Élisabeth Borne, the prime minister. Their races will be closely watched, as a loss by one or several of them would be seen as a rebuke of Mr. Macron, who has warned that those who are not elected will leave his cabinet.

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French Election: Macron Holds Off Far-Right Push

Credit…Thibault Camus/Associated Press

PARIS — Officials across Europe swiftly reacted with a sigh of relief on Sunday after President Emmanuel Macron of France comfortably beat his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, in the presidential election.

“Together, we will advance France and Europe,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, wrote in French on Twitter.

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, wrote on Twitter that “we can count on France for five more years,” while Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said Mr. Macron’s re-election was a “vote of confidence in Europe.”

Mr. Macron’s office said on Sunday that Mr. Scholz had called Mr. Macron to congratulate him. “It is the first call that the president has received and taken, a sign of Franco-German friendship,” his office said.

At home, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Mr. Macron’s foreign minister, told France 2 television that he was “convinced” Mr. Macron would be “up to the challenges that await.”

Final results are not yet published, but French pollsters project that Mr. Macron has won with roughly 58 percent of the vote. Still, his political opponents warned that his next term would have to take into account the simmering anger in the French electorate, as the far right won more of the vote than it has in decades.

“There has never been such a vote of despair,” Christian Jacob, the head of the conservative Républicain party, said on French television.

Roughly 28 percent of the French electorate sat out this round of the election — the highest level in over 50 years in the second round of a presidential vote.

“He is floating in a sea of abstention, and blank or null ballots,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the firebrand leftist who came in a strong third in the first round of the elections early this month, said in a speech on Sunday of Mr. Macron.

Mr. Mélenchon hopes to become prime minister if his party gets a strong majority in the parliamentary elections, to be held in June. “The third round starts tonight,” he said.

Top European leaders had expressed barely veiled alarm at the possibility of a Le Pen victory. Last week, the leaders of Germany, Portugal and Spain had taken the highly unusual step in an opinion article in Le Monde of implicitly urging French voters to reject her.

On Sunday, Christian Lindner, the finance minister in Germany, said a united Europe was the biggest winner. “This choice was a directional choice,” he wrote on Twitter. “It was about fundamental questions of values.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain welcomed Mr. Macron’s victory as proof that the French want “a free, strong and just E.U.”

Officials outside of the European Union reacted, as well.

President Volodomyr Zelensky of Ukraine also congratulated Mr. Macron on his victory, calling him a “real friend of Ukraine” on Twitter. “I appreciate his support and I am convinced that we will move forward together toward new shared victories,” he wrote.

And, Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, extended her “warmest congratulations” to Mr. Macron.

“Strong leadership is essential in these uncertain times and your tireless dedication will be much needed to tackle the challenges we are facing in Europe,” Ms. Lagarde wrote on Twitter.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain tweeted that “France is one of our closest and most important allies.”

“I look forward to continuing to work together on the issues which matter most to our two countries and to the world,” Mr. Johnson wrote.

Liz Alderman and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.

Correction: 

April 24, 2022

An earlier version of this article misstated the position of Christine Lagarde. She is the head of the European Central Bank, not the head of the International Monetary Fund.

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Live Ukraine Updates: Calling Off Steel Plant Assault, Putin Prematurely Claims Victory in Mariupol

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia claimed victory in Mariupol on Thursday despite persistent fighting there, publicly calling off an assault on the final Ukrainian stronghold in the devastated city in a stark display of the Kremlin’s desire to present a success to the Russian public.

Mr. Putin ordered his defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, in a choreographed meeting shown on Russian television, not to storm the sprawling, fortress-like Azovstal steel mill complex where 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were said to be holed up, and instead to blockade the plant “so that a fly can’t get through.” That avoids, for now, a bloody battle in the strategic port city that would add to Russia’s mounting casualty toll and tie down troops who could be deployed to the broader battle for eastern Ukraine.

“Of course, getting control of such an important center in the south as Mariupol is a success,” Mr. Putin was shown telling Mr. Shoigu, though the city is not yet fully under Russian control. “Congratulations.”

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President Vladimir V. Putin used a choreographed meeting with his defense minister to claim major progress in the war, saying that he ordered Russian troops to blockade a steel plant where Ukrainian fighters and civilians have taken refuge.CreditCredit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The fight for Mariupol carries enormous significance for both sides. It is the last pocket of serious resistance in the land bridge the Kremlin has created between territory it already holds in the Donbas region in the east and the Crimean Peninsula in the south. It is also home to much of Ukraine’s Azov Battalion, filled with far-right fighters who give a sheen of credibility to Mr. Putin’s false claim that Ukraine is run by Nazis and that he is “denazifying” the country.

