Border wall prototypes a first small step on Trump campaign promise

Crews work on a border wall prototype near the border with Tijuana, Mexico, in this Oct. 19, 2017 photo, in San Diego. (AP)
Updated 24 October 2017
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Border wall prototypes a first small step on Trump campaign promise

SAN DIEGO: Nine months after President Donald Trump took office, the first tangible signs of progress on one of the central promises of his campaign have appeared along the US border with Mexico.
A couple of miles (km) from the bustling Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego, eight towering chunks of concrete and steel stand as high as 30 feet (9 meters) tall against the sky, possible models for what Trump has promised will one day be a solid wall extending the full length of the southern border, from California to Texas.
Whether any of the eight different prototypes, constructed over the last month, become part of an actual wall remains highly uncertain.
The US Congress has so far shown little interest in appropriating the estimated $21.6 billion it would cost to build the wall.
Still, border patrol officials on Monday welcomed the momentum on Trump’s pledge, which generated a groundswell of voter support that helped elect him to office.
“Our current infrastructure is well over two decades old,” Roy Villareal, deputy chief patrol agent of the US Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, said during a tour with media organizations on Monday morning. “Is there need for improvement? Absolutely.”
Currently, 654 miles (1,052 km) of the 1,900-mile (3,058-km)border with Mexico is fenced, with single, double or triple fences. The second line of fencing in San Diego, about 18 feet (5.50 m) tall, has been breached nearly 2,000 times in the last three years, Villareal said.
Even if Trump’s wall never gets funded, Villareal said, the border patrol might incorporate one or more of the new wall designs as it replaces worn sections of the existing fence.
Six contractors from across the country were selected to build the eight prototypes, all of which will be completed this week.
The builders paid attention to aesthetics in their bid to win lucrative contracts. One wall segment features deep-blue steel and another has a brick facade, standing in sharp contrast to the area’s existing border fence, a ramshackle structure of corrugated steel left over from the Vietnam War.
In late November, a private company, which border patrol officials declined to name, will begin a 30- to 60-day process of testing the wall prototypes to determine how easy they would be to climb over or dig beneath.
The final selection could be a combination of the prototype designs, Villareal said.
While solid, concrete walls have a daunting presence, they might have an adverse effect on some border patrol activities, since agents would not be able to see potential crossers approaching the wall.
“It’s not so much the size of the wall, it’s the ability to see whether it’s 10 people or 30 people with ... rifles,” said Rowdy Adams, a former border patrol agent who left the agency in 2011 after 30 years. “It’s important to see that and set your response plan in place.”
Two of the eight prototypes have a see-through design.
Environmentalists have warned that a solid wall would prevent wildlife, including a dwindling population of federally protected ocelots, from crossing.
A concrete wall may also prove challenging to build without participation from some of the world’s largest concrete suppliers. Mexico’s Cemex and Switzerland’s LafargeHolcim told Reuters they were not participating in projects associated with the wall.


Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

Updated 19 July 2018
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Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

PARIS: A video showing one of French President Emmanuel Macron’s security chiefs beating a student demonstrator, until now cloaked in secrecy, is drawing a fierce public backlash over what is seen as mild punishment and a possible cover-up.
The video of the May 1 event in Paris, revealed by Le Monde on Wednesday evening, shows Alexandre Benalla in a helmet with police markings, and surrounded by riot police, brutally dragging off a woman from a demonstration and then repeatedly beating a young man on the ground. The man is heard begging him to stop. Another man in civilian clothing pulled the young man to the ground.
Police, who had hauled the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn’t intervene. Benalla then left the scene. The second man was apparently a gendarme who Le Monde said had worked with Benalla in the past.
The uproar over Benalla’s punishment — a two-week suspension and a change in responsibilities — forced top French officials to address the issue Thursday. But Macron has remained silent. Benalla, who hasn’t commented on the matter, handled Macron’s security during the presidential campaign.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, responding to questions in the Senate, called the event “shocking,” but stumbled to respond to questions, notably whether all French are equal before the law.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that the two men “obviously had no legitimate (reason) to intervene.” He said he has demanded that a police unit which investigates suspected criminal behavior by officers explain the rules for observers and verify whether they were respected.
Condemning the “unacceptable behavior,” Macron spokesman Bruno Roger-Petit said that Benalla was also removed from his responsibilities of organizing security for presidential trips — though he maintains his office at the Elysee Palace.
In addition, authorities launched a preliminary investigation that could lead to charges against Benalla, a judicial official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing case.
Despite this, Benalla has been seen this month on the ground with police at several high-profile events, including the return home Monday of France’s champion World Cup team, an event attended by hundreds of thousands.
Macron, in the Dordogne region to officially launch a new postage stamp, didn’t respond to questions about the scandal. The upstart centrist elected last year had promised an exemplary presidency during his term to break with unending cases of corruption in French politics.
Roger-Petit said the punishment dealt out to Benalla was the “most serious” ever given to a top aide at the presidential Elysee Palace and served as a “last warning before dismissal.”
Opposition politicians expressed shock, with some denouncing a climate of impunity at the top of the French political hierarchy and asking Macron to personally address the issue.
The head of France’s main conservative party The Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez, asked on Europe 1 radio if the government was trying to “hush the affair.”
Roger-Petit stressed that Benalla had requested authorization to use his day off “to observe” security forces’ operations on May Day when marches are traditionally held. It was granted.
It was unclear why the young man under attack, who wasn’t detained, was singled out by police before Benalla intervened.
“An observer doesn’t act like that,” said the spokesman for the UNSA-Police union. They are typically equipped and briefed in advance, and the framework is “completely clear,” Philippe Capon told BFM-TV.
He couldn’t say why police didn’t stop Benalla.
The context was “special,” he said. “He was an observer from the Elysee. When police officials hear the word ‘Elysee’ there is a particular apprehension.”