Society

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, An Old-School Leftist Shaking Up France's Race For President

Mélenchon’s candidacy has turned the French election upside-down, with his passionate defense of the underclass and mobilization of labor unions. His growing support could cause trouble for Francois Hollande, who had otherwise seemed sure to unseat Sarkoz

Mélenchon holding up the radical left (Place au Peuple)
Mélenchon holding up the radical left (Place au Peuple)
Joel Cossardeaux

Two months ago, Front de Gauche party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon was complaining about being blacklisted by the media. Those days are over. Now a candidate to be reckoned with, Mélenchon is polling third, at between 13% and 15% support ahead of Sunday's first round of voting in the race for the French presidency. The top two candidates will face off in a runoff in early May.

Here's a snapshot of Mélenchon's rise.

Catch phrase Out with them all.. is the title of Mélanchon's populist book written in 2010, and the catch phrase that made him famous. When he became the Front de Gauche (Left Front) party presidential candidate, this sort of provocative slogan became his specialty. He began his campaign with the idea of a "citizens' revolution", and wanted to "make way for the people" with a project entitled "Humanity first." His campaign poster invites electors to "Seize power!"

Platform Social issues are at the core of Mélenchon's program. As soon as he is elected as the new French president, he will reinstate the 35-hour working week and bring the legal retirement age down to 60. Other proposals to be immediately implemented: a rent freeze, a 1700-euro monthly minimum wage and a maximum wage for top executives limited to 20 times the lowest company wage.

Pity the "super-wealthy" if he becomes president, because annual income above 360,000 euros a year will be taxed at 100%. The whole income tax system will be changed, with the creation of 9 new tax brackets. Companies will be taxed according to financial revenue and employment objectives. His term of office will be focused on two major reforms: a new European constitutional reform, validated by a referendum, and a new French Constitution, abolishing the current presidentialist system

Pros and cons Even his opponents admit it: Jean-Luc Mélenchon is an excellent public speaker. His "earnest, even brutal" speaking style has brought back into the fold left-wing abstainers and disillusioned voters. But beware of gaffes! When he called frontrunner François Hollande a "paddle boat captain," he was criticized by his long-term ally, the Communist Party. The Communists owe their relevance today to Hollande's party, with which they have formed many alliances in order to try to win local elections.

Campaign journey Jean-Luc Mélenchon began his presidential campaign very early on, and his rise to fame went largely unnoticed at first. The only hint of things to come: the auditoriums he was holding his rallys in were becoming bigger and bigger: from small halls fitting only 1,000 participants, he quickly filled the Zenith, one of the biggest Parisian concert halls, with a capacity of 10,000. On March 7, he polled above 10% for the first time. This was a turning point for the candidate, who was finally enjoying more media coverage.

True objective Mélenchon is aiming for the third place in Sunday's first round, in front of far right candidate Marine Le Pen, whom he openly despises and has sworn to beat. He is hoping to use this third place to influence François Hollande into moving to the left of the political spectrum ahead of his expected second-round runoff against Nicolas Sarkozy on May 6.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Place au Peuple

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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