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France’s Macron appears set for Elysee in runoff with Le Pen

Campaign posters of French National Front (FN) political party leader Marine Le Pen (C) and head of the political movement En Marche! (Onwards!) Emmanuel Macron (R), are seen in Antibes, France, April 14, 2017.
By Sybille de La Hamaide and Matthias Blamont | PARIS/HENIN-BEAUMONT, FRANCE
Centrist Emmanuel Macron took a big step towards the French presidency on Sunday by winning the first round of voting and qualifying for a May 7 runoff alongside far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Though Macron, 39, is a comparative political novice who has never held elected office, new opinion polls on Sunday had him easily winning the final clash against the 48-year-old Le Pen.
Sunday's outcome is a huge defeat for the two center-right and center-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years, and also reduces the prospect of an anti-establishment shock on the scale of Britain's vote last June to quit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

In a victory speech, Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche! (Onwards!) movement: "In one year, we have changed the face of French politics." He went on to say he would bring in new faces and talent to transform a stale political system if elected.

Conceding defeat even before figures from the count came in, rival conservative and Socialist candidates urged their supporters now to put their energies into backing Macron and stopping any chance of a second-round victory by Le Pen, whose anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies they said spelled disaster for France.

A Harris survey taken on Sunday saw Macron winning the runoff by 64 percent to 36, and an Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll gave a similar result.

As investors breathed a collective sigh of relief at what the market regarded as the best of several possible outcomes, the euro soared 2 percent to $1.09395 EUR= when markets opened in Asia before slipping back to around $1.0886.

It was the euro's highest level since Nov. 10, the day after the results of the U.S. presidential election.

In a race that was too close to call up to the last minute, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister who founded his own party only a year ago, had 23.9 percent of the votes against 21.4 percent for Le Pen, according to figures from the Interior Ministry with 96 percent of votes counted.

Seconds after the first projections came through, Macron supporters at a Paris conference center burst into the national anthem, the Marseillaise. Many were under 25, reflecting some of the appeal of a man aiming to become France's youngest head of state since Napoleon.


With an eye to Le Pen's avowedly France-first policies, Macron told the crowd: "I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists."

If he wins, Macron's biggest challenges will lie ahead, as he first tries to secure a working parliamentary majority for his young party in June, and then seeks broad popular support for labor reforms that are sure to meet resistance.

Addressing the battle ahead, he declared he would seek to break with a system that "has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years".

"From today I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation. It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place," he said.

Le Pen, who is herself bidding to make history as France's first female president, follows in the footsteps of her father, who founded the National Front and reached the second round of the presidential election in 2002.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was ultimately crushed when voters from right and left rallied around the conservative Jacques Chirac in order to keep out a party whose far-right, anti-immigrant views they considered unpalatably xenophobic.

His daughter has done much to soften her party's image, and found widespread support among young voters by pitching herself as an anti-establishment defender of French workers and French interests against global corporations and an economically constricting EU.

"The great issue in this election is the rampant globalization that is putting our civilization at risk," she declared in her first word after results came through.

She went on to launch an attack on the policies of Macron, whom she again described as "the money king" in a disparaging swipe at his investment banker background.

His deregulation policies, she said, would lead to unjust international competition against France's business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists.

Nevertheless, with several defeated candidates calling on supporters to stop her, Le Pen she seems destined to suffer a similar fate to her father when she goes up against Macron in two weeks' time.

Defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and defeated right-wing candidate Francois Fillon all urged voters to rally behind Macron in the second round.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman hailed Macron's success, tweeting: "Good that @EmmanuelMacron succeeded with his policy for a strong EU and social market economy. Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed similar good wishes for the second round, his spokesman said in Brussels.

It was a bitter night for Fillon, seen as a shoo-in for the Elysee until he was hit in January by allegations that his wife had been paid from the public purse for work she did not do.

Fillon scored 19.9 percent in the first round and far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon 19.5 percent.

"This defeat is mine and it is for me and me alone to bear it," Fillon, a 63-year-old former conservative prime minister, told a news conference, adding that he would now vote for Macron.

The two politicians left in the race offer radically contrasting economic visions for a country whose economy lags that of its neighbors and where a quarter of young people are unemployed.

