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Europe Election polls: High turnout and a changed chamber | News

Brussels, Belgium – As voting draws near a close across the European Union, the first exit polls suggest this year’s European Parliament elections have seen a higher turnout than usual, and that the power balance is likely to change in the chamber.

Taking place against the backdrop of a rise in support for far-right and nationalist parties at the national level in recent years, the election has been largely portrayed as a battle between the pro-European establishment and its Eurosceptic challengers.

More than 400 million Europeans in 28 member states were called to the ballot box over four days to elect 751 members of the EU’s only directly-elected body. Brexiting Britain and the Netherlands kicked off the elections, which take place every five years, on Thursday. On Sunday, 21 countries voted and results are expected through the night.

The European Parliament is responsible for choosing the next president of the European Commission, shares responsibility for deciding on the EU’s annual budget with the Council of the EU, as well as oversees the work of EU institutions. While it can’t initiate legislation, which is the purview of the European Commission, it can adopt and amend it.

Turnout going up

European Parliament elections are normally considered “second-tier” polls by citizens, who have traditionally used them to vent their frustrations with their own national governments with “protest votes”. Turnout has been steadily declining since they were first held in 1979.

But turnout estimates suggest this year might buck that trend.

By noon, 14.4 percent of eligible voters had gone to the polls in Poland, almost twice as many as in 2014.

By early evening, an EU spokesman put the official turnout estimate at 51 percent for 27 countries except the UK.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, 42.6 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots.

The European parliament’s two largest political groups, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are both on course to lose nearly 40 seats each, unsettling their dominance and making this parliament the most fragmented so far.

The EPP, whose lead candidate is Manfred Weber of the German Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) is currently the largest group in the European Parliament and holds all three EU top jobs.

As alliances tend to form on an issue-by-issue basis, this means it might become harder to form majorities.

There are eight political groups national parties can currently join. The centrist, liberal Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens are likely to play a more central role in future decision-making. The leftist European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) is projected to retain roughly the same number of seats as in the current legislature (52).

Far-right parties led by Italy’s firebrand interior minister and co-deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini are projected to win 74 seats, 38 more than in the last legislature.

Alongside a number of other Eurosceptic and nationalist parties that are part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group such as the Polish Law and Justice, they wish to take power back from Brussels and devolve it back to national governments.

However, these parties are highly divided on some issues such as the budget, the role of Russia and migration, raising questions about how coherent a front they can form in the parliament.

Preliminary results: watching the socialists

In the Netherlands, exit polls put the Labour Party slightly ahead of the ruling conservative VVD party led by Mark Rutte. The two poll at 18 and 15 percent respectively, a surprise result that will bolster first Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who heads the Labour party and is the S&D’s lead candidate for the presidency of the European Commission.

The upstart far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) and its flamboyant 36-year-old leader, Thierry Baudet, were seen as Rutte’s main rival after the party came first in provincial elections earlier this year. It lags in fourth place.

In Germany, the CDU/CSU centre-right political alliance which includes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, remains the largest party with 28 percent of the share, but it’s the Greens who appear to be on course to bringing home the best results, polling at 22 percent.

Meanwhile in Austria, the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) doesn’t appear to have suffered massive electoral losses following the “Ibiza-gate” video – it polls third at 17.5 percent, behind the Austrian People’s Party (34.5 percent) and the Social Democratic Party of Austria (23.5 percent).

The FPO, a key ally in Salvini’s coalition for a “Europe of nations”, was hit by a scandal after a secretly-filmed video emerged of its leader and Austria’s vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, offering lucrative government contracts in exchange for campaign support to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch. The Austrian government witnessed a slew of resignations of far-right ministers and faces a no-confidence vote on Monday.

Indonesia protest: Calls for investigation into police violence | Indonesia News

Indonesia’s disputed election is now in the hands of the country’s top court, following a challenge by the defeated candidate on Saturday.

At least seven people have been killed in clashes between opposition protesters and police since Tuesday.

And there are now calls for a formal investigation into how police handled the situation.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas reports from Jakarta.

