One of France’s top colleges – the Ecole Nationale d’Administration – will be shut down, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce, under plans to boost social mobility.
A degree from the ENA has been the passport to the upper echelons of French politics for generations.
Its graduates include Mr Macron himself and ex-presidents François Hollande and Jacques Chirac.
However, it has become the target of populist anger at perceived elitism.
The entrance exams are notoriously tough, and the ENA’s intake is dominated by students from privileged backgrounds.
It admits fewer than 100 students a year, who are fast-tracked into prestigious civil service jobs.
Speaking in the western city of Nantes in February, Mr Macron said it was time to open up access to top colleges for students from modest backgrounds. The aim, he said, was that “no kid in our republic should say: this is not for me”.
He deplored the current state of social mobility in France, saying it was “worse than 50 years ago”.
His announcement is expected in a video conference with several hundred top civil servants. But he first suggested closing the ENA in 2019, after months of gilets jaunes (“yellow vest”) street protests which severely challenged his presidency.
Those protests were triggered by a rise in fuel tax, but morphed into a much wider social protest against a perceived Parisian elite neglecting the needs of provincial communities.
Before becoming president, Mr Macron attended the prestigious Sciences Po university, then the ENA, before obtaining a plum job at the Financial Inspectorate – part of the finance ministry.
The ENA was established in Strasbourg in 1945 by then-President Charles de Gaulle, whose aim was to rebuild a modern French state from the wreckage of World War Two.
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,” said Prof Jean-Michel Eymeri-Douzans, a political scientist who has studied the ENA extensively and now works with it.
Mr Macron is under pressure to improve his ratings ahead of next year’s presidential election, and France’s painful struggle with Covid-19 has exposed shortcomings in the state administration.
France’s vaccination rate remains relatively sluggish, and its long-admired health service has looked vulnerable in the crisis, especially intensive care.
French Europe 1 news says Mr Macron aims to attack what is widely seen as a French civil service job-for-life culture, dominated by academic qualifications.
The reforms could mean more staff turnover, job mobility and a sharper focus on pressing issues such as French secular values, poverty and the environment.
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government on Sunday accused Facebook Inc of “digital totalitarianism” after it froze President Nicolas Maduro’s page for 30 days for violating policies against spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
Facebook told Reuters this weekend it had also taken down a video in which Maduro promoted Carvativir, a Venezuelan-made remedy he claims, without evidence, can cure the disease. Facebook said it followed guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) that there is currently no medication that can cure the virus.
In a statement on Sunday, Venezuela’s information ministry said Facebook was going after “content geared toward combating the pandemic” and described Carvativir as a retroviral of “national production and engineering.”
“We are witnessing a digital totalitarianism exercised by supranational companies who want to impose their law on the countries of the world,” the ministry said.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Venezuelan doctors have warned that Carvativir’s effect on coronavirus has not been established. The treatment is derived from thyme, an herb that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine.
Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse since taking office in 2013 and is labeled a dictator by Washington and many other Western nations, said in a tweet on Sunday that he would broadcast his daily coronavirus briefing on the Facebook account of his wife, first lady Cilia Flores.
The South American country has reported 155,663 cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,555 deaths. Those figures are below the levels of many regional peers, but the political opposition says the true number of cases is likely far higher due to a lack of testing. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)
US President Joe Biden was pressed on how he would address the surge in migrants at the southern border at his first official press conference.
More than 17,000 children are being kept in government detention centres and Mr Biden was challenged on whether his policies could be contributing to the increase in child arrivals.
The president defended his record and vowed to be transparent.
The hour-long event also covered subjects from guns to foreign policy.
He also doubled his administration’s vaccine rollout goal, saying that he now aims to have 200 million jabs be given before his 100th day in office.
But questions about the situation at the US-Mexico border dominated the event.
What did Biden say about the surge?
During the White House news conference, Mr Biden blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for the growing humanitarian crisis on the southern border, and said it was normal for the US to experience an influx of migrants in cooler months.
“The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed,” he said, adding: “The reason they’re coming is that it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat in the desert.”
“I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not,” he said, calling the surge a cyclical event.
He also blamed the “circumstances in their country,” including natural disasters, crime and lack of economic opportunity.
Asked when he would make government-run detention centres open to visits from reporters, Mr Biden said he “will commit to transparency”.
“You’ll have full access to everything,” he said, but declined to give a timeline.
What else was covered?
Topics raised during the press conference ranged from questions over gun control to whether the US would keep its commitment to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by a 1 May deadline agreed to by the previous administration.
Mr Biden admitted that it would be difficult to meet that timeline, and punted on answering questions over what he could accomplish on what he called “long-term” problems such as gun legislation.
He also made news by saying he planned to run for re-election in 2024 – a question that had been a source of speculation until today.
Mr Biden opened the event with an update on the US Covid-19 response, saying that he would aim to deliver 200m jabs in his first 100 days – a plan he said was “ambitious” but possible.
“No other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we are doing,” he claimed.
The US has so far delivered over 130 million doses of the vaccine – but it still lags behind other countries in terms of the number of shots administered relative to the size of the population.
According to US health experts, approximately 2.5m doses are now being distributed per day.
What has been happening at the border?
The US Customs and Border Protection agency releases monthly figures of the number of “encounters” at the southwest land border.
In January and February 2021, 78,442 and 100,441 people were apprehended, respectively. This is a significant increase from previous years.
Still, the highest number in the last few years was in May 2019 during Mr Trump’s presidency – when over 140,000 people were apprehended by the authorities.
What is the reason for the surge?
There are several factors driving the surge at the southern US border. They include:
Hope in Biden – “They told us that the US president would order the removal of all obstacles on our path,” 17-year-old Michael told BBC News as he travelled from his native Honduras.
Natural disaster – “Our houses collapsed with [Hurricane] Eta. We lost everything,” says Jacqueline, a pregnant 19-year-old walking to the US on foot.
Gang Crime – “We tried to start again with our business, but they demanded money from us. We were victims of extortion,” Jacqueline adds.
Central American Violence – “One needs to risk everything. But it is better to risk your life here,” says her husband Lionel on their journey through Mexico. “In Honduras you might get killed anyway”.
Investigators in a criminal probe of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s real-estate business are combing through millions of pages of newly acquired records with an eye toward identifying witnesses who can bring the documents to life for a jury, say two people familiar with the probe.
Some of the case’s key figures are well-known. Trump’s former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, met on Friday with prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, his eighth such interview. And District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr’s team is interested in getting testimony from the Trump Organization’s long time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, according to the two people familiar with the investigation.
But a growing universe of people, institutions and agencies are being scrutinized by Vance’s prosecutors as potential witnesses in the case.
Prosecutors are looking to gather information and testimony from bankers, bookkeepers, real-estate consultants and others close to the Trump Organization who could provide insights on its dealings, according to interviews and court filings. The process of identifying all witnesses and targets could take months.
“The next phase is identifying targets” for subpoenas and testimony, said one person familiar with the case.
Vance has not accused Trump or his associates of wrongdoing but is examining, among other things, whether property values were manipulated to reduce Trump’s taxes or obtain other economic benefits. The case is being heard by a grand jury that will decide whether there is evidence to indict Trump or his associates.
Vance’s investigators need insiders who can provide the narrative behind any conflicting numbers on Trump’s financial records and testify to Trump’s knowledge and intent, said former prosecutors of white-collar fraud cases.
“Even in the most heavily document-dependent case, you need witnesses to tell the story,” said Reed Brodsky, a longtime white-collar defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor.
The Supreme Court forced Trump’s longtime accountants Mazars USA to comply with a subpoena on March 1. Since then, investigators have poured through Trump’s tax filings, business documents and internal correspondence, looking for discrepancies between information provided to creditors and data given to tax authorities, said two people familiar with the probe.
Forensic accounting specialists at FTI Consulting Inc, retained by Vance, are helping analyze the tax records, said a source with knowledge of the matter.
Vance’s investigation is one of two known criminal probes of the former president. Reuters has identified four other ongoing investigations involving Trump and at least 17 active lawsuits.
A lawyer for Trump declined to comment on the probes.
In Vance’s investigation, Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor hired last month as a special assistant, is leading the interviews with some witnesses. Pomerantz, 69, prosecuted Gambino crime family boss John Gotti’s son in the 1990s and is known for his expertise in white-collar crime.
Several potential key figures in Vance’s investigation are current or former employees of outside companies – from financial and real estate consultants to legal advisors – with inside knowledge of Trump’s dealings, according to court filings and the two people familiar with the investigation.