Macron's gradual deregulation measures are likely to be welcomed by global financial markets, as are cuts in state expenditure and the civil service. Le Pen wants to print money to finance expanded welfare payments and tax cuts, ditch the euro currency and possibly pull out of the EU.

"Markets will be reassured that the dreaded Le Pen versus Mélenchon run-off has been avoided," said Diego Iscaro, an economist from IHS Markit.

"As a result, we expect some recovery in French bond prices, while the euro is also likely to benefit," he said. "However, a lot can happen in two weeks and French assets are likely under some pressure until the second round is out of the way."

Timothy Ash, an economist at Bluebay asset management, said Trump's victory last November marked a turning point for electorates playing the protest card.

"Despite all the hype about the rise of populism, 60 percent of voters went for mainstream candidates ... In an uncertain world, they rather go for what they know best and want to take fewer risks," he said.

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Google doodle remembers Kannada actor Rajkumar on his birth anniversary

New Delhi 
Google today dedicated its doodle to veteran Kannada actor Rajkumar and paid a tribute to the star on the occasion of his 88th birth anniversary.

The doodle sees a larger-than-life Rajkumar on the silver screen while the audience sitting in a theatre cheers for him.
According to Google doodle team's post on their blog, "Early drafts of today's Doodle featured different interpretations of the beloved star's work. The first illustrates Rajkumar singing and holding the white bird from Kasturi Nivasa, a quintessential Kannada drama and a cornerstone of Rajkumar's cinematic legacy. Another Doodle draft showcases an array of iconic characters Rajkumar played over a half century of acting. Ultimately, the Doodle team decided to feature Rajkumar's larger-than-life personality beaming at a crowd of moviegoers from the silver screen where his legacy lives on for generations of Indian audiences."
The doodle will be seen for the entire day today.
A #GoogleDoodle in India celebrating actor, singer, and cultural icon, Rajkumar! 🎭 🎤 → https://t.co/TtmZJ8Z7x8 pic.twitter.com/RDiwCCNUU5
— Google Doodles (@GoogleDoodles) April 23, 2017
Born on April 4, 1929, as Singanalluru Puttaswamayya Muthuraju, the legendary actor is a four-time National award winner, a recipient of the Padma Bhushan (in 1983) and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (in 1995) for the lifetime contribution to Indian Cinema.

He started his film career in 1954 in the film ' Bedara Kannapa' and went on to star in over 220 movies, his last being ' Shabdavedhi' in 2000.

In 2000, the Kannada icon had to face a bad phase, when he was kidnapped by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan and was held captive for 108 days.

The actor died of cardiac arrest at his residence in Bangalore on April 12, 2006 at the age of 77. 

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US accuses TCS, Infosys of violating H-1B visa norms

The US has accused top Indian IT firms TCS and Infosys of unfairly cornering the lion’s share of H-1B visas by putting extra tickets in the lottery system, which the Trump administration wants to replace with a more merit-based immigration policy.

At a White House briefing, an official in the Trump administration said a small number of giant outsourcing firms flood the system with applications which naturally ups their chances of success in the lottery draw. “You may know their names well, but like the top recipients of the H-1B visa are companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant — they will apply for a very large number of visas, more than they get, by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle, if you will, and then they’ll get the lion’s share of visas,” the senior official said, according to transcript of the briefing posted on White House website.
Responding to a follow-up on why Indian companies were singled out for a mention, the White House response said Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Cognizant were the top three recipients of H-1B visas. “And those three companies are companies that have an average wage for H-1B visas between US $60,000 and US $65,000 (a year). By contrast, the median Silicon Valley software engineer’s wage is probably around US $150,000,” the official said, adding that contracting firms that are not skills employers, who oftentimes use workers for entry-level positions, capture the lion’s share of H-1B visas. “And that’s all public record.”

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Prime Minister Modi seeks states’ support for growth

New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that states need to work together for what he calls a vision to create a “New India” while addressing a meeting of the Niti Aayog’s governing council that was skipped by chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal — two of his staunchest critics.
The Niti Aayog is the country’s top-most policy making body, and its governing council has among its members the Prime Minister and all chief ministers of the country.

