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Transgender sportsmen get a separate category in swimming competitions, and Marine Le Pen gets 90 seats in the French parliament

20-6-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

France24: ‘A seismic event’ - Le Pen’s party makes historic breakthrough in French parliament

Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally, or RN) made historic gains in Sunday’s French parliamentary election second round, on track to win 90 seats according to projections by Ipsos – a score way beyond the record gains polls predicted.

Emmanuel Macron’s centrist bloc, meanwhile, underperformed polling expectations and fell well short of a majority – leaving a deal with conservative Les Républicains (LR) as his best hope for governing unencumbered.

Nobody expected Le Pen’s party to win anything like 90 seats.

After a presidential campaign all about the distracting focus on the Ukraine war, Macron’s desire to drift to re-election and Le Pen’s submarine-like rise, it looked like the parliamentary election campaign was all about Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Le Pen was a muted presence. She even went on holiday after losing the présidentielles second round to Macron.

NUPES have indeed performed well – set to win 141 seats according to Ipsos projections, just months after the French left looked unpopular to the point of near irrelevance. However, it is far from radical leftist hopes of winning a National Assembly majority and forcing Macron into a state of “cohabitation” with Mélenchon as his prime minister.

Instead, what grabbed everybody’s attention on Sunday night was the historic gains for Le Pen’s RN in the législatives, as the parliamentary polls are called in France.

Photo: Denis Charlet, AFP

RN’s performance at 90 seats is a “seismic event; an extraordinary result for them”, said Paul Smith, a professor of French politics at Nottingham University.

“There were no polls predicting this and I haven’t seen anybody predicting it. Le Pen was looking washed up after the presidential second round; so many people thought that was it for her – and she herself wasn’t really campaigning for législatives. But, clearly, that wasn’t it.”

A large section of French society admires, even loves Macron – as witnessed by his topping the polls in the first presidential round, where voters have a menu of options, not to mention his Ensemble (Together) alliance remaining the biggest parliamentary party even as it loses its majority. But Macron is also hated by swathes of French voters to his right and left alike, who regard him as the absolute embodiment of an aloof, callow technocratic establishment. This divide has been the thread running through all the twists and turns of France’s election season.

Paul Smith said: “The simple explanation for RN’s success tonight is that this was an anti-Macron bloc. My suspicion is that, even though Mélenchon said not one of his supporters should vote for Le Pen, quite a lot of them did. It’s clear that hatred of Macron is sufficiently intense for a lot of NUPES voters to be able to vote for RN.”

Now RN will have a big opportunity to continue their long ascendance with their National Assembly gains. Few big beasts of French politics will be sitting in the chamber. But Le Pen will be there after her re-election in her fiefdom in the northern Pas-de-Calais region with 61 percent of the vote.

Paul Smith believes that now “we can see the National Assembly becoming Le Pen’s platform, and it will likely have ramifications for their performances in local and regional elections. In short, to many people RN is suddenly going to look like a serious party.”

CNN: Western support for Kyiv must not cease, say NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The West must prepare for a long war in Ukraine as Russia makes incremental gains in a furious battle to control the country's east, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have both said.

In separate comments published Sunday, Stoltenberg and Johnson also reiterated that Western governments must continue to support Ukraine to deter future aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Stoltenberg told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that nobody knew how long the conflict would last but "we need to prepare for the fact that it could take years."

Photo: RTL Nieuws / ANP

"We must not cease to support Ukraine. Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices."

Boris Johnson, writing in the Sunday Times after his second visit to Kyiv on Friday, said Western allies must "steel ourselves for a long war, as Putin resorts to a campaign of attrition, trying to grind down Ukraine by sheer brutality."

Johnson said that seizing all of Ukraine's Donbas, which covers much of eastern Ukraine, had been Putin's objective for the last eight years "when he ignited a separatist rebellion and launched his first invasion."

While Russia was still short of this goal, "Putin may not realise it but his grand imperial design for the total reconquest of Ukraine has been derailed. In his isolation, he may still think total conquest is possible."

Both men stressed the need to avert future Russian aggression.

Stoltenberg said: "If Putin learns the lesson from this war that he can just carry on as he did after the Georgia war in 2008 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, then we will pay a much higher price."

Johnson asked what would happen if President Putin was free to keep all the areas of Ukraine now controlled by Russian forces.

"What if no one was willing to lift a finger as he annexed this conquered territory and its fearful people into a greater Russia? Would this bring peace?"

Johnson said that through firm long-term support for Ukraine, "we and our allies will be protecting our own security as much as Ukraine's and safeguarding the world from the lethal dreams of Putin and those who might seek to copy them."

