Netanyahu tells Macron timing wrong for Iran talks: statement

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone-laying ceremony for Mobileye's center in Jerusalem August 27, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday to avoid new talks with Israel’s regional arch-foe Iran, his office said, as European leaders pushed to save the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This is precisely the wrong timing to hold talks with Iran, while it is increasing its aggression in the region,” Netanyahu told Macron in a telephone conversation that was initiated by the French leader, according to the Israeli statement.

Macron on Sunday paved the way for a potential breakthrough in the standoff between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear deal after Iran’s foreign minister made a flying visit for talks with host France at the G7 summit.

On Monday, at the G7 summit, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat.

The nuclear deal has been in jeopardy since the United States withdrew from it last year and re-imposed economic sanctions, seeking to push Tehran into wider security concessions including curbs on its ballistic missile program.

Netanyahu, who sees Iran as a mortal threat and has long opposed the nuclear deal, has urged that sanctions be re-imposed on Tehran. He has so far been in lockstep with the Trump administration over its Iran policy.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic would not talk to the United States until all sanctions imposed on Tehran are lifted.

Rouhani said Iran was always ready to hold talks. “But first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran,” he said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday that the European Union will work to preserve the nuclear deal and would welcome any moves to add to its conditions.

Macron’s diplomatic moves came as Israel-Iran tensions flared. Last Saturday, Israel’s military struck in Syria in what it described as the thwarting of an Iranian-led killer-drone attack on Israeli targets.

On Thursday, Israel accused Iran of stepping up efforts to provide the Lebanese Hezbollah militia with precision-guided missile production facilities.

“Israel will defend itself against any attacks and prevent enemies that seek its destruction from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told Macron, according to the statement.

Israel and the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah are on high alert after drones were used on Sunday to attack what a security official in the region described as a target linked to precision-guided missile projects.

Hezbollah has blamed Israel for the rare strike in Beirut, and said it will retaliate. The heavily armed group has denied harboring such missile facilities.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Editing by William Maclean)

Macron must take back ‘insults’ for Brazil to accept G7 Amazon aid: Bolsonaro

FILE PHOTO: A tract of the Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Canarana, Mato Grosso state, Brazil August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Landau

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Gabriel Stargardter

BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday he wants French President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw the “insults” made against him before he considers accepting a $20 million offer from the G7 nations to help fight forest fires in the Amazon.

The two leaders have become embroiled in a deeply personal and public war of words in recent days, with Bolsonaro mocking Macron’s wife and accusing the French leader of disrespecting Brazil’s sovereignty. Macron has called Bolsonaro a liar and said Brazilian women are probably ashamed of their president.

The fires in the Amazon have created a major crisis for Bolsonaro’s far-right government. The Brazilian leader is losing popularity at home and finding himself increasingly isolated on the global stage over his response to blazes that threaten what many view as a key bulwark against global climate change.

His response to the fires is being closely watched by world leaders increasingly concerned by climate change, and could threaten Brazil’s trade deals and powerful agribusiness sector, which is a crucial driver of its recession-plagued economy.

However, the offer of aid from the Group of Seven wealthy nations, which was made at a leaders summit in the southern French town of Biarritz on Monday, has stirred up emotions within Bolsonaro’s nationalist government. Some officials are grateful for the much-needed help, and others view it as a colonial token that undermines Brazil’s control of its lands.

Bolsonaro raised Macron’s ire on Sunday when the Brazilian leader responded to a Facebook post that compared the looks of his wife Michelle, 37, with Macron’s 66-year-old wife Brigitte. “Do not humiliate the man hahahah,” Bolsonaro wrote, in a comment widely criticized as sexist.

Macron, who has accused Bolsonaro of lying about climate change policy, called the remarks “extremely disrespectful” to his wife.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro said he would only countenance accepting G7 money if Macron retracted his earlier comments.

“First of all, Macron has to withdraw his insults. He called me a liar. Before we talk or accept anything from France … he must withdraw these words then we can talk,” Bolsonaro told reporters in Brasilia. “First he withdraws, then offers (aid), then I will answer.”

The French president’s office declined to comment on Bolsonaro’s remarks.

Later, in an at-times fraught discussion with members of his cabinet and governors of Amazon states, Bolsonaro said he did not have anything against the G7 countries, but rather against the president of one of them – a thinly veiled reference to Macron.