The battle for the city also illustrates both the brutality of the Russian invasion and its struggles — truths that have galvanized much of the world but that Moscow has worked hard to conceal from its own people. Mariupol has been under siege for more than a month, much of it lies in ruins, and satellite images show a growing mass grave on the city’s outskirts. Roughly three-quarters of the residents have fled and, according to Ukrainian officials, about 20,000 civilians there have been killed — yet it is still not fully conquered.

Russia is shifting the focus of the war to gaining territory and wiping out Ukrainian forces in Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine since 2014. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Thursday in an intelligence assessment that the Kremlin is eager to make swift gains that it can trumpet on May 9, at the annual celebrations of victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

At the White House, President Biden said the fight for Donbas was “going to be more limited in terms of geography but not in terms of brutality,” compared to the early phase of the war. But, he added, Russia will “never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine.”

Mr. Biden announced another $800 million package of weapons for Ukraine, including dozens of heavy howitzers, 144,000 shells for them, and tactical drones, bringing total military aid this year to well above $3 billion. The weapons supplied by NATO nations are becoming increasingly heavy and sophisticated, reflecting an expected shift in the nature of combat as the war pivots to Donbas, but the president said some of armaments will remain secret.

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

“We won’t always be able to advertise everything that we, that our partners are doing,” Mr. Biden said. Referring to the U.S.-made antitank missile that Ukrainians have used to devastating effect, he added, “To modernize Teddy Roosevelt’s advice, sometimes we will speak softly and carry a large Javelin.”

Mr. Biden also banned ships tied to Russia from U.S. ports, and announced $500 million in economic aid to Ukraine — though the government in Kyiv told the International Monetary Fund that over the next three months it will need $15 billion. The White House also detailed plans for accepting up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, saying that U.S. citizens can begin applying to sponsor the immigrants on Monday.

The war in Ukraine took center stage in the French presidential campaign in a televised debate Wednesday night between President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen, who has in the past praised Mr. Putin. She spoke against arming Ukraine and said Mr. Macron’s efforts to cut imports of Russian energy would hurt France economically. He replied, “you are, in fact, in Russia’s grip,” noting that Ms. Le Pen’s party had borrowed from a Kremlin-linked bank.

The Kremlin worked quickly to portray the battle for Mariupol as a success. Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that there was now “an opportunity to start establishing a peaceful life” in Mariupol and start “returning the population to their homes.”

Mr. Peskov described the Azovstal steel plant — an immense Soviet-era complex near the city center — as “a separate facility” with no impact on life elsewhere in the city. Ukrainian fighters have been hiding for weeks in the plant’s underground bunkers, along with about 1,000 civilians, amid rising concerns they lack food and water.

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Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, said on Wednesday that his troops would soon help Russia capture the Azovstal plant in its entirety. In Thursday’s televised meeting, Mr. Shoigu told Mr. Putin that it would take three to four days to clear the plant.

But Mr. Putin responded by calling the storming of the plant “impractical,” and added, “I order it to be canceled.”

It was not clear what that would mean on the ground; shelling and rocket attacks on the steel mill complex continued on Thursday, Staff Sgt. Leonid Kuznetsov of the Ukrainian National Guard, one of the soldiers there, said via text message. He said that shortly before he heard about Mr. Putin’s public order, Russian troops had attempted to storm the plant, coming within about 20 meters of his hide-out. The Ukrainians, he said, were running out of ammunition.

In directing Mr. Shoigu on a national broadcast, Mr. Putin, who made the decision to go to war, presented himself as a rational and humane leader. “This is the case when we must think — that is, we must always think, but even more so in this case — about preserving the life and health of our soldiers and officers,” he said. “There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities.”

Implicit in his statement was a potential credibility challenge for Mr. Putin, stemming from his unwillingness to admit setbacks and blunders in the war to his own people. The government and military have not acknowledged the deaths of Russian sailors on the missile cruiser Moskva, pride of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which was sunk last week, but information about missing troops is increasingly circulating online.

Coming after Russia’s decision last month to abandon its stalled campaign in the north of Ukraine, the sinking of the Moskva — Ukraine claims to have hit it with two missiles — and the morass in Mariupol, once a thriving industrial and shipping hub, underscore the systemic weaknesses bedeviling the Russian military.

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On Jan. 20, The New York Times captured drone video over the sprawling Azovstal Steel and Iron works complex in Mariupol, Ukraine. Now, it is a battered fortress for the last Ukrainian defenders.

But costly as Mariupol has been for Russia, it is far costlier for Ukraine. Civilian casualties are high, though for now there are only rough estimates, and nearly all the vital infrastructure — including some of Ukraine’s biggest export-oriented enterprises — have been destroyed. Hospitals, theaters, schools and homes have been reduced to rubble.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said on Thursday that he would trade Russian soldiers who had been taken prisoner for the civilians sheltered at Azovstal, but he said that Russia had not yet responded to the offer.