Papua New Guinea prime minister, Peter O’Neill, resigns | News

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill resigned on Sunday following a string of high-profile political defections that threatened his leadership.

O’Neill – who had been in power since 2011 – handed over the reins to Julius Chan, who has twice been prime minister, PNG broadcaster EMTV reported.

“It is important that we maintain a certain amount of stability. We have heard the calls and we have agreed for a change of government,” O’Neill told reporters.

Chan said the transition was to ensure stability in the Pacific nation.

“I want to thank Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for all that he has done to bring this country [to where it is] today,” he told reporters.

“Men and women of Papua New Guinea … we have very short memories. Tomorrow you will look back and see all the things that he has done. But like life itself, you just got to move on.”

Gas deal controversy

Defections from the ruling coalition have been going on for weeks and on Friday at least nine members switched sides, according to two ministers who were among them. 

O’Neill, 54, survived a vote of no confidence earlier this month but had been under pressure following the signing of a multibillion-dollar deal for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project with France’s Total and United States firm ExxonMobil earlier this year.

Opposition politicians said on Friday they would push for investigations in Australia and Switzerland into an $830m loan arranged by finance group UBS if there was a change of government, the Australian Financial Review reported.

A report by the Ombudsman Commission of PNG into the 2014 deal – which allowed the country to borrow from UBS to buy a 10 percent stake in Australian Stock Exchange-listed energy firm Oil Search – is scheduled to be tabled in parliament next week.

Oil Search, in turn, used the money to buy into the Elk-Antelope gas field being developed by Total.

PNG is estimated to have lost $287m on the deal after being forced to sell the shares when the price fell in 2017.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, thanked O’Neill for his friendship.

“I will look forward to working with the new prime minister of PNG in the same way I have enjoyed such a strong friendship and relationship with Peter O’Neill,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Iraq vows to stand with Iran amid US-Iran tension | Iran News

Iraq’s leaders are vowing to stand with Iran after the United States ramped up its rhetoric against what it calls the Iranian threat.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali al-Hakim made the pledge following talks with his Iranian counterpart.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Matheson reports from Baghdad.

Algeria elections: No candidates register successfully | Algeria News

No one has managed to register successfully to stand in Algeria’s presidential elections next July.

Dozens of candidates said they intended to run for the top job but virtually all of them failed to get the required number of signatures.

Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat reports.

What will Britain’s leadership change mean for Brexit? | Theresa May

Brexit brought UK Prime Minister Teresa May to power, and it was ultimately the issue that forced her out.

Debate on Britain’s departure from the European Union exposed deep divisions in the country.

May faced intense pressure to step down, after parliament repeatedly rejected her withdrawal deal with the EU.

She will resign as party head on June 7, and her governing Conservative Party is now looking for a new leader. But can her successor unite parliament and the United Kingdom?

And what will a change of UK leadership mean for Brexit?

Presenter: Hashem Ahelbarra


Mark Garnett – senior lecturer in politics at Lancaster University

Jonathan Lis – deputy director at British Influence, a pro-European think-tank

Matthew Goodwin – professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent

Source: Al Jazeera News

UN peacekeeping faces budget crisis, countries don’t pay share | USA News

The United Nations is holding its annual events honouring the work of its peacekeepers serving around the world.

There are at least 100,000 on active duty, deployed to some of the world’s most dangerous places, and 98 were killed last year alone.

But the tributes come as operations face an unprecedented budget crisis.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays reports.

French Algerians on identity, discrimination, protests at ‘home’ | Europe

Paris, France – A long and bloody history ties Algeria and France together.

A French colony for 132 years until 1962, Algeria was known as “the country of martyrs” across the Arab world as the resistance movement cost an estimated one million Algerian lives.

Under secularist laws, the French state cannot collect data on ethnicity and race, but it is estimated that French-Algerians comprise the largest minority, mainly centred in Paris, Marseilles, and Lyon.

Migration began at the turn of the 20th century, described by the late sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad as the “first stage”. 

Algerians back then were considered as French subjects, not citizens, and their work in the industrial sector provided vital economic support to impoverished rural communities in Algeria.

