REPORT: France’s Macron caught between protests, Strasbourg attack

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to take back control of his nation after a month of protests that caused mayhem across the country — and now a new extremist attack that’s putting France on renewed terror alert.

Striving to show he’s responding to “yellow vest” protesters’ demands for tax relief, the French leader maintained his planned agenda Wednesday: He held his weekly Cabinet meeting and talks with big public and private companies, notably to encourage them to give a tax-free, year-end bonus to their employees.

At the same time, Macron’s office said he was staying constantly informed about the investigation into Tuesday’s Strasbourg attack and hunt for the gunman, still on the run.

Macron said “the terrorist threat is still at the core of our nation’s life,” in comments reported by government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.

“Public order must prevail in every place and every circumstance,” Macron added.

Within his presidential palace and the halls of government, concerns about the protests remain intense despite the Strasbourg scare.

The attack Tuesday night came just 24 hours after Macron broke a long silence on the mushrooming protest movement and appealed in an unusual televised address to the nation for calm. He announced tax relief for retirees and boost purchasing power of workers.

An estimated 23 million viewers watched him live — more than the audience for France’s victory in soccer’s World Cup final in July, and a historic record for a televised address by a president.

The president’s office noted the viewership as a positive signal: proof that the French still listen to Macron, despite persistent calls from protesters for his resignation.

Yet public opinion appeared split over whether he succeeded or not.

Some members of the Yellow Vest movement have already called for new protests on Saturday, arguing the government’s measures were not sufficient.

Others have called for a “truce,” acknowledging that progress has been made.

Griveaux told reporters that it’s not the government’s role to call for the end of the protests. He said the government is now offering conditions for a “dialogue that doesn’t take place in the street.”

Three online polls made after Macron’s speech by Odoxa, Opinionway and Elabe institutes show that a majority of respondents still shows sympathy for the Yellow Vest movement, but the support appears to be receding compared to previous weeks.

The protests have weakened Macron’s credibility — which also matters on the European stage. He’s maintaining his plans to go Thursday to Brussels for a key European summit that will focus on the Brexit process, but his stature within the EU is somewhat diminished. Macron’s promises to protesters could cut into French growth and hurt his efforts to stick to EU deficit limits.

Meanwhile, his government is about to face a no-confidence vote at the lower house of parliament.

The vote prompted by far-left and Socialist lawmakers is not expected to succeed, as Macron’s party and allies have a strong majority at the National Assembly.

The vote, initially scheduled Thursday, may be postponed as a consequence of the shooting in Strasbourg that killed two, left one person brain dead and injured 12 others.

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to the contents of this report.



TRUMP VS PUTIN: President sanctions Russia for interference in 2016 election

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration on Thursday announced sanctions against19 Russian individuals and five Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election.

The sanctions, which also include penalties for engaging in cyber-attacks, target 13 Russians who were recently indicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative probe.

“The Administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Mnuchin continued. “Treasury intends to impose additional CAATSA sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”

Also Thursday, President Donald Trump, who has been vocally skeptical of the election allegations, issued a statement with British, French and German leaders accusing Moscow of poisoning an ex-Russian spy who was living in England, allegations that Russian officials were quick to deny.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,” the statement by Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said.

Stating Moscow was handling the sanctions “calmly”, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that Russia had already begun “to prepare a response” which he said would come shortly. In the meantime, Ryabkov suggested the Trump administration had intentionally timed the sanctions to come ahead of this weekend’s Russian presidential election, an election that Putin was expected to easily win.

“It is tied to U.S. internal disorder, tied of course to our electoral calendar,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency Tass.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who ran the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, and 12 of the agency’s employees, is one of the most notable Russians to be named in the sanctions.

Prigozhin and his agency, said Meuller, “tampered with, altered or caused a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes and institutions,” specifically the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

“The IRA created and managed a vast number of fake online personas that posed as legitimate U.S. persons to include grass-roots organizations, interest groups and a state political party on social media,” the Treasury Department statement said. “Through this activity, the IRA posted thousands of ads that reached millions of people online.”