Jailed French executive who felt force

Pierucci's five-year ordeal is a cautionary tale for globe-trotting executives
Pierucci’s five-year ordeal is a cautionary tale for globe-trotting executives

In April 2013, as Frédéric Pierucci stepped off a plane at New York’s JFK airport during a routine business trip, he was seized and handcuffed by uniformed men.

The 45-year-old executive for Alstom, a French energy and transport group, was then driven to the FBI building in Manhattan, where the reason for his arrest became clear.

In 2003-4, a federal prosecutor explained, Pierucci had authorised bribes to Indonesian officials to secure a contract for boilers at a power plant.

This was true. At the time, he was working for an Alstom subsidiary in Connecticut. Bribing was common practice at the company then.

Risky business

Pierucci had assumed he was safe from prosecution because he had not arranged the Indonesian kickbacks, only signed off on them. And since then, Alstom had assured the US justice department that it was cleaning up its act.

But, as Pierucci discovered, the department had been gathering evidence against him on charges including wire fraud and money laundering.

He did not know about them because the indictment had remained sealed – as it was for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive who was arrested in Canada last year and denies US allegations that she helped evade sanctions on Iran.

Pierucci was to spend more than five years in the clutches of the American justice system. His story illustrates the risks faced by foreign businessmen who – sometimes unbeknownst to them – are accused of breaching US law.

Coal-fired power plant at Tarahan, near Lampung, Indonesia
The bribes were in connection with the Tarahan power plant on Sumatra island, which was completed in 2007

The US government has long been dead serious about corruption. In 1977 it approved the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the world’s first ban on bribing foreign officials. Elsewhere, companies continued to get away with it for decades. In the 2000s, however, spurred by a campaign by the OECD, other developed nations began to clamp down.

Co-operation from foreign law-enforcement agencies helped the US government export its anti-corruption drive. Alstom is a case in point. The justice department pursued the company after Italian, Swiss and British prosecutors had exposed the company’s global bribery scheme.

American investigators have their own way of pursuing white-collar crime. Instead of launching raids on company offices, they start by asking for co-operation. The request is polite but the underlying message brutal: help us incriminate yourself and we will not come down as hard as we might otherwise.

Prison rules

When Alstom was first approached in this way in 2011, its then-chief lawyer Fred Einbinder understood the need for coming clean. “When you get a subpoena, it’s not like you’ve got a choice,” he tells the BBC.

But his advice to co-operate was ignored. Later that year, Einbinder was let go.

Employees work at the Alstom high-speed train TGV factory in Belfort, eastern France (file picture)

The prosecutor offered his quarry a deal: Pierucci could be released if he agreed to act as a secret FBI informant within Alstom. He declined the offer.

The next day, Pierucci was denied bail and transferred to the Wyatt Detention Facility, a high-security prison in Rhode Island.

He had to adjust quickly to living alongside hardened criminals. “You must not look fellow inmates in the eye. You must not touch or even brush past them. Any perceived slight can turn into a fight,” Pierucci told the BBC in a recent interview. A 70-year old man was raped by a drugged-up youth in a nearby cell, he says.

Detention conditions were not Pierucci’s only, or even main, concern. He had no idea how long he would stay inside. The Connecticut-based lawyer appointed and paid by Alstom to defend him said his best hope for release was to plead guilty in a deal with prosecutors.

Monumental error

The advice may have been sound, but there was a problem. Pierucci wanted to argue that he was far down the chain of command. However he soon realised that the Alstom management would never go along with a line of defence that implicated them.

“At first I was happy that Alstom took charge of my defence – it was only later that I saw it had been a monumental error,” Pierucci says.

As months went by, the news got worse. Three other Alstom executives were arrested on bribery charges. If one of them struck a plea deal first, Pierucci’s own bargaining position would be undermined. He was in a race with the other defendants to satisfy the prosecutors.

Wyatt Detention Facility

Unsure about the next step, Pierucci turned to his cellmates for legal advice. Jacky, a veteran of the French Connection drug ring who had 36 years’ experience of the US penal system, warned him against accepting an “open plea”, where defendants sign away their presumed innocence without any guarantee on a sentence.

What Pierucci wanted, Jacky said, was a “binding plea” that commits prosecutors to a specific jail term. When he relayed this request to his lawyer, he was told – correctly – that Connecticut only accepted open pleas.

But the lawyer thought he had a gentleman’s agreement with the district attorney on a six-month sentence: if Pierucci admitted sole guilt, he could expect to be free by October. The alternative was to go to trial and risk up to 125 years in jail.

The pressure he was experiencing was far from unique. Thanks to mandatory sentences, US prosecutors wield huge powers. One of Pierucci’s fellow detainees, who had been caught with drugs but had no previous convictions, hanged himself in his cell after being offered 15 years as an opening bid.

Fired

In July 2013, hoping for release within months, Pierucci bowed to the inevitable and pleaded guilty. The plea deal, however, brought little relief.

Now that Pierucci was a convicted criminal, Alstom cut him loose. His absence, the dismissal letter read, “imperils the operation of the entity which you lead” and makes it impossible “to maintain our contractual relation”. In addition, it noted, his misdeeds “run counter to the values and the ethics of the group”.

Besides being apparently fired for not turning up for work while in jail, Pierucci found it a bit rich to be lectured about integrity by a firm that had engaged in corruption in many countries and been blacklisted over these practices by the World Bank.

But he recognises that the company had little choice. It made sense for Pierucci’s bosses to blame him as much as they could.

Then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Patrick Kron in October 2007
As Alstom boss, Patrick Kron (right) was close to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy

Meanwhile Pierucci’s detention showed no sign of ending. October came and went. Six months turned into a year, without any news on sentencing. In a book on the case, Le Piège américain (the American trap), he compares his ordeal to being stuck in “an endless tunnel with slippery walls – nothing to hold on to.”

In June 2014, Pierucci was released after friends put up their homes as bond and later that year went home to Paris. But he was yet to be sentenced, and the possibility of more jail time still hung over him.

The uncertainty lasted another three years. In September 2017 Pierucci flew back to Connecticut for sentencing. The judge gave him 30 months.

He did not become a free man until late 2018, when he walked out of the Pittsburgh prison where he had served the second half of his sentence.

Paranoia?

Pierucci believes he was a pawn in three larger battles with global economic and political ramifications.

The first is the fight between the US justice department and Alstom, which resulted in total surrender by the French company.

In late 2014, it admitted having paid $75m bribes over a decade, in a scheme described by prosecutors as “astounding in its breadth, its brazenness and its worldwide consequences”. Alstom settled the case for $770m (£580m; €670m) – the largest-ever FCPA fine imposed by the department.

The arrests of Pierucci and other managers were crucial in breaking Alstom’s resistance. As then-Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said: “It was only after the department publicly charged several Alstom executives – three years after the investigation began – that the company finally co-operated.”

The second battle that Pierucci believes influenced his fate was the purchase of most of Alstom by its US rival General Electric (GE).

Jeffrey Immelt
Inder CEO Jeffrey Immelt, GE made several mega deals, including GE’s acquisition of Alstom’s power business

The business saga and the legal cases unfolded in lockstep. Alstom boss Patrick Kron announced plans to sell the power business – 75% of the company – in mid-2014, when it was clear that the company was in the justice department’s crosshairs.

Shareholders approved the sale to GE that December. Three days later, the settlement in the bribery case took Alstom’s top brass off the hook.

Pierucci is among many in France who claim that the justice department was helping GE by keeping the pressure on Alstom until the sale was complete. According to a French parliamentary report published last year, the threat of a huge fine “undoubtedly… precipitated Mr Kron’s decision”.

Kron has always vehemently denied the allegation. “We absolutely did not make this transaction in response to any direct pressure on myself or anyone else,” he told MPs. Alstom’s power operations, he insists, were sold for the best business reasons. Indeed the purchase is widely seen as a costly mistake by GE, and in 2017 its CEO admitted as much.

The US justice department’s anti-corruption chief, Daniel Kahn, also rejects any suggestion of collusion. “We certainly didn’t force Alstom to plead guilty in order to help out GE. That never entered into consideration,” he told the BBC.

Alstom chief Henri Poupart-Lafarge
Since the sale to GE, Alstom and its boss Henri Poupart-Lafarge have refocused on its transport business

Neither is the timing necessarily suspicious. The justice department could have taken the sale into account in its settlement with Alstom simply because of GE’s strong anti-corruption record. “In general, we don’t want to discourage companies with strong compliance programs from acquiring companies with weaker ones,” Kahn says.

Andrew Spalding, who teaches anti-corruption law at the University of Richmond, Virginia, notes that for any conspiracy between prosecutors and GE to work, it would also have to involve America’s independent judiciary. “That’s paranoia,” he says.

Power games

The third battle Pierucci is convinced he was dragged into is the biggest of all. It is nothing less than a struggle for worldwide supremacy.

