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Musings From Abroad

France president Macron battles far-right opponent Le Pen in run-off voting

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France President Emmanuel Macron will know his fate of retaining his position as French voters begin casting their ballots Sunday for the presidential run-off between him and his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen.

In the earlier round of voting on Saturday, Le Pen had come closest to claiming victory for the far-right for the first time but there was no clear winner, forcing a re-run.

Macron had gone into the election with a stable lead in opinion polls, an advantage he consolidated in the frenetic final days of campaigning, including a no-holds-barred performance in the pre-election debate, but his confidence was shaken by the close run Le Pen gave him which had forced another round of voting.

The electoral stakes are huge for both France and Europe, with Macron pledging reform and tighter EU integration, while Le Pen, who could be France’s first female president if she emerges victorious, insists the bloc should be modified in what opponents describe as “Frexit” by another name.

Macron has also opposed Le Pen’s plan to make it illegal to wear the Muslim headscarf in public, though her team has walked back the proposal ahead of the vote, saying it was no longer a “priority.”

The pair have also clashed on Russia, with Macron seeking to portray Le Pen as incapable of dealing with the invasion of Ukraine, due to a loan her party took from a Russian-Czech bank.

If he wins the run-off, Macron who got into power in 2017 as the youngest French President at the age of 39, would be the first president to win re-election in two decades since Jacques Chirac in 2002.

Independent polls have shown Macron with a lead of around 10 percentage points, a much closer outcome than in 2017, when the same two candidates faced off and Macron carried the day with 66% of the vote.

Musings From Abroad

Italian firm, Eni signs $8 billion Libya gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli

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With the aim of boosting energy supplies and other markets, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) signed an $8 billion gas production deal with Italian energy company Eni.

The deal, which comes despite the insecurity and political chaos in the North African country was signed during a visit to Tripoli by Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, aims to increase gas output for the Libyan domestic market as well as exports, through the development of two offshore gas fields.

Meloni met Libya’s Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, head of the internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli for talks that also focused on migration across the Mediterranean.

At a joint news conference with Descalzi, the NOC chief, Farhat Bengdara, said the gas deal had a duration of 25 years and called it the most important new investment in Libya’s energy sector for a quarter of a century.

According to a statement by Eni’s chief executive, Claudio Descalzi, the output will begin in 2026 and reach a plateau of 750 million cubic feet per day.

“This agreement will enable important investments in Libya’s energy sector, contributing to local development and job creation while strengthening Eni’s role as a leading operator in the country.”

Since the beginning of the current Russia/Ukraine war, European countries have sought alternate gas sources outside Russia. Italy on its part has already taken a lead in sourcing gas from Algeria, building a new strategic partnership there that includes investment to help state energy company Sonatrach reverse years of declining output.

Libya is the fourth natural gas producer on the African continent, and oil and gas resources largely contribute to Libya’s export trade. The country developed a strong oil sector after major oil discoveries in the late 1950s.

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Musings From Abroad

EU chief, Josep Borrell, wants South Africa to influence ceasefire with Ukraine

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The regional bloc,  European Union wants South Africa to influence Russia to stop its ongoing war with Ukraine.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday raised expectations that the African country will use its good relations with Russia to convince it to stop the war in Ukraine.

Borrell, while speaking alongside South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor in the capital Pretoria, said “The EU isn’t asking South Africa to choose sides, just asking countries across the world to stand with the UN Charter.”

The EU considers South Africa an important partner in the rules-based international order, he added.

Pandor said: “It is not just South Africa and other African countries that must play a role in seeking peace.”

Full diplomatic relations between South Africa and Russia were established in 1942 as the Soviet Union. Russia has an embassy in Pretoria and a consulate-general in Cape Town. South Africa has an embassy in Moscow.

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