He also said he appreciated the environmental work of the G7, but said any efforts to harm Brazil’s agribusiness sector would hurt Latin America’s largest economy.

Other members of his team took a more adversarial tone.

“Where they have passed they have left a trail of destruction, confusion and misery, so they can’t give that kind of advice to anyone,” Augusto Heleno, a retired Brazilian general who is Bolsonaro’s top security adviser, said about France. He also labeled Macron’s posture as childish.

In a boost for the Brazilian leader, U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted his support for Bolsonaro, an ideological peer on the environment, China and trade.

Bolsonaro “is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!” Trump tweeted.

The Brazilian president responded on Twitter: “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success. Brazil is and will always be an international reference in sustainable development.”

G7 OFFER

Leaders of the G7 made the aid offer after discussing the fires ravaging the world’s largest tropical rainforest – often dubbed “the lungs of the world”.

Initially, as the fires gained global headlines, Bolsonaro said Brazil did not have the resources to tackle the blazes. Then, in the wake of the G7 offer, his Environment Minister Ricardo Salles called the aid “welcome.”

However, on Monday evening, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff Onyx Lorenzoni said Brazil would reject the G7 offer, although his office said that was his personal view.

The number of blazes recorded across the Brazilian Amazon has risen 79% this year through Aug. 25, according to Brazil’s space research agency. The fires are not limited to Brazil, with at least 10,000 square kilometers (about 3,800 square miles) burning in Bolivia, near its border with Paraguay and Brazil.

But Brazil is at the epicenter of the blazes, which Bolsonaro has blamed on environmentalists, non-government organizations and the weather. He has also said fires in the Amazon were more prevalent under previous left-wing governments.

Weak rainfall is unlikely to extinguish a record number of fires raging in Brazil’s Amazon anytime soon, with pockets of precipitation through Sept. 10 expected to bring only isolated relief, according to weather data and two experts.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia, Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo; Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris; Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Alistair Bell and Paul Simao)

Trump says ready to meet Iran’s president to solve nuclear impasse

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron (not seen) at the end of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By John Irish and Michel Rose

BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances to end a confrontation over a 2015 nuclear deal and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat.

But Trump, speaking at a G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz, ruled out lifting economic sanctions to compensate for losses suffered by Iran.

Trump told reporters it was realistic to envisage a meeting between him and President Hassan Rouhani in coming weeks, describing Iran as a country of “tremendous potential”.

“I have a good feeling. I think he (Rouhani) is going to want to meet and get their situation straightened out. They are hurting badly,” Trump said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, host of the G7 summit, told the same news conference that Rouhani had told him he would be open to meeting Trump. Macron said he hoped a summit between the two men could happen in coming weeks. Trump and Rouhani head to the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Rouhani is not Iran’s top decision-maker. That role is held by the fiercely anti-American Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and anything agreed at a Trump-Rouhani encounter would be subject to Khamenei’s approval.

European leaders have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

But Macron has spent the summer trying to create conditions for a period of pause to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

“What I hope is that in coming weeks, based on these talks, we can manage to see a summit between President Rouhani and President Trump,” Macron said, adding that he believed if they met a deal could be struck.

Macron’s efforts took a surprise turn on Sunday when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is under U.S. sanctions, flew to the French seaside town of Biarritz where the Group of Seven leaders were meeting.

“VERY VIOLENT FORCE”

Appearing to refer to Iran’s recent combative rhetoric about its ability to attack U.S. interests, Trump suggested Iran would meet “violent force” if it followed through on its threats.

“They can’t do what they were saying they were going to do because if they do that, they will be met with really very violent force. So I think they are going to be good,” he said.

Trump said he was not open to giving Iran compensation for sanctions on its economy. However he said that the idea under discussion would be for numerous countries to give Iran a credit line to keep it going.

“No we are not paying, we don’t pay,” Trump said.

“But they may need some money to get them over a very rough patch and if they do need money, and it would be secured by oil, which to me is great security, and they have a lot of oil… so we are really talking about a letter of credit. It would be from numerous countries, numerous countries.”

The 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers, reached when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was in office, aimed to curb Iran’s disputed uranium enrichment program in exchange for the lifting of many international sanctions on Tehran.

Since ditching the deal last year, Trump has pursued a policy of “maximum pressure” to try to force Iran into broader talks to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program and end its support for proxy forces around the Middle East as well.