In the subtitle of his book, he describes himself as a “hostage in the greatest campaign of economic destabilisation”. He is not alone in believing America is seeking to weaken foreign companies. This is the way most French analysts and many politicians have described the various Alstom sagas over the years.

Pierre Laporte, a former GE lawyer who now works as Pierucci’s partner, notes that 70% of firms targeted for US anti-bribery action are foreign – notably European. The FCPA and other laws that apply beyond US borders, Laporte says, are “tools of economic domination”.

Such suspicions may sound overblown, but they reflect serious concerns in France. Alstom, whose turbines power the country’s nuclear stations and submarines, is regarded as a strategic asset. Many worry that if a serious diplomatic spat arose with the US, as was the case during the Iraq war, French sovereignty could be undermined.

The Terrible, a new generation nuclear armed submarine, pictured during the inauguration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Cherbourg, France, 21 March 2008
A US company now makes the turbines that power French nuclear submarines

America’s judicial expansionism is a matter of concern for many countries whose companies are being pursued for doing business with Iran and other states targeted by American sanctions.

Since his return to Paris, however, Pierucci has focused on the narrow issue of the fight against corruption rather than geopolitical power games.

He and Laporte have set up a consultancy to help companies stay on the right side of anti-bribery prosecutors.

There is a big demand for Pierucci’s expertise. In 2016, France belatedly passed tough anti-corruption legislation and is enforcing it. The US justice department’s Daniel Kahn says he has a “very strong relationship” with his French counterparts – this recently resulted in a successful joint action against French bank Société Générale over bribes in Libya.

“Once you identify possible violations, you can put safeguards in place,” Pierucci says. He tells his clients to be particularly vigilant about hidden practices by overseas partners or consultants that may put them at risk.

Danger can lurk in unexpected places. In 2017 a retired Siemens manager was arrested while on holiday in Croatia and extradited to the US, where he was eventually convicted over bribes paid by the German group in Argentina in the 1990s.

As the reach of US legislation expands, foreign executives who fight the law may well find that the law wins.

Ukraine’s Zelensky plans to clean up parliament and military

Ukrainian troops (pictured) face heavily-armed rebels backed by Russia in the east

Aides to Ukraine’s President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky have announced anti-corruption plans, including scrapping MPs’ immunity from prosecution and making military purchases transparent.

Halyna Yanchenko, a top official at the anti-corruption watchdog Nabu, said “MPs’ immunity must be consigned to the past“. She spoke on Hromadske TV.

Aide Ivan Aparshyn said state defence orders “will be as open as possible”.

Mr Zelensky, a popular comedian, won with 73% of the vote on Sunday.

He made tackling Ukraine’s deep-rooted corruption a major campaign theme, though his political agenda is generally not very detailed.

MPs’ privileges

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) plans to vote on a bill to abolish MPs’ parliamentary immunity on Thursday, the Rada’s deputy chairperson Iryna Gerashchenko says.

Quoted by Ukraine’s Unian news agency, she said the bill had been checked by the Constitutional Court.

The immunity issue has been under discussion for years.

Article 80 of Ukraine’s constitution says MPs are “not legally liable for the results of voting or for statements made in parliament and in its bodies, with the exception of liability for insult or defamation.

“People’s Deputies of Ukraine shall not be held criminally liable, detained or arrested without the consent of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.”

Ms Yanchenko complained that “anyone who wants to – the SBU (security service), tax authorities – can investigate economic and financial affairs”.

“We still have tax police! This must all be swept away, so that people can develop and grow the economy,” she said.

Military reform plan

Skirmishes continue in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels are confronting Ukrainian troops along a mainly static frontline.

Ukraine’s military, quoted by Unian, said a Ukrainian soldier was killed and three were wounded in 14 rebel attacks in the Donbas region. The report spoke of three rebels killed, but the losses were not independently confirmed.

Ukraine map - rebel-held territory

Mr Zelensky wants to hold direct talks with Russia to restore peace in the conflict zone, where the rebels have declared self-rule. An international peace plan remains largely unfulfilled.

Ivan Aparshyn, a defence adviser in Mr Zelensky’s team, told the Ukrainian news website Obozrevatel that the defence ministry budget would be made “as open to the public as possible”.

A major scandal over defence procurement erupted in February, at the height of the presidential election campaign.

It was alleged that the son of an ally of Mr Poroshenko had facilitated corrupt deals involving Russian military equipment sold to Ukrainian forces at inflated prices.

It prompted then-President Petro Poroshenko – defeated by Mr Zelensky in Sunday’s election – to issue a decree ordering reform and transparency in defence procurements.

Mr Aparshyn, a veteran defence ministry bureaucrat, promised criminal investigations into figures suspected of corruption in the defence sector.

He also referred to Ukraine’s severe setbacks during the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east, notably the losses suffered in Ilovaysk, Debaltseve and Crimea. On that score, he said, “no one is going to hide anything from anyone”.

“Officials who took decisions or did not act where it was necessary to act will be prosecuted,” he said.

Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg dies aged 98

Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg has died at the age of 98, his son Henri has said in a statement.

Grand Duke Jean abdicated in favour of his son Henri in 2000

He had recently been admitted to hospital suffering from a pulmonary infection, and passed away surrounded by his family, the statement said.

Grand Duke Jean abdicated in favour of his son Henri in 2000, after nearly 36 years on the throne.

During his reign, he oversaw the transformation of the Grand Duchy into an international financial centre.

Grand Duke Henri announced the death of his father in a statement on Tuesday, saying: “It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of my beloved father, His Royal Highness Grand Duke Jean, who has passed away in peace, surrounded by the affection of his family.”

Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d’Aviano was born on 5 January 1921, the eldest child of Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix.

A graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he took part in the D-Day landings, and the liberation of Luxembourg from Nazi Germany.

He married Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium in 1953, and together they had five children.

During his reign, Luxembourg turned itself from an industrial backwater into a centre for financial services and satellite communications.

Map of Luxembourg

Grand Duke Jean’s decision to step down at the age of 79 followed a precedent set by his mother, who abdicated in 1964.

The head of state’s constitutional role is largely ceremonial, and in 2008 parliament further restricted it by rescinding the monarch’s right to veto legislation.

With about half a million inhabitants, Luxembourg is not only one of the smallest states in the European Union, but also the wealthiest in terms of per capita gross domestic product.

Polish Judas ritual ‘anti-Semitic’ – Jewish congress

Children kicked the effigy and beat it with big sticks

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) has voiced outrage over a Polish town’s ritual beating of a Judas effigy which looks like a caricature Orthodox Jew.

The Good Friday ritual in Pruchnik, south-eastern Poland, was filmed and posted by a Polish news website.

“Jews are deeply disturbed by this ghastly revival of medieval anti-Semitism that led to unimaginable violence and suffering,” the WJC said.

More than three million Polish Jews were murdered during World War Two.

In total, Nazi Germany murdered about six million Jews in death camps in occupied Poland and killing fields in the former Soviet Union.

Judas effigy hanging, 19 Apr 19
The straw-filled effigy was later hanged and burned

In the Pruchnik ritual – part of Roman Catholic Easter celebrations – children crowded round the effigy beating it with sticks, as adults dragged it through the streets. The mock Judas had a big red nose, black hat and Orthodox-style ringlets.

In the past the Catholic Church in Poland had banned such practices.

Last year a diplomatic row erupted between Israel and Poland after the conservative Polish government made it an offence to allege that the Polish nation was complicit in Nazi crimes. US officials also criticised the new law.

Later the Polish government watered down the controversial law, by scrapping the prison sentences prescribed for such offences.

Research shows that thousands of Poles collaborated with the Nazis. But many other Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

Ukraine election: Comedian Zelensky wins presidency by landslide


Volodymyr Zelensky and his supporters celebrate winning Ukraine's presidential election
Volodymyr Zelensky and his supporters celebrate winning Ukraine’s presidential election

Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election, exit polls suggest.

The polls give the political newcomer, who dominated the first round of voting three weeks ago, more than 70% support.

Mr Zelensky, 41, challenged incumbent president Petro Poroshenko who has admitted defeat.

The apparent result is being seen as a huge blow to Mr Poroshenko and a rejection of Ukraine’s establishment.

“I will never let you down,” Mr Zelensky told celebrating supporters on Sunday.

I’m not yet officially the president,” he added. “But as a citizen of Ukraine I can say to all countries in the post-Soviet Union: Look at us. Anything is possible!”

If polls are correct, he will be elected for a five-year term. Official results are expected to come in throughout Sunday night.

Mr Zelensky is best known for starring in a satirical television series in which his character accidentally becomes Ukrainian president.

The president holds significant powers over the security, defence and foreign policy of the country.

Humiliation for Poroshenko

Ukraine’s choice was between an experienced politician with five years as president on his CV and a comedian wielding little more than a blank sheet of paper. That so many people have opted for Volodymyr Zelensky is a humiliation for Petro Poroshenko.

