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28 Apr

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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Inside Macron’s Bromance with Trump

French President Emmanuel Macron with U.S. President Donald Trump.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the U.S. put his affection for President Donald Trump on full display. The trip was good for the Macron brand and it didn’t hurt Trump either. But are there any benefits for the rest of the world?

© Eric Garault

By

At the very end of the trip, after he had bear-hugged Donald Trump and held a feisty speech in Congress and just two hours before his Airbus plane, decorated with the Tricolour, is set to take off on its way back to Paris, Emmanuel Macron plops down in an armchair in a dimly lit, room at George Washington University. “I’m yours,” he says to the small group of journalists he has invited for a sit-down.

If he is tired, which would certainly be understandable after the last few days, he doesn’t show it. He has grown thinner after almost a year in office and a thick layer of makeup covers his face. It makes him seem unnaturally tanned — almost as though some of Donald Trump’s color has rubbed off on him.

Macron looks expectantly at the gathered journalists, some of the most prominent commentators in the United States. For Macron, the meeting is a chance to talk about his state visit — a visit that produced myriad images in the global media. And the French president wants to talk a bit about those images, to have the last word, so to speak.

As usual, Macron is behind schedule, turning up almost an hour late. He has never met a schedule that can keep him in line, no matter how influential the people who are waiting on him might be. When Macron visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last week, he showed up 35 minutes late.

Macron captivated his American hosts during his visit, with his appearances — both here and elsewhere — increasingly resembling those of a popstar. In Washington, people were lined up to see him, taking pictures with their mobile phones and calling out: “Mister President!” and “Emmanoooelll!”

Shortly before his meeting with the press, Macron spoke with students at the university. With no jacket and his sleeves rolled up in a style reminiscent of Barack Obama, Macron stood in the middle of a vast auditorium and did what he so often and so willingly does: He spoke and answered questions for more than an hour.

“What steps and precautions do you hope to take to protect Jewish citizens like my grandparents in France?” asked one student.

“Many young people here have been inspired by your progress and the En Marche and I’m wondering, what advice do you have for us who might be frustrated … by the two-party system?” asked another.

He stood on the stage speaking English with no notes, something no French president before him has ever done, even if his accent is relatively strong. Like a preacher, he exhorted the students to disregard those who tell them they can only find success by obeying the rules. “That’s bullshit,” he said to laughter.

When he finally stepped down off the stage and made his way to the room full of waiting journalists, a group representing the country’s liberal elite, it didn’t take long before he impressed them just as he had the students in the auditorium a short time before and the Senators and Representatives before that. And all that despite his “very special relationship” with Donald Trump, the hated president who he seemingly couldn’t keep his hands off the day before. It was quite an achievement.

Filled with Dread

For Macron, despite some of the images bordering on the embarrassing, the visit was a success. He has emerged from the trip with an even more prominent position on the world stage than he had when it started.

In seems almost as though this state visit was a present for his first anniversary in office. It was the first such invitation extended by Trump and both the French and the Americans repeatedly emphasized what an honor it was. Almost as though the trip itself was sufficient proof that Emmanuel Macron, the 40-year-old president of France, had risen — at least for the moment — to the very top of the European political pecking order. Analyst after analyst insisted on pointing out that Merkel’s reception upon her arrival in Washington on Friday was far less grand.

The French president’s visit to the U.S. capital came almost exactly a year after Macron easily defeated right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, a victory that filled liberals around the world with hope just as Trump’s victory a half-year earlier had filled them with dread. It is one of the singularities of international politics that these two men, who stand for so much that is contradictory, apparently have a great deal of fondness for one another.

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Myanmar leader is allowing UN organisations into country to prepare for return of refugees

A young Rohingya refugee sits behind barbed wire in Maungdaw, Myanmar

A young Rohingya refugee sits behind barbed wire in Maungdaw, Myanmar. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

Aung San Suu Kyi hopes to restore her battered reputation by allowing UN human rights and development organisations to enter Myanmar to prepare the ground for the large-scale return of Rohingya Muslims.

Her aides hope the offer, linked to internal political changes strengthening her position and the appointment of a UN special envoy for the crisis, can mark a turning point in her relations with the international community.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar since a military crackdown began last August, joining an estimated 200,000 who have sought shelter in Bangladesh over the past few decades.

In a highly unusual move, senior diplomats from each of the 15 UN security council member states will travel to Bangladesh and Myanmar, starting on Saturday. The ambassadors will visit refugee camps in Bangladesh before meeting Aung San Suu Kyi and going by helicopter to Rakhine state, the centre of what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s allies are hoping she can convince the diplomats that an agreement on the introduction of UN organisations into Rakhine can help speed up the safe, voluntary return of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees in the Bangladeshi camps.

The UN bodies could also monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of the violence that prompted the exodus.

Repatriation is becoming a matter of urgency, Aung San Suu Kyi’s allies concede, due to the imminent monsoon season. But the UN high commissioner for refugees has recently said conditions in Myanmar are not yet “conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees”, and said the responsibility remains with the government to change this.

The refugees say they need assurances from Myanmar about concrete progress over their legal status, citizenship and security in Rakhine.

A first step would be to ease restrictions on movement for the internally displaced people encamped in the central townships of Rakhine, which would also help build confidence among refugees in Bangladesh.

