Daily Archives: December 31, 2016

Watch “Bob Dylan – Just Like a Woman” on YouTube

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France 24 : Under the shadow of terror: France’s year in review

Under the shadow of terror: France’s year in review

The Euro 2016 football tournament gave France at least something to cheer about. But the country’s protracted terror alert continued to dominate headlines in a year so tense even police officers protested.

Horror on the French Riviera
A year after suffering the deadliest terrorist attacks in its history, France was again struck by jihadist militants in 2016 – repeatedly so. On July 14, as crowds gathered across the country to celebrate Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, a man ploughed a 19-tonne truck along Nice’s seafront promenade, mowing down revelers over a 1.7-kilometre stretch before police put an end to the murderous rampage. The attack, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, left 86 people dead – including 10 children – and hundreds more injured. Five months later, its chilling modus operandi inspired a similar massacre at a Christmas market in the German capital, Berlin.

Horror in a church
Less than two weeks after sowing terror on the French Riviera, jihadist terrorism produced another gruesome attack, laden with symbolism, when two men stormed a small parish church in Normandy, murdering 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the altar as he celebrated Mass. Days later, a huge crowd brought together Catholics, Muslims and Jews at the nearby cathedral of Rouen to honour the slain priest, who was proclaimed a martyr by Pope Francis.
A permanent state of emergency
As it grappled with successive attacks, many carried out by homegrown terrorists, the French government repeatedly extended a state of emergency declared in the wake of the November 13, 2015, bloodbath in Paris. The emergency rule expanded police powers to carry out searches and put people under house arrest, and allowed authorities to ban protests and close mosques – leading to claims of rights abuse. A separate and more divisive proposal to strip dual nationals of their French citizenship if convicted of terror offences was eventually shelved, but not before it caused a fatal rift within the ruling Socialist Party.
Euro 2016: France’s nearly men
The state of emergency threatened to cast a pall over the biggest event of the year in France: the Euro 2016 football tournament, which attracted hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors. Guaranteeing security at stadiums and “fan zones” across the country presented France’s already-stretched police force with a formidable logistical challenge. As if the terrorist threat were not enough, drunken English and Russian fans fought running battles in the streets of Marseille, turning the southern port city into a war zone. But the football eventually took centre stage and a strong run by the home side helped lift French spirits – at least until the final, where Les Bleus saw their party crashed by the unfancied Portuguese.
Terror, floods and strikes plague Paris tourism
With France’s terror alert making headlines around the world, and police, gendarmes and soldiers patrolling the streets of Paris and other French cities, the country’s tourism industry endured its most miserable year in decades – despite the Euro 2016 boon. In the French capital, normally the world’s most visited city, officials reported a €750 million shortfall in revenue. It wasn’t just fear of terrorist attacks that blighted the City of Light. Massive, sometimes violent, industrial action against a controversial labour law, severe flooding, record pollution levels, and high-profile muggings all conspired to keep tourists at bay.
The burkini saga
At the height of the summer holiday season, France attracted more unwanted attention when a handful of right-wing mayors in Nice and other beach resorts proclaimed a ban on full-body swimsuits for Muslim women, commonly known as burkinis. The mayors, backed by Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said the burkinis represented an unacceptable affirmation of radical Islam in the public sphere, and a possible provocation in the wake of the July attack in Nice. A top court eventually ruled that the bans “illegally breached fundamental freedoms”, though by then pictures of French police fining beachgoers and telling them to strip in public had stirred outrage and ridicule around the world.
Hollande throws in the towel
The protracted terror alert took its toll on France’s already unpopular president, François Hollande, whose approval rating sunk to an unprecedented low of 4% in October. The release of a tell-all book of interviews with journalists – which included classified information and candid remarks on the sensitive issue of Islam and Hollande’s troubled private life – proved the last straw for many of his remaining supporters. Alone and discredited, the Socialist president surprised the nation by announcing he would not run for re-election in 2017, becoming the first sitting president of the Fifth Republic not to seek a second term in office.