Some performed crucial roles for many years, such as Mazars accountant Donald Bender. His signature is on the tax returns of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was dissolved in 2018 after a probe by the New York attorney general found that the organization misused charitable funds. Trump was ordered to pay more than $2 million in damages.
Bender has led the team managing Trump’s accounts at Mazars for more than a decade, court records show. He has worked for Mazars since 1981 and helps steer its real-estate practice. Mazars’ predecessor companies began working for Trump’s father, Fred, in the 1950s.
Bender was the only Mazars’ accountant singled out by name in Vance’s subpoena seeking records between 2011 and 2018, including “all communications” between Donald Bender and any representative of Trump’s businesses.
Illustrating Bender’s importance in Trump’s empire, Weisselberg testified in 2008 that, when Trump met with representatives from Forbes magazine to discuss his net worth, Weisselberg made sure Bender was there to help answer questions.
Bender and Mazars did not respond to requests for comment.
Real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield Plc, which worked for the Trump Organization for many years, could also figure prominently in Vance’s investigation, legal experts say. Chicago-based Cushman was subpoenaed in a separate New York state attorney general’s probe of Trump’s company, and Cushman staff have given sworn testimony.
Both probes have shown keen interest in the values that Trump attached to conservation easements – agreements to preserve open space on his properties in exchange for tax breaks, court records show.
Based on a Cushman appraisal, Trump claimed a $21.1 million value for an easement at his Seven Springs estate north of New York City, based on the lost profits from luxury homes he could have built. Cushman was also the appraiser on a $25 million easement at a Trump golf course in Los Angeles that has been scrutinized in the attorney general’s investigation.
Cushman did not respond to a request for comment.
Vance’s investigators have also requested records and spoken with officials from Trump’s two biggest creditors, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Corp, Reuters has previously reported. Both firms declined to comment.
Vance’s investigation will likely rely heavily on Trump’s closest associates – people who can address the key question of what Trump was thinking when he made the financial claims now under scrutiny. Only a core group of Trump’s confidantes can address that state-of-mind question, which is critical to proving criminal intent.
They include Weisselberg, 73, who began working for Trump’s father, Fred, in 1973. Legal experts and a source familiar with the investigation say prosecutors’ apparent goal is to convince Weisselberg to cooperate. Also under scrutiny are Weisselberg’s adult sons – one who has worked for the Trump Organization. The other son worked for Ladder Capital, though there’s no evidence he was involved in Ladder’s loans to Trump.
Vance has not said whether prosecutors are talking with Allen Weisselberg or his sons. None of the three Weisselbergs have been charged with wrongdoing. A lawyer for Allen Weisselberg declined to comment.
Jennifer Weisselberg – the former wife of Allen’s older son, Barry Weisselberg – told Reuters that she has spoken with Vance’s office five times since November. The day after the first interview, she said, DA investigators visited her to retrieve tax and financial records for her and her former husband.
She acknowledged that prosecutors have shown interest in an apartment in a Trump-owned building where she and her former husband lived rent-free for seven years – an arrangement that could have legal implications if it represented compensation not properly reported in tax filings.
Barry Weisselberg managed an ice-skating rink that Trump operates in Central Park. A lawyer representing him did not respond to a request for comment.
Jennifer Weisselberg said she believed her father-in-law would never testify against Trump voluntarily. She envisions Allen Weisselberg flipping only if he or his sons are facing prosecution. But no one, she said, knows more about Trump’s finances.
The most visible cooperator in the criminal investigation is Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer for nearly a decade. He is serving a three-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to crimes including tax evasion, orchestrating “hush money” payments to two women who said they’d had affairs with Trump, and lying to Congress about negotiations over a proposed Trump development in Moscow that never materialized. Cohen is in home confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump has attacked Cohen’s credibility by highlighting how he lied under oath. Legal experts say Trump’s attorneys could make similar arguments if Cohen becomes a key witness. At his sentencing, Cohen took “full responsibility” for his actions but claimed he made the payments at Trump’s direction.
Cohen told Reuters he has evidence to overcome any questions about his credibility. “Unfortunately for Trump, I have backed up each and every question posed by the district attorney’s office,” Cohen said, by providing “documentary evidence.”