Another urgent step is to repatriate the 6,000 or so refugees caught in the no man’s land of the “zero line”, a buffer zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The visiting ambassadors are likely to press Aung San Suu Kyi on the progress she is making in implementing the reforms proposed by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, a body she established and which was chaired by the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

The commission’s report called for a review of Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law, which prevents the Rohingya from becoming citizens, and an end to restrictions on the minority group to prevent further violence.

The ambassadors, including the UK envoy to the UN, Karen Pierce, will visit Rakhine. They are likely to push for progress on the approximately 8,000 refugees who have said they want to return to northern Rakhine but have so far been prevented from doing so by the government.

Pierce said it was “incredibly important” for the council to see the situation on the ground as it considered “what needs to be done next to help Myanmar develop as a modern political and economic entity”.

The election last month of Win Myint, a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, as president is seen as having strengthened her position. Myanmar’s constitution prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from being president as her children are foreign nationals, but she has been appointed state counsellor, a position above that of president. Win is seen as a much more assertive figure than his predecessor.

Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is providing aid to those affected by the violence in Rakhine, said the Myanmar government was rebuilding villages and taking steps to allow the Rohingya to return.

“But what we see is that people don’t yet trust that this will give them safety and security,” he said. “We are at the beginning of such a confidence-building process. It’s a very long way to go.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has privately welcomed the decision of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, to appoint Switzerland’s ambassador to Germany, Christine Schraner Burgener, as special envoy on Myanmar.

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There is something murky down in the forest. In 2010, the Cameron government was so shocked at the reaction to its planned privatisation of the Forestry Commission that it backed off. It said it had abandoned the whole idea. It lied. It just privatised in secret.

Plans have emerged of the commission’s proposals for Mortimer Forest outside Ludlow, an exquisite stretch of woodland in the Welsh Marches. A company called Forest Holidays wants to erect an estate of 70 luxury chalets in the forest. It is, in truth, a scattered luxury hotel, serviced by car parks, toilets, recreation areas and “landscaped lookouts”. The company already has 10 such estates and plans many more, with up to 90 chalets in each. These are not rural communities or compact villages.

Forest Holidays was created in the 1960s by the Forestry Commission, which still holds a 14% share in the company. Under a bizarre 2012 “framework agreement”, the company is given the right to develop as many as 30 sites across the forestry estate at any one time, with no eventual limit. It pays the commission a rent per chalet of an average £3,000 a year, and rents out the chalets for up to £4,000 a week, an eye-popping margin. Some of the leases are for a phenomenal 125 years. According to the Sunday Times, it already ranks fourth in Britain among private companies for profits growth.

This might all seem small beer, another example of the oleaginous workings of “parastatal” Britain. The country may have less woodland per acre than anywhere in Europe, but it can surely handle a few private estates of “hot tubs and fluffy towels”. As the company said recently, it is as yet developing only an “infinitesimal” share of the commission’s estate.

So, what happened last December? A company called Phoenix Equity acquired 42% of Forest Holidays for £110m. This valued the company at an extraordinary £262m. The reason was soon clear when Forest Holidays’ chief executive, Bruce McKendrick, justified the high price on the grounds that “the [forestry] commission has a million hectares of forest, so we’ve got plenty to keep us going for many years to come”. That is equity-speak for “we struck a goldmine”.

The Forest Holidays deal, in effect with the government, is extraordinary. The government has granted a private company exclusive access to exploit a public land bank. There will be no competitors, no rival bidders and no limit to its growth. Indeed the company and the commission make planning applications jointly, as if they were one and the same.

The agreement also promises that, provided the sites are not in a nature reserve or protected area, they cannot be opposed. Should anyone object, such as an uppity planner, the Forestry Commission has “a duty to help bypass regulations”. With 14%, it has more than duty – it has a clear incentive. This means that a body that exists to maintain Britain’s forests is party not just to their privatisation but to their complete exploitation – and for as long as 125 years.

It is small wonder this whole saga has been shrouded in secrecy. The Mortimer Forest plan has been with Hereford council for three years, only seeing the light of day in February. Doubtless because of the privatisation row, the 2012 deal stipulated that the commission commit itself to secrecy. It would ensure “that the media and the public are not aware of new development site selection”. For a public body explicitly to promise to conceal evidence of its dereliction of duty is amazing.

A spokesman for the Mortimer campaigners, Colin Richards, is a passionate defender of forest wildness. To him, the chalet development will destroy the tranquillity of what is, in this case, not even a particularly large forest. As a result of the development, he says: “Wildlife habitat on publicly owned land will be destroyed in favour of a busy private holiday park. The whole project is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The Forestry Commission denies that it is engaged in privatisation, despite actually holding shares in the relevant private company. It argues that “the forests are still publicly owned, and the Forestry Commission retains control of what can happen on the land through the business framework agreement”. But the terms of this agreement are biased in the company’s favour, and they indicate a blatant conflict of interest. It is like London Zoo going into taxidermy.

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Whitley awards for nature conservation 2018 winners – in pictures

Six conservationists have been recognised for their work with local communities to protect threatened wildlife and habitat around the world. The prestigious awards, known as the ‘green Oscars’, are made annually by the Whitley Fund for Nature, and provide winners with funding to scale up their projects

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