France’s two rivals for the presidency have traded accusations after a woman was manhandled for protesting against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The protester was dragged along the floor after she held up a heart-shaped sign showing Ms Le Pen meeting the Russian leader in 2017.
Hitting back at critics, Ms Le Pen said people should be outraged that election press conferences could be disrupted. The vote will be held on 24 April.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally, came runner-up to Emmanuel Macron in the first round, held last Sunday, but opinion polls say she is only a few points behind the incumbent president in the race for the run-off.
Mr Macron has accused his rival of holding “authoritarian” views, belying the more moderate image she has maintained during the presidential campaign. He has previously condemned her policies as racist.
Ms Le Pen said yesterday that France had never had a president who had exhibited as much authoritarianism as Mr Macron, because of his handling of yellow-vest protesters. She went on to say that if she became president there could be a referendum on bringing back the death penalty.
However, it was the sight of a protester being dragged quickly out of a Le Pen press conference that prompted angry exchanges between the rival campaigns. Marine Le Pen said people should be outraged that campaign events were being disrupted
The protester, later identified as a Green councillor, was seen being pulled to the floor by one man in a suit before another man pulled her out of the room by the arm.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin accused Ms Le Pen of wrongly blaming a police officer for what happened and called on her to apologise to the police: “Have the honesty to admit the individual who drags the protester along the floor is a member of your own security detail.”
The far-right candidate refused to apologise and said the protester had been tackled by an interior ministry protection officer. “It was a policeman who challenged that woman and who got hurt in the process,” she said. “He got injured while detaining her and couldn’t complete the job of removing her.”
While Ms Le Pen appeared to be talking about a man in a suit who initially bundled the protester to the ground, French media identified the man who dragged her out of the room as a member of the National Rally security team.
“What people should be outraged about is that we can’t hold a second-round campaign without press conferences being disrupted, without us being attacked, without us being threatened,” Ms Le Pen complained.
Ms Le Pen has tried to draw a veil over her links to Russia’s authoritarian leader. She met Vladimir Putin ahead of her last presidential campaign in 2017, received Russian loans for her party and supported his illegal annexation of Crimea.
During a TV interview on Wednesday, she confirmed she had been banned from going to Ukraine and said she did not regret backing Russia’s 2014 referendum, even though it was discredited internationally.
“There were no Ukrainian refugees from Crimea, because the inhabitants simply felt Russian, and they approved that Crimea should return to Russia,” she said.
In a separate interview yesterday, she said if Russia was found to be responsible for war crimes in Ukraine then it would obviously have to answer for them.
Russia accuses Ukraine of helicopter attack
Russian officials have claimed Ukrainian helicopters hit residential buildings and injured seven people in the Bryansk region of Russia.
The governor of the Belgorod region also alleged villages there were attacked, with one person injured.
The Ukrainian government’s Centre for Countering Disinformation has accused Russian intelligence services of “a plan to carry out terrorist acts to whip up anti-Ukrainian hysteria” in Russia.
Although the statement mentioned two purported attacks in Bryansk, it did not say anything about an airstrike.
Russia’s investigative committee said two combat helicopters with heavy offensive weapons were used to carry out at least six airstrikes on the village of Klimovo.
It said six buildings were damaged and seven people injured. A health ministry official said two people had been seriously injured, according to Russian news agency RIA.
16,400 refugees arrive Britain under Ukraine visa schemes
Around 16,400 people had arrived in Britain under Ukraine visa schemes, according to British government figures yesterday.
About 13,200 had arrived under the Ukraine family scheme and 3,200 under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, provisional data shows.
About 94,700 applications have been received for both schemes and 56,500 visas had been granted by yesterday, the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office said.
Less than half of visa applications made under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme have been granted, the figures showed.
There has been widespread concern about the length of time it takes for visas to be issued to refugees under this route, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, apologised last week.
In comparison, 80.3 per cent of applications under the family scheme have resulted in visas being issued.
There were 55,600 applications for the sponsorship scheme and 25, 100 visas issued.
Out of 39,100 applications for family visas, 31,400 have been granted.
Russia warns of nuclear deployment if Sweden, Finland join NATO
Russia yesterday threatened to bolster its defences in the region, including by deploying nuclear weapons if Sweden and Finland joined the U.S. led military alliance NATO.
Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Wednesday said Finland will make a decision in the next few weeks as it shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden are considering joining the NATO alliance.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that should Sweden and Finland join NATO then Russia would have to strengthen its land, naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea.
Medvedev also explicitly raised the nuclear threat by saying that there could be no more talk of a “nuclear free” Baltic – where Russia has its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear free status for the Baltic, the balance must be restored,” said Medvedev, who was president from 2008 to 2012.
“Until today, Russia has not taken such measures and was not going to,” Medvedev said. “If our hand is forced well take note it wasn’t us who proposed this,” he added.
Lithuania said Russia’s threats were nothing new and that Moscow had deployed nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad long before the war in Ukraine.
The possible accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO – founded in 1949 to provide collective Western security against the Soviet Union – would be one of the biggest European strategic consequences of the war in Ukraine.
Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and fought two wars against it during World War Two during which it lost some territory to Moscow.
Yesterday, Finland announced a military exercise in Western Finland with the participation of forces from Britain, the United States, Latvia and Estonia.
Sweden has not fought a war for 200 years and post-war foreign policy has focused on supporting democracy internationally, multilateral dialogue and nuclear disarmament.
Russia says fire on the Moskva missile cruiser is contained
Russia’s defence ministry has said that sailors have contained a fire on board the Moskva missile cruiser, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and that measures were being taken to tow it back to port.
The ministry said the cruiser’s main weaponry had not been damaged and that its crew had been evacuated onto other ships in the Black Sea.
Moscow has claimed the blaze broke out after ammunition blew up on board, while Kyiv said it had been hit by two Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles.
Russia says Ukraine fired mortars at Bryansk border post
A border post in the Bryansk region has been fired at with mortars from Ukraine, Russia’s security service has said, in the latest of a series of reported cross-border attacks.
No one was injured in the incident but some vehicles were damaged, a spokesman for Russia’s FSB security service told state television.
Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said in a post on the Telegram messaging service that something “fell and caught fire” at a military facility in Bryansk near the border.
The post did not explicitly deny Ukraine was responsible. Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that the continuation of “sabotage and attacks” by Ukrainian forces could trigger strikes on Kyiv.
Dutch govt to instruct firms not to pay for Russian gas in roubles
The government of the Netherlands will instruct companies not to pay for Russian gas in roubles as Moscow has proposed, as doing so would violate European Union sanctions.
A Ministry of Economic Affairs spokesperson said the country had adopted that position following a decision by the European Commission on Wednesday and that it was being communicated to energy companies.
“What has changed is that the (European) Commission has concluded yesterday that paying in roubles would violate sanctions, and so would the construction with Gazprombank,” the spokesperson said.
U.S SHOOTING: Subway attack suspect held without bail
The man accused of unleashing a barrage of gunfire on a subway train in New York City, United States will be held without bail until trial on federal terror charges.
Frank James, 62, appeared in court yesterday, for allegedly violating a law barring “terrorist attacks or other violence” against mass transit systems.
He was apprehended following a huge manhunt for the lone suspect behind the attack, which injured 23 people.
Mr James did not enter a plea. His lawyer requested a psychiatric report.
If convicted he faces life behind bars.
Mr James “committed a heinous and premeditated attack on ordinary New Yorkers during their morning subway commute”, said US Attorney Breon Pearce in a statement announcing the charges.
Police alleged Mr James donned a gas mask and threw two smoke grenades on the floor of a Manhattan-bound N train before opening fire around 8:30am (12:30 GMT) local time on Tuesday.
He is accused of shooting 10 people and injuring at least another 13.
The suspect escaped after the attack, police said, but left behind several personal items connected to Mr James, including a key to a U-Haul van that he had rented, and a bank card with his name on it. There was also a Glock 9mm handgun legally purchased in Ohio under the name “Frank Robert James”.
Mr James reportedly called police himself to report his whereabouts on Wednesday, US media said, citing sources in law enforcement.
The suspect, who had recent addresses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, had nine prior arrests in New York and three in New Jersey, police said on Wednesday.
No details about Mr James’ alleged motive have yet been provided.
According to prosecutors, Mr James published a variety of videos online making statements about the New York City subway system, occasionally addressing New York City Mayor Eric Adams as he complained about the “homeless situation” on subway cars.
In one video, prosecutors said, Mr James said: “And so the message to me is: I should have just gotten a gun, and started shooting.”