Agreements to evacuate civilians en masse or bring in vital aid have mostly been thwarted, and have sometimes turned deadly, largely because Russian units have halted or fired on aid convoys. But day by day, people have managed to escape, on their own or in small groups.

On Thursday, a yellow bus carrying dozens of people from Mariupol arrived in the central Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, where passengers described weeks hiding in basements, cold and hungry, amid endless shelling. They escaped in a harrowing, all-night drive through Russian-held territory, past countless checkpoints manned by jumpy Russian soldiers.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

“In the city everything is destroyed, it’s terrifying,” said Matvei Popko, 10, who had fled with his mother, father and grandmother. “At any moment your home could get hit and collapse. For a little more than a month we lived in the basement.”

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of civilians, including a large number from the Mariupol area, to Russian territory, for use as propaganda fodder and a bargaining chip. Russia denies the charge, which is a potential war crime.

The weeks of heavy fighting in Mariupol tied up a significant chunk of Russia’s combat power; at one point the battle was estimated by military analysts to include roughly 10 percent of all the Russian forces in Ukraine.

On Thursday, a Russian video news report from the scene showed a convoy of armored vehicles moving out of Mariupol. Seymon Pegov, a pro-Kremlin reporter embedded with the Russian forces in the city, interviewed Timur Kurilkin, a commander of a separatist battalion from Donetsk, a city in separatist-held eastern Ukraine.

“We are going home, to Donetsk,” said Mr. Kurilkin, walking past the vehicles. “Our next battle is tomorrow,” he said, without specifying where.

In Mariupol, Russia is already seeking to establish authority over civilian life. Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, promised high school seniors that they would receive diplomas certified by the separatist entity.

On Wednesday, Andrei Turchak, a top official in Mr. Putin’s party, visited a school in Mariupol, which has already switched to Russian-language curriculum. In a video of his visit, posted to social media, he said, “Many textbooks have already been delivered and these deliveries will continue.”

Anton Troianovski reported from Hamburg, Germany, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Michael Schwirtz from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, David E. Sanger and Zach Montague from Washington, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London, Alan Yuhas from New York, and Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Poland.

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French prosecutor studying EU anti-fraud agency report on Le Pen, article with image

Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, gestures during a campaign meeting in Avignon, France, April 14, 2022. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

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PARIS, April 17 (Reuters) – French prosecutors said on Sunday they are examining a report by the European Union’s anti-fraud agency accusing far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and members of her party of misappropriating thousands of euros’ worth of EU funds.

Le Pen is challenging Emmanuel Macron in a presidential election with opinion polls showing Macron edging ahead in next Sunday’s second round runoff.

The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed that it was studying a report it received from the EU anti-fraud agency OLAF on March 11.

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Investigative website Mediapart wrote on Saturday that the OLAF report claimed Le Pen had misappropriated 140,000 euros of public money with party members in total diverting 617,000 euros. None are accused of profiting directly, but of claiming EU funds for staff and event expenses.

Le Pen’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

“The French will not be fooled by attempts of the European Union and the European institutions (…) to interfere in the presidential campaign and harm Marine Le Pen,” National Rally president Jordan Bardella told Europe 1 radio.

He said his party had filed two legal complaints against OLAF, and that it would be filing a third in response to the report.

Speaking to BFM TV, Le Pen’s lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said his client denied the charges. He said she had yet to be questioned and neither he nor Le Pen had seen the OLAF report.

Le Pen has been under investigation since 2017 as part of a probe into the alleged misuse of European Union funds to pay parliamentary assistants.

($1 = 0.9254 euros)

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Reporting by Gilles Guillaume; writing by John Irish; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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Live Updates: Russian Warship Ukraine Claimed to Have Hit Has Sunk, Moscow Says

BRUSSELS — Russia’s faltering war against Ukraine suffered a pair of setbacks Thursday when the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet sank after a catastrophic explosion and fire, as the European Union moved closer to an embargo on Russian oil imports.

Ukraine claimed to have struck the vessel, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, with two of its own Neptune missiles, while Russia said the blast was caused by ammunition aboard the ship. If confirmed, the missile attack would be a serious blow to Russia, both militarily and symbolically — proof that its ships can no longer operate with impunity, and another damaging blow to morale.

It would also give a lift to Ukrainian hopes, while demonstrating the defenders’ homegrown technological capacity and exposing an embarrassing weakness in the Russian navy’s antimissile defenses.