If prosecutors can corroborate Cohen’s testimony, his story could be “very powerful before a jury,” said Brodsky, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “The government loves people who plead guilty to crimes, take the stand and say … ‘I participated in a crime with that person sitting right there at the defense table, Donald J. Trump.’”
To win the 2020 Ibrahim award for African leadership, and the $5m (£3.6m) prize attached to it, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou had to leave office.
His decision to step down after two terms means Niger will have the first democratic transition between elected leaders since it became independent from France more than 60 years ago.
But that was not the only reason why he was given the award – the prize committee praised his leadership after inheriting one of the world’s poorest economies.
It said that he had “fostered economic growth, shown unwavering commitment to regional stability and to the constitution, and championed African democracy”.
For a prize that has not been awarded in some years because of the lack of a suitable winner, Mr Issoufou’s credentials should not be taken for granted.
If the 68-year-old wanted to remain in power, he could have copied other presidents across West Africa who managed to get the constitution changed so they could extend their time in office.
But his convictions would not let him do so, he told the BBC before last month’s elections.
“I respect the constitution. I respect the promise I made to the people of Niger who have given me the honour of leading them for two terms. This decision is in line with my convictions and my vision of what Niger’s democratic future should be,” he said.
His one area of regret
Niger is the world’s poorest nation, according to the UN’s development rankings for 189 countries – it struggles with frequent droughts, insurgency and widespread poverty.
It is currently involved in two conflicts, which are spillovers from jihadist insurgencies in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, that have forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
Groups linked to al-Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State group and Nigeria’s Boko Haram are all present in Niger but in terms of overall numbers of attacks, it has suffered fewer than its neighbours.
Previous winners of the Ibrahim prize:
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia (2017)
Hifikepunye Pohamba, Namibia (2014)
Pedro Pires, Cabo Verde (2011)
Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008)
Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007)
But the Islamist militant threat is one area of regret for Mr Issoufou as he prepares to hand over next month after 10 years of consecutive five-year terms in office.
“If I have any regrets, it is that we are unfortunately still victims of terrorist attacks. But I would like to stress here that hotbeds of terrorism do not exist in Niger.
“It is from neighbouring countries that terrorists come to attack us. And when we look at what has been done even in this respect, it is remarkable,” he said.
Mr Issoufou has also tried to transform Niger – the capital Niamey has seen a flurry of new roads, hotels and meeting centres.
But critics say other parts of the country have not benefited from such investments.
Historically a gateway between North and sub-Saharan Africa, Niger has become a major transit route for migrants heading to Europe. Here, it has agreed to work with the European Union to halt the flow.
It also faces economic challenges as its main export, uranium, is prone to price fluctuations
The task of continuing whatever strides Mr Issoufou made in infrastructure and security now falls on his handpicked successor, Mohamed Bazoum, who won February’s election.
Mr Bazoum will have to deal with an insurgency raging on two fronts and an opposition that feels he is not the legitimate winner of the election.
For Mr Issoufou, hailed as “leading his people on a path of progress”, he will be remembered as the man who helped Niger drop the “coup-prone West African country” tag, and it is a legacy that will last longer than his $5m prize money
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and two former associates have been sentenced to three years in jail – two of them suspended – for corruption.
Sarkozy, 66, was found guilty of trying to bribe a magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, by offering a prestigious job in Monaco in return for information about a criminal inquiry into his political party.
Sarkozy’s ex-lawyer Thierry Herzog and Azibert got the same sentence.
In the ruling, the judge said Sarkozy could serve house arrest with an electronic tag. The ex-president is expected to appeal.
It is a legal landmark for post-war France. The only precedent was the trial of Sarkozy’s right-wing predecessor Jacques Chirac, who got a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for having arranged bogus jobs at Paris City Hall for political allies when he was Paris mayor. Chirac died in 2019.
Prosecutors sought a four-year jail sentence for Sarkozy, half of which would be suspended.
The case centred on conversations between Azibert and Herzog, which were taped by investigators looking into claims that Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from the L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.
Sarkozy is also due to go on trial in a separate case, from 17 March to 15 April, which relates to the so-called Bygmalion affair. Sarkozy is accused of having fraudulently overspent in his 2012 presidential campaign. He had served as president since 2007 – but his 2012 re-election bid was unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, he remains popular in right-wing circles, a year away from a presidential election.
Voters in Ecuador are going to the polls to choose a new president and all members of the National Assembly.