Sarkozy’s aborted comeback
A month before Hollande’s “renoncement”, his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy also saw his hopes of a second presidential mandate crushed. In a year of electoral upsets that brought pollsters on both sides of the Atlantic into unprecedented disrepute, the first round of France’s conservative primary largely confirmed the trend – but with an important caveat: in France the loudmouthed agitator, who had dominated headlines by playing on voters’ fears, was soundly beaten. Sarkozy’s humiliating third place sent him back into political retirement, four years after he pledged, upon losing to Hollande, that “you won’t hear from me again”.
The rise of Fillon
The corollary of Sarkozy’s humiliating defeat was the astonishing rise of his former prime minister, François Fillon, who romped to victory in the primary organized by the conservative Les Républicains party. Polls suggest Fillon, an admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, is likely to beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen to the French presidency next year. His sudden surge from outsider in the conservative primary to hot favourite for the Elysée Palace has cast a spotlight on the role played by anti-gay marriage movements in drumming up support for his socially conservative platform.

‘Maverick’ Macron throws hat in the ring
With France’s ruling Socialists all but written off, the former “maverick” economy minister Emmanuel Macron launched his long-expected presidential run, campaigning under his own banner and with the enthusiastic support of an army of young volunteers. A one-time investment banker with a rather sketchily defined liberal agenda, Macron promised nothing short of a “revolution” to “pull France into the 21st Century”. Experts warned that he would struggle without the support of a mainstream party. But with polling institutes in disarray and the Macron media bubble showing no sign of bursting, the 38-year-old’s campaign was causing anxiety among his rivals on both sides of the political divide.
Labour unrest
After quitting Hollande’s administration in late August to focus on his campaign, Macron pledged a “radical” overhaul of France’s job market, arguing that the government’s deeply divisive labour reforms had been too shy. Unions begged to differ. Unveiled at the start of 2016, the “Loi travail” gave companies greater leeway to decide about hiring, firing, pay and working hours. It prompted a six-month standoff with unions, leading to huge protests, strikes and fuel shortages (and an egg-pelting session for Macron). Amid broad opposition from the public and from Socialists dissidents in parliament, Prime Minister Manuel Valls repeatedly used a notorious clause in the French constitution – known as the 49-3 – to force through the legislation without a vote. Ironically, he later pledged to scrap the clause as he launched his own presidential bid.
Police in revolt
Violent clashes during protests against the “Loi travail” turned a difficult year for French police into a hellish one. France’s over-stretched security forces already had their hands full with round-the-clock anti-terror patrols and rioting football fans. When a Molotov cocktail attack on a police car in a Paris suburb seriously injured two officers, their furious colleagues began to stage protests of their own. After 10 days of nightly demonstrations in cities across France, the government pledged to upgrade police equipment and review the rules of engagement that restrict officers’ ability to defend themselves.
Black Lives Matter in France too
Just over a decade after riots brought chaos to the suburbs of Paris, the issue of police discrimination resurfaced in July after a 24-year-old black man died while in police custody in a town north of the French capital. Police first said Adama Traoré had died of a heart attack, before blaming a severe infection. A second autopsy found that his death had been caused by “asphyxiation”, although how the asphyxiation occurred could not be determined. Traore’s death set off days of clashes between angry minorities and police. It was picked up under the banner of Black Lives Matter movement, which acquired special resonance amid reports of a surge in cases of police abuse and racial profiling under France’s state of emergency.
Clearing the Calais ‘Jungle’
Up in the northern port of Calais, police cleared the last segment of the notorious “Jungle” camp where thousands of migrants – many of them asylum seekers – had been amassing for years in dire conditions, waiting for a chance to cross the English Channel. Some of the migrants moved to new facilities elsewhere in France, while others ended up in makeshift settlements in Paris, which were routinely cleared by police, then promptly rebuilt. The capital’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, ordered the construction of the city’s first humanitarian camp for homeless migrants, but only a fraction found room inside.
Young blood
The rich – and all too often disparaged – legacy of immigration in France was on full display during literary award season as French-Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani became only the 12th woman to win the Goncourt, France’s top prize for literature, for her “Chanson douce” (Sweet Song), and French-Rwandan rapper and writer Gaël Faye picked up its younger sibling, the Goncourt des lycéens, for “Petit Pays” (Little Country). Critics hailed a breath of fresh air for French literature, noting that both authors were born outside France and are in their mid-30s.
Cannes, perfume and a long-lost Caravaggio
With terrorism, primaries and football grabbing all the headlines, culture stories seldom made front-page news. In Cannes, home to the world’s leading film festival, British director Ken Loach joined the exclusive club of two-time Palme d’Or winners with his latest social-realist drama, while France picked a rape-revenge thriller starring Isabelle Huppert to represent it at the Oscars. Just as tourism was drying up, Paris prepared to welcome two new museums – one to celebrate French perfume and the other to house the vast private collection of luxury retail magnate François Pinault. Ill-gotten collections were also in the spotlight: a French court upheld the conviction of an elderly couple who had kept 271 Picasso artworks hidden in their garage for 40 years; a long-lost Caravaggio painting was presented to the public, two years after it resurfaced in an attic in Toulouse; and French patriots hailed a symbolic victory over their old English foes by bringing a silver-gilt ring believed to have belonged to Joan of Arc back across the Channel.