Moscow also faces the possible loss of European markets in fossil fuels, which are providing billions of dollars a month to support its war effort. The European Union has long resisted calls to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, but officials revealed on Thursday that an oil embargo is in the works and is likely to be adopted in the coming weeks.

That comes on top of a previously announced ban on imports of Russian coal. Taken together, the steps are bound to raise fuel and electricity prices in Europe, potentially disrupting the economy and provoking a political backlash.

Ukraine continues to brace for a Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region — where Moscow has said it will focus its war efforts after its failure to capture the capital, Kyiv — while Russian forces squeeze the shrinking pocket of resistance in the ruined southern port of Mariupol. The devastation rained there has offered a dire warning of what may befall other cities in the event of a prolonged Russian siege, prompting a mass exodus of civilians from the Donbas.

Credit…Pavel Klimov/Reuters

Its international isolation deepening, the Kremlin reacted ominously to the growing indications that Finland and Sweden would join the NATO alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, the government warned that any such expansion of NATO would prompt an increased Russian military presence, including nuclear weapons, in the region.

The C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, warned on Thursday of the possibility that Mr. Putin, facing a debacle in Ukraine, might use a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon, though he stressed that he had seen no “practical evidence” that such a step was pending. It was the first time he discussed publicly a concern that has been much debated in the White House.

“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” Mr. Burns said, in answering questions after a speech in Atlanta.

Prominent voices in Russian state media have made increasingly incendiary statements recently, calling for more brutality in battles that have already sparked calls for war-crimes investigations of the Russian forces.

Much remained unclear about Russia’s setback in the western Black Sea, where a blast on Thursday morning — Wednesday night in the United States — and subsequent fire forced many of the Moskva’s roughly 500 crew members to abandon ship. There was no word on casualties. Ukraine said it had struck the vessel with two Neptune missiles and sunk it.

Russia’s Defense Ministry initially said its sailors had managed to put out the fire and the Moskva, commissioned in 1983, remained afloat. But hours later, it said, the ship sank while being towed to port in a storm.

Western defense officials said they could not be sure what caused the explosion aboard the 12,000-ton ship. Three American officials briefed on the incident said all indications were that it had been hit by missiles. The officials cautioned that early battlefield reports can sometimes change, but expressed deep skepticism over the Russian account of an accidental fire.

Ukraine has been stressing the need for coastal defense weapons, and the U.S. announced this week that it would send more of them. Pentagon officials said that other Russian ships had moved farther from the Ukrainian shoreline, lending credence to the claim of missile strikes.

“It’s going to have an impact on their naval capabilities, certainly in the near term,” but the long-term picture is unclear, said the Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, a former Navy rear admiral.

Until now, Russian ships have been able to fire missiles at will against coastal cities. They have blockaded Ukraine’s south coast and threatened an amphibious landing in the southwestern region. The presence of an effective Ukrainian anti-ship weapon — Ukraine says the Neptune has a range of about 190 miles — could change those calculations, though Ukraine’s commercial shipping is unlikely to resume anytime soon.

Current and former American naval commanders said a successful missile attack would represent a shocking lack of Russian combat readiness.

“This is not supposed to happen to a modern warship,” said Adm. James G. Foggo III, a former commander of the United States Sixth Fleet, whose area of operations includes Europe. “If this was a Neptune missile strike, it’s indicative of complacency and lack of an effective integrated air and missile defense capability.”

Ukraine has endured most of the suffering in the war that began on Feb. 24, with untold thousands of casualties, widespread destruction and millions of people displaced, but the blowback on Russia has also been severe. Moscow’s vaunted military has often seemed hapless, absorbing unexpectedly heavy losses of men and equipment, while unprecedented sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies have shaken the Russian economy.

President Vladimir V. Putin acknowledged some of that cost on Thursday in a videoconference with top government officials and oil and gas executives, referring to “the disruption of export logistics” in that industry and “setbacks in payments for Russian energy exports.”

Credit…Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik

Fossil fuels are Russia’s biggest export product, a huge part of the Russian economy that employs millions of people and supplies the government with much of the revenue needed to support its war-making machinery.

Now E.U. officials and European diplomats say the bloc is moving toward barring oil imports from Russia, a ban that would be phased in over months to allow countries to arrange alternative supplies. They said European leaders will not make a final decision until after April 24, when France will hold its presidential runoff; a rise in fuel prices could hurt the prospects of President Emmanuel Macron and boost his right-wing opponent, Marine Le Pen, who has praised Mr. Putin.

The government of Germany, the most influential country in the European Union, has been particularly reluctant to cut off Russian fuel, which would come at a steep cost and could lead to shortages. But pressure from allies and mounting evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine have, step by step, overcome that resistance. Germany refused to allow the virtually completed, $10 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to go into service, supported the coal ban and now appears to be on board with an oil embargo.

