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Settler filmed torching Palestinian field an off duty soldier, army confirms

Footage from rights group shows Israeli armed with IDF weapon bending down and starting brush fire in what led to clashes with neighboring Palestinians

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

An off duty soldier stands in a Palestinian field in the northern West Bank moments before bending down and lighting brushes on fire. (Screen capture/YouTube)
An off duty soldier stands in a Palestinian field in the northern West Bank moments before bending down and lighting brushes on fire. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.

PM orders introduction of bill to dissolve Knesset

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed Likud MK and House Committee chairman Miki Zohar to introduce a bill to dissolve the Knesset for an initial vote on on Monday.

He told Likud ministers that at the same time, talks will continue in an effort to reach an agreement between Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties for a compromise on a law regulating military draft exemptions for Haredi yeshiva students.

In the event that the sides are not able to reach an agreement and new elections are called, Netanyahu tells the Likud ministers that their party will run on a joint list with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu.

Incendiary balloon causes fire in wheat field near Gaza border community, authorities say

Authorities in the Sdot Negev Regional Council say that a fire that was sparked in a wheat field within their municipal borders near the Gaza Strip was caused by an incendiary balloon.

Likud minister says agreement reached with Haredi parties and URWP to maintain religious status quo

Likud minister Yariv Levin updates his ministerial counterparts that an agreement has been reached between Likud, the national religious Union of Right-Wing Parties, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties to maintain the status quo on issues of religion and state in the next government, if it is indeed formed by Wednesday night at midnight.

However, on the issue of settlements, Likud has rejected URWP demands, including legislation to cancel the 2005 Disengagement Law that has barred Israelis from returning to four demolished northern West Bank communities, the abolition of the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes settlement construction — and a pledge not to evacuate any settlements. The government may go on to support such moves but Netanyahu is not interested in turning them into principles of the new government.

Likud secretariat to convene Tuesday to “prepare for elections”

Following a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud secretariat will meet on Tuesday in Jerusalem in order to prepare for the possibility of new elections, in light of the standstill in coalition talks over disagreements between Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Prize-winning choreographer: ‘I support BDS opposition to Israeli occupation’

The choreographer and Israel Prize winner Ohad Naharin says that he supports the BDS movement’s opposition to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians.

Speaking to Army Radio, he says he was aware that his statements could lead to his performances being boycotted.

“I’ve always said that if boycotting a performance of mine will improve the situation in the territories or bring a solution to the conflict, I will support the boycott myself,” he says.

Naharin, the house choreographer and former artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, adds that proceeds from a Tel Aviv performance set for tonight would go to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel because that organization supports “the entire rainbow of people in Israel and helps everyone.”

Three French IS members sentenced to death in Iraq

An Iraqi court sentences three French citizens to death after they were found guilty of joining the Islamic State group, a court official says.

Captured in Syria by a US-backed force fighting the jihadists, they are the first French IS members to receive death sentences in Iraq, where they were transferred for trial.

Named as Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou, they have 30 days to appeal.

Iraq has taken custody of thousands of jihadists repatriated in recent months from neighbouring Syria, where they were caught by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces during the battle to destroy the IS “caliphate.”

Iraqi courts have placed on trial hundreds of foreigners, condemning many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign IS members have yet been executed.

Those sentenced today are among 12 French citizens who were caught in Syria and transferred to Iraqi custody in February.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have criticized Iraq’s anti-terror trials, which they say often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions obtained under torture.

The country remains in the top five “executioner” nations in the world, according to an Amnesty International report in April.

Analysts have also warned that prisons in Iraq have in the past acted as “academies” for future jihadists, including IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

— AFP

Kurdish prisoners end hunger strike in Turkey

Thousands of prisoners in Turkey ended their hunger strike against the conditions of jailed militant Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, their representative tells pro-Kurdish media.

“After the call… we are ending our hunger strikes,” Deniz Kaya says in a statement, quoted by Kurdish news agency ANF, following a call by Ocalan for the hunger strikes to end.

The protest began after Leyla Guven, a lawmaker for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), launched her hunger strike against Ocalan’s isolation in November.

Until May, Ocalan, who co-founded the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), did not have access to his lawyers for eight years.

After the first visit on May 2, Turkish authorities lifted an official ban on lawyers’ visits. Then on May 22, his lawyers made a second trip to see Ocalan.

Earlier today, his lawyer Nevroz Uysal read a message from Ocalan on May 22 in which he said the hunger strikes should come to an end after they had “achieved” their goal.

MP Guven says in a statement that although the hunger strike was successful, “our struggle against isolation and our struggle for social peace will continue in all areas.”

Some 3,000 prisoners across different prisons were on hunger strike and only consuming liquids and vitamin B, the HDP said, in solidarity with Guven who began her action while in custody and continued after she was released earlier this year.

Eight people also killed themselves over the issue, according to the party.

Kaya says 30 prisoners who had begun a “death fast” in April and May — only consuming water with sugar and salt — would also end their action.

— AFP

Toddler rushed to hospital in critical condition after being hit by car in Jerusalem

A two-year-old boy has been rushed to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in critical condition after being hit by a car in the capital.

Doctors say the toddler was brought to a local clinic suffering from severe head injuries and without a pulse. They are trying to resuscitate him.

PA security nabs woman planning on carrying out suicide attack against Israelis — report

The Palestinian Authority’s security forces have arrested a woman from the northern West Bank city of Qalqilya who had been planning on carrying out a suicide attack against Israelis for the Islamic State, the Ynet news site reports.

Alaa Bashir, a 23-year-old teacher was arrested earlier this month after she made contact with IS officials in Gaza and Syria through the Telegram encrypted messaging app and received instruction on how to prepare an explosive device, according to Ynet.

The Hebrew site says Bashir had been having social problems and had thus decided that she would end her life in such an attack.

“Bashir’s arrest was a source of embarrassment for the PA because of her family connections to a ranking official in the intelligence forces,” Ynet reports.

 

After Likud MK posts picture of bill to dissolve Knesset, Tibi responds, ‘Shoot. Don’t talk’

After Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar tweets out a picture of the bill he will be putting up for an initial reading tomorrow to dissolve the Knesset, Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi from the Hadash-Ta’al party tweets in response, “If you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk,”

Tibi says that his party will support such a measure.

Doctors declare death of 2-year-old hit by car in Jerusalem

Doctors at Shaare Zedek Medical Center have been forced to declare the death of a two-year-old old boy who was hit by a car in Jerusalem earlier today.

The toddler was brought to a local clinic without a pulse and in critical condition before being transferred to Shaare Zedek.

Liberman: Threats from Netanyahu are not making me want to return to negotiation table

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tells the Kan public broadcaster that “[Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations and threats against me do not bring me closer to wanting to negotiate, to say the least.”

The premier has blamed Liberman for the latest standstill in coalition talks that threatens to bring about new elections if not solved by Wednesday at 11:59 p.m.

 

21-year-old worker dies after falling at construction site in Ashkelon

A 21-year-old construction worker has succumbed to his wounds after falling from a building in the Ashkelon Industrial Zone, doctors at the southern coastal city’s Barzilai Medical Center say.

UN chief rejects Yemen president’s accusation of bias

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has assured Yemen’s leader that the world body will remain impartial in efforts to resolve the country’s conflict, rejecting accusations that its envoy was siding with rebels.

The pledge comes in a letter from Guterres to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who had accused the UN special envoy to Yemen of bias.

“I would like to assure you that every effort will be made to maintain the impartial stance that is expected of the United Nations,” while implementing a ceasefire agreement, Guterres says in the letter seen by AFP today.

In his own letter addressed to Guterres, Hadi accuses envoy Martin Griffiths of “providing the Houthi militia with guarantees to stay in Hodeida and its ports under the umbrella of the UN.”

“I can no longer accept these offences by your special envoy which threaten chances to find a (lasting) solution,” Hadi says.

Hodeida is the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s imports and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions of people.

Earlier this month, the United Nations supervised the rebels’ handover of the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa to a “coast guard,” but the government said they were in fact Huthi forces in different uniforms.

The pullback is in line with a ceasefire deal for Hodeida reached in Stockholm in December.

Guterres says that he and Griffiths were prepared “to discuss the legitimate concerns of the government of Yemen referenced in your letter, which we take very seriously.”

He also gave an assurance that the United Nations had no plans to set up an international administration in Hodeida.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Lise Grande, on Sunday condemned a deadly strike on a petrol station east of the city of Taez.

The attack on Friday killed 12 civilians, seven of them children, she said, updating an earlier death toll.

“Innocent lives continue to be lost in Yemen because of this conflict,” she said in a statement, without identifying the assailants.

Huthi rebels say it was an airstrike by the Saudi-led military coalition.

Government forces — backed by the coalition — and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have been locked in a four-year war that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed.

The conflict has triggered what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than two-thirds of the population in need of aid.

— AFP

One third of Israel’s adolescents at risk of sexual violence, report finds

A third of Israel’s adolescents are at risk of sexual violence, according to a report issued today by the nonprofit organization Elem, which reaches out to troubled youth.

Based on data collected from more than 21,000 young people helped by the organization over the past year, the document — presented to President Reuven Rivlin — asserted that 70 percent of Israel’s 800,000 teens lead normative lives, suffering problems that are typical of adolescents.

Another 15 percent were defined as at moderate risk. These used drugs and alcohol to cope with depression and adolescent issues.

At the more extreme end of the scale, ten percent — 80,000 teens — were unable to function in school, felt like failures, had suicidal thoughts and suffered from serious emotional and family problems.

Shas says Liberman using draft law as excuse to topple right-wing government

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party releases a statement accusing Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman of using legislation regulating exemptions from mandatory military service for yeshiva students “as an excuse to topple the right-wing government.”

“Mr. Liberman: We call on you to demonstrate responsibility… Do not drag Israel into a civil war,” Shas says. “Stop the wild incitement against a large public in Israel [ultra-Orthodox Jews] and fulfill your commitment to establish a right-wing government.”

Likud ministers oppose PM proposal to fold Kulanu into their party if early elections called

Likud ministers have expressed opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to fold Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu into Likud if elections are in fact called, the Walla news site reports.

The ministers, including Ze’ev Elkin and Miri Regev, tell Netanyahu that Likud MKs should not be pushed back on the list at the expense of Kulanu lawmakers. The ministers supported using the same slate of Likud MKs in the next election, if one is called, rather than holding primaries for the second time in months.

Police recommend charges against Israel’s richest woman

Police and the Israel Securities Authority say they have enough evidence of wrongdoing against executives of Israel’s largest construction company including its former chairwoman, billionaire Shari Arison.

The Lahav 433 special investigations unit has wrapped up a year-long investigation of tens of millions of dollars in bribes paid by the Shikun and Binui company to public officials in several African countries in order to win lucrative building projects.

Netanyahu instructs Likud MKs to cease attacks on Liberman

In an apparent effort to calm tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed Likud MKs to cease the attacks on Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, whom they have blamed for a deadlock in coalition talks that has brought the country to the brink of new elections.

PM says he’s offered likely coalition partners proposal on draft law ‘to prevent unnecessary elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a video statement, saying he is making a “last-ditch effort to form a right-wing government and prevent unnecessary elections.”

Referring to Yisrael Beytenu along with the Shas and United Torah Judaism ultra-Orthodox parties, the premier says he has offered his likely coalition partners a proposal for a solution to the stalemate in negotiations over legislation regulating exemptions from mandatory IDF service for yeshiva students.

“It is based on the principles established by the army and on the data that the army has determined. There is no reason to reject this [proposal],” Netanyahu says.

“I’m going to invite all party leaders [for a meeting] tonight. I want to talk to them so we can try together to prevent unnecessary elections.”

Majority of Israelis think peace agreement with Palestinians would improve Jewish state’s international standing

Fifty-eight percent of Israelis think that signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians would positively contribute to Israel’s international standing, the latest Peace Index from the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center finds.

Fifty-six percent of Israelis say that a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would not improve Israel’s international status.

Fifty-one and a half percent think that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is only moderately successful in damaging Israel’s international status.

Ninety-five percent of the Israeli public thinks that the United States is Israel’s most friendly ally, followed by India (62%) and Germany (58%). Only 22% of the Israeli public thinks that Egypt is a friendly ally. On the list of countries that are neither friendly nor hostile, the survey finds UK (33%) and Russia (38%). As for China, 50% of the the Israeli public thinks that it is friendly toward Israel, and 43% think that it is neither friendly nor hostile.

Initial reports of an explosion that damaged Israeli vehicle in northern West Bank

Security forces are responding to initial reports of an explosion heard near the northern West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, which resulted in the damaging of an Israeli vehicle.

There are no immediate reports of injuries.

 

After PM invites coalition leaders to meet to discuss proposal on draft law, Liberman say’s he won’t show

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman says he will boycott a meeting organized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for likely coalition party leaders this evening during which a compromise proposal to the standstill in talks over the IDF draft law will be discussed.

“There is nothing to discuss,” Liberman tells Channel 12.

Iran state TV fires managers over ‘insult’ to Sunnis

Iranian state TV has fired two channel managers over a live program deemed insulting to Sunni Muslims, it says in a statement.

The sackings at Channel 5 came after a broadcast on May 20 celebrating the birthday of the second imam in Shiite Islam, Hassan ibn Ali.

During the program, religious chanter and storyteller Ahmad Qadami recited a eulogy that “insulted the sanctities of Sunni Muslims,” according to official news agency IRNA.

“Following the negligence of airing an irreverent chanter’s speech on Channel 5, the channel’s head and broadcast manager were fired,” state TV’s website quotes head manager Abdolali Aliaskari as saying.

The channel’s senior producer, program manager and video supervisor were also fired, TV deputy head Morteza Mirbagheri told semiofficial news agency ISNA.

According to IRNA, the chanter was summoned by Iran’s culture and media court on Sunday and further investigations into his case are pending.

Iran is a Shiite powerhouse, but under the country’s constitution, Sunnis — who account for around 10 percent of the population — are “free to perform their religious rites according to their religious jurisprudence.”

— AFP

Iraq warns of ‘danger of war’ as Iran’s top diplomat visits

Iraqi leaders are warning of the risks of war during a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country is locked in a tense standoff with the United States.

Zarif’s visit to neighboring Iraq — which is caught in the middle of its two allies, the US and Iran — follows a decision by Washington to deploy 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East.

“We are currently repelling all the efforts of war against Iran, whether economic or military,” Zarif says at a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali al-Hakim.

“We will face them with strength and we will resist,” he adds.

For his part, Hakim said: “We stand by our neighbor Iran, and economic sanctions are unnecessary and cause great suffering to the Iranian people.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi warned of the “danger of a war” during a meeting with Zarif on Saturday night, his office says.

Abdel Mahdi pleaded for the “stability of the region and the upholding of the nuclear deal,” it said, referring to a 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh discussed with Zarif “the need to prevent all war or escalation,” his office said.

— AFP

Lebanon arrests Saudi at airport with 10 kg of captagon drug

Lebanon has arrested a Saudi man at the Beirut airport carrying about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of the amphetamine-like drug captagon, say authorities cited in local media.

“The airport’s security service, in coordination with the army intelligence directorate, arrested… Saudi citizen H. al-Ruwayli as he was leaving the airport with about 10 kilos of captagon,” the NNA state news agency says.

It did not say whether he was arriving in or leaving Lebanon, and security services were not immediately available for comment.

Captagon is an amphetamine manufactured in Lebanon and probably also in Syria and Iraq, mainly for consumption in Saudi Arabia, according to the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

It is also one of the most commonly used drugs in the Syrian war, where fighters say it helps them stay awake for days and numbs their senses, giving them stamina for long battles and allowing them to kill with abandon.

Lebanon has previously stopped several shipments of the drug to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In April, Lebanese police seized more than 800,000 captagon pills they said were worth more than $12 million, in an operation coordinated with Saudi authorities.

In July last year, at least eight people involved in drug trafficking were killed and about 40 arrested in an exchange of fire with soldiers during an operation in eastern Lebanon, the army said.

In one of the country’s largest busts, Lebanon arrested a Saudi prince and four other Saudi nationals in October 2015 for attempting to smuggle out nearly two tonnes of captagon via Beirut’s airport.

— AFP

Sexual abuse victims group blasts Australia for sending delegation to meet with minister alleged of aiding pedophiles

An Israel-based organization combating child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community slams Australia over a meeting held earlier today between Canberra’s health minister and Jerusalem’s Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is under investigation for using his office to pressure state psychiatrists to provide false reports deeming alleged sex predator Malka Leifer unfit for extradition.

“This is an astonishing development,” says Kol V’Oz head Manny Waks. “This is an affront to Leifer’s alleged victims, their supporters, and to those of us working tirelessly to ensure justice is achieved.

“At the very least, no Australian official should be legitimizing Litzman by engaging with him while he is still under investigation — his alleged conduct has exacerbated the pain and suffering of several Australian citizens. And by engaging with him, these Australian leaders have further added to these courageous alleged victims’ hurt,” Waks says.

“We are waiting every single day since 2011 for Malka Leifer to be extradited back to Australia and to see this meeting occur is deeply hurtful. Even more hurtful is that there is no mention of the alleged corruption and interference that has happened in this case,” says Nicole Meyer, one of Leifer’s alleged victims.

A Health Ministry statement says the sides discussed strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, mainly in the areas of digital medicine, management of public health systems, assimilation of genomic technologies, medical cannabis and vaccination policies.

The delegation was from Western Australia and not part of the federal Australian government.

Zarif: Iran will defend itself against any aggression

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tells reporters during a press conference in Baghdad that Tehran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, the Reuters news agency reports.

“We will defend against any war efforts against Iran, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” Reuters quotes him as saying.

“We are saying very clearly and honestly that we oppose the unilateral actions taken by the United States. We stand with the Islamic Republic of Iran in its position,” says Zarif’s Iraqi counterpart Mohammed al-Hakim says.

Merkel bloc leading in EU vote, but score at historic low, exit polls show

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc was leading in European elections in Germany, exit polls show, but the score was shaping out to be a historic low, at just around 28 percent.

Her coalition partner SPD was also headed for its poorest showing in an EU poll with 15.5%, two separate polls by broadcasters ARD and ZDF showed, as the party was knocked from second position by the Greens, which surged to between 20.5% and 22%.

The far-right AfD was set to improve on their 2014 score of 7.1%, with both exit polls seeing it coming in at 10.5%.

— AFP

Likud threatens to go after Liberman’s base if Yisrael Beytenu walks out of coalition talks

The Likud is threatening to campaign in communities that make up the heart of Yisrael Beytenu’s base — immigrants from the Former Soviet Union — if the latter party’s chairman, Avigdor Liberman, does not return to coalition talks and agree to a compromise on the military draft law that would prevent early elections.

A statement to reporters attributed to a “senior Likud official” states that in the past election campaign, Netanyahu’s party did not invest resources in reaching out to Russian immigrants, in an effort to ensure that Yisrael Beytenu crossed the electoral threshold.

However, the same “senior Likud official” says that if new elections are called, his party will invest millions in campaigning in that sector.

“Liberman is throwing in the garbage all of the achievements that were offered to him [during coalition talks] for the Russian public,” the Likud official says.

Liberman says he’d welcome Ayelet Shaked onto slate if new elections called

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tells the Kan public broadcaster that he would be happy to have former Jewish Home justice minister Ayelet Shaked join his slate if new elections are called.

Teva settles with Oklahoma for $85 million in opioid case

One of the drugmakers named in Oklahoma’s lawsuit over the opioid crisis has agreed to a settlement in which it will pay the state $85 million.

Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter both announce the settlement in separate statements. Teva, its related affiliates and Johnson & Johnson and several of its subsidiaries were set to go to trial Tuesday in Norman.

Hunter says the case against Johnson & Johnson will proceed on schedule.

He also says the funds from the settlement with Teva will be used to fight the opioid crisis in Oklahoma.

Teva does not admit any wrongdoing under the settlement.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma settled with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma for $270 million.

— AP

IDF suspends soldier filmed setting Palestinian field ablaze while on leave earlier this month

The Israeli settler filmed earlier this month setting a Palestinian field on fire in the northern West Bank was an off-duty soldier on weekend leave from the army, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Last week, the B’Tselem rights group released footage of the May 17 incident in which an Israeli settler, armed with a Tavor rifle, is seen bending down to a field belonging to farmers from the village of Urif, near the Yitzhar settlement and igniting a brush fire.

The IDF says it has suspended the soldier from his combat unit and the police have opened an investigation into the incident.

Huge victory for Orban’s party in European vote, opinion poll shows

The Fidesz party of Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, is set to win a huge victory in the European parliament elections, according to opinion poll.

The poll gives Fidesz 56 percent of the vote, with two left-wing opposition parties, the Socialists (MSZP) and the Democratic Coalition (DK), trailing far behind, at 10% apiece.

— AFP

Le Pen’s far-right party seen topping EU election in France, exit polls show

France’s eurosceptic far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen looks set to finish top in European elections Sunday, two exit polls show, in what would be a major disappointment for pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

The polls showed the National Rally on track for around 24-24.2 percent, with Macron’s centrist alliance trailing with 22.5-23.0%, according to exit polls from Ifop-Fiducial and Harris Interactive-Agence Epoka.

The head of the National Rally campaign, 23-year-old Jordan Bardella, called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron’s defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

In a first reaction to the exit polls, an aide to Macron calls the results as indicated by the exit polls “respectable.”

Sources close to the head of state had told AFP before the election that a bad loss to Le Pen could prompt a cabinet reshuffle, with the job of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe seen as in the balance.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat.”

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally, if confirmed, would be slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9%, again finishing top.

Reflecting a trend seen in other EU countries, the exit polls also showed the green party EEVL led by a former top figure at Greenpeace France making strong gains with a score of 12-12.7%, compared with 8.9% in 2014.

The results, if confirmed later Sunday, would underline the continuing difficulties of France’s traditional center-right Republicans party, which is seen winning 8-8.1%, and the center-left alliance including the Socialist Party, at just 6.3-6.5%.

Turnout has risen considerably to 52-54%, according to nearly complete figures, compared with the last election in 2014 when it was 35.1%, and 2009 when it slumped to 33.2%.

— AFP

Lapid says Netanyahu ‘obstacle’ to national unity government

Blue and White number 2 Yair Lapid implores for his opposition party to be allowed to form a coalition, saying that Netanyahu is  standing in the way of a unity government.

“Netanyahu didn’t win the election. We have exactly the same number of seats as Likud. If he fails to form a government then it passes to us,” he says at a press conference shortly after party chief Benny Gantz said the party wouldn’t support a bill to dissolve the Knesset.

“Let us form a government. The public wants a national unity government. Netanyahu is an obstacle to a unity government. If someone else stands at the head of Likud, anyone except Netanyahu, we can form a national unity government.”

“Instead of someone suspected of criminal offenses, interested only in himself, Israel needs a fair and clean government that gets things done for the public,” he says. “A national unity government between Blue and White and Likud, led by any other Likud MK. This is the time. It’s the right thing.”

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Merkel bloc leading in EU vote, but score at historic low, exit polls show

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc was leading in European elections in Germany, exit polls show, but the score was shaping out to be a historic low, at just around 28 percent.

Her coalition partner SPD was also headed for its poorest showing in an EU poll with 15.5%, two separate polls by broadcasters ARD and ZDF showed, as the party was knocked from second position by the Greens, which surged to between 20.5% and 22%.

The far-right AfD was set to improve on their 2014 score of 7.1%, with both exit polls seeing it coming in at 10.5%.

— AFP