The second stage, according to Sayad, took place after World War II where Algerian men – and others from France’s colonies – were recruited to rebuild the country’s damaged industry, working menial jobs and living in shanty towns on the outskirts of cities.

Tens of thousands immigrated, bolstered by limited reforms in 1947 under the Statute of Algeria, which granted Algerian men full French citizenship and established unrestricted passage between Algeria and France.

The third stage was based around the policy of family reunification following Algeria’s independence, a development which permitted the wives and children of Algerian workers in France to settle.

The diaspora has closely followed key political developments in Algeria.

“Both the older and younger generations mobilised against the violence used to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations in Algiers in 1988,” wrote Jim House, a senior lecturer in French and Francophone history at the University of Leeds. “And during the 1990s, Algerians in France supported those exiled by the quasi-civil war in Algeria between the state and radical Islamist groups.”

Last month, thousands of French-Algerians protested weekly in Place de la Republique in solidarity with the Algerian demonstrations calling for the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

While the ailing president has since stepped down, protesters continue to demand the removal of the political system Bouteflika installed.

In Paris, Algerian flags were proudly waved and songs and slogans were chanted in Algeria’s distinct Arabic dialect.

The rallies in France have underlined their identity.

How French do Algerian-French people feel? 

Al Jazeera spoke with individuals from three generations currently living in Paris about identity, discrimination, and what it means to be French. 

‘If there’s a football game between Algeria and France, I will totally support Algeria’

Sabrina Kalem, 14, student 

[Omar Havana/Al Jazeera]

‘Algeria is the priority, but France is still on my mind,’ says Sabrina Kalem [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera] 

I see myself as a 100 percent Algerian, as it’s a huge part of who I am. In my head I feel like I’m more Algerian with a French nationality. For instance, if there’s a football game between Algeria and France, I will totally support Algeria, without even thinking twice. Maybe for the more joyful atmosphere. 

“My parents have been speaking to me in Arabic since I was a baby. I go to Algeria at least once a year during summer holidays.

“Maybe because I live in a really diverse community, but I’ve always been seen as French. And thank God. I never experienced any remarks about it. But when I go on holidays for instance, in the south of France, my family does get strange looks from the locals there, especially because my older sister wears a hijab. We definitely feel like they’re judging us. 

“I do feel French because it’s the country where I was born in, where I grew up, where I go to school. It gave me a lot for sure, and I acknowledge that. France does mean something for me, certainly. Algeria is the priority, but France is still on my mind. 

“Being Algerian in France means representing a different country within a country … When I represent Algeria, I represent something that is in my DNA, in my blood. When I represent France, I represent the country where I was born, where I live currently. 

“I’m still following what is happening in Algeria. The [Algerian] protests in Paris were something I followed carefully more than the Yellow Vest protests, because it meant something to me. It affected me.”

‘There will always be this unbearable question: But where are you really from?’

M’hamed Bouhjar, 35, bank employee

[Omar Havana/Al Jazeera]

M’hamed Bouhjar he feels Algerian but acknowledges’ what France has given him [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera] 

I was in born in Oran, in Algeria. I came to France to live with my aunt when I was four after my mother passed away. 

“I’ve always felt some measure of hostile attitude regarding minorities here in France, but that has increased since the 2015 attacks. 

“I see myself as Algerian, totally Algerian. I was born there. In our communities, Algeria is sacred. It’s in our heart. It’s like a mother to us. I don’t have an identity crisis. I feel like I’m deeply Algerian but I totally acknowledge what France has given me. 

“France deserves my loyalty because it gave me a lot. It gave me a chance. I’d find [it] bizarre to work in France, and send all my salary back to Algeria. Imagine all the big French fortunes like Gerard Depardieu, who earn millions, and don’t even pay taxes here. They aren’t loyal to their own countries, yet we, the ‘foreigners’, are loyal. We have more values and principles than these people, when it is our Frenchness that is denied every time. 

“My friends are from diverse cultural backgrounds. I’d say that even if you succeed in adjusting into this society, and you feel like you are a part of this nation, there is always someone to make you remember that you are not. 

