Cairo, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — French President Emmanuel Macron is to hold talks Monday with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, saying beforehand that he wants to boost ties with an important ally to fight terrorism but also use the visit to encourage respect for human rights.
Macron, heading a large delegation on a three-day trip to the Arab world's most populous country, said he wants to "pursue a truthful dialogue on topics of public freedoms and human rights" — an area he feels Egypt has not progressed enough on since he raised it with officials earlier in his mandate.
France, which considers itself the birthplace of human rights, has come under pressure by advocates to raise the matter with general-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose human rights record has been widely condemned and is seen as worsening.
Macron said that too many normal people "who do not threaten the regime's stability" were being jailed.
"It is on this area of what is happening in Egypt that I will continue to focus things. I will do it more openly during this trip," Macron told reporters late on Sunday, adding that better treatment for political opponents was in the interest of el-Sissi and Egypt.
Macron said he felt the current crackdown on opposition in Egypt, begun after el-Sissi overthrew his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013, had become worse than under the country's longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
"I think what is happening here sooner or later threatens the stability of Egypt," Macron said. "That's to say, I think that the policies as they are being done are perceived by intellectuals, the Egyptian civil society, as being even stronger than (under) the Mubarak regime."
Macron also said that he would raise specific names with el-Sissi in a confidential discussion. Aside from heightened public emphasis on human rights, he did not mention raising any new specific levers to try and incentivize the Egyptian leader, who has faced no real competition in parliament or elections.
Rights groups and activists have urged France and other Western powers to halt weapons sales to Egypt, a major purchaser, until it shows improvement on the way it treats its own citizenry. But Macron dismissed using such pressure, saying it was important to respect Egypt's sovereignty and not cut it off because that could drive it further into the arms of the West's authoritarian rivals, Russia and China, which el-Sissi has courted.
Asked specifically if human rights issues could affect specific arms sales, such as one under discussion for additional Rafale advanced fighter jets to Egypt, Macron said such matters were separate.
"I would differentiate between the two subjects, they are not linked for us and they never were."
Macron arrived Sunday in Egypt and visited the country's south, where he toured the famed temple of Abu Simbel and other archaeological sites. He is to meet el-Sissi later on Monday, when he will sign several bilateral accords.
His delegation includes government ministers, two dozen representatives from academic, cultural, and scientific fields, and a dozen business leaders -- including the heads of Rafale producer Dassault.
Macron will also dine with local business leaders and meet the heads of Egypt's Christian and Muslim communities during the trip, his first to Egypt since taking office in 2017.
London, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — A leading Brexit supporter says he will back Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit divorce deal with the European Union if she wins concessions on controversial language designed to prevent border checks in Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson, the former U.K. foreign secretary, writes Monday in the Daily Telegraph that it would be "unadulterated good Brexit news" if May negotiated an expiration date for the Irish border backstop plan. Currently, the backstop clause would indefinitely keep Britain in a customs union with the EU if no other way were found to avoid physical border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Tuesday is a crucial day for May's Brexit deal, with Parliament considering a number of amendments that could prevent Britain from leaving the EU without an agreement on future relations.
Paris, Jan 27 (AP/UNB) — French police are investigating how a prominent yellow vest protester suffered a dramatic eye injury in Paris, as well as other protest-related injuries.
Violence by protesters and the sometimes-aggressive police response have prompted a national debate since the anti-government movement kicked off two months ago.
A counter-demonstration is planned Sunday in Paris by groups calling themselves the "red scarves" and "blue vests" to protest the violence.
Paris police said Sunday they are investigating the eye injury of protester Jerome Rodrigues, among other protest injuries. Video images show Rodriguez collapsed on the ground Saturday near the Bastille monument in Paris, where protesters throwing projectiles clashed with police seeking to disperse them.
The movement sees French President Emmanuel Macron's government as favoring the wealthy. Most of its actions are peaceful.
London, Jan 27 (AP/UNB) — Hundreds of people assembled near the Irish border to highlight the risks Brexit poses to peace in Northern Ireland.
The protesters gathered near Newry in Northern Ireland on Saturday to reject the possibility of a "hard" border with ID checks and customs controls going up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
Some created a mock border checkpoint where actors dressed as soldiers and customs officers showed what such a protected boundary might look like.
There is concern on both sides that a guarded border could jeopardize a hard-won coexistence since a 1998 agreement largely ended decades of sectarian and nationalist violence.
The British and Irish governments don't want a hard border, but the European Union has said it's likely unavoidable if the U.K. leaves the EU without a deal.
Moscow, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — Two Tanzanian-flagged commercial vessels caught fire in the Black Sea, leaving at least 14 sailors dead, Russian officials said Monday. Five other sailors were missing.
The Federal Agency for the Sea and River Transport said the fire erupted while fuel was being pumped from one tanker to another. The blaze spread from one ship to the other, prompting the crews to jump overboard, according to Russian news agencies.
The news agencies quoted the federal maritime agency as saying the two vessels had 31 crew members combined who are citizens of Turkey and India.
The maritime agency said that salvage teams have saved 12 crewmembers, correcting its earlier report that 14 sailors have been rescued. It said that 11 bodies were taken from the sea, adding that rescuers saw another three dead but failed to recover them. The search for five missing seamen was continuing.
The Russian navy has joined the rescue operation, deploying two of its ships.
The fire erupted while the two vessels, the Maestro and the Candy, were anchored near the Kerch Strait linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.