Watchlist: National Front Rebrands

Week of March 12th

National Front leader Marine Le Pen at the party's congress in Lille, France (Source: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)


President of Mauritius to Resign

Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will step down over accusations that she used charity money for personal shopping. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth told reporters on Friday that, “The president of the republic told me that she would resign from office and we agreed on the date of her departure.” He added that the resignation would happen before parliament reconvenes at the end of the month, though he did not specify a date. The issue arose when the newspaper L’express published bank documents showing that the president used a credit card issued by the charity organization Planet Earth Institute to make personal purchases. Gurib-Fakim has denied committing any crimes and said on Wednesday: “I do not owe anybody anything…why is this issue coming up now, almost a year later?” MAYA ZREIK


Trump confirmed to meet Kim Jong Un

A South Korean envoy relayed on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump had accepted an offer to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in an unprecedented move that took his own administration by surprise. A U.S. president has never met with a North Korean leader. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has stated that the intention of the meeting is to talk North Korea into denuclearization. The decision has been polarizing—though some of the president’s allies, such as CIA director Mike Pompeo, are optimistic at what the meeting could accomplish, others are skeptical. Republican Senator Cory Gardner expressed concern over past instances of North Korea breaking potential denuclearization bargains with the West, and told CBS: “Certainly it's positive but we have to take this sign, this gesture to talk, not only with a grain of salt but with perhaps an entire salt block.” MAYA ZREIK


India Trip Another Mistake for Trudeau and the Liberal Party

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s goal of signing a free trade deal with India has hit another roadblock after the PM’s disastrous India trip earlier this month. The India trip was panned by critics in both India and Canada who thought the Trudeau family’s traditional Indian dress was offensive and appropriative. This comes at a critical time for Canada’s Liberal Party. US President Donald Trump recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum which will have a great effect on their largest trading partner, Canada. In addition, the Liberal party’s popularity is dipping as next year’s election approaches. Facing a young exciting challenger, Jagmeet Singh, who draws comparisons to Trudeau four years ago, the Liberal Party can not afford more slip ups like the recent India trip. In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see whether progress can be made on a trade deal as the threat of a larger trade war looms. MAX GOLDMAN


France's National Front Rebrands

A visit by Steve Bannon. A vote to change the party name. These were just some of the elements at the far-right National Front’s conference in Lille, France this past weekend. The conference comes amidst substantive presidential and legislative losses for the party as well as accusations that it has not done enough to distance itself from its Nazi origins. In response, party leader Marine Le Pen has noted the need for rebranding, hoping the efforts will change public attitudes, revive member support, and make it easier to form political alliances. Her first proposal to remove her father - Holocaust-denier Jean-Marie Le Pen - as the party’s honorary president has yet to be voted on. Meanwhile, members narrowly approved changing the party name to the “National Rally” in the first round of voting Sunday. Le Pen also enlisted former White House Strategist Steve Bannon to speak in an attempt to mobilize worldwide populist support. In his speech, he encouraged party members to “Let them call you racists,” and stick to their nationalist roots. It has yet to be seen whether the efforts will revive the party, which currently holds 8 of 577 French parliamentary seats. MEGHAN ROWLEY

Middle East

Turkish Troops Prepared to Enter Afrin

Turkish military troops have surrounded Syria’s Afrin and are on the verge of invading in an attempt to capture the city. Afrin is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a US-ally which Turkey considers a terrorist cell. The Turkish government announced their intention to launch an assault on Afrin in late January in an attempt to destroy the group, and have advanced on the city over the past few weeks. Turkish President Recep Erdogan said on Sunday that forces are four to five kilometers from Afrin. Over the past two days, the city has been targeted by Turkish air raids and has had its water supply cut. Reports from within Afrin have indicated that various groups and civilians intend to stand as human shields to protect it from the oncoming forces. Both Turkey and the Kurdish council have demanded support from the international community. The standoff should come to a conclusion this week. MAYA ZREIK

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