‘Yellow vests’ back on France’s streets to challenge Macron

Thousands of yellow vest protesters rallied in several French cities for a tenth consecutive weekend on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 27 January 2019
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‘Yellow vests’ back on France’s streets to challenge Macron

  • The demonstrations erupted in mid-November over Macron’s economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the president
  • In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend

PARIS: Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters returned to the streets of France Saturday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies, clashing with police in several cities in a challenge to his bid to quell the movement.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back protesters at Place de la Bastille in Paris, one of the regular protest areas, as some demonstrators threw stones from a building site.
The local prefecture reported 223 arrests in Paris, while the interior ministry estimated numbers for the 11th week of protests were at 69,000 across France, compared with 84,000 last Saturday.
The demonstrations erupted in mid-November over Macron’s economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the former investment banker who critics say is out of touch with the economic struggles of ordinary French people.
In Paris and other cities, the yellow vest movement had called for the protests to continue into the night.
But police quickly dispersed several hundred protesters in the capital’s symbolic Republique square, using stun grenades as well as tear gas and water cannon to clear the area, AFP journalists said.
Clashes erupted too in Nantes in western France and in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police officer was injured by “a pyrotechnic device,” said a statement from the local prefecture.
In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Twitter criticized “rioters disguised as yellow vest protesters” after Saturday’s clashes.
The weekend’s protests against Macron’s tax and social policies came as divisions appeared among the yellow vests — named after the high-visibility vests they wear — as to where to take the movement.
In a new political development, a 31-year-old nurse named Ingrid Levavasseur said this week she would lead a yellow vest list of candidates for the European elections in May.
An initial survey in the wake of the announcement suggested they would garner a respectable 13 percent of the vote.
But not every protester appeared to welcome this development.
“There is a hard core that is ready to keep fighting,” said 42-year-old Gilbert Claro from the Paris suburbs. But the movement “is not meant to be political,” he added.
“We have to keep the pressure on in the streets,” to get their demands accepted, said Virginie, an activist in her 40s who said she had been involved in the protests from the beginning.
She and many other protesters want a citizen-sponsored referendum so ordinary people can have more of a say in government policy.
This idea has been consistently rejected by the government, although Macron made some concessions last December in a bid to end the protests.
Recent opinion polls suggest that he has regained some of the ground lost during the crisis, as he has presented his case in a series of town hall events around the country.
The “great national debate” he initiated in response to the protests has nevertheless been dismissed as a public relations operation by many yellow vest protesters.
The debate is a “masquerade,” said Mathieu Styrna, a 36-year-old carpenter from northern France in Paris for the protests. His impression, he said, was that the participants had been selected.
Outside Paris, several thousand protesters were marching in Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest — two of the cities where support for the movement has been consistently strong.
In Bordeaux, police broke up small groups of protesters tossing fireworks and bottles as night fell.
In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, members of the CGT union joined the protests and about a thousand protesters turned out in the eastern city of Lyon.
For the first time on Saturday, riot police used controversial defense ball launchers (LBDs) that shoot 40-millimeter (1.6-inch) rubber and foam rounds were equipped with cameras.
A French court on Friday refused a bid brought by France’s League for Human Rights (LDH) and the CGT to ban the weapons, blamed for serious injuries suffered by some demonstrators.
The police authority in Paris announced the introduction of cameras in a move for greater transparency.
On Sunday, supporters of the government will stage their first “red scarf” protest to represent what they say is “the silent majority” defending “democracy and its institutions” and denouncing the violence of the yellow vests protests.
Two-thirds of people questioned in a IFOP-Journal du Dimanche survey published Sunday said they thought the demonstrations had not succeeded in changing how Macron was governing France.


US imposes sanctions on Myanmar commander in chief over Rohingya abuses

This file photo taken on July 19, 2018, shows Myanmar's Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, saluting to pay his respects to Myanmar independence hero General Aung San and eight others assassinated in 1947, during a ceremony to mark the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 55 sec ago
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US imposes sanctions on Myanmar commander in chief over Rohingya abuses

  • A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh
  • A United Nations investigator said this month that Myanmar security forces and insurgents were committing human rights violations against civilians that may amount to fresh war crimes

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on the Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders it said were responsible for extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, barring them from entry to the United States.
The steps, which also covered Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Soe Win, and two other senior commanders and their families, are the strongest the United States has taken in response to massacres of minority Rohingyas in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It named the two others as Brig. Generals Than Oo and Aung Aung.
“We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said a recent disclosure that Min Aung Hlaing ordered the release of soldiers convicted of extrajudicial killings at the village of Inn Din during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in 2017 was “one egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership.”
“The Commander-in-Chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days,” Pompeo said.
The Inn Din massacre was uncovered by two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. The two were released in an amnesty on May 6.
The US announcement came on the first day of an international ministerial conference on religious freedom hosted by Pompeo at the State Department that was attended by Rohingya representatives.
“With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” said Pompeo, who has been a strong advocate of religious freedom.

“GROSS VIOLATIONS“
“We designated these individuals based on credible information of these commanders’ involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. UN investigators have said that Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson and was executed with “genocidal intent.”
The State Department has so far stopped short of calling the abuses genocide, referring instead to ethic cleansing and a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities.
“He (Pompeo) has not come to the point at which he has decided to make a further determination. Generally our policies are focused on changing behavior, promoting accountability, and we have taken today’s actions with those goals in mind,” a senior State Department official told reporters, asking not to be named.
The military in Myanmar, where Buddhism is the main religion, has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.
A declaration of genocide by the US government could require Washington to impose even stronger sanctions on Myanmar, a country with which it has competed for influence with regional rival China.
The senior State Department official said Washington hoped the latest steps would strengthen the hand of the civilian government in Myanmar in its effort to amend the constitution to reduce military influence in politics.
“Our hope is that these actions ... will help to further delegitimize the current military leadership, and can help the civilian government gain control of the military,” he said.
The Trump administration had thus far imposed sanctions on four military and police commanders and two army units involved in the abuses against the Rohingya and had been under pressure from US Congress to take tougher steps.
A United Nations investigator said this month that Myanmar security forces and insurgents were committing human rights violations against civilians that may amount to fresh war crimes.