During his brief visit on Sunday, Zarif held talks with Macron and British and German officials before returning home.

Though potentially a diplomatic minefield, Macron’s gamble with Zarif appears to have worked out for now, as Trump on Monday endorsed the French president’s initiative and toned down his usual harsh rhetoric on Tehran.

“MAKE IRAN RICH AGAIN”

While Trump reaffirmed Washington’s goal of extracting further-reaching security concessions from Iran, he said he wanted to see “a really good Iran, really strong”, adding that Washington was not looking for regime change.

“I knew (Zarif) was coming in and I respected the fact that he was coming in. We’re looking to make Iran rich again, let them be rich, let them do well, if they want,” Trump said.

While Trump’s European allies also want fresh negotiations with Iran, they believe the nuclear deal must be upheld to help ward off the risk of wider war in the Middle East. Macron had already met Zarif in Paris on Friday ahead of the G7 summit.

“What we want is very simple. It’s got to be non-nuclear (as well),” Trump said. “We’re going to talk about ballistic missiles…, about the timing. But they (Iran) have to stop terrorism. I think they are going to change, I really do.”

Trump said it was too early for him to meet Zarif himself.

Rouhani signaled a readiness to meet Trump if that helped Iran, according to the official presidency website.

“If I know that in meeting with somebody the problem of my country would be solved, I wouldn’t hesitate because the central issue is the national interests of the country,” Rouhani said.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Marine Pennetier, and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by John Irish; Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones)

G7 or G5? Trump and Johnson add unpredictability to French summit

A view shows the beach and Le Bellevue summit venue ahead of the G7 Summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz, France, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By John Irish and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Brexit Britain’s overtures to U.S. President Donald Trump risk further complicating the search for common ground this weekend at a Group of Seven summit already clouded by transatlantic rifts over trade, Iran and climate change.

The summit host, President Emmanuel Macron of France, has set the bar low for Biarritz to avoid a repeat of the fiasco last year when Trump threw Canada’s G7 summit into disarray by leaving early, scotching the final communique.

Macron, an ardent europhile and staunch defender of multilateralism, will count on incremental advances in areas where a united front can be presented, with the meeting, which runs from Saturday to Monday, officially focusing on the broad theme of reducing inequality.

On hot-button issues, they will, when necessary, have to agree to disagree.

“We have to adapt formats. There will be no final communique, but coalitions, commitments and follow-ups,” Macron said. “We must assume that, on one subject or another, a member of the club might not sign up.”

The G7 groups the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, and the European Union also attends. Macron has also invited the leaders of Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, in order to widen the debate on inequality.

TOUGH TOPICS

But the tougher discussions lie elsewhere. The Sino-U.S. trade war has spurred fears of a global economic slump; European powers are struggling to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran; and Trump has shown little enthusiasm for France’s push for a universal tax on digital multinationals such as Google and Amazon, and turned his back on efforts in Europe and around the globe to limit carbon emissions to slow climate change.

The crisis in Kashmir and street protests in Hong Kong may also be touched on during the talks in France’s Atlantic coast surfing capital, where some 13,000 police will be drafted in to prevent any violent anti-globalization demonstrations.

“There’s no doubt that we will discuss how trade frictions could affect the global economy,” a Japanese government official said. “But it is difficult to deliver messages to the outside since a communique won’t be issued.”

Strained relations between the United States and its top allies mean that where once they were in agreement, they now seek the lowest common denominator.

“It won’t be productive to push something that someone — whether it’s America or some other country — would not agree to do,” the Japanese official added.

Moreover, Italy’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday, Canada is heading for an election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence on the world stage is waning ahead of her departure, and Britain is probably on the verge of either leaving the EU or a snap election.

POLITICAL NITROGLYCERINE

One unknown is where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will position himself, making his debut on the global stage at a summit that will lay bare new realities as Britain’s influence in Europe collapses and its dependency on the United States grows.

With less than three months to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU – with or without a divorce deal, according to Johnson – his government has sought to cozy up to Trump’s White House with a view to future trade deals.

Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the combination of two personalities “not well-known for their self-control” was “political nitroglycerine”.

He said it might be entertaining, “but if it actually gets in the way of more substantive proceedings, that would be another story”.

While Johnson will want to avoid crossing a volatile Trump and putting trade ties at risk, analysts say, he will also be wary of alienating himself from other leaders who have a more multilateral approach to world politics.