Thirty-seven candidates were removed from the ballot paper from the first round and yet the president only picked up about 9% more votes this time. Mr Zelensky gained almost 45%.

This feels like a massive protest vote and for now Mr Zelensky and his campaign team are celebrating.

It’s hard to see the feeling lasting long. The hard work will come when they have to start fleshing out what are at the moment vague policies.

It’s one thing to have bold ideas but quite another to implement them.

Presentational grey line

Polls gave Mr Poroshenko, who has been in power since 2014, 25% of the vote.

“The outcome of the election leaves us with uncertainty [and] unpredictability,” he said after exit polls were released.

He added: “I will leave office but I want to firmly stress – I will not quit politics.”

Presidential election results. Second round

Latest as of 04:51, 22 April, Kiev time (BST +2). 70.33% of votes counted

UKRAINE

Turnout: 62.07%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 73
Petro Poroshenko: 24.66

Lviv

Turnout: 67.34%

Votes for each candidate (%):Petro Poroshenko: 64.41
Volodymyr Zelensky: 32.84

Transcarpathia

Turnout: 46.38%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 81.17
Petro Poroshenko: 16.21

Mykolayiv

Turnout: 60.66%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 85.92
Petro Poroshenko: 12.22

Ivano-Frankivsk

Turnout: 59.86%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 53.52
Petro Poroshenko: 43.43

Volyn

Turnout: 64.25%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 61.66
Petro Poroshenko: 35.66

Rivne

Turnout: 60.71%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 59.61
Petro Poroshenko: 37.89

Ternopil

Turnout: 63.9%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 50.71
Petro Poroshenko: 46.4

Vinnytsia

Turnout: 62.52%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 63.63
Petro Poroshenko: 34.21

Dnipropetrovsk

Turnout: 65.82%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 87.67
Petro Poroshenko: 10.41

Donetsk

Turnout: 57.21%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 86.77
Petro Poroshenko: 10.76

Zhytomyr

Turnout: 61.15%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 73.78
Petro Poroshenko: 24.03

Zaporizhzhya

Turnout: 64.26%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 87.1
Petro Poroshenko: 11.02

Kiev region

Turnout: 64.2%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 69.75
Petro Poroshenko: 27.99

Kirovohrad

Turnout: 60.53%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 80.28
Petro Poroshenko: 17.69

Luhansk

Turnout: 56.33%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 88.26
Petro Poroshenko: 9.45

Odesa

Turnout: 58.94%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 87.31
Petro Poroshenko: 10.48

Poltava

Turnout: 64.88%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 82.35
Petro Poroshenko: 15.47

Sumy

Turnout: 62.84%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 81.97
Petro Poroshenko: 15.93

Kharkiv

Turnout: 64.6%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 86.5
Petro Poroshenko: 11.5

Kherson

Turnout: 57.42%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 82.05
Petro Poroshenko: 15.92

Khmelnytsky

Turnout: 62.65%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 70.39
Petro Poroshenko: 27.24

Cherkasy

Turnout: 60.91%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 76.84
Petro Poroshenko: 20.64

Chernivtsi

Turnout: 54.09%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 76.2
Petro Poroshenko: 21.28

Chernihiv

Turnout: 62.6%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 77.69
Petro Poroshenko: 20.07

Kiev city

Turnout: 65.86%

Votes for each candidate (%):Volodymyr Zelensky: 60.24
Petro Poroshenko: 36.88

The billionaire was elected after an uprising overthrew the country’s previous pro-Russian government.

Russian forces annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 – a move condemned internationally. Since then, Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists and volunteers in the east.

In a tweet, Mr Poroshenko said “a new inexperienced Ukrainian president… could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence”.

Petro Poroshenko
Petro Poroshenko was elected after an uprising overthrew the previous pro-Russian government

But Russia’s foreign ministry said Ukrainian voters had expressed their desire for political change.

“The new leadership now must understand and realise the hopes of its electors,” deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin told the Ria Novosti news agency. “This of course applies to domestic as well as foreign affairs.”

Meanwhile, Mr Zelensky told a news conference he would “reboot” peace talks with the separatists.

“We will… continue with the Minsk talks – we will reboot them,” he said.

“I think that we will have personnel changes. In any case we will continue in the direction of the Minsk talks and head towards concluding a ceasefire.”

Who is Volodymyr Zelensky?

Mr Zelensky starred in the long-running satirical drama Servant of the People in which his character accidentally becomes Ukraine’s president.

He plays a teacher who is elected after his expletive-laden rant about corruption goes viral on social media.

He ran under a political party with the same name as his show.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to tackle corruption and cronyism

With no previous political experience, Mr Zelensky’s campaign focused on his difference to the other candidates rather than on any concrete policy ideas.

Despite this, he won the first round with more than 30% of the vote – almost double what Mr Poroshenko got when he finished in second place with 15.95%.

What do voters think of him?

Analysts believe Mr Zelensky’s informal style and vow to clean up Ukrainian politics resonated with voters who are disillusioned with the country’s path under Mr Poroshenko.

Eschewing traditional campaign tactics, Mr Zelensky channelled his on-screen persona by promising to stamp out corruption and loosen the grip of oligarchs on Ukraine.

Experts say his supporters, frustrated with establishment politicians and cronyism, have been energised by his charisma and anti-corruption message.

His critics, meanwhile, are sceptical about his credentials, with many expressing concern over his close links to the billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.

They have expressed doubts that he will be able to take on the country’s influential oligarchs and stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Turkish opposition leader attacked at soldier’s funeral

Kemal Kilicdaroglu was pushed and shoved by crowds at the funeral in Ankara

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party has been attacked by protesters at a military funeral in Ankara.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu was set upon by an angry crowd while attending a memorial on Sunday.

Footage shows him being pushed and shoved in the melee, with some in the crowd attempting to land blows.

Escorted by security forces, he took shelter in a nearby house until the crowd dispersed.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu being jostled by crowds at a funeral
Mr Kilicdaroglu had to take refuge in a nearby house to escape the mob

Mr Kilicdaroglu had attended the funeral to pay respects to a Turkish solider who was killed in clashes with Kurdish PKK militants near the border with Iraq.

But what started as a protest against Mr Kilicdaroglu’s presence descended into violence against him, according to Anadolu state news agency.

The CHP confirmed Mr Kılıçdaroğlu had been attacked but it was not immediately clear if he had been injured.

Speaking to AFP news agency, his party later said Mr Kilicdaroglu “is fine” while his office said legal action would be taken “against the culprits of the incident”.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP party and nationalist politicians have criticised Mr Kilicdaroglu for his connections with pro-Kurdish party, HDP.

They have accused him of cooperating with the HDP, which the government has linked to Kurdish militants. HDP denies any links to militants.

Tensions have risen in Turkey since the CHP won Ankara and Istanbul in mayoral elections, delivering a blow to Mr Erdogan’s AKP party.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu addresses crowds
Kemal Kilicdaroglu speaks to his supporters after the funeral

Alleging irregularities with the vote, Mr Erodgan has challenged the slim opposition victory for the CHP’s mayoral candidate for Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu.

A recount by election authorities determined that Mr Imamoglu had won the election by around 13,000 votes, granting him his mandate.

The AKP, which has been criticised for fuelling partisan tensions, had won every election since coming to power in 2002.

On the campaign trail, Mr Erdogan said the municipal votes were about the “survival” of Turkey and his party.

Easter Rising: Irish president leads Dublin commemoration

Irish President Michael D Higgins laying a wreath at the Easter Rising commemoration in Dublin
Irish President Michael D Higgins was among those who attended the Dublin ceremony

The 103rd anniversary of the Easter Rising has been commemorated with a military ceremony in the Republic of Ireland.

Irish President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath outside the General Post Office (GPO) on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.

The 1916 rebellion – in which more than 450 were killed – was an attempt to overthrow British rule in Ireland.

The GPO served as the headquarters of the 1916 rebels.

Captain Paul Conlon and his son Seanan outside the GPO in Dublin
Captain Paul Conlon – pictured with his son Seanan – read the Proclamation outside the GPO

Crowds gathered for the national commemoration in Dublin on Sunday, with Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar among those who attended the event.

Prayers of remembrance were said and a captain in the Irish Defence Forces read the Irish Proclamation to the crowd.

Members of the Irish Defence Forces at the Easter Rising commemoration in Dublin
Members of the Irish Defence Forces lined out at the commemoration in Dublin

The proclamation, which declared the establishment of a republic, was one of the final steps taken by those who planned the rising.

It was read outside the GPO in 1916 by Pádraig Pearse, who was acting as president of the provisional government of the Irish Republic, to signal the beginning of the Easter Rising.

Other commemoration events have been held across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on Sunday.