“You can show them your identity card, prove to them that you are French, but there will always be this unbearable question: But where are you really from? They’ll judge you according to the way you look, the way your name sounds.

“In France, if you’re from a minority, they’ll push you towards sport no matter what. Look, even the minister of sports is always from a minority. You’ll never see a minister of interior from an Arab background.   

“Look at Zinedine Zidane. In 1998, he became a world champion. He scored twice during the final. He becomes France’s biggest pride. Everyone started saying, minorities are integrating in the nation: La France, black, blanc, beur. In 2006, he buttheads an Italian player in the final and he becomes the suburb’s Arab.

Even if you feel like you are part of this nation, there is always someone to make you remember that you are not

M’hamed Bouhjar

“I believe the future of Europe is in the hands of politicians and media controlled by them. We don’t decide. I can fight on a daily basis to give the best image of myself, but if it’s not shown on television or through any other platform, it won’t work. 

“The politicians are the ones who can truly decide whether they want to cast us out or include us. We need proper public representation because it’s the only way we can change the actual perception. This would make the future brighter for us. 

“But if we are continued to be portrayed on national television as terrorists, this would not lead to anything constructive.” 

‘We shouldn’t erase who we are to fit in a certain mould’

Messaoud Djemai, 59, nurse in a psychiatric facility 

[Omar Havana/Al Jazeera]

Culture, by way of French literature, influenced Messaoud Djemai’s first impression of France [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera] 

I came to Paris 35 years ago, when I was 24. I had a scholarship to study biology but after a year I dropped out and decided to stay. 

“In April, I visited Algeria after an absence of 10 years for a wedding. Seeing the mass protests on the streets made me want to be part of the mature and political movement. It’s really great that things are evolving there. 

“When I’m in Algeria I feel like I’m from a different country, and vice versa when I’m here in France. It’s really hard when you’re leaving a culture to come back to it, because you feel like you don’t fit in anymore. 

“My first approach of France was through culture. French literature was a huge part of my childhood in Algeria. My idea of French society had nothing to do with the war. I loved the culture, and that was all that mattered.

“It took few years to get the French nationality. For me, it was just a piece of paper, purely administrative. It made easier a lot of things in my life, such as travelling around … but I have no such thing as a nationalist sentiment. I hate all kind of nationalism. We didn’t choose to be born in a country or another, it is just luck. Why would you defend a country rather than another? 

“What it is to be French? It’s a great question. I’m more of a humanist, I follow the humanist values, not values dictated by a country, so this doesn’t really make sense to me. 

“I have friends who are applying for the French nationality, and they’ve been given questionnaires like ‘name famous French singers’ and ‘can you sing the French anthem’… Does being able to answer these questions mean you are French? I don’t know.

Assimilation has another meaning in France. It means fitting in by denying everything from your foreign culture.

Messaoud Djemai

“Over the past two decades, I’ve seen the younger French-Algerian generation holding on to their Algerian identity more strongly. This is due to several reasons, such as how France treated immigrants at first, what we called the ‘suburbs issues’.

“This younger generation was fed up with it and decided to go back to what was the most familiar to them, which was their first culture. For me, it’s a step back. We can’t reduce this to lack of integration. It’s the consequence of years and years of the authorities’ negative treatment of immigrants in France.

“Assimilation has another meaning in France. It means fitting in by denying everything from your foreign culture. We used to use the word ‘assimilation’ during the colonial era. So that’s why it’s a bit problematic. Assimilation erases every difference. Whenever you assimilate a product in another one, the first one totally disappears. We shouldn’t erase who we are to fit in a certain mould. 

“Integration and assimilation have a double meaning here in France. In 2005, when we pointed out at the suburbs issues, the public said that it was ‘their’ fault because they weren’t integrated in the nation. This makes no sense. How can’t they be integrated when they were born in France? They’re 100 percent French. 

“Paris is divided. There are some districts in Paris I have never set foot in, like the 8th or the 16th for example, where there’s no diversity over there. I don’t feel comfortable there. 

“My favourite neighbourhood is this one, the 20th arrondissement around Place de la Réunion. It’s a true melting pot. I feel great because France is represented here.”

