after receiving reports that the group was plotting kidnappings in the northeastern region of the country, where militants remain active despite ongoing military operations.
The United States has also warned its citizen about the risk, stating that the warning was based on “credible” information. Both countries have disclosed that the affected area is in the Bama local government area of Borno state, which is located near the border with Cameroon.
The latest warning underlines the continued fragile security situation in northeastern Nigeria, despite claims by the Nigerian government and military that Boko Haram is a spent force.
Boko Haram has kidnapping thousands of women and children, including more than 200 schoolgirls who were taken in April 2014 from the Borno state town of Chibok. Since 2009, at least 20,000 people have been killed in the insurgency. However abductions of foreigners by the group have been rare. Such kidnap for ransom schemes however have been employed by other terrorist groups operating in the West African region.