A graphic explaining what the Easter Rising was: Rebellion to overthrow British rule in Ireland in 1916 and set up an Irish republic; Britain caught aware as its forces were focused on World War One; Rebels surrender on 29 April after onslaught by British forces in Dublin; Public support turns to support Rising after leaders executed; More than 450 people killed and 2,500 wounded

At a ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Irish Culture Minister Josepha Madigan condemned the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland.

Police have blamed dissident republicans for her murder in Londonderry on Thursday, which happened during rioting in the city’s nationalist Creggan area.

Madigan said those responsible for the killing did not represent anybody on the island of Ireland.

There was a minute’s silence in honour of Ms McKee and those killed in bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday.

Ukraine election: Voters to choose between comic and tycoon

Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky held a long-awaited head-to-head televised debate at Kiev’s Olympic stadium

Ukrainians will head to the polls shortly in a run-off election to pick the country’s next president.

Voters face a stark choice between tycoon Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent president, and television comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, new to politics.

The TV celebrity is favourite in the polls, having dominated the first round of voting three weeks ago when 39 candidates were on the ticket.

Poll stations will open 08:00 local (05:00 GMT) and close 12 hours later.

A court in the capital, Kiev, has rejected a lawsuit calling for Mr Zelensky to be barred from standing.

A man had complained that the distribution of free tickets for a presidential debate by Volodymyr Zelensky’s candidacy amounted to bribery.

On Friday the two candidates appeared at Kiev’s Olympic stadium to debate for the first time.

The televised event was their first face-off after an usual campaign where Mr Zelensky has primarily used social media to communicate with the voting public.

A woman sets up a voting station in Kiev
Image captionThe country prepared on Saturday, during a day of silence when last-minute campaigning is prohibited

The winner of Sunday’s vote will be elected for a five-year term as president.

The position holds significant powers over the security, defence and foreign policy of the country.

Who are the candidates?

In Ukraine Mr Zelensky, 41, is best known for starring in a political satirical drama called Servant of the People.

In it he plays a teacher who accidentally becomes Ukrainian president after his rant about the nation’s politics goes viral on social media.

He is now running under a political party with the same name as his show.

The comedian who could be president

With no previous political experience, his campaign has focused on his difference to others rather than on any concrete policy ideas.

Despite this, he won the first round with more than 30% of the vote – almost double what Mr Poroshenko got when he finished in second place with 15.95%.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) and his electoral opponent Volodymyr Zelensky
President Poroshenko (left) called Mr Zelensky’s (right) first-round victory a “harsh lesson”

The incumbent president, who has been in power since 2014, described the result as a “harsh lesson”.

Mr Poroshenko, 53, is a billionaire who made his fortune primarily through his confectionery and TV businesses.

He was elected after an uprising overthrew the country’s previous, pro-Russian government.

Poroshenko supporters
Mr Poroshenko’s supporters appeared to outnumber those of his rival on Friday

The stadium debate between the candidates on Friday was much-anticipated in Ukraine, after the comedian challenged the president to the unconventional event.

After his acceptance, there was a public disagreement between the pair over when it would be held.

Last week, Mr Poroshenko turned up and debated an empty podium, after his opponent was absent at the date he suggested.

The choice Ukrainians are facing is whether to stick to what they’ve had for the last five years in Petro Poroshenko or take a leap into the unknown with the comedian candidate, Volodomyr Zelenksy.

Mr Zelensky is a well-known entertainer but quite what, if anything, he stands for politically has not become clear during the election campaign.

He has however demonstrated that he can act presidential – but only by playing the part in a TV series.

Ukraine is fighting a war against Russian-backed forces in its east and President Poroshenko has repeatedly stressed the need for someone with political experience.

Unfortunately for him, all the surveys show that Ukrainians are fed up their politicians who are widely regarded as corrupt and in the pockets of rich oligarchs.

Flag Day celebration in Kiev, 23 Aug 18

Getty Images Ukraine key facts

  • Population: 43.9m
  • GDP per capita:$8,800
  • GDP growth:2.5%
  • Ethnic Ukrainians (est):78%
  • Ethnic Russians (est.):17%
  • Unemployment (est.):9.2%

Source: CIA World Factbook

ENA: The elite French school that trains presidents

ENA in Strasbourg is an incubator for France’s top talent

For France’s intellectual crème de la crème a place at the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) is coveted above all others.

The school has long selected and trained leaders, including former presidents François Hollande and Jacques Chirac, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard and foreign presidents.

Many try repeatedly to pass ENA’s notoriously tough entrance exams, so desperate are they to get in.

But the Strasbourg school’s most powerful ex-pupil is reportedly turning against it.

Determined to quell the gilets jaunes (“yellow vest”) protest movement, President Emmanuel Macron has proposed abolishing ENA, according to the text of an upcoming speech leaked to French media.

If we want to build a society of equal opportunity and national excellence, we must reset the rules for recruitment, careers and access to the upper echelons of the civil service,” he is quoted as saying.

“That’s why we will change the system of training, selection and career development by suppressing ENA and several other institutions.”

The president’s office has declined to comment on the leaked text.

French media say it was to be in his address to the nation marking the conclusion of a two-month great debate. But the speech was postponed because of the Notre-Dame fire.

Emmanuel Macron and then-president Hollande, 8 Dec 14
ENA alumni: Emmanuel Macron (L) served as economy minister under then-president Hollande (2014 pic)

What is ENA?

It was established in 1945 by then French President Charles de Gaulle, in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.

It was created “with a spirit of reconstructing France and renovating the state”, said anthropologist Irène Bellier of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research.

“The ideology was you’d raise a group of people capable of acting in the public interest.”

Prior to its creation, each ministry had its own hiring process and standards, resulting in closed networks that almost exclusively favoured the upper class.

ENA hoped to attract “more people from the provinces, fewer Parisians, fewer bourgeois – social democratisation”, explained Prof Jean-Michel Eymeri-Douzans, a political scientist who has studied ENA extensively and now works with it.

But while designed as a meritocracy, research shows that ENA students’ parents are often senior civil servants themselves or CEOs. Very few come from working-class backgrounds.

“It’s the school of the elite,” Mr Eymeri-Douzans said.

ENA students- file pic, 14 Jan 13
Alumni of ENA are known as “énarques” in French

Who attends the school?

They tend to be in their mid- to late-20s, with previous qualifications from other higher-education institutes, including other elite French “grandes ecoles”.

Some students enter ENA as postgraduates, while others come from lower-level civil service jobs or from other professions.

According to experts, less than a third of its intake are women.

“So many ministers, presidents, prime ministers of France are graduates. Many of the CEOs of major French companies are also alumni, even though it wasn’t meant for that,” said Mr Eymeri-Douzans.

He stressed that wealth is not the defining trope of ENA students.

“The problem is culture… It is a small world of bourgeois families. If you are new money, full of money but with no culture, no education, you won’t be there.”

A picture shows the building of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (National School of Administration) (ENA) at night on January 14, 2013 in Strasbourg, eastern France.

So how do you get in?

Aspiring students have to pass notoriously difficult entrance exams.

Hundreds apply each year, but only around 10% make the final cut, according to Mr Eymeri-Douzans.

The three-part admissions system has both written and oral components that test candidates on their knowledge of issues including economy, law and international relations.

The most dreaded of the exams is the “grand oral”- a test in front of a jury, in which candidates are asked to talk about a particular topic, which could be anything from technology or politics to a genre of film.

“That is one of the most intense moments of this process… They have to acquire a lot of knowledge, a lot, a lot, a lot,” said Ms Bellier.

“You need to show yourself, it’s kind of performing, but they are not actors. The tension is very high.”

People often train for years for the exams.

Baccalaureat, Strasbourg, 18 Jun 18
Doing well in the baccalaureat is the first hurdle for students hoping to reach ENA

What happens next?

Those who make it through the exams split their time between training and internships.

At the end of the course, they are given a ranking which dictates which jobs they are able to apply for.

Those with top marks can look at coveted positions in France’s Council of State, Financial Inspectorate and Court of Auditors, while the less outstanding students enter less prestigious civil service jobs.

While some say the rigorous training system puts the most qualified people in positions of power, others say it is an archaic institution that keeps ordinary people out of power.

For now, its fate rests in the hands of its former pupil.

Syria war: Kosovo brings back 110 citizens including jihadists

Image shows a young Kosovar child looking at Kosovar police officers
The group mostly included young children and their mothers

Kosovo has brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria, mostly mothers and their children but also several jihadist fighters.

The group contained 74 children, 32 women and four men suspected of fighting for the Islamic State group (IS) who were arrested on arrival.

They flew back with the help of the US military before police escorted them to an army barracks near Pristina.

The issue of repatriations has come to the fore since the collapse of IS.

“An important and sensitive operation was organised in which the government of Kosovo, with the help of the [US], has returned 110 of its citizens from Syria,” Kosovo’s Justice Minister, Abelard Tahiri, said on Saturday.

“We will not stop before bringing every citizen… back to their country and anyone that has committed any crime or was part of these terrorist organisations will face justice,” he added.

Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is 90% Muslim.

More than 300 of its citizens have travelled to Syria since 2012, according to government figures. This number includes 70 men who were killed fighting alongside jihadist groups, Reuters news agency reports.

Police say 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and 8 children still remain in conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.

A map of the world showing where IS children are from
A map showing the verified origin countries of children who travelled to Iraq or Syria

In recent months, a number of women have come forward to say they want to return to their home countries, including the UK, US and France, so they could raise their children in peace.

In response, the UK and US have barred two mothers from returning.

Shamima Begum, who joined IS in Syria aged 15, begged to return home shortly before giving birth to a son, but the UK government refused to let her back.

She did not renounce her allegiance to IS and the government removed her citizenship. There was much sympathy for her plight when her baby died in March.

Meanwhile, that same month, France brought back five young children  of jihadist fighters.

The recent repatriations come weeks after some IS militants reportedly fled into the desert from Baghuz – their last stronghold.

The area was declared “freed” by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 23 March.

Although the declaration marked the last territorial victory over the group’s “caliphate”, experts warn it does not mean the end of IS or its ideology.

Merkel ‘highly qualified’ for top EU job, says Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker | Aris Oikonomou

The German chancellor is ‘a lovable work of art,’ said the Commission president.

Angela Merkel would be “highly qualified” for a senior EU position once she steps down as chancellor, Jean-Claude Juncker said, referring to the German leader as “a lovable work of art.”

In an interview with the German Funke Media Group, the European Commission president, whose own term of office comes to an end in the fall, said he “cannot imagine” that Merkel would “disappear without trace.”

“She is not only a respected person but also a lovable work of art,” Juncker said.

But the Commission president was less complimentary about French President Emmanuel Macron over his refusal to back the Spitzenkandidat (or “lead candidate”) system for choosing the next Commission president. Juncker said he was a “great supporter” of the system, which was used for the first time, during his own appointment.

“One reason for the crisis of political credibility is precisely the fact that what is promised before the election is not what is done after,” he said.

“The Liberals, to whom Emmanuel Macron belongs, have failed to put up a lead candidate and have therefore nominated nine candidates,” said Juncker. “I can already tell you one thing: There will not be nine Liberal Commission presidents.”

Juncker’s European People’s Party looks set to win the most seats in the European Parliament, putting its Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber, in pole position to be Juncker’s successor.

On Brexit, Juncker said that there remained the risk that the U.K. would leave the bloc without a deal, despite the decision by EU leaders last week to extend the Article 50 deadline until October 31.

“Nobody knows how Brexit will end. This is creating great uncertainty. There is still a fear that there will be a hard Brexit without any withdrawal treaty arrangements,” he said, adding that Brexit would “stifle growth.”

“I hope that the British will make use of this time and not waste it again,” Juncker added.

Asked if he thought it “absurd” for Britain to participate in the European Parliament election, he said that if the U.K. is still an EU member on election day then the EU treaty would apply and so the election must be held. “We cannot punish the citizens just because the British have not managed to leave by the agreed date,” he said.

And on the security of the EU-wide poll more generally, the Commission president said he was concerned about attempts to influence the outcome.

“I can see an attempt to rig the European Parliament elections,” he said. “This comes from several quarters, and not only from outside the EU. States within the EU are also seeking to direct the will of voters in a particular direction with fake news.”

Yellow voice: Paris in FLAMES again as protesters cause chaos across France days after Notre Dame fire

Yellow Vest: Police clash with protestors in Paris

Over 60,000 police officers have been deployed across France after yellow vest protesters took to the streets for a 23rd consecutive weekend. At least 5,000 police officers were stationed in Paris alone, as protesters were warned to stay away from Notre Dame cathedral and the banks of the Seine. A car, motorbikes and multiple barricades have been set ablaze in eastern Paris, forcing firefighters to scramble to the scene.

Local media also reported there have been fights between police and marchers.

At least 126 people have been arrested in Paris already today.

On Friday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he believed extremists and vandals were plotting to continue their campaign of rioting, starting fires and looting.

The resurgence in violence at the yellow vest protests follows a week of despair for the French.

Although Monday’s fire at Notre Dame initially united France, the huge sums of money donated for the cathedral’s reconstruction has become a new source of anger for many.

“They can mobilize a truckload of cash in one night for Notre Dame,” but they can’t help the poor, said spokeswoman Ingrid Levavasseur.

Nicolle Maxime, a truck driver from Brittany, said on Tuesday: “The Earth still turns, we have people who can’t make it to the end of the month, we have people who sleep on the streets, and that’s what our fight is about.”

The fire at Notre Dame started just one hour before Mr Macron was due to address the country on TV to outline tax and other measures he’s now proposing following two months of town hall meetings to let the French vent their complaints raised by five months of Yellow Vests protests.

The speech was cancelled and is likely to go ahead next week.

According to insiders, Mr Macron was due to announced tax cuts for middle-class households, inflation indexation of small pensions and no more closings of schools and hospitals until the end of his first term in 2022.

Paris in FLAMES again as protesters cause chaos across France days after Notre Dame fire

But yellow vest protesters have said this is too little too late and want to continue their protests.

According to local media, the protesters were taking two routes across the French capital.

One starting at the Basilica of Saint-Denis and the other at the Jussieu Campus of the Sorbonne, after routes in the centre of the city, were prohibited by police.

Breaking: World War 3″ Macron sends French troops and tanks to Russian border

Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron has sent troops to the Russian border (

EMMANUEL Macron is deploying tanks and hundreds of troops to Estonia to boost NATO’s defences along the Russian border in a move which is certain to raise already heightened tensions with Moscow.

A total of 300 soldiers, four tanks and 25 infantry fighting vehicles will be dispatched on Tuesday to Tapa, which is located 90 miles from the Russian border, where they will be stationed until August, according to the website of the French embassy in Estonia The contingent, which will serve in the UK-led battle group, is comprised of the French army’s second brigade, as well as Foreign Legion soldiers. Contingent member Major Marc Antoine said: “We are very pleased that we can work together with our allies and improve our interoperability.”

Separately, Russia’s defence ministry announced today it would upgrade its Black Sea forces to counter what it perceived as NATO aggression.

Moscow is deeply unhappy at NATO buildup’s along its borders, and the relationship with NATO has all but broken down, especially since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and presence in the Donbass area of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko told Russian news agency RIA Novosti: “NATO has itself abandoned a positive agenda in its relations with Russia. It doesn’t exist.

“And so far there are no signs that NATO knows how to get out of this impasse.”

French tanks
Four French tanks are also being deployed to Estonia (Image:

Also last month, Mikhail Popov, deputy secretary of the Security Council of Russia, cautioned against the troop build-up, which he said was at its highest level since the Cold War.

He told the Red Star newspaper: “The US and NATO’s anti-Russian activity resulted in the chance that ‘military dangers’ might transform into ‘military threats’.”

Earlier in April, Russian warships tracked a NATO fleet including US guided missile destroyer USS Gravely and frigates from Poland, Turkey and Spain.

Moscow said the Baltic Sea Fleet forces had carried out similar operations several times following NATO incursions into the Baltic Sea this year.

Kersti Kaljulaid Vladimir Putin
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, pictured with Vladimir Putin

In a speech to the US Congress in April to commemorate the 70th anniversary of NATO’s founding, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg called for unity against Russian aggression.

He said: “We do all of this not to provoke a conflict but to prevent conflict and to preserve peace. Not to fight but to deter. Not to attack but to defend.”

Speaking last year, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, urged NATO to spending more bolstering defences in the key strategic region.

She said her country was already spending 2.2 percent of its overall economic output on the military and could not afford to spend more, even though there were additional military needs.

The Estonian President added: “Our little country cannot do more than it is already doing. But more needs to be done in our region.”

Mr Macron has previously floated the idea of a Europe-wide army to counter external threats.

Speaking in February, chairman of the Munich Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger  appeared to back the plan, saying: “The nuclear deployment options of France should cover not only their own territory, but also the territory of the EU partners.

The community must be increasingly able to protect its citizens, the European territory and the external borders.”

Notre Dame €1bn fund pits Paris against provinces

Up to 5,500 churches across France need urgent repairs yet have no funds. Macron must be wary of inciting gilets jaunes further over Notre Dame

In La-Roche-sur-Yon – a town in western France founded by Napoleon Bonaparte – locals can only dream of raising enough money to restore their most treasured landmark. The church of Saint Louis built in 1817 to honour the emperor needs €7m (£6.1m) to save its bells, belfries, and to install a fire alarm but a six-month appeal has raised little more than €1,000.

Four hours’ drive away in Paris, the fund for Notre Dame is more than €1bn and rising.

Saint Louis is not an internationally renowned Unesco World Heritage church like Notre Dame, but its fate, like an estimated 5,500 churches in France, needing urgent but expensive repairs, is symbolic of the national divide. It is a narrative that pits Paris against the provinces, wealthy tycoons who write charity cheques for €200m against ordinary French who struggle to make ends meet, the feted versus the forgotten. It is a division that sparked the gilets jaunes movement.