One French diplomat who declined to be named said Paris was curious to see how the Trump-Johnson dynamic played out in Biarritz:

“Even with Brexit in the background, we still have the sense that the British reflex when it comes to international crises is to turn to us and the Germans first.”

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert in Paris and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Lough and Kevin Liffey)

‘Thank You’ – Queen Elizabeth, President Trump and world leaders applaud D-Day veterans

French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participate in an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Dylan Martinez and Steve Holland

PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth was joined by world leaders including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, paying personal tribute to the veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history which helped bring World War Two to an end.

The queen, Prince Charles, presidents and prime ministers rose to applaud veterans, their coats heavy with medals, as they stood on a giant stage beside a guard of honor after a film of the Normandy landings was shown.

“The wartime generation – my generation – is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today,” the 93-year-old queen, wearing bright pink, said.

“The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country and indeed the whole free world that I say to you all: thank you.”

Prime Minister Theresa May was joined for the commemorative events in Portsmouth by U.S. President Trump, who is on the final day of a state visit to Britain, and his wife, Melania.

Trump read a prayer given by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944: “The enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, German Chancellor Merkel, and leaders and senior figures from 10 other countries also attended.

Soldiers stay stand for the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Soldiers stay stand for the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

BLOOD AND THUNDER

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 allied troops set off from Portsmouth and the surrounding area to begin the air, sea and land attack on Normandy that ultimately led to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.

By the time of the Normandy landings, Soviet forces had been fighting Germany in the east for almost three years and Kremlin chief Josef Stalin had urged British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front as far back as August 1942.

The invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord and commanded by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains the largest amphibious assault in history and involved almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile (80-km) stretch of the French coast.

Shortly after midnight, thousands of paratroopers were dropped. Then came the naval bombardment of German positions overlooking the shore. Then the infantry arrived on the beaches.

Mostly American, British and Canadian men, some just boys, waded ashore as German soldiers tried to kill them with machine guns and artillery. Survivors say the sea was red with blood and the air boiling with the thunder of explosions.

Thousands were killed on both sides. Line upon line of white crosses honor the dead in cemeteries across northern France. Even the codenames of the sectors of the invasion – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword – can draw tears from veterans.

“I was terrified. I think everyone was,” said John Jenkins, 99, a veteran who landed at Gold Beach. “You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together.”

The commemorations featured an hour-long performance recounting the wartime events and a flypast by historic, military aircraft. Afterwards, world leaders met veterans of the landings.

The queen, President Trump, Melania and Prince Charles shook hands with half a dozen veterans were waiting for them, exchanging a few words and asking them about their stories from D-Day.

Sixteen countries attended the commemorations: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

They agreed a proclamation to “ensure that the unimaginable horror of these years is never repeated”.

Merkel said Germany’s liberation from National Socialism brought about something “of which we can be proud.”

“Reconciliation, and unity within Europe, but also the entire post-war order, which brought us peace, for more than seven decades so far,” she said. “That I can be here as German Chancellor, that together we can stand for peace and freedom – that is a gift from history that we must cherish and preserve.”

On Wednesday evening, some 300 veterans who took part on D-Day, all now older than 90, will leave Portsmouth on a specially commissioned ship, MV Boudicca, and retrace their 1944 journey across the English Channel, accompanied by Royal Navy vessels and a lone wartime Spitfire fighter plane.

(Writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry and Toby Chopra)

British cigarettes, a body in the road: memories of D-Day

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region visits his town's military cemetery as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Richard Lough

TILLY-SUR-SEULLES, France (Reuters) – It is the sounds and smell of war that are indelibly imprinted in the memory of Yves Faucon, who was 12 when allied troops landed in Normandy and set about driving Nazi Germany’s forces out of France.

“I remember seeing a German body lying on the road and a column of British tanks advancing. One ran over the body,” recalled Faucon, now 87. “It made a grim noise.”

Faucon’s village of Tilly-sur-Seulles, south of Bayeux, lay on the frontline of the allied push toward the city of Caen. The village was won and then lost by the British more than 20 times over a three-week period.

“One morning some Brits arrived and chatted with us. I’ll always remember the smell of their English tobacco. It wasn’t something we were used to.”

More than 150,000 allied soldiers stormed the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, bursting through German coastal defenses to open the way to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.