France 24 : Argentina’s ex-president Kirchner faces new probe over bombing

Argentina’s ex-president Kirchner faces new probe over bombing


An Argentine appeals court ordered a new investigation Thursday into charges that ex-president Cristina Kirchner obstructed a probe into a 1994 bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish community centre.

She is accused of conspiring to protect high-ranking Iranian officials suspected of ordering the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah to carry out the attack.

Kirchner, Argentina’s president from 2007 to 2015, allegedly received oil and trade benefits from Iran in exchange for signing off on a deal that enabled the suspects to avoid prosecution.

The accusations were first leveled by the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in mysterious circumstances the day before he was due to present his 289-page report against the president and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman to Congress.

Iran has denied involvement in the attack. Kirchner likewise denies the allegations against her.
Kirchner branded Nisman accusations “absurd” and stated that he was murdered by rogue intelligence agents who used the prosecutor to accuse her and then killed him when he was no longer needed.

Four lower courts had thrown the case out on grounds there was no evidence a crime had been committed.
Kirchner dogged by accusations

But the new decision reopens a murky case that has dogged Kirchner since her presidency, a day after she was charged in a separate corruption case.

The three judges also ordered the case be removed from the court of their colleague Daniel Rafecas and transferred to a randomly selected judge.

Rafecas threw out the original request to reopen Nisman’s case, brought by the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA).
Bombing and murder still unsolved

The unsolved bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires was the deadliest terror attack in Argentine history.

It still haunts the country two decades later.

No one has been convicted for the bombing, which wounded 300 people.

Nisman’s death also still remains unsolved nearly two years on.

The case was transferred in September to federal investigators, who are now tasked with determining whether it was a suicide or homicide.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

France 24 : Trump hails ‘very smart’ Putin amid US-Russia hacking row

Trump hails ‘very smart’ Putin amid US-Russia hacking row


US President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.

Putin earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the US expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
“Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.
Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 US presidential election.
“We will not expel anyone,” Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.
“Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out,” he said.
In a separate development, a code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont electric utility, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed US officials.
The Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, the officials told the Post, but penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.
Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether he would seek to roll back Obama’s actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in US-Russian ties.
Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said on Thursday, though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.
US intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. US intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.
A senior US official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama’s executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration “a group of embittered and dimwitted foreign policy losers.”
Republican opposition
Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.
Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks.
“When you attack a country, it’s an act of war,” McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel “1+1” while on a visit to Kiev.
“And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy,” added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.
Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.
A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.
Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by US intelligence agencies, said Eugene Rumer, who was the top US intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.
But that might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy institute. “If Mr. Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.
As part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the United States that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for “intelligence-related purposes.”
Convoys of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare on Friday.
A former Russian Foreign Ministry employee told Reuters that the facility in Maryland was a dacha used by diplomatic staff and their children. The 45-acre complex includes a Georgian-style brick mansion, swimming pool, tennis courts and cottages for embassy staff.
Neighbors said the Russians were a lively bunch, seen water-skiing in summer and known for throwing a large, annual Labor Day party.
The Russian consulate in San Francisco said on its Facebook page, “We hate to have to say goodbye to close to a dozen of our colleagues, our friends.” Among those expelled was the consulate chef.
Obama had promised consequences after US intelligence officials blamed Russia for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election. Officials accused Putin of personally directing the efforts and primarily targeting Democrats.
Washington also put sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies that Obama said “provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.”