Credit…Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

The shifting stance of the neutral Scandinavian states is another unintended consequence for Mr. Putin. In waging a war that he said was intended to keep Ukraine out of NATO — a distant prospect at best — he may have succeeded in driving two countries that had been steadfastly nonaligned for generations into the arms of the alliance.

Dmitri A. Medvedev, a senior Russian security official, said on Thursday that if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, there would be “no more talk of a nuclear-free Baltics” region. Moscow would be compelled to “seriously strengthen” its air and ground forces in the area, said Mr. Medvedev, a former president and prime minister, and could deploy nuclear-armed warships “at arm’s length” from Finnish and Swedish shores.

Vladimir Solovyov, a television host who is considered a leading voice of Kremlin propaganda, said on Wednesday that Russia should destroy all Ukrainian infrastructure, including basic utilities.

Russia “must bring these terrorists to their senses in the cruelest way,” he said on his show on the state-owned Russia-1 channel. “We need to talk differently with terrorists,” he added. “There shouldn’t be any illusions that they can win.”

Russia has forced independent news outlets to shut down or leave the country, and has criminalized disputing the Kremlin’s account of the war. Yet Margarita Simonyan, the head of the state-owned RT news organization, said earlier this week that the government should restrict information even more.

No major power can exist “without having information under its control,” she said, adding, “we are all waiting for this.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul, Michael Schwirtz from London, and Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.

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French Election: Macron Leads Le Pen in Early Vote Count

Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

VERSAILLES, France — The French, it is said, vote with their hearts in the first round and with their heads in the second.

But voters in diverse cities near Paris appeared to use both when casting their ballots on Sunday, further evidence that France’s two-round voting system encourages unusually strategic thinking.

Twelve candidates were on the ballot. But with polls showing that the second round will most likely be a rematch between President Emmanuel Macron and the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, voters were already thinking of the showdown set for April 24.

In Versailles, a center of the conservative Roman Catholic vote, the center-right candidate, Valérie Pécresse, was the local favorite. But she was in the single digits in most polls.

After voting at City Hall, a couple who gave only their first names — Karl, 50, and Sophie, 51 — said they had voted for Éric Zemmour, the far-right TV pundit who ran an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim campaign.

“I’m in favor of selective immigration, instead of the current situation where we have immigrants who are seeking to take advantage of the French system,” said Karl, who works in real estate. He added that he had voted for Mr. Macron in 2017, but that he had been disappointed by the president’s policies toward immigration and his failure to overhaul the pension system.

This time, he and Sophie, a legal consultant, said they would support Ms. Le Pen in the runoff because they believed that she had gained credibility.

For Grégoire Pique, 30, an engineer concerned about the environment, his choice had been Yannick Jadot, the Green candidate. But with Mr. Jadot languishing in the polls, Mr. Pique endorsed the longtime leftist leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, ranked third in most polls.

In the second round, Mr. Pique said, he planned to reluctantly vote for Mr. Macron to block Ms. Le Pen.

“I don’t like this principle,” he said, “but I’ll do it.”

About 10 miles from Versailles, in Trappes, a working-class city with a large Muslim population, similar calculations were taking place.

Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Georget Savonni, 64, a retired transportation worker, said he voted with his heart for Ms. Pécresse, even though he knew that she had little chance of making it into the second round. Two Sundays from now, he said, he planned to vote reluctantly for Mr. Macron, also to stop Ms. Le Pen.

“I agree with most of Macron’s economic programs, and I feel he handled the pandemic very well,” Mr. Savonni said. “But I feel he doesn’t respect people and that he’s arrogant.”

Bilel Ayed, 22, a university student, wanted to support a minor left-leaning candidate, but endorsed Mr. Mélenchon, the leading candidate on the left. In the second round, he said, even though he believed that Ms. Le Pen, as president, would be far more terrible for France than Mr. Macron, he was unable to forgive the president for what he said was a crackdown on personal freedoms, like the violent suppression of the anti-government Yellow Vest movement.

“I’m not voting in the second round,” he said. “I’m staying home.”

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France’s Macron calls for restraint in words and actions regarding Ukraine conflict, article with image

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he speaks to the media after European Union leaders’ summit, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium, March 25, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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PARIS, March 27 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron called for restraint in both words and actions in dealing with the Ukraine conflict, after U.S. President Joe Biden described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “butcher” and said he should not remain in power.

“I wouldn’t use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin,” Macron said on France 3 TV channel.

Biden, speaking in Warsaw, had said that Putin “cannot remain in power”. A White House official later said Biden’s remarks did not represent a shift in Washington’s policy and were meant to prepare the world’s democracies for an extended conflict, not back regime change in Russia. read more

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“We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective,” Macron said on France 3 TV, noting the objective was to obtain a cease fire and the withdrawal of troops through diplomatic means.

