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France’s center right fighting for survival after election humiliation

It was going to be bad. It turned out to be worse. Conservative Valerie Pecresse scored below five percent in the first round of the France’s presidential election, the center right’s lowest score in modern history and one which threatens its survival.

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When the first projections flashed up as polling stations closed, stunned Pecresse supporters gasped: “What now?”

Only a decade ago, Nicolas Sarkozy was readying himself to run for a second mandate after almost 17 years of center-right rule in France.

Now, the Les Republicains party’s existence is under threat after its voters turned to incumbent Emmanuel Macron, far-right challenger Marine Le Pen and extreme-right candidate Eric Zemmour, seeing no value in casting their ballots for the traditional right.

“I had to fight on two fronts, between the outgoing president and the extremes who were allied to divide and beat the Republican right,” Pecresse said in her defeat speech, adding that she would vote for Macron in the April 24 second round. “The tactical vote won the day.”

The party, which by the end of the night had failed to even secure the five percent to ensure its campaign expenses were partly refunded, has struggled to remain relevant since Macron became president in 2017.

He was able to dynamite the Socialist party, which also got record low support on Sunday ten years after Francois Hollande won the 2012 presidency, and capture a chunk of center-right supporters as he promised a neither left or right political offering.

His economic policies overlap with theirs and as he has sought to siphon votes from the right by toughening his stance on security and immigration over the last 18 months, that has increasingly divided center-right voters and politicians who have been unable to find a clear vision for their party.

The splits were apparent before Sunday’s election as more conservatives such as the president of the southeast region Renaud Muselier and Sarkozy’s former Budget Minister Eric Woerth abandoned the party. Others defected to Le Pen.

That division was again clear on Sunday night. While Pecresse and other heavyweights such as former Justice Minister Rachida Dati called for a Macron vote to block the far right in the runoff, others like the runner-up in the party primary Eric Ciotti made it clear that he could not vote for him.

An IPSOS poll looking at a rollover of votes for the second round showed a three way split in Pecresse’s support to Macron, Le Pen, and abstentions.

“We’re paying … because we have tried to position ourselves in the center,” Les Republicans lawmaker Julien Aubert said, adding that he would not vote Macron. “We are threatened with being reduced to almost nothing.”

Let the cowards leave

Secretary General Aurelien Pradie said the poor showing should clarify the way forward.

“The cowards will go to one side or the other. Let them go and leave it to the rest to come up with a political message,” he said.

For some party activists the immediate priority is June’s legislative elections, when the party will look to save its 101 lawmakers. For others, it is more long-term – their eyes already on the next presidential race.

“I don’t think our party will collapse… If Le Pen loses she is finished and if Macron wins it will be his last mandate so in 2027 there will be the need for something new and we will need to be ready,” Florence Portelli, spokeswoman for Pecresse, told reporters, adding that she did not want a rapprochement with Macron.

Many of the party activists Reuters spoke to insisted that the party was not dead.

Les Republicans still governs many of France’s townhalls and local authorities, giving it an important political footprint that Macron’s own party has struggled to build.

The hope is that if Macron were to win on April 24, he would then struggle to win a parliamentary majority. Some in the party believe Macron will need the center right to build a coalition of sorts.

Jacques, 67, a retired lawyer, said the priority would be to keep the party together for the next two months.

“It’s a slap in the face, but people are no longer thinking rationally and want to be sold a dream,” he said. “There is a risk the party will explode, but we need to regroup now.”