France 24 : Deadly blasts rip through Baghdad market

Deadly blasts rip through Baghdad market

Two bombs exploded at a busy market in central Baghdad on Saturday killing at least 28 people and wounding more than 50 others, security officials and medics said. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The blasts took place early Saturday morning in al-Sinaq, a busy market selling car accessories, food and clothes as well as agricultural seeds and machinery.
Details were sketchy in the immediate aftermath. An Interior Ministry official initially said that one of the blasts had been triggered by a planted explosive, but police later concluded that both explosions were caused by suicide bombers.
The IS group later claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency, confirming that the blasts came from a pair of suicide bombers.
An AFP photographer said torn clothes and mangled iron were strewn across the ground in pools of blood at the site of the wreckage near Rasheed street, one of the main thoroughfares in Baghdad.
“Many of the victims were people from the spare parts shops in the area, they were gathered near a cart selling breakfast when the explosions went off,” Ibrahim Mohammed Ali, who owns a nearby shop, told the news agency.
IS under pressure

Speaking from Baghdad, Global Radio News correspondent Saif Al-Hiali told FRANCE 24 that “security was heightened significantly” within the city in preparation for the New Year, with key streets on lockdown.

He noted that the attacks had followed the latest offensive against Mosul by Iraqi special forces.

“The military campaign is entering its third month now and the Islamic State group are known to resort to these tactics – attacking areas well outside their territory – whenever they’ve been pressured by advancing forces,” Al-Hiali said.

Diversionary attacks
Baghdad has been on high alert since the start of an offensive to drive the IS group out of the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s largest military operation in years.
The jihadist outift has lost much of the northern and western territory it seized in 2014 and is now resisting the offensive in Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq.
It has tried to hit back with major diversionary attacks on other targets across the country but has had little success in Baghdad.
Saturday’s twin bombings were the deadliest in the capital since the start of the Mosul offensive.
At least 34 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a funeral tent in Baghdad’s Shaab area on October 15.

France 24 : Video: Syrian regime emboldened ahead of Russia-backed peace talks

Video: Syrian regime emboldened ahead of Russia-backed peace talks


Victory in Aleppo has strengthened President Bashar al-Assad’s hand ahead of planned peace talks brokered by Russia, Syria expert Hilal Khashan tells FRANCE 24, noting that regime change in Damascus is no longer on the agenda.

Building on a ceasefire brokered this week, Russia and Turkey are pushing for peace talks between the Syrian regime and its foes, to be held in January in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.
Khashan, a professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, said the fall of Aleppo’s last rebel stronghold, and the entente between Moscow and Ankara, meant that Assad’s regime would be in a “better negotiating position” going into the talks.
“Victory in east Aleppo makes any precondition regarding the regime unthinkable,” he said, referring to past calls for Assad to quit power, which the Syrian rebels and their allies had previously put forward as a condition to peace talks.
Turkey, which had opposed Assad throughout the Syrian conflict, “now seems to have abandoned the rebels – and the events in east Aleppo attest to this,” Khashan added.
As its cooperation tightened with Moscow, Turkey stood conspicuously quiet as the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, took full control of Aleppo this month, handing the rebels their biggest defeat in the civil war so far.
Khashan noted that the new ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey this week contained a number of “loopholes”, allowing the regime to continue its attacks on radical rebel groups excluded from the truce.
“The Syrian regime and its allies will be at liberty to strike at the al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” he said, referring to the former al Qaeda affiliate, which changed its name this year in an effort to distance itself from the terrorist network.
Khashan also cautioned against describing the Russo-Turkish peace push, which conspicuously excludes the US, as a humiliation for Washington.
In a clear snub to US President Barack Obama, Moscow has said it would look to get the team of President-elect Donald Trump in the mix when he takes power next month.
But Khashan argued that Syria was “not a major regional country for the US to worry about”, playing down the notion of fundamental differences between Moscow and Washington.
“American acquiescence made it possible for Russia to step into the Syrian theatre,” he said, adding: “There is a general understanding between the Russians and the Americans on the big picture of how the conflict in Syria should come to an end.”
Click on the player above to watch the interview.

BBC News: The women who invented the Brazilian wax

The women who invented the Brazilian wax – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37896963

BBC News: Russia-US row: Trump praises Putin amid hacking expulsions

Russia-US row: Trump praises Putin amid hacking expulsions – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38473240

BBC News: ‘Russia hacking code’ found on Vermont utility computer

‘Russia hacking code’ found on Vermont utility computer – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38479179

BBC News: New Year’s Eve security tightened post-Berlin attack

New Year’s Eve security tightened post-Berlin attack – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38473292

BBC News: Should holiday email be deleted?

Should holiday email be deleted? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28786117

BBC News: French workers get ‘right to disconnect’ from emails out of hours

French workers get ‘right to disconnect’ from emails out of hours – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38479439

Watch “multi ani traiasca” on YouTube

Watch “Multi Ani Traiasca” on YouTube


Happy New Year!