“If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things — neither with words nor actions,” he said.

The French president on Friday had said he was seeking to hold more talks with President Putin in the coming days regarding the situation in Ukraine as well as an initiative to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol.

President Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on what he calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said she backed Macron’s approach.

“Obviously, those are words that add oil to the fire,” she said, when asked about Biden’s comment.

“The fact that the president of the Republic is not entering into this escalation is a good thing,” she said, speaking on France 3 in a pre-recorded interview that was broadcast on Sunday.

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Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Mimosa Spencer. Editing by Jane Merriman

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Sexual Abuse Revelations Accelerate Sense of a French Church in Retreat

PARIS — The Catholic Church in France was once so powerful that it was considered a state within a state. In Roman Catholicism’s global hierarchy, France cemented its position as far back as the fifth century, when it became known as the “eldest daughter of the church.”

While Catholicism has ebbed across the Western world, its unrelenting decline in France is all the more striking given its past prominence. Now, a devastating church-ordered report on sexual abuse by the clergy released this week, after a similar reckoning elsewhere, was yet another degradation, further shaking what was once a pillar of French culture and society.

The report, which confirmed stories of abuse that have emerged over the years, shocked the nation with details of its magnitude, involving more than 200,000 minors over the past seven decades. It reverberated loudly in a country that has already been transformed, in recent generations, by the fall of Catholicism, and deepened the feeling of a French church in accelerating retreat.

The Rev. Laurent Stalla-Bourdillon, a priest and theologian in Paris, said that the church was still coming to grips with “the extent of its gradual marginalization in French society.”

especially in Germany and the United States. For some Catholics — who, in their lifetimes, have experienced the rapid shrinking of their faith in society and in their own families — the report added to a sense of siege.

“It’s perceived somewhat as an attack,” Roselyne Delcourt, 80, said after evening mass on Wednesday at Notre-Dame de Grâce of Passy, a parish in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, a wealthy, conservative bastion. “But I don’t think it’s going to harm the church.”

Studies using data from the European Values Study have found that in 2018, only 32 percent of French people identified as Catholic, with fewer than 10 percent regularly attending mass.

Today, according its own statistics, the church celebrates half as many baptisms as two decades ago, and 40 percent of the marriages.

The number of priests in France has declined, but not the number of foreign ones, who are often called from abroad to fill the ranks of a declining priesthood — in a reversal of the colonial era during which the country was the biggest exporter of priests to Africa.

Successive governments curbed the church’s reach by pushing it out of schooling and other social functions it had traditionally performed. For decades, public schools were even closed on Thursdays to let students attend Bible study, according to this week’s report.

written a book on the sexual abuse scandals in France’s Catholic Church.

While middle-aged French may no longer practice their faith, many grew up attending church and understand its rituals, Mr. Liogier said. Today, many young French ignore basic facts about Catholicism, like the meaning of Easter, and are incapable of transmitting that knowledge to the next generation, he said.

Claire-Marie Blanchard, 45, a mother of four who teaches Bible study, has seen it firsthand.

“There are children who have never heard of Jesus, even children whose parents are Christian or Catholic,” said Ms. Blanchard at the Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse chapel in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris. Her own son riled her when he did not baptize his newborn so the child could decide later.

“Being Catholic in France is complicated,” she said. “But we aren’t giving up.”

Feeling under siege, some practicing Catholics have grown increasingly conservative. In the 2017 presidential elections, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, won the votes of 38 percent of practicing Catholics, compared with 34 percent of the total vote.

Éric Zemmour, the far-right writer and TV star who has been rising in the polls before the presidential elections next year, has long attacked Islam and gained popularity on the right by styling himself as a great defender of France’s Catholic culture — even though he is Jewish and his parents settled in France from Algeria.

Isabelle de Gaulmyn, a top editor at La Croix, France’s leading Catholic newspaper, said that the church’s decline might have made it reluctant to tackle the issue of sexual abuse head-on, for fear of adding to its existing challenges.

“The evolution was very brutal,” she said of the church’s drop in power. “So there is a bit of a feeling that it is a fortress under siege.”

That feeling is also fueled by a sense that the church is poor. Unlike its counterpart in Germany, which is supported by a government-collected tax, the French church receives no steady stream of subsidies and must rely almost exclusively on donations from worshipers, although, under France’s complex secularism law, the state pays for the upkeep of almost all church buildings

Victims of sexual abuse, who expect compensation from the church, are quick to point out that some dioceses have sizable real estate assets.

Olivier Savignac, who was sexually abused by a priest as a minor and who founded an association for victims, said that they wanted compensation to recoup years of medical bills, “not a small symbolic amount” covered by churchgoer donations.