Sunday’s meeting was called to discuss a ‘15-year vision document’ that would lay down the roadmap for India’s growth, economically and socially. “The Niti Aayog is working on a 15-year-long term vision, 7-year medium term strategy, and 3-year action agenda…This effort needs support of states,” the PMO quoted Modi as saying in his opening statement.
The country is trying to push its GDP growth to upwards of 7.5% after it slipped to 7.1% in 2016-17 from 7.9% a year ago due to the demonetisation drive in November last.

Among those efforts is the rollout of a new indirect taxation regime, the GST, which the PM referred to on Sunday to drive home his point about federal cooperation. “Consensus on GST will go down in history as a great illustration of cooperative federalism,” Modi said, adding, “GST reflects the spirit of one nation, one aspiration, one determination.”

The PM also called for discussions on a plan to hold simultaneous parliamentary and state elections.

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End of Red Beacons : A big blow to VIP culture

Nivedita Khandekar

“Well begun is half done.” That was what the famous Greek philosopher said. Union Cabinet’s decision of doing away with the lal batti culture is a good start for a battle that can prove to be a long one.

On Wednesday, April 19, 2017, the Union Cabinet decided to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules to end the use of red or any coloured beacon by all, including the President, Vice President and the Prime Minister. “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted soon after.

 “The Union Cabinet, in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi today decided to do away with beacons of all kinds atop all categories of vehicles in the country. The government is of the considered opinion that beacons on vehicles are perceived symbols of VIP Culture, and have no place in a democratic country. They have no relevance whatsoever. Beacons, however, will be allowed on vehicles concerned with emergency and relief services, ambulance, fire service etc. In the light of this decision the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways will make necessary provisions in the law,” was the brief statement by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways.   

Immediately, the next day, i.e. on Thursday, April 20, 2017, gazette notification was issued.

Soon after, the television channels and news portals were flashing the breaking news even as the social media was full of gleeful messages. The wide spread joy at the news that had a direct bearing on few thousand people – those whose cars were allowed beacons, red, orange or any other colour – sent a message to the scores of tens and thousands of others. The message that can be seen as assurance. The message that can be seen as promise. The message that signifies a change. The message that can be seen to end discrimination.

The Supreme Court Ruling

The government has taken forward a Supreme Court ruling of December 2013. It had sought to restrict the use of red beacons even with an amendment in the relevant law. The Supreme Court, while hearing the petition on VIP culture, observed, “One of the issues highlighted in the note was that if the instinct of power is concentrated in few individuals, then naked greed for power will destroythe basics of democratic principles. But, what we have done in the last four decades would shock the most established political systems. … … … The best example of this is the use of symbols of authority including the red lights on the vehicles of public representatives from the lowest to the highest and civil servants of various cadres. The red lights symbolize power and a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not”.

The Amicus Curiae in the case had informed that the red beacon had actually become a status symbol and those using such vehicles treat themselves as a class different than ordinary citizens. He also told the Court that “the widespread use of red lights on government vehicles in the country is reflective of the mentality of those who served British Government in India and threatened the natives as slaves.” 

Cabinet Announcement brings cheers

Soon after the announcement by the Union Cabinet, Chief Ministers of several states announced removal of beacons from their cars. These included Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand to name a few. Several other states too followed suit. It was an attempt at redemption so to say. Some others like the Chief Ministers of Tripura and Delhi have not been using red beacons earlier too. More recently, soon after their swearing in as Chief Ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, both Amarinder Singh and Yogi Adityanath declared that they will not be using any red beacon cars. Newspaper reports indicate that the Supreme Court Judges and the Election Commission of India have also ordered removing of beacons from their cars.

‘Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP’

The Union Cabinet’s decision to do away with the lal batti culture is indeed a welcome step in right direction. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP.”
Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP. https://t.co/epXuRdaSmY
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 19, 2017

After this, one can hope that the access or the privileges that come with the VIP tag would soon be gone and each Indian would have opportunities on par. One can hope the poor is not deprived of good education for his child because of some VIP quota snatched away his ward’s admission to good schools funded by government. One can hope that a patient from remote hamlet will get treatment for a rare heart problem and not be sent away because some people with influence are to be given preference at public health facilities.
We can take pride in the fact that it is the Prime Minister who has himself promised: “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP.” Let us hope that this step will bring an end to the clout that red beacon symbolized.

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