As the yellow vest protesters were due to take to the streets again on Saturday, French political analysts said it was make-or-break time for Emmanuel Macron to heal this national rift as he approaches the second anniversary of his election as president.

Fundraising efforts to save La-Roche-sur-Yonne’s church of Saint Louis, built in 1817 to honour Napoleon, have hit a brick wall.

“We’ve had the gilets jaunes, the Great Debate and now Notre Dame, if he cannot turn public opinion in his favour then he’ll finish his mandate unpopular,” said Bruno Cautrès of Cevipof, the political research centre at the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po). “It’s a very important moment. There will not be a second chance.”

The sense of national unity engendered by the terrible sight of Notre Dame engulfed by flames last Monday evening, has proven short-lived.

Macron’s pledge to rebuild the cathedral within five years to be “more beautiful than before” was widely dismissed as impossible. His suggestion the new spire might be “contemporary”, sparked a predictable row between traditionalists and modernists.

“Five years? Is Macron suddenly a structural engineer? This is not an extension to a suburban rail line we’re talking about here,” one newspaper critic tweeted.

The huge donations pledged by France’s wealthiest tycoons – admittedly all tax deductible – proved something of a poisoned chalice for Macron, frequently nicknamed “president of the rich”. Gilets jaunes union leaders and leftwing politicians saw it as symbolic of endemic inequality in France and accused the billionaires of being more concerned about historic buildings than human beings.

“It’s a good thing these wealthy people donated money but it does beg the question why they don’t do something to address social problems like poverty and homelessness,” Cautrès said. “We should first thank them, then hope they ask themselves this question.”

A leak of the measures Macron was due to announce before the Notre Dame fire, among them a freeze on hospital and school closures, the index-linking of pensions to inflation and the closing of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the hothouse university that produces the country’s political and civil service elite, has not appeased angry protesters.

Cautrès said the president had failed to come up with a “grand measure” to calm public anger.

“Nobody gives a damn about the ENA. It’s good to question the diversity of the elite, but this is just a populist and demagogical measure,” he said. “When François Mitterrand was president he gave people a fifth week of paid holiday. That really changed their lives. Macron has come up with nothing to change the situation for ordinary people who have the impression that France is a fundamentally unequal and unjust society.

The bells and belfries of Saint Louis in need of urgent repair.
The bells and belfries of Saint Louis are in need of urgent repair.

“This is not the revolution he promised when he came to power. His message was that he would be the president of all the French and he hasn’t got to that point. Is it too late for Emmanuel Macron? I think it’s a little bit late.”

Cautrès added: “The scale of demonstrations this weekend and on 1 May will be very important. If the gilets jaunes don’t give birth to a political movement or they don’t support an existing party, I can see the protests continuing until the end of Macron’s mandate.”

Jérôme Fourquet, of the opinion pollsters Ifop, said Macron’s popularity had jumped a few percentage points after the Notre Dame fire – to 29-32%, which is around level before the gilets jaunes crisis last November – but predicted there would be “no shock rise or fall”.

Experts inspect the fire damaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Experts inspect the fire damaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

“I’m not convinced Notre Dame will have much effect because it was not what the Americans call a ‘rally-round-the-flag’ moment, that happens when the country is attacked,” Fourquet said.

“He played his father of the nation role well after the fire, but if he tries to surf on the drama for too long it could turn against him. People are already saying Macron hasn’t come up with a response to the gilets jaunes, which means they remain unhappy.”

Back in La-Roche-sur Yon, the mayor, Luc Bouard, is philosophical about his town’s fundraising efforts hitting a brick wall and does not begrudge Notre Dame a centime.

“Notre Dame is a building of world importance, an icon whose loss, like Palmyre, [in Syria] and the great Buddhas [in Bamiyan, Afghanistan], is something extremely emotional. It’s another dimension completely,” he said.

“But I don’t despair. If there is more than enough money for rebuilding Notre Dame, I’d be very happy to take some of it to repair Saint Louis.”

Bosnia in spat with Croatia over ‘arms in mosques’

A mosque in Pocitelj, 19 Jul 11
A mosque in Pocitelj, Herzegovina: Religion is interwoven with Bosnian politics

It sounds like a political satire storyline rejected for being just a little too far-fetched.

In this week’s episode: The president makes wild and unverifiable claims portraying the neighbouring country as a security threat and safe haven for thousands of Islamist terrorists. Much outrage ensues, until her country’s intelligence agency rides to the rescue – and attempts to make the facts resemble the rhetoric.

One suspects the writers of the American satire Veep would have laughed the idea out of the room. But there are few chuckles in Bosnia, where this week the presidency has ordered a diplomatic note of protest to be sent across the border to Croatia.

The contents of this missive have yet to be confirmed. But it is likely to contain some hot words about the alleged conduct of Croatia’s Security Intelligence Agency (SOA).

Arming Islamists?

Even by the standards of the Western Balkans, the claims are extraordinary.

Last month, the independent news website Zurnal, based in Sarajevo, published interviews with Bosnian Muslims who said the SOA had tried to coerce them into smuggling weapons into places connected with the Salafi Islamist movement in Bosnia.

The “discovery” of these arms caches would then justify comments made by Croatia’s President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. Two years ago, she said there were 10,000 people with “very radical rhetoric and intentions” in Bosnia – remarks which caused outrage at the time.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in Zagreb, 10 Apr 19
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was elected Croatian president in January 2015

Not surprisingly, Zurnal’s allegations caused a furore.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic called the story “a matter of creative manipulation” during a visit to the Bosnian town of Neum.

The SOA described the claims as “false and malicious”, though it confirmed that its officers had been in contact with the Bosnian citizens quoted in the story.

Bosnia map

Meanwhile, Bosnia’s Security Minister Dragan Mektic rushed to claim credit for foiling a “false flag” operation which would have tarnished his country’s international reputation. “The plan was to discredit Bosnia and show it as a terrorist hub and a threat to the region and Europe,” he said.

It seemed logical when Bosnia’s state prosecutor stepped in to investigate the allegations. But then it turned out that the focus of the investigation was Mr Mektic.

The prosecutor suspected the security minister of revealing secret information and giving false statements. Mr Mektic called the investigation “a farce… to mislead the public”.

Confusion would be understandable. But Bosnians understand that the claims and counter-claims fit into a queasy ethno-political game which has persisted since the Dayton Agreement brought an end to Bosnia’s ruinous conflict in 1995.

Destroyed mosque in Ahmici, central Bosnia, 27 Apr 93
Ahmici, 1993: A mosque in central Bosnia destroyed during clashes with Croat forces

Nationalist politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina still promote the idea of secession – and have strong links to parties in Croatia and Serbia. The governing HDZ party in Croatia has a highly influential sister organisation over the border.

“They’re more on the side of Croatia than their own country,” says Ivana Maric, an independent political analyst based in Sarajevo.

Ms Maric says it is “not impossible” that the SOA was involved in a plot, as Zurnal alleged. She points out that Slovenia recently recalled its ambassador from Zagreb in protest at the Croatian intelligence agency’s activities.

“The SOA knows that it has partners in Bosnia who will help,” she says. But she believes the real problem is politicians who perpetuate ethnic tensions to divide, rule and profit.

“They all need this. This is the game the politicians play the whole time – good guy/bad guy, pretending there are lots of enemies and they don’t have to do anything for the voters.”

Muslims praying in Sarajevo, 15 Jun 18
Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) at prayer: In the 1990s they were at war with Serbs and Croats

Zurnal journalist Avdo Avdic says his story was the result of months of research, but that the state prosecutor showed little interest in the evidence he had gathered. He puts this down to ethno-politics.

“For years we have been warning that our neighbours, Croatia and Serbia, control key institutions in Bosnia. I was interviewed at the prosecutor’s office, but they did not ask a single question related to this case.”

War of words

The affair was slipping from the headlines, but Bosnia’s presidency has apparently revived the row by ordering the foreign ministry to prepare a diplomatic note. Avdo Avdic says this is the result of information from Bosnia’s own intelligence agency.

“Probably they received some information which they consider significant,” foreign ministry spokesman Nebojsa Regoje told the BBC.

“I expect there will be no serious consequences when it comes to diplomatic relations or co-operation in any sector – including security,” he says.

Business as usual, in other words. The latest instalment may have been baffling for outsiders – but for weary onlookers in Bosnia, it is just part of a seemingly never-ending series.

Notre-Dame fire: Eight centuries of turbulent history


There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell
There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell

The grief caused by the near-destruction of Notre-Dame may seem puzzling for a country as resistant to religion as France.

But the mass devotion the cathedral attracts is not a spiritual one. It is rooted in the building’s location at the heart of the nation’s intellectual life.