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Ukraine army denies claims Lysychansk is ‘encircled’

The Ukrainian army on Saturday rejected claims that Moscow-backed separatists and Russian forces had surrounded the key eastern city of Lysychansk, but said heavy fighting was ongoing on its edges.
“Fighting rages around Lysychansk. (But) luckily the city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television, after a separatist spokesman made the allegations earlier in the day.
Capturing the city would allow the Russians to push deeper into the wider eastern region of the Donbas, which has become the focus of their offensive since failing to capture Kyiv after launching their military operation in Ukraine in late February.
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Across the Donets river from Lysychansk, the Russians seized the neighboring city Sievierodonetsk last week.
Andrei Marotchko, a spokesman for the separatist forces, earlier told the TASS news agency: “Today the Luhansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled.”
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China adds $45 billion in stimulus to pay for infrastructure projects

China announced another stimulus measure to finance infrastructure projects, part of its push to drive investment and increase employment in the second half of this year as the economy starts to recover from the effects of Covid lockdowns.

The government will raise 300 billion yuan ($44.8 billion) to finance infrastructure projects by selling financial bonds and other methods, the State Council chaired by Premier Li Keqiang decided Wednesday, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.

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Those bonds are usually sold by policy banks. The money will be used to replenish the capital of major projects such as new types of infrastructure, the statement on Thursday said.

These types of financial tools can help expand effective investment, drive employment and facilitate consumption and allow China to stick to its stance of “not flooding the economy with stimulus or over-printing money,” the meeting concluded, adding that this will help banks achieve a better match between their loans and deposits and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

The People’s Bank of China will take the lead to support China Development Bank and Agricultural Development Bank of China to raise the funds via financial bonds, according to a late Friday report by Financial News, a newspaper published by the central bank.

The top economic planner will come up with a list of projects for the investment, in collaboration with other agencies and state-owned enterprises, it said.

Infrastructure projects are a key factor in determining how fast the economy can grow in the remaining six months of this year as other sources of growth such as housing and private consumption are still slowing.

President Xi Jinping pledged last month to strive to meet economic targets for the year, although Beijing’s Covid Zero strategy has caused analysts to cut their forecasts for annual growth to levels far below the official goal of around 5.5 percent.

The announcement lifted the share price of heavy equipment makers in the onshore market. SANY Heavy Industry Co. climbed 4.1 percent on Friday, Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. gained 4.9 percent and Jiangsu Hengli Hydraulic Co. rose 1.9 percent, while the benchmark CSI 300 Index dipped 0.4 percent.

New Stimulus

The new stimulus can in theory leverage as much as 1.2 trillion yuan in credit from the banking sector and capital markets, based on the government requirement that the money should be at least 20 percent of overall investment, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. economists including Lu Ting.

But its impact in reality could be much smaller, and won’t be enough to plug an estimated 6 trillion yuan funding gap that the government has to fill if it wants to carry out its proactive fiscal policy, they wrote in a note Friday.

Local authorities are under huge financial stress this year due to the cost of Covid controls and tax cuts, as well as a slump in land sales that reduced a key source of revenue.

The new money is in addition to the 800 billion yuan the three policy banks were told in June to lend for infrastructure projects. That loan quota has already been allocated to the policy banks, local newspaper the 21st Century Business Herald reported Friday, citing sources it didn’t identify.

China Development Bank was allowed to boost lending by 400 billion yuan, Agricultural Development Bank of China’s quota for new credit was 300 billion yuan and another 100 billion yuan was assigned to the Export-Import Bank of China, the newspaper reported.

The development banks’ main source of funds is issuing bonds or loans from China’s central bank, although it hasn’t been announced where the money to finance these new loans will come from.

The size of the additional bonds is only a fraction of what the policy banks normally issue in a year. The banks sold a gross amount of 5.5 trillion yuan bonds in the interbank market last year, with a monthly average of 460 billion yuan, according to Bloomberg calculation based on Chinabond and Shanghai Clearing House data. Between January and May this year, they issued 2.3 trillion yuan in bonds.

The State Council, which is China’s cabinet, also vowed to implement a batch of investment projects that are aimed at increasing workers’ income and boosting their consumption.

These projects will have to spend more than 30 percent of central government funding on paying workers, up from 15 percent previously.

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UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital Tripoli and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
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Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December following challenges including legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
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