“We want the dioceses to pay out of their pockets,” he added.

Many say the report has put the Church at a turning point — reform, or fade further.

“It’s now,” Father Stalla-Bourdillon said. “Not later.”

Léontine Gallois contributed reporting.

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The Mayor, the Teacher and a Fight over a ‘Lost Territory’ of France

TRAPPES, France — It all began when a high-school teacher warned that Islamists had taken over the city. The teacher went on TV, issuing alarms from inside what he called a “lost city” of the French Republic. In Trappes, he said, he feared for his life.

“Trappes, it’s finished,” the teacher said. “They’ve won.”

The mayor, a strong believer in the Republic, saw the teacher on television and didn’t recognize the city he described. He knew his city, west of Paris and with a growing population of immigrants and Muslims, had problems but thought it was being falsely maligned. The mayor also happened to be a Muslim.

“The truth doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.

For a few weeks this winter, the fight pitting the mayor, Ali Rabeh, 36, against the teacher, Didier Lemaire, 55, became a media storm that, beneath the noise and accusations, boiled down to a single, angry question that runs through the culture wars rippling through France: Can Islam be compatible with the principles of the French Republic?

Lupin.” But Trappes also saw about 70 of its youths leave for jihad to Syria and Iraq, the largest contingent, per capita, from any French city.

article about Mr. Lemaire, who said he was quitting because of Islamists.

Within a few hours, a conservative politician eyeing the presidency tweeted her support for Mr. Lemaire and “all those hussars on the front line in the fight for the Republic.” Next, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, attacked “certain elected officials” for failing to protect the teacher from Islamists.

That the words of a virtually unknown teacher resonated so much was a sign of the times. A few months earlier, an extremist had beheaded a middle-school teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech. President Emmanuel Macron was now pushing a bill to fight Islamism even as he pledged to nurture an “Islam of France.”

Mr. Lemaire’s words also resonated because of the outsized role in France of public schoolteachers, who are responsible for inculcating in the young the nation’s political values and culture. In the Republic’s mythology, teachers are the “hussars” — the light cavalry once used for scouting by European armies — fighting to preserve the nation’s sanctity.

In the article, Mr. Lemaire said he had been under police escort for months. Trappes’s mayor, he said, had called him an “Islamophobe and racist.” He said he was waiting for an “exfiltration” from deep inside “a city lost for good.”

Overnight, the soft-spoken, longhaired teacher, who said he preferred curling up with Seneca than going on Facebook, was issuing dire warnings on top television news shows.

“We have six months to a year,” he said, “because all these youths who are educated with the idea that the French are their enemies, they’ll take action one day.”

Mr. Lemaire arrived in Trappes, a banlieue, or suburb, in the outer orbit of Paris, two decades earlier. Once a village that grew around a millennium-old Roman Catholic parish, Trappes is now a city of 32,000.

Mr. Lemaire’s high school, La Plaine-de-Neauphle, stands at the heart of an area built to accommodate immigrant workers from France’s former colonies in the 1970s — a mixture of rent-subsidized high-rises, attractive five-story residences and a constellation of parks. The mosque is nearby. So is a market where vendors offer delicacies from sub-Saharan Africa and halal products.

Parti républicain solidariste, which espouses a hard line on France’s version of secularism, called laïcité. He now favors taking girls away from their parents, after a second warning, if the children violate laïcité rules by putting on Muslim veils during school field trips.

“We have to protect children from this manipulation,” of being used “as soldiers or as ideologues,” he said.

remarks to the newspaper Le Monde, the local préfet, the top civil servant representing the central government, praised Mr. Rabeh’s administration for its “total cooperation” in combating Islamism. The préfet also refuted the teacher’s claim to having been under a police escort.

The teacher’s story began wobbling. He admitted to the French news media, as he did to The Times, that he had “not received explicit death threats.” He had also accused the mayor of calling him a “racist and Islamophobe” in an interview with a Dutch television network.

But the network denied the mayor had said any such thing.

letter to the students at the teacher’s high school.

“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re worth nothing and that you’re lost to the Republic,” he wrote.

debate was scheduled that evening between Ms. Le Pen and Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister leading the government’s crackdown on Islamism. Hours before the debate, he announced that the teacher would be granted police protection.

That evening, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the national education minister, issued a statement supporting the teacher. He also accused the mayor of trespassing into the high school to distribute tracts — the letter — that morning. “Political and religious neutrality is at the heart of the operation of the School of the Republic,” the minister said.

The city officials at the school that morning told The Times that no copies were distributed inside. The regional education office and Mr. Blanquer’s office refused to make the school principal available for an interview. The minister’s office declined to comment.