Seventy-five years later, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May will attend ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in history and the soldiers who gave their lives.

Faucon’s widowed mother ran their family-owned hotel in Tilly-sur-Seulles. It was requisitioned by the Germans and as many as 250 German soldiers were holed up in the building. One lunchtime, Faucon said, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France, ate there.

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region shows a photograph of his mother's hotel in downtown Tilly, which was destroyed during operationsÊafter D-Day, as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region shows a photograph of his mother’s hotel in downtown Tilly, which was destroyed during operationsÊafter D-Day, as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“A German soldier watched on as she (Faucon’s mother) cooked for Rommel. She said to him: ‘If I was going to poison a German I would have done it already’.”

Faucon was awoken at dawn on the morning of the landings by a schoolmaster who told him to dress quickly and grab a blanket, as the incessant pounding of artillery on the coast 20km (12.4 miles) north reverberated through the air.

“They put us in a roadside ditch. We hid there the whole day, 80 of us,” said Faucon, who still lives in the village that lay in ruins by the time it was liberated. “The first English soldiers we saw were flanked by Germans. They were prisoners.”

The British forces suffered heavy losses in the battle for control of Tilly-sur-Seulles, fighting which forced the Faucon family to seek refuge in neighboring villages and remote homesteads.

Outside Tilly-sur-Seulles, flowers are planted at the feet of more than 1,200 crosses in a manicured war cemetery, most of them marking the final resting place of British soldiers.

“When you read these headstones, many of them say ‘Rest in Peace’. But they didn’t know peace,” said Kenneth Loughman, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain who served in Vietnam and was visiting the region’s memorials. “We gotta end going to war.”

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

French police fire tear gas at protesters in Paris May Day rally

A protester wearing a yellow vest holds a French flag as he walks among tear gas during the traditional May Day labour union march with French unions and yellow vests protesters in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Clotaire Achi and Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – French police fired tear gas to push back masked demonstrators in central Paris on Wednesday as thousands of people used an annual May Day rally to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

Labor unions and so-called “yellow vest” protesters were on the streets across France, days after Macron outlined a response to months of street protests that included tax cuts worth around 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion).

A Reuters journalist saw riot police use tear gas to disperse a group of hooded and masked protesters who had converged at the front of the traditional May Day labor union march in Paris.

Some protesters wearing hoods or yellow vests responded by throwing projectiles at the police. Television footage showed a van with its windows smashed. Several people were lightly wounded.

By mid-afternoon, the main march crossing the southern part of the capital was finally able to move amid relative calm, although it appeared that yellow-vests and more radical elements rather than labor unions were dominating the march. The hard left CGT union denounced police violence.

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“While the inter-union procession was to start at 14:30 (1230 GMT), unprecedented and indiscriminate repression took place following the acts of violence by some parties,” the union said in a statement. It said union members including the CGT secretary general had been tear-gassed, adding, “This current scenario, scandalous and unprecedented, is unacceptable in our democracy.”

A Reuters photographer saw several masked protesters removing their outfits to merge into the crowd.

French police had warned on Tuesday that there could be clashes with far-left anarchist groups, known as Black Blocs, after calls on social media for radicals to hit the streets.

Authorities had said they expected some 2,000 Black Bloc protesters from France and across Europe to turn up on the sidelines of the traditional May Day union rallies.

Some 7,400 police were deployed in Paris and made 200 arrests.

The “yellow vest” protests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets, began in November over fuel tax increases but have evolved into a sometimes violent revolt against politicians and a government seen as out of touch.

Many in the grassroots movement, which lacks a leadership structure, have said Macron’s proposals do not go far enough and most of what he announced lacks detail.

Thousands of people also demonstrated in cities from Marseille to Toulouse and Bordeaux. Some 300 yellow-vest protesters tried to storm a police station in the Alpine town of Besancon.

“We have been trying to fight, to make ourselves heard, for six months and nobody cares. People don’t understand the movement, though it seems pretty simple: We just want to live normally,” said Florence, 58, a trainer in a large company who was marching in Paris.

(Additional reporting by Ardee Soriano, Elizabeth Pineau and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

France’s Macron offers tax cuts to quell ‘yellow vest’ protests

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference to unveil his policy response to the yellow vests protest, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Thursday to cut tax further and said the French would have to work more as he outlined his response to months of anti-government protests that have challenged his authority.