Notre-Dame dominates the Latin Quarter – named after the language spoken by the scholars and students that flocked there in medieval times. Just down the river are the Louvre, a royal palace turned into the world’s largest museum, and the grand building of the Institut de France, the country’s foremost learned society.

Since the 16th Century bibliophiles have wandered among the bookstalls that line the banks of the Seine in the cathedral’s shadow.

Bouquiniste in Paris (undated picture)
A tour of the waterside “bouquinistes” is one of Paris’s great pleasures

The English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company lies across the Petit Pont to the south This is where Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and other giants of world literature have come to imbibe French culture, along with more liquid delights in the many cafés nearby.

Notre-Dame seems to have grown naturally from its surroundings. Its soaring towers provide a focus of attention in a city that fancies itself as the capital of high culture; the eminent British art historian Kenneth Clark once called it “the most rigorously intellectual facade in the whole of Gothic art”.

Kenneth Clark on Notre-Dame: 'I recognise civilisation when I see it'
Kenneth Clark on Notre-Dame: ‘I recognise civilisation when I see it’

The cathedral is linked with Paris’ emergence as a centre of learning. The Gothic building – built over a century from the 1160s – replaced a Romanesque structure that was home to the “École cathédrale”.

France’s first celebrity philosopher, Pierre Abélard, had taught logic and theology there in the early 12th Century, attracting admirers from all over Europe.

The new church maintained this legacy of scholarship. In due course the “École cathédrale” morphed into the University of Paris, the Sorbonne and its offshoots, which all still stand a few minutes’ walk away.

The history of Notre-Dame, however, is more turbulent than its current, majestic appearance suggests.

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Notre-Dame before the fire in 360° image

 

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The cathedral played a role in the Hundred Years’ War: in 1431, King Henry VI of England was crowned there as King of France to assert English claims to the throne across the Channel.

From the 16th Century, Notre-Dame fell victim to France’s political and religious strife, as well as changing cultural tastes.

Renaissance men sought to break away from the medieval period and rediscover the cultural treasures of ancient Greece and Rome. Gothic was out. Classical was in. Internal pillars and walls were covered with tapestries, as if its custodians were ashamed of them.

France’s fierce wars of religion took their toll on the cathedral. In 1548 Huguenot Protestants attacked statues which they regarded as sacrilegious.

In 1572 the future Henri IV, a Huguenot who sought to end the bloodshed, married Marguerite de Valois, a princess from the ruling Catholic dynasty. The wedding was celebrated in front of Notre-Dame – although Henri did not go so far as to enter the building.

1857 drawing of NOtre Dame

But the symbolic reconciliation on the cathedral’s doorstep did not last long. Within days thousands of Protestants who had come to Paris to attend the wedding were slaughtered by Catholics in the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

The Enlightenment was not kind to Notre-Dame either. In the 18th Century, it was more out of step with the prevailing intellectual mood than at any other time in its history.

A masterpiece of Gothic art held no appeal to thinkers who equated the medieval period to the Dark Ages and were deeply suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church.

The clergy themselves did not seem to care much for the building. In the early 1750s, some felt the cathedral was too dark and decided to replace the stained glass window with clear glass to let in more light. A few years later sculptures above the main portal were knocked down to make it easier for processions to pass through.

By the 1780s, the 13th Century spire was beginning to look wobbly. The authorities fixed the problem by taking it down.

Gallery of Kings at Notre Dame
The statues of kings on the facade were decapitated during the revolution

Things got even worse for the cathedral during the French Revolution. The Church, loathed by many as the ally of the Ancien Regime, and taken over by the state.

Church bells were removed across the country. In 1791, those of Notre-Dame were crushed and melted down. In 1793, the 28 statues of kings that stand above the front portals of Notre-Dame were decapitated by rioters.

Later that year religion was banned outright and the cathedral was converted into an atheist “Temple of Reason” dedicated to Enlightenment and Revolutionary ideals.

When it turned out that the worship of liberty, equality and fraternity did not fill pews, the cathedral was turned into a warehouse for storing food.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jean-Louis David
The Coronation of Napoleon at Notre-dame was painted by Jean-Louis David

Notre-Dame was not returned to the Catholic Church until 1802, after Napoleon Bonaparte made peace with the Vatican.

It was spruced up in time for Napoleon to be crowned emperor there in 1804, with Pope Pius VII in attendance.

He chose the venue over the cathedral in Reims, where French kings were traditionally crowned, to indicate a clean break with the Old Regime. Paris, not Reims or Versailles, was the centre of his world and Notre-Dame was at the centre of it.

But imperial favour did not revive the fortunes of the cathedral. In the first two decades of the 19th Century many medieval buildings were regarded as antiquated eyesores.

Some were pulled down, others were submitted to botched-up restoration work. Notre-Dame itself did not seem safe from the wrecking ball.

Esmeralda and Quasimodo, illustration by Eugene Deveria for the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Notre-Dame was saved by a humble hunchback

But another swing of the cultural pendulum changed everything. The Romantic movement turned against grand, Roman-inspired architecture, and rediscovered the messy beauty of the Middle Ages. Classical was out. Gothic was in.

No-one did more to save Notre-Dame than Victor Hugo. In a 1825, the young writer published an angry tract “on the destruction of the monuments of France”. “The hammer that mutilates the face of France must be stopped,” he wrote.

But it was his hugely popular 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame – simply “Notre Dame de Paris” in French – that was most effective. By portraying the building as a character, Hugo literally brought it back to life.

A nationwide campaign led to a massive renovation project. The work, between 1844 and 1864, returned the cathedral to its former glory – and more.

Notre-Dame gargoyle
Many of Notre-Dame’s gargoyles are 19th Century additions

Lead architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc used traditional building methods to secure the buttresses and put up a new spire, the one destroyed by fire this week.

Sculptors repaired the beheaded sculptures. Glassmakers and other craftsmen restored the original decoration from drawing and engravings.

Where these were not available, Viollet-le-Duc and his artists used their imagination. Many of the medieval-looking gargoyles and monsters crawling all over the cathedral are their creations.

In the 1850s and 1860s Baron Haussmann carried out a vast urban renewal programme that made Paris the city of wide boulevards and distinctive stone buildings it is today.

The hospital and cluster of smaller buildings that had stood in front of Notre-Dame for centuries were cleared. They were replaced by a wide-open space – known as the “parvis” – creating a sense of distance and grandeur.

Notre-Dame in 1900

It the 20th Century Notre-Dame witnessed a succession of traumas – from two world wars to the 1968 unrest literally a cobblestone’s throw away – but it escaped unscathed.

It also became a focus for historical ceremonies. This is not inconsistent with France’s secular constitution – under the 1905 law on separation of Church and state, all cathedrals are property of the French government.

An official Mass was celebrated there to mark the end of World War One. Following the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in August 1944, General de Gaulle attended a similar service after marching with his troops down the Champs-Élysées.

As the general stepped out of his car, sustained gunfire rang out on the parvis, causing panic among the crowd. De Gaulle walked into the cathedral and took his seat without batting an eyelid. No-one knows to this day who fired the shots.

Charles de Gaulle at Notre-Dame, 25 August 1944
Charles de Gaulle (in uniform, centre) took part in a Mass celebrating the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944

When de Gaulle died in 1970, a memorial service attended by heads of state from around the world was held at Notre-Dame. François Mitterrand, who died in 1996, was the only other former French president to be honoured in the same way.

But the best sign of Notre Dame’s significance is not the odd official event, but the homage of 13 millions visitors every year – more than any other site in Western Europe.

Notre-Dame stands tall as a symbol of permanence. The fire shocked Parisians because it showed that such a fixture in their physical and cultural landscape was vulnerable. But the cathedral has also shown its power for renewal in difficult times.

Greta Thumberg: the speech in the Senate, the offenses of Libero and the world we have become

There are no words. It almost seems like a title produced by the diabolical minds of Lercio to make us smile, but in reality it is the first page of Libero di oggi, which offends and insults Greta Thunberg.

The young Swedish activist, today on a visit to the Senate, probably causes more than a few stomach ache to the pens of the newspaper.

“La Rompiballe goes to the Pope” reads the opening, but the other words addressed to Greta are no less: “Bergoglio in the Vatican: Come on, Gretina”. There is no need to comment on this verbal violence from which we dissociate ourselves. regardless of whether or not he agrees with his protests, he should turn to a young girl, the same girl who sold out today in the Koch room in Palazzo Madama.

” A special thanks to Greta, who has traveled thousands of miles to be here today with us ” were the words of Senate President Elisabetta Casellati. ” Without you, without your courage, without your example, dear Greta, the road to bringing environmental issues to the center of the international political debate would have been more difficult, more tortuous .”

Many important people congratulate me, but I don’t know what to congratulate. Millions of students have gone on strike for the climate, and nothing has changed, the emissions continue as before. So why these important people congratulate me “We took to the streets not to take selfies, but because we want you to act. We do it to take back our dreams and our hopes,” Greta said this morning in her speech in the Senate.