The country is reeling from the Covid pandemic, which has killed 15,000 people in the nation of 17m people.
With the economy in the doldrums, many voters say they are more preoccupied with day-to-day survival than with politics.
Nearly 50% remain undecided on who to opt for out of the 16 presidential candidates, one survey suggests.
What’s the likely outcome?
With so many candidates competing for the top job, it is looking unlikely that any of them will achieve either the 50% of the votes or the 40% with a 10 percentage-point advantage needed to win outright in the first round.
The second round is scheduled to be held on 11 April with the top two candidates going through.
The eventual winner will replace the outgoing president, the embattled centrist Lenín Moreno.
Mr Moreno ran in – and won – the 2017 election standing as a political ally of Rafael Correa. But he later broke with the former socialist leader and steered Ecuador away from the left-wing alliances Mr Correa had formed with the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia and back to a more friendly relationship with the United States.
President Moreno has struggled with low popularity levels, buffeted by nationwide protests against planned – and later dropped – fuel price rises in late 2019 and then by the deep economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Who are the frontrunners?
Opinion polls put youthful technocrat and economist Andrés Arauz as narrowly leading the race. Mr Arauz, who has just turned 36, served as a minister under former President Rafael Correa.
Mr Correa governed from 2007 to 2017 and was sentenced last year in absentia for corruption and is banned from any political role for 25 years. Mr Arauz is viewed as Mr Correa’s protégé.
Closely behind Mr Arauz in the polls is the conservative banker-turned-politician Guillermo Lasso.
Mr Lasso, 65, is running for the presidency for the third time after losing to Mr Correa in 2013 and to the outgoing president, Lenín Moreno, in 2017.
In third place in the pre-election polls is 51-year-old indigenous leader and environmental advocate Yaku Pérez.
If elected, Mr Pérez would become the first indigenous president in a country where fewer than 10% of the population identify as indigenous.
A way of out the crisis
Ecuadoreans say their main concern in the election is how the new leader will tackle the country’s crippling health and economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, creating a climate of uncertainty that newspaper El Universo said could fuel abstention in the voting.
“The economic crisis generated by the pandemic, unemployment and the fear of potential infections are some of the factors […] that have provoked disinterest in the election,” the daily reported.
While promising to get a grip on the Covid-19 crisis, the leading candidates have also pledged to work to revitalise the economy and lift Ecuadoreans out of poverty.
Mr Arauz said he would increase financial aid and public spending to rekindle economic growth, pledging to give $1,000 (£733) each to one million female heads of household, while providing $3bn to local governments, and subsidies and credits for the public sector.
Given Ecuador’s already high indebtedness and the recession caused by the coronavirus, some analysts question whether such proposals are feasible.
Many also wonder how Mr Arauz would handle Ecuador’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which before the pandemic struck had recommended austerity measures and spending cuts.
Mr Lasso, a former banker, has promised to try and attract increased foreign investment to Ecuador, raise the nation’s oil production and invest in sustainable mining.
But sceptics worry that Ecuador badly lags behind its neighbours in terms of competitiveness.
Mr Pérez is campaigning on a promise of banning mining activity in the country’s highlands and setting limits on new concessions for oil production.
While he is banned from holding political office and is thousands of miles away in his wife’s native country, Belgium, former President Correa’s name has been ever-present in this election.
Mr Arauz has made no secret of his political relationship with the ex-leader and his left-wing Citizens’ Revolution movement.
He told local media that if he was elected president, Mr Correa would be “his most trusted adviser” but has rejected suggestions from critics that he is a mere puppet of Correa. He dismissed claims that Mr Correa would “rule by phone” from Belgium.
Mr Lasso has tried to gain voters by representing his rival, Mr Arauz, as part of a “corrupt past” which he told voters he would put an end to.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has said he will work with all stakeholders to protect the peace of the country following the December 7 elections.
Speaking at a Thanksgiving service organized by the NPP today, Sunday, December 27, 2020, the president said looking beyond party affiliations is one of the major avenues by which this feat can be achieved.
“I want to thank the people of Ghana for maintaining their confidence in the leadership of our nation,” he said on Sunday.
He further promised to pursue a path of an all all-inclusive governance in developing the nation regardless of political differences.
“I also want to assure the 6.2 million people who didn’t vote for me that I will have their interest at heart and in mind in all that I do,” he said.