Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

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Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vests’ (gilets jaunes) movement for the 23rd consecutive Saturday, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vests’ (gilets jaunes) movement for the 23rd consecutive Saturday, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters hold a banner reading “We do not have weapons, You do not have souls” during an anti-government demonstration called by the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes) movement in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on April 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 April 2019

Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

  • French police said they arrested more than 100 "yellow vest" demonstrators in Paris on Saturday
  • Clashes broke out with protestors taking to the streets for a 23rd week of anti-government marches

PARIS: French yellow vest protesters set fires along a march route through Paris on Saturday to drive home their message to a government they see as out of touch with the problems of the poor: that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only problem France needs to solve.
Like the high-visibility vests the protesters wear, the scattered small fires in Paris appeared to be a collective plea to the government to “look at me — I need help too!“
Police fired water cannon and sprayed tear gas to try to control radical elements on the margins of the largely peaceful march, one of several actions around Paris and other French cities.
The protesters were marking the 23rd straight weekend of yellow vest actions against economic inequality and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which they see as favoring the wealthy and big business at the expense of ordinary workers. Protesters see themselves as standing up for beleaguered French workers, students and retirees who have been battered by high unemployment, high taxes and shrinking purchasing power.
Associated Press reporters saw a car, motorbikes and barricades set ablaze around the Place de la Republique plaza in eastern Paris. The smell of tear gas fired by police mixed with the smoke, choking the air.
Paris firefighters — who struggled earlier this week to prevent the 12th-century Notre Dame from collapsing — quickly responded to extinguish the flames at Saturday’s protest.
One masked protester dressed in black jumped on a Mercedes parked along the march route, smashing its front and back windshields.
Paris police headquarters said authorities detained 137 people by early afternoon and carried out spot checks on more than 14,000 people trying to enter the capital for Saturday’s protests.
The tensions focused on a march of several thousand people that started at the Finance Ministry in eastern Paris to demand lower taxes on workers and retirees and higher taxes on the rich.
Another group of about 200 people tried to march to the president’s Elysee Palace in central Paris, but riot police blocked them at the neo-classical Madeleine Church.
Yet another group tried to demonstrate yellow vest mourning over the Notre Dame blaze while also keeping up the pressure on Macron. They wanted to march to Notre Dame itself, but were banned by police, who set up a large security perimeter around the area.
One protester carried a huge wooden cross resembling those carried in Good Friday processions as he walked on a nearby Paris embankment.
Many protesters were deeply saddened by the fire at a national monument . But at the same time they are angry at the $1 billion in donations for Notre Dame renovations that poured in from French tycoons while their own economic demands remain largely unmet and they struggle to make ends meet.
“I think what happened at Notre Dame is a great tragedy but humans should be more important than stones. And if humans had a little bit more money, they too could help finance the reconstruction work at Notre Dame. I find this disgusting,” said protester Jose Fraile.
Some 60,000 police officers were mobilized for Saturday’s protests across France. The movement is largely peaceful but extremists have attacked treasured monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police.
The heavy police presence meant subway stations and roads around Paris were closed Saturday, thwarting tourists trying to enjoy the French capital on a warm spring day.
“Paris is very difficult right now,” said Paul Harlow, of Kansas City, Missouri, as he looked sadly at the damaged Notre Dame.
He and his wife Susan were in Paris only for a few days and didn’t make it in time to see the cathedral. On Saturday, their efforts to visit museums were derailed by closed subways and barricaded roads.
“I don’t think we’ll be back,” he said.
Other visitors showed solidarity with the yellow vest cause.
“I am not interested in joining them, but I can understand what they’re angry about,” said Antonio Costes, a retiree from the Paris suburb of Montreuil who came Saturday to see the damage to Notre Dame. “There is a lot of injustice.”
Macron had been scheduled to lay out his responses to yellow vest concerns on Monday night — but canceled the speech because the Notre Dame fire broke out. He’s now expected to do so next Thursday.
Some yellow vest critics accuse Macron of trying to exploit the fire for political gain. One protester carried a sign targeting Macron that read: “Pyromaniac — we are going to carbonize you.”
Another huge sign read: “Victor Hugo thanks all the generous donors ready to save Notre Dame and proposes that they do the same thing with Les Miserables,” referring to the famed author’s novels about the cathedral and the struggles of France’s poor.
Some prominent yellow vest figures who had stopped protesting said they were returning to the streets Saturday out of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame tragedy.
Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s working class.