The trespassing accusations led to such an avalanche of threats against the mayor that he, too, was put under police protection — a shared destiny, for a while, for the two men of Trappes, who had each lost something.

The teacher was forced to leave the school where he had taught for 20 years and, despite his criticisms of Trappes, said “you really feel you’re on a mission.” He said he should have been more careful with the facts and had made “many mistakes,” but stuck by his interpretation of Trappes as “lost.”

His words, he said, had led to a “clarification of positions today in France.”

The mayor questioned the very Republic that once inspired him. He had believed that “the people who embody the Republic will come, the government will eventually express its solidarity with me.”

“Stunned,” he said, “I find that’s not the case.”

He declined his worried father’s request to resign.

“For a moment during the crisis, I told myself, well, if this is the Republic, I’m abandoning the Republic, just as it’s abandoned me,” Mr. Rabeh said. “But the truth is they’re not the Republic. The kids of Trappes are the Republic.”

Gaëlle Fournier contributed research.

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New Political Pressures Push US, Europe to Stop Israel-Gaza Conflict

BRUSSELS — A diplomatic flurry from the White House and Europe added pressure on Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday to halt their 10-day-old conflict before it turned into a war entangling more of the Middle East.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — their second phone call in three days — telling the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said. Although they portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation.

And in Europe, France and Germany, both strong allies of Israel that had initially held back from pressuring Mr. Netanyahu in the early days of the conflict, intensified their push for a cease-fire.

French diplomats sought to advance their proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would call on the antagonists to stop fighting and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Gaza. It remained unclear on Wednesday if the United States, which has blocked all Security Council attempts to even issue a statement condemning the violence, would go along with the French resolution.

Twitter post afterward, he said, “I especially appreciate the support of our friend @POTUS Joe Biden, for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

confronted Mr. Biden during his trip to a Ford plant, and pleaded with him to address the growing violence in the region and protect Palestinian lives.

Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who witnessed that interaction, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu’s reluctance to negotiate a cease-fire had made it harder for Democrats across the political spectrum to defend Israel’s actions.

Some saw the second phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu as messaging to placate domestic constituents.

Democrats have been pushing Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. He also said Mr. Netanyahu “does not want to give the impression that he’s been told to end this conflict before it’s the right time to do so.”

For European nations, the intensified push for a cease-fire also is based partly on political calculations.

pro-Palestinian demonstrations have sometimes turned into anti-Israeli protests and anti-Semitic attacks, including assaults on synagogues. Governments fear such protests and internal violence will worsen the longer the conflict lasts.

France is on alert for acts of Islamist terrorism, often from French-born Muslims outraged by events in the Middle East. Germany, which welcomed a million mostly Muslim migrants in 2015, is struggling to contain their anger about Israel.

At the same time, the election of Mr. Trump in 2016 also encouraged a right-wing European populism that is anti-immigration and often anti-Islamic, with a clear political identification with “Judeo-Christian values” and strong support for Israel. That is clear in France, with the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, as well as in Germany, with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Up until now at least, there also had been a gradual de-emphasis of the Palestinian issue by governments, said Kristina Kausch, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

She attributed that de-emphasis partly to Israel’s shelved plans to annex the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want as part of their own ambitions for an independent state, and to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Israel’s normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, all big defenders of Palestinian rights. Ms. Kausch said there had been a sense that “the Palestinian cause can be put on the back burner, that Arab countries and people don’t care anymore.”

But this new outbreak, Ms. Kausch said, had shown “that the Palestinian cause is alive and kicking.” And no longer ignorable, at least for a while.

Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the beginning of this conflict, he said, the United States and Europe had been “largely sympathetic to the Israeli narrative, willing to give them some space to accomplish their military ambitions.”

similar two-page resolution passed by the Security Council during another fierce Gaza war in January 2009, and on which the United States abstained.

The draft resolution seeks a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access to Gaza, the condemnation of the rocket barrages and any incitement to violence, the official said.

In Germany, traditional support for Israel and patience with its military campaign appears to be waning.

After speaking with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel “sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”

Mr. Maas, the German foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “ending the violence in the Middle East is the first priority,” followed by political negotiations. But he also blamed Hamas for the escalation.

He appeared to be responding to domestic criticism that the government has been too lenient in the face of pro-Palestinian and sometimes anti-Semitic protests.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that Germany should “concentrate on internal affairs and reflect that the ‘welcome culture’ extended to refugees was astoundingly naïve when it came to anti-Semitism.”

The question for Germany now, the paper said, “is how do we teach those for whom a hatred of Israel is in their DNA that Israel’s security is part of their adopted homeland’s raison d’être?”

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Jim Tankersley and Katie Rogers from Washington. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.

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