Three French ISIL members sentenced to death in Iraq | ISIS/ISIL News

An Iraqi court has sentenced three French citizens to death after they were found guilty of joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), a court official said.

Captured in Syria by a US-backed force fighting the ISIL, they are the first French ISIL members to receive death sentences in Iraq, where they were transferred for trial.

Named as Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou, they have 30 days to appeal.

“They were sentenced to execution after it was proven that they were members of the terrorist Islamic State organisation,” said one court official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Iraq has taken custody of thousands of ISIL fighters who were repatriated in recent months from neighbouring Syria, where they were caught by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces during the battle to destroy the ISIL “caliphate”.

Iraqi courts have placed on trial hundreds of foreigners, condemning many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign ISIL members have yet been executed.

Those sentenced on Sunday were among 12 French citizens who were caught in Syria and transferred to Iraqi custody in February.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have criticised Iraq’s trials, which they say often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions obtained under torture.

The country remains in the top five “executioner” nations in the world, according to an Amnesty International report in April.

Analysts have also warned that prisons in Iraq have in the past acted as “academies” for future fighters, including ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Three killed by military gunfire at Pakistan rights protest | Pakistan News

Islamabad, Pakistan – At least three people have been killed and more than 15 wounded after gunfire erupted near a Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) protest against enforced disappearances in the northwestern Pakistani region of North Waziristan. This is the latest flare-up of tension between the country’s powerful military and the rights group.

Gunfire occurred at the protest led by two PTM leaders, who are also members of parliament, near a checkpoint in the Khar Qamar area of North Waziristan on Sunday morning, the military said in a statement.

There were conflicting reports on who initiated the violence, with PTM activists telling Al Jazeera that soldiers fired on unarmed protesters, while the military said the protesters “assaulted” the post, led by Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, both elected members of the National Assembly from the area in a general election last year.

Wazir and eight others were taken into custody following the violence, the military statement said. Dawar’s whereabouts remain unknown. Five soldiers were among those wounded, the military said.

Saud Dawar, the PTM leader’s brother, told Al Jazeera that family members had received word that Mohsin Dawar was unhurt, but that they had not been able to establish direct contact with him.

Dawar and Wazir were leading a protest in the area against an alleged enforced disappearance perpetrated by the military. The military said the man arrested was a “suspected terrorists’ facilitator”.

Mobile phone reception and internet connectivity in North Waziristan is some of the worst in the South Asian country, with limited infrastructure erected in a district that has been among the lowest performing on governance and socioeconomic indicators for decades.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify details of the violence due to the limited connectivity to the area.

PTM alleges rights abuses

The PTM shot to prominence in January last year when it led countrywide protests against the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young man from South Waziristan, by the police.

The group, whose leadership is comprised of young rights activists from the war-torn tribal districts where Pakistan has waged the bulk of its war against the Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allies, has been campaigning for accountability for alleged rights abuses by the armed forces in the war.

It has three main demands: the clearance of land mines and other unexploded ordnance from the tribal districts; an end to extrajudicial killings in Pakistan’s war against armed groups; and accountability for thousands of people who have been subjected to enforced disappearances by the state.

North Waziristan, once a stronghold of the TTP, was cleared by Pakistan’s military after a security operation was launched in 2014 to dismantle the group.

The PTM’s campaign has often brought the group up against Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country for roughly half of its 71-year history and public criticism of which is considered rare for fear of reprisals.

Last month, the military accused the PTM of being funded by foreign intelligence agencies and warned leaders that their “time is up”.

“The way they are playing into the hands of others, their time is up,” said military spokesperson Major-General Asif Ghafoor, in the military’s most forceful statement yet against a group that has faced arbitrary detentions, treason charges against its leaders and a blanket ban on media coverage of its events.

On Sunday, PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen said his group would continue to fight for justice peacefully.

“This is a follow up of [Ghafoor’s] threat of ‘time is up’,” Pashteen tweeted. “During past few days, [the military’s] social media teams have been creating the atmosphere for this attack today. Strongly protest this cowardly attack. PTM will continue its nonviolent constitutional struggle.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

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