Other authoritative newspapers like Time have included Greta in the top 100 of the most influential people of 2019 with this motivation:

Struggling in his home country, Sweden, for a future free of pollution, environmental degradation and climate change, Greta is a source of inspiration for apathetic students and adults. He soon realized that the powers would be used against her and her mission, stating: “We cannot save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules must be changed.” Greta has continued to plan a multitude of student protests focused on action against our changing climate “.

Whatever the opinion built on the figure of this girl, this cannot and must not justify verbal violence directed at a young woman, little more than a child. A verbal violence that reigns every day on social media, in political discourses and that begins to violate even the deontological rules, in a world in which it almost seems that to make us feel we must offend more. But she has shown the opposite. With his calm, determined, pungent tone.

Some say it is manipulated, that his stubbornness and his conviction are the fruit of Asperger’s syndrome. Probably in a short time we will no longer hear about her, but the fury that is being unleashed against a teenager is at least significant. It reflects what we are becoming. Ready to point the finger, not to question ourselves.

Tomorrow Greta will be, in Rome for the umpteenth Friday For Future one of his Friday protests around the world. The young people of the capital are preparing to welcome it and to ask with it a future in which the earth is not destroyed by the interests of a few.

“We didn’t take to the streets for selfies, we do it because we want to re-take our hopes and our dreams,” concluded Greta this morning.

France Notre-Dame fire: Temporary wooden cathedral proposed

A temporary wooden cathedral should be built in the shadow of Notre-Dame’s famed towers while the building is being repaired, officials have said.

The structure would serve as a home for worshippers and tourists alike, the rector of the Paris landmark, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, suggested.

The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral has been closed after a fire tore through its roof and destroyed its spire.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed it will reopen in five years.

But temporary arrangements will need to be made in the meantime, Monsignor Chauvet told France’s CNews.

“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years and that’s it’,” he said.

“Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on the esplanade [in front of Notre-Dame]?” he added.

The wooden structure, Monsignor Chauvet said, should be “beautiful, symbolic and attractive”.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is understood to have given her approval to the idea, which is not the first of its kind.

After the cathedral in New Zealand’s Christchurch was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake, which left 185 people dead, a temporary structure was built.

Meanwhile, some in France have reacted negatively to the government’s plan to invite architects from around the world to submit their designs for a new spire.

Notre-Dame before the fire in 360° image.

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The spire, which was added to the cathedral during a 19th Century restoration project led by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, was completely destroyed when the fire took hold on Monday.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters on Wednesday he hoped for “a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era”.

But Mr Philippe questioned “whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc… or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire”.

Jean-Marie Henriquet, 76, a descendant of Mr Viollet-le-Duc, said it needed to be rebuilt.

“Not reconstructing the spire would equate to amputating an element that belongs to it,” he told news agency AFP.

What is the damage?

The blaze, which began on Monday evening and was not fully extinguished until almost 15 hours later, destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and led to the collapse of its famous spire.

Firefighters have used a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed

Photos appear to show that at least one of the famed rose windows survived, but there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. The 18th Century organ has not been burned but it is not clear if it is damaged.

It was still too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the Fondation du Patrimoine, an independent non-profit heritage group.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said.

But on Thursday, Culture Minister Franck Riester revealed there were still fears over the possible collapse of some parts of the building – including a gable between the bell towers, as well as one in the north transept.

Graphic showing scale of damage to Notre-Dame

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What happens next?

Investigators trying to establish the cause of the fire have begun questioning workers from five companies involved in the renovations that were under way at the cathedral. Officials believe the works could have accidentally led to the disaster.

Offers of help to rebuild the cathedral have come from several world leaders, groups and individuals, including:

  • Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, who pledged €100m
  • Bernard Arnault’s family and their company LVMH, a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora, who pledged €200m
  • French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family promised to give €200m while oil giant Total pledged €100m

Mr Riester said some of the artworks and religious items rescued would be sent to the Louvre museum where they would be kept and eventually restored.

A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral
A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral

They include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown to Paris.

Work to remove the cathedral’s paintings will begin on Friday, Mr Riester said.

INTERA CTIVE Inside Notre Dame

15 April 2019

Debris of the fallen spire inside Notre Dame

26 June 2018

Looking down on people attending a service of mass in the cathedral

A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed

Notre-Dame: Family in viral photo found after search

A family pictured outside Notre-Dame cathedral minutes before the fire erupted has been found after a viral search.

Brooke Windsor, 23, says the father and child she photographed about an hour before the blaze have come forward.

Her photo, showing them playing in front of the 850-year-old landmark, was shared widely on Twitter.

She told the BBC she wanted to share the “memory” with them, prompting an international hunt.

Confirming they had been found, Ms Windsor tweeted: “The search is over! The photo has reached the dad and family.”

The man and his family, Ms Windsor says, do not wish to be identified.

Instead, Ms Windsor says he wrote a message to her, which reads: “Thanks again for that beautiful photo, we will find a special place for it.”

Ms Windsor’s tweet was shared more than 240,000 times and liked 467,000 times, with people across the world joining the hunt to find them.

Her poignant photo was described as “historic” and a “special moment in time” by Twitter users as the extent of the damage to Notre-Dame shocked the world.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to re-build the cathedral. More than €800m ($902m; £692m) has already been pledged to help reconstruct the Unesco World Heritage site.

Brexit: Second poll shows Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party on course for European election victory

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is heading for a stunning victory in upcoming European elections, according to a second opinion poll in as many days.

The YouGov survey for The Times put the party launched by the former Ukip leader last week on 23 per cent, a point in front of Labour and five ahead of the Tories, and appeared to confirm the result of a, shock poll published on Wednesday.

Jeremy Corbyn has been urged, to back a fresh Brexit referendum unequivocally within weeks to prevent Mr Farage surging to victory.

Britain’s former ambassador to Brussels has warned Tory leadership contenders who promise to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement if they take over from Theresa May will “wreck any prospect” of getting a future trade deal.

Sir Ivan Rogers, who stood down from his role in January 2017, told BBC Two’s Newsnight last night: “If various candidates make pledges as to the future direction of the Brexit talks, what they would do in phase two, that will essentially wreck any prospect of phase two succeeding.

“So if people were to give commitments, saying ‘when I’m in power, if you give me this job, I will reopen the Withdrawal Agreement’, and indicate we can’t possibly accept the backstop and take a much more robust and bellicose position with Brussels – well, that leads fairly inexorably to a breakdown of the talks.”

He said he was a “little bit surprised” the UK was not further down the exit process and suggested the public still do not know what the public know about Brexit.

The government must “bring the country behind one version of Brexit in the next two to three years – otherwise we’re going to re-fight this civil war for the next generation,” he added.

One vote Nigel Farage can count in next month’s EU election is that of George Galloway.

The former Respect Party leader and Bradford West MP tweeted that he would supporting the Brexit Party “for one-time only” as he wants to secure the UK’s departure from the EU.

Galloway and Farage have teamed before up to campaign for Brexit, ahead of the 2016 referendum.

At the time, Galloway insisted, they were “not pals” but “allies in one cause. Like Churchill and Stalin”.

Nigel Farage says he is being “slightly cautious” about his new party’s favourable polling, although he believes “the public are warming to us”.

In interview with the Daily Express, he said: “There’s great grassroots support, large numbers of people joining, grassroots donations and all of it feels very exciting.

“I think we will be announcing a few more candidates next week.

“People want a fresh, positive vision. They are tired of career politicians endlessly threatening them, sounding miserable and not believing in the country.”

That attack on “career politicians”, of course, comes from some who has been an MEP since 1999 and has stood for election to UK parliament seven times.

With Nigel Farage seemingly on track for victory in 23 May’s European elections, worried Labour backbenchers are piling renewed pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to come in support of a second referendum.

MPs warned Labour risked “leeching support to other parties” unless it sent a pro-Europe message “loud and clear”.

Brexit: Second poll shows Nigel Farage's Brexit Party on course for European election victory

Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has the full story: 

Jeremy Corbyn told to commit to Brexit vote or let Farage snatch shock European elections victory.

Fearful backbenchers urge Labour leader to shift his stance in manifesto after poll shows former Ukip leader on course to triumph with new Brexit Party.

A second opinion poll in as many days as indicated that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is heading for victory in European elections. 

The YouGov poll for The Times found the former Ukip leader’s new group had surged ahead of Labour and the Tories since it was launched last week.

Brexit Party are leading on 23%, with Labour on 22% and the Conservatives heading for a crushing defeat on 17%. Last week the same poll put Farage’s party on 15%, with Labour on 24% and the Tories on 16%.

Much of the support for Farage’s party seems to have been drawn from Ukip, who languish in seventh place on 6%

The latest poll appears to confirm the findings of another YouGov survey, released yesterday, which put the Brexit Party on the lead in 27%.