Two years into his presidency, Macron is under pressure to deliver policies to quell the five-month old “yellow vest” movement, after a first salvo of measures worth 10 billion euros ($11.13 billion) last December failed to put the genie back in the bottle.

Macron said he wanted a “significant” cut in income tax, which would be financed by closing loopholes, squeezing government spending, but the French would also have to work more.

Although the number of demonstrators has declined since a peak in November, protesters clashed with police for a 23rd straight week last Saturday.

Thursday’s response is the result of a three-month long national debate, during which Macron rolled up his sleeves to discuss issues from high taxes to local democracy and decaying shopping streets with mayors, students and hard-up workers.

He stuck to his guns on Thursday, however, about the bulk of reforms his government has already implemented.

“I asked myself: Should we stop everything that was done over the past two years? Did we take a wrong turn? I believe quite the opposite,” Macron told a news conference, the first of his presidency in the Elysee Palace.

The street rebellion erupted over planned diesel tax hikes last November but morphed into a broader backlash against inequality and a political elite perceived as having lost touch with the common person.

Macron, who swept to power promising to “transform France” and “make work pay”, has seen his ambitious reform agenda derailed by the unrest. Pension and unemployment insurance reforms planned for 2019 have made little progress so far.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier, Jean-Baptiste Vey; writing by Leigh Thomas, Editing by Sarah White)

French interior minister warns of yellow-vest riots on Saturday

FILE PHOTO: Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration during the Act XXI (the 21st consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement at the financial district of La Defense near Paris, France, April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – The French interior minister warned on Friday that violence could flare up on the 23rd Saturday of yellow-vest protests, as authorities banned marches around the fire-gutted Notre-Dame cathedral.

The warning comes after weeks of relative calm, with the marches attracting declining numbers as yellow-vest protesters waited for President Emmanuel Macron’s expected response to their various demands which include lower taxes and more government services.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said domestic intelligence services had informed him of a potential return of rioters intent on wreaking havoc in Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux, in a repeat of violent protests on March 16.

That day, hooded gangs ransacked stores on Paris’s famed Champs-Elysees avenue, set fire to a bank and forced Macron to cut short a ski trip in the Pyrenees.

“The rioters will be back tomorrow,” Castaner told a press conference. “Their proclaimed aim: a repeat of March 16,” he said. “The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame.”

Castaner said that planned marches that would have come near the medieval church on the central island on the Seine river had been banned, while one march from Saint-Denis, north of Paris, to Jussieu university on the Left Bank, had been authorized.

The catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday, one of France’s best-loved monuments, prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and a rush by rich families and corporations to pledge around 1 billion euro ($1.12 billion)for its reconstruction.

That has angered some yellow-vest protesters, who have expressed disgust at the fact their five-month-old movement, which started as an anti-fuel tax protest last year, has not received the same generous donations by France’s elite.

“I’m sorry, and with all due respect to our heritage, but I am just taken aback by these astronomic amounts!” Ingrid Levavasseur, one of the yellow vests’ most recognizable public faces, said on her Facebook page.

“After five months on the streets, this is totally at odds with what we have seen,” she said.

The yellow vest movement poses the biggest challenge so far to Macron’s authority two years into his presidency.

The French leader was due to unveil policies to quell the grassroot movement on Monday, before the blaze at Notre-Dame forced him to cancel the speech. He has yet to set a new date for the announcements.

(Reporting by Danielle Rouquié, writing by Michel Rose; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

France’s Macron welcomes U.S. reversal on keeping troops in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmmanuel Macron on Monday welcomed the United States’ decision to leave American troops in Syria, a reversal by U.S. President Donald Trump that came after an outcry from coalition allies such as France.

“On the U.S. decision, I can only but welcome this choice,” Macron told a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih. “The U.S. decision is a good thing. We will continue to operate in the region within the coalition.”

In December, Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 troops in Syria after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants, an abrupt decision that sparked consternation among allies and was a factor in his defense secretary’s resignation.

Macron had personally sought to convince Trump to maintain troops in Syria, French diplomats said at the time, warning him about the risks of pulling out too early.

The United States will leave about 400 U.S. troops split between two different regions of Syria, a senior administration official said last Friday.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Marine Pennetier and Jean-Baptiste Vey, Editing by Sarah White)