Emmanuel Macron condemns racism but rules out removal of contested statues

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to stand firm against racism but also praised police and insisted that France would not take down statues of controversial, colonial-era figures.

It was the first time Mr Macron has spoken on the issues since George Floyd’s death in the US unleashed protests around the world, including several in France, where demonstrators have expressed anger at racial injustice and police brutality, particularly toward minorities from France’s former colonies in Africa.

Unusually for a French leader, Mr Macron acknowledged that someone’s “address, name, colour of skin” can reduce their chances at succeeding in French society, and called for a fight to ensure that everyone can “find their place” regardless of ethnic origin or religion.

He promised to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination”.

However, he insisted that France will not take down statues of controversial, colonial-era figures as has happened in some other countries in recent weeks.

Amid calls for taking down statues tied to France’s slave trade or colonial wrongs, Mr Macron said “the republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history … it will not take down any statue”.

“We should look at all of our history together” including relations with Africa, with a goal of “truth” instead of “denying who we are”, Mr Macron said.

He did not address accusations of police violence but said forces of order deserve “the nation’s recognition”.

Mr Macron also announced that France will reopen nearly everything starting Monday after three months of virus confinement measures.

The president promised an internal audit into how his administration handled the virus, notably compared to other countries like Germany.

That was in addition to a parliamentary inquiry already under way.

Despite having one of the world’s best health care systems, France was dangerously short of all kinds of masks and testing capacity as coronavirus patients overwhelmed intensive care wards in March.

More than 80 lawsuits have been filed accusing his government of manslaughter, neglect or otherwise mishandling the virus crisis.

Mr Macron sent in the army to help and ordered strict lockdown measures that slowed the spread.

But nearly 30,000 people have died, about half of them in nursing homes, and more than 150,000 have been infected.

More than 200 new virus clusters have emerged since France started reopening May 11, according to the national health agency.

Meanwhile, his government is facing growing pressure to confront racism and police violence.

At least 15,000 people demonstrated in Paris on Saturday, the latest in a string of French protests galvanised by George Floyd’s death in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement, but increasingly focused on France’s own tensions between police and minorities.

In response, the government banned police chokeholds and vowed to stamp out racism among police — but that has now angered police unions, who say they’re being unfairly painted as white supremacists and staged protests of their own.

Calls are also mounting to reassess France’s colonial legacy, causing division within Mr Macron’s own camp.

Over the past two days, the culture minister denounced the decision to cancel a Paris showing of Gone With The Wind, a film long criticised as romanticising slavery, as contrary to freedom of expression.

And he firmly condemned activists who tried to take a piece of African art from a Paris museum dedicated to artwork from former colonies.

But government minister Sibeth Ndiaye, a close Macron ally and the most prominent black figure in current French politics, wrote an unusually personal essay Saturday in Le Monde calling for France to rethink its colour-blind doctrine, which aims at encouraging equality by ignoring race altogether.

“We must not hesitate to name things, to say that a skin colour is not neutral,” she wrote.

She called on the French to “confront our memories” about their history and find a “shared narrative” with former colonies.

Mr Macron’s office firmly denied a report last week that he was considering resigning and calling a snap election, but the rumour reflected the gravity of the French mood.

A new forecast last week from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed France’s economy will suffer more than most from the coming recession — and is not expected to improve much by the next presidential election in 2022.

The economy is expected to shrink at least 11% percent this year, pushing many out of work and torpedoing Macron’s goals of bringing down unemployment, rehauling the retirement system and making France more globally competitive.

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Categories: #BlackLivesMatter, Emmanuel Macron, France, George Floyd, News, Statues

PM sets up commission to look at ‘all aspects’ of racial inequality in UK

Boris Johnson has pledged to establish a cross-government commission to examine “all aspects” of racial inequality in Britain.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister acknowledged that Britain had much more to do to deal with the issue.

He said the commission on race and ethnic disparities would look at “all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life”.

Mr Johnson told broadcasters: “What I really want to do as Prime Minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination.

“We stamp out racism and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success.

“That’s where I want to get to but it won’t be easy.”

The announcement follows two weeks of protest across the country by the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing in the US of George Floyd who died as a white police office knelt on his neck.

However the announcement, which included little detail, was sharply criticised by opposition parties.

For Labour, shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said: “We are in the midst of a global health pandemic that has sharply exposed deep structural inequalities which have long since needed urgently addressing.

“That the Prime Minister now says he wants to ‘change the narrative… so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination’ is condescending and designed to let himself and his Government off the hook.

Liberal Democrat equalities spokeswoman Christine Jardine said the commission was a “welcome first step” but said the Government must go further.

“Too many people’s lives are blighted by discrimination, inequality and injustice. The Government must move further and faster to redress institutional racism in the criminal justice system and many other parts of our society,” she said.

The Telegraph reported that the new commission will report directly to Mr Johnson and also be overseen by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch.

The paper said that an independent chairman or woman would be appointed to oversee the body which would comprised of people “with a mix of ethnic, social and professional backgrounds”.

The Prime Minister also used his article to defend the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, which some protesters want pulled down, and to warn against attempts to “photoshop” Britain’s cultural landscape.

He lauded Churchill as “one of the country’s greatest ever leaders”, saying it was the “height of lunacy” to accuse him of racism.

“I will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better,” he wrote.

He went on: “It is not just that it is wrong to destroy public property by violence.

“I am also extremely dubious about the growing campaign to edit or photoshop the entire cultural landscape.

“If we start purging the record and removing the images of all but those whose attitudes conform to our own, we are engaged in a great lie, a distortion of our history, like some public figure furtively trying to make themselves look better by editing their own Wikipedia entry.”

Mr Johnson also condemned the counter protesters who clashed with police in London on Saturday as “far-right thugs and bovver boys”.

“It was right that a good number should have been arrested. They were violent.

“They were aggressive towards the police. They were patently racist.

“There is nothing that can excuse their behaviour,” he said.

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Categories: #BlackLivesMatter, Commission, News, Racial Inequality

Charge after man appears to urinate next to Pc Keith Palmer memorial

A 28-year-old has been charged after a man was photographed apparently urinating next to the memorial dedicated to Pc Keith Palmer, the officer who was stabbed to death in the 2017 terror attack in Westminster.

Andrew Banks, of Stansted, Essex, has been charged with outraging public decency and will appear in custody at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday, the Metropolitan Police said.

The image of a man urinating was widely shared on social media on Saturday as violent clashes between far-right protesters and police took place in central London.

Speaking on Saturday, Commander Bas Javid described the image as “disgusting and abhorrent”, while Home Secretary Priti Patel referred to the “desecration” of Pc Palmer’s memorial, and said it was “absolutely appalling and shameful”.

MP Tobias Ellwood, who gave first aid to Pc Palmer as he lay dying after being stabbed to death in the grounds of Parliament by Khalid Masood in 2017, said the image of the man urinating next to the memorial was “abhorrent”.

More than 100 people were arrested on Saturday at the London protest, and the violence was condemned by the Prime Minister as “racist thuggery” and described as “mindless hooliganism” by police.

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Categories: Charged, Man Urinating, News, Pc Keith Palmer, Urinating next to the Memorial, Westminster