Johnson wrote: "Time is the vital factor. Everything will depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its capacity to attack. Our task is to enlist time on Ukraine's side."

AP: Spain, Germany battle wildfires amid unusual heat wave

Firefighters in Spain and Germany struggled to contain wildfires on Sunday amid an unusual heat wave in Western Europe for this time of year.

The worst damage in Spain has been in the northwest province of Zamora, where over 30,000 hectares have been consumed, regional authorities said, while German officials said that residents of three villages near Berlin were ordered to leave their homes because of an approaching wildfire Sunday.

Spanish authorities said that after three days of high temperatures, high winds and low humidity, some respite came with dropping temperatures Sunday morning. That allowed for about 650 firefighters supported by water-dumping aircraft to establish a perimeter around the fire that started in Zamora’s Sierra de la Culebra. Authorities warned there was still danger that an unfavorable shift in weather could revive the blaze that caused the evacuation of 18 villages.

Spain has been on alert for an outbreak of intense wildfires as the country swelters under record temperatures at many points in the country for June. Experts link the abnormally hot period for Europe to climate change. Thermometers have risen above 40°C in many Spanish cities throughout the week — temperatures usually expected in August.

A lack of rainfall this year combined with gusting winds have produced the conditions for the fires.

“The fire was able to cross a reservoir some 500 meters wide and reach the other side, to give you an idea of the difficulties we faced,” Juan Suárez-Quiñones, an official for Castilla y León region, told Spanish state television TVE.

The fire in Zamora was started by a strike from an electrical storm on Wednesday, authorities said. The spreading fire caused the high-speed train service from Madrid to Spain’s northwest to be cut on Saturday. It was reestablished on Sunday morning.

There have been no reports of lives lost, but the flames reached the outskirts of some villages both in Zamora and in Navarra. Videos shot by passengers in cars showed flames licking the sides of roads. In other villages, residents looked on in despair as black plumes rose from nearby hills.

“The situation remains delicate. We have various active fires due to the extremely high temperatures and high winds,” Navarra regional vice-president Javier Remírez told TVE.

Germany has also seen numerous wildfires in recent days following a period of intense heat and little rain. The country’s national weather agency said the mercury reached 39.2°C in the eastern cities of Dresden and Cottbus on Sunday.

Strong winds have been fanning a blaze near the town of Treuenbrietzen, about 50 kilometers of Berlin, prompting officials to order three villages evacuated Sunday.

About 600 people in Frohnsdorf, Tiefenbrunnen and Klausdorf were told to immediately seek shelter at a community center.

“This is not a drill,” town officials tweeted.

More than 1,400 firefighters, soldiers and civil defense experts were deployed to tackle the blaze, which also affected a former military training area known to be contaminated with ammunition.

Officials expressed hope late Sunday that thunderstorms moving in from the west would help put out the fires.

BBC: FINA bars transgender swimmers from women's elite events if they went through male puberty

FINA, swimming's world governing body, has voted to stop transgender athletes from competing in women's elite races if they have gone through any part of the process of male puberty.

FINA will also aim to establish an 'open' category at competitions for swimmers whose gender identity is different than their birth sex.

The new policy, which was passed with 71% of the vote from 152 FINA members, was described as “only a first step towards full inclusion” for transgender athletes.

The 34-page policy document says that male-to-female transgender athletes could compete in the women's category - but only “provided they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”.

The decision was made during an extraordinary general congress at the ongoing World Championships in Budapest.

It means that transgender American college swimmer Lia Thomas, who has expressed a desire to compete for a place at the Olympics, would be blocked from participating in the female category.

Earlier FINA members heard a report from a transgender task force made up of leading figures from the world of medicine, law and sport.

“FINA's approach in drafting this policy was comprehensive, science-based and inclusive, and, importantly, FINA's approach emphasised competitive fairness,” said Brent Nowicki, the governing body's executive director.

FINA president Husain Al-Musallam said the organisation was trying to “protect the rights of our athletes to compete” but also “protect competitive fairness”.

He said: “FINA will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.”

Former Great Britain swimmer Sharron Davies, who has argued against transgender participation in women's elite swimming, told BBC Sport she was “really proud of FINA”.

“Four years ago, along with 60 other Olympic medallists, I wrote to the IOC and said 'Please just do the science first' and no governing body has done the science until now,” she said.

“That is what FINA has done. They've done the science, they've got the right people on board, they've spoken to the athletes, and coaches.

Swimming is a very inclusive sport, we love everyone to come and swim and be involved. But the cornerstone of sport is that it has to be fair and it has to be fair for both sexes.”

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva