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French President heads to Germany for rare state visit

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Berlin, May 26 (IANS/DPA) Emmanuel Macron begins the first state visit to Germany by a French President in 24 years on Sunday, a pomp-filled three-day trip described as a tribute to the Franco-German friendship.

Macron is due to arrive in Berlin at 2 pm (1200 GMT). He will head first to the government district, where the “Democracy Festival” celebrating 75 years of Germany’s Basic Law – the democratic constitution adopted in West Germany after World War II – will be held.

At the time, West Germany was under occupation by the victorious Western Allies, which included France, Britain and the United States.

Macron and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will engage in an on-onstage discussion at the festival. The French leader will then travel to Steinmeier’s nearby official residence, the Bellevue Palace, where he will be greeted with military honours. A joint press conference by the two presidents will follow in the late afternoon.

A walk through the Brandenburg Gate with Berlin Mayor Kai Wagner and a state banquet at Bellevue Palace is scheduled for the evening.

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Sunday’s visit comes ahead of European elections to decide the next European Parliament. Far-right EU parties have seen a surge in support in recent years – including in France and Germany – and are expected to do well in the June 6-9 polls.

The relationship between Paris and Berlin has long been seen as the driving force of European policymaking. But frictions began to emerge in 2022, after Angela Merkel left the German political scene, although Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have recently made efforts to improve cooperation.

The agreement has been found on several issues, including reform of the EU’s debt and deficit rules, but other points of contention remain, notably on the type of military aid for Ukraine and the EU’s economic policy responses to protectionist measures by China and the United States.

These thorny questions and others will discussed at a meeting of French and German ministers on Tuesday.

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Macron and his wife Brigitte will be travelling to Dresden on Monday. There, he will give a speech on European policy in front of the Frauenkirche, a monumental domed church and a symbol of post-war reconciliation.

On Tuesday, they will travel to Munster, where Macron will be awarded the Peace of Westphalia Prize.

Macron came to power in France seven years ago and cannot run for a third term in the 2027 presidential election.

The official state visit is the first by a French president to Germany since 2000, although leaders from both countries regularly meet and visit in less formal ways. Macron had planned to make the state visit last July.

However, the trip was postponed due to nationwide unrest in France following the deadly police shooting of a 17-year-old that shocked the nation.

–IANS/DPA

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International

349 prisoners pardoned in Afghanistan before Eid

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Kabul, June 16 (IANS) The Afghan caretaker government’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has pardoned 349 inmates before Eid al-Adha, according to a statement by the country’s Supreme Court.

The statement noted that 279 other inmates were also exempted from their remaining prison sentence, Xinhua news agency reported.

Eid al-Adha, the largest annual religious festival in Afghanistan, will be celebrated from Monday to Wednesday.

–IANS

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Energy vouchers for 1.3 mn S. Korean vulnerable households this summer

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Seoul, June 16 (IANS) The ruling People Power Party (PPP) and government officials on Sunday agreed to provide energy vouchers to 1.3 million vulnerable households as the country braces for a hotter-than-average summer.

The support scheme was announced during a meeting of senior officials of the government, the presidential office and the PPP, according to Rep. Jang Dong-hyuk, the PPP’s chief spokesperson.

The decision to provide support of up to 53,000 won ($38), up 10,000 won from last year, comes as South Korea’s weather agency has forecast this summer to be hotter than average, reports Yonhap news agency.

The officials also decided to extend an electricity freeze for 3.6 million households in vulnerable groups.

–IANS

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Zelensky calls for second event as Ukraine peace summit ends

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Vienna, June 16 (IANS/DPA) The two-day Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland should be quickly followed up with a second meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday towards the close of proceedings.

Preparations would take only months and not years, Zelensky said after representatives of some 100 countries and organisations came together at the Burgenstock mountain hotel resort near Lucerne.

Some countries had already signalled their willingness to host such a summit, according to Zelensky.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that a prerequisite for Russia’s participation would be Moscow’s commitment to the UN Charter.

The final declaration of the summit, which was signed by 80 of the countries present, makes no mention of a follow-up conference.

Swiss President Viola Amherd acknowledged diverse perspectives at the conference but emphasized that it marked the first high-level discussion on a peace process. Some substantive prerequisites for a path to an end to the war in Ukraine had been created, she said.

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The fact that the vast majority of the states present agreed on the Burgenstock Communique shows what diplomacy can achieve through patient work, Amherd added.

Russia had not been invited to the event and showed no interest in participating. The summit was also an attempt by the West to involve other countries in South America, Asia and Africa in peace efforts based on international law.

Ukraine is calling for a “just and lasting” peace.

–IANS/DPA

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Iran condemns G7 claims against its nuclear activities

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Tehran, June 16 (IANS) Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani slammed on Sunday the claims of the Group of Seven (G7) over the country’s nuclear activities as “anti-Tehran”.

Reacting to a G7 communique issued on Friday, Kanaani stressed in a statement that Iran’s nuclear programme is “exclusively peaceful”, reported Xinhua News Agency.

He said Iran would carry forward its “peaceful” nuclear projects and plans in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and safeguards agreement, regardless of political pressures and “propaganda campaigns.” He said the communique’s mention of an anti-Iran resolution of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was another proof of “the political approach pursued by those behind the resolution” and certain governments’ “abuse” of international mechanisms against independent states.

The communique called on Tehran to “cease and reverse nuclear escalations”, stop the continuing “uranium enrichment activities”, engage in serious dialogue, provide convincing assurances that its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful, fully cooperate with the IAEA, and comply with the agency’s monitoring and verification mechanism, “including the Board of Governors’ resolution of June 5”.

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The IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution urged Iran to “step up cooperation with the IAEA and reverse its recent barring of inspectors.”

Kanaani regretted that some countries with “political motivations” made baseless and unproven claims to continue the failed policy of sanctions on Iran, advising the G7 members to refrain from using outdated, “destructive” policies. He stressed that the United States and the E3 group of France, Britain and Germany should give proof of their goodwill and refrain from taking “futile politically-motivated” measures against Iran.

Iran signed a nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with world powers including the United States and the E3 group in July 2015, accepting restrictions on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. However, the United States withdrew from the agreement in May 2018, reinstating sanctions and prompting Iran to scale back some of its nuclear commitments. Efforts to revive the JCPOA commenced in April 2021 in Vienna, but despite multiple rounds of negotiations, no substantial progress has been reported since the last talks in August 2022.

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–IANS

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2 killed, multiple injured in shooting in Texas

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San Francisco, June 16 (IANS) A shooting left two people dead and several wounded on Saturday night near the capital city of the US state of Texas, local police said.

The shooting took place before 11 p.m. Saturday (4 a.m. GMT Sunday) during a Juneteenth celebration at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, about 19 miles (30.4 km) north of Austin, reported Xinhua News Agency.

An altercation began between two groups during a concert at the event and resulted in the shooting, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said during a news conference at the scene. The two victims who died at the scene were not involved in the altercation, Allen said, adding that multiple wounded victims were transported to local hospitals.

An investigation was going on. Police did not know how many shooters were involved, and no suspect was yet in custody, he said.

–IANS

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