World Bulletin / News Desk
Thousands of protesters marched through Paris on Sunday against a European fiscal pact, the first major display of public anger to face President Francois Hollande since his May election.
The march organised by the Left Front coalition drew trade unionists, far-left sympathisers and other opponents of the EU accord, two days before lawmakers start to debate a draft law of the budget pact in the lower house of parliament.
The budget discipline pact, which Hollande supports, is expected to pass in both houses of parliament thanks to support from Socialist lawmakers helped by advocates of fiscal discipline in the centre-right opposition.
But the vote has exposed rifts in Hollande's ruling coalition, with far-left allies and Greens planning to vote against it in a challenge to the increasingly unpopular Socialist leader's authority.
If Hollande has to rely on opponents to pass the pact, the vote could deepen the rift in his alliance and embolden left-wing allies seeking a change of course from strict adherence to European deficit targets.
"To him (Hollande), this vote was a formality that simply needed to be rushed through," said Jean-Luc Melenchon, a fiery leftist orator who ranked fourth in an April presidential vote.
"Now he will understand this is not the case, that in France and in the rest of Europe there is an organised opposition to this pact and to all austerity policies."
Wearing his signature red scarf, Melenchon marched at the head of protesters among giant banners bearing slogans such as "Francois Hollande, We Don't Want Your Treaty" and "In Greece and in France, Let's Fight Against Finance".
It was the latest in a series of protests across southern Europe this week as tens of thousands took to streets in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal to voice their anger over hardship imposed by austerity policies.
For Hollande, the outcry from many people who voted him into power highlights the difficulty of pleasing a largely left-wing support base even as he shuns painful cuts to welfare programmes.
A 2013 budget unveiled on Friday shaves 30 billion euros off the public deficit, largely through tax increases on big businesses and the wealthy. But it avoids the type of painful austerity measures imposed elsewhere in Europe.
Efforts to preserve the generous public safety net have done little to preserve Hollande's approval rating, which has plummeted since his election, hitting a low of 43 percent in one poll last week.
"This treaty will considerably worsen the situation in the European Union and in France," said one protester, Pierre Khalfa. "We can already see that austerity policies in Europe are leading to recession, so we need to start a movement against these policies, which will lead our country into a wall."
Left Front organisers said some 40,000 people joined the Paris protest. Police declined to provide an estimate.
Ecuador, Egypt, Pakistan, Venezuela, Belize, Cuba, Cyprus, Greece, Jamaica and Ukraine are all on the verge of a default, according to Moody's ratings.
A World Trade Organisation pact to ease worldwide customs rules collapsed late on Thursday over India's demands for concessions on agricultural stockpiling.
India's new nationalist government has insisted that a permanent agreement on its subsidised food stockpiling must be in place at the same time as the trade facilitation deal
Chemicals firm LyondellBasell has emerged as the mystery American buyer of Kurdish crude oil this year, but said it will not be buying any more
Some EU member states remain nervous about the impact on their own fragile economies. The sanctions deal was agreed only after initial proposals were narrowed.
Bankers in Singapore say Russians looking for a new Cyprus have come to the wrong place.
The default could get much messier and take longer to clear up if creditors force an "acceleration" for early payment on their bonds.
The ban came a day after the European Union and United States imposed their first sanctions aimed at hitting broad sectors of the Russian economy
Russia called new U.S. sanctions "destructive and short-sighted"
While the default will obviously hurt the economy, it will not be as severe as in 2001, economists say
The Czechs, who supported the action, have been against sweeping sanctions, worried about trade relations with Russia
The trade program has been criticized for disproportionately benefiting certain industries and a handful of countries, including Nigeria, South Africa and Angola.
The United Kalavrvta tanker, carrying some 1 million barrels of crude worth about $100 million, arrived off the coast of Texas on Saturday but has yet to unload its disputed cargo.
The uncertainty comes at a bad time for the 18 countries in the euro zone, whose economy is already in the doldrums.
"Kalashnikov regrets that consumers are faced with such a problem," said spokeswoman Yekaterina Boni.
Cairo and Khartoum had earlier accepted a proposal by Addis Ababa to hold the talks in Sudan in the third week of August.