Why the UN is struggling to function

Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, called the budget shortfall “the worst cash crisis facing the UN in nearly a decade,” jeopardizing, among other things, peacekeeping efforts and the management of the UN’s New York headquarters. (Ray Hanania)
Updated 16 October 2019

Why the UN is struggling to function

  • World body facing 'the worst cash crisis' in nearly a decade due to mounting arrears
  • Crisis is marked by lack of cash to pay staff and vendors or to fund critical programs

NEW YORK CITY: The UN is facing its worst liquidity shortfall in 74 years of operation with a deficit of $1.385 billion, which is making it difficult for the world body to pay staff and vendors or fund missions.
The crisis has forced Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, to begin cutbacks in all operations.
Warning on Oct. 8 that the problems are at a “tipping point,” he called it “the worst cash crisis facing the UN in nearly a decade,” jeopardizing peacekeeping efforts in Yemen, Myanmar and the management of the UN’s New York headquarters, offices in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, and investigative commissions in Bangkok, Addis Ababa, Santiago and Beirut.
A UN budget review presented this week showed that the crisis is being driven by the lack of cash to pay staff and vendors or to fund critical programs, and outlined spending cuts that will begin immediately pending a resolution of the situation.
“The cash deficits occur earlier in the year, linger longer and run deeper,” said Catherine Pollard, UN under-secretary-general for management strategy, policy and compliance.
“For the second successive year, we have exhausted all regular budget liquidity reserves, despite several measures we had taken to reduce expenditures to align them with available liquidity.”
Chandramouli Ramanathan, UN's controller, detailed the debt in a presentation with Pollard on Oct. 11 that identified $1.385 billion in debts, more than half of the UN’s 2019 annual budget of $2.85 billion.
Ramanathan said that only $1.99 billion had been collected this year, including past year arrears.
“If the trend continues … you will pretty much see that at some point we are running out of liquidity so often — everything depends on the liquidity if the liquidity runs down, we have to prioritize the payment,” he said.
“It will come to the point where you will not have enough staff or not have enough to pay the vendors.”
Ramanathan said that 75 percent of the UN’s budget is for employee and building costs. The remainder includes air charters, fuel, rations, IT support and political missions, which he said are all in jeopardy.
This does not include the costs of peacekeeping missions, nearly $8 billion for 2019, but which are nearly $3.7 billion in arrears.
A slew of operating spending cuts at the UN began on Oct. 14, ranging from no new hirings or filling of vacant positions to switching off heating and airconditioning.
Ramanathan said that these were emergency steps but warned failure to address the “liquidity crisis” would result in other more serious cutbacks including funding of operations, missions and more.

UN OPERATING SPENDING CUTS

• No new hirings or filling of vacant positions

• Reducing operating hours of UN facilities including the New York City headquarters

• Suspending release of new documents, studies and translation of documents

• Curtailing travel of UN officials, meetings or publicly scheduled receptions

• Cutting back operations at the UN headquarters and its worldwide centers, including turning off the use of electricity for certain building operations such as escalators, and shutting down the UN’s fountains

• Heating and air conditioning to be turned off at 6 p.m. each day and not turned on until 8 a.m. at UN buildings

“We are trying to cut back on non-salaried costs, operating hours to meet obligations and to vendors,” he said.
Ramanathan said that the UN was prohibited by its charter from borrowing money. He acknowledged that traditionally member countries were late in paying, usually until the last half of the year or last quarter, but the late payments had become “later and later” each year.
“The US is the largest contributor and they have a large outstanding amount … the US has a large amount outstanding,” Ramanathan said, noting that the UN does single out and list specific debts or debtors.
“We are in active engagement with all the states that owe large amounts.”

Ramanathan identified seven member nations that had failed to pay their memberships fully and accounted for 97 percent of the debt owed: the US ($1.06 billion), Brazil ($143 million), Argentina ($51.5 million), Mexico ($36 million), Iran ($26.9 million), Israel ($17.7 million) and Venezuela ($17.2 million).
He said that a total of 65 other countries were in arrears for their annual dues, based on country size and per capita income, but that represented less than 3 percent of the operating budget shortfall. Only 128 members were fully paid up for this year.
According to Ramanathan, the US owes its annual membership dues of $674 million for 2019, and $381 million for previous years.
UN officials declined to comment on reports that Guterres is seeking to address the unpaid US monies in a meeting with US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the UN and the US financial obligations.
But an independent report by UN Dispatch, which is funded by the UN Foundation, reported on Dec. 6, 2016, that the UN’s headquarters generated $3.69 billion in benefits to New York City’s economy through jobs, commerce, hotels and retail spending by delegates and their staff.
One example of the costs includes accommodating the more than 1,500 journalists, delegates and support staff at the opening of the UN’s 74th General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 23.

The cash deficits occur earlier in the year, linger longer and run deeper.

Catherine Pollard, UN under-secretary-general for management strategy, policy and compliance

The UN erected a huge outdoor media tent in its grounds to accommodate journalists, providing access to the internet, electrical outlets, video and audio feeds, tables and work stations.
But these journalists, staff and delegates also brought with them revenue for the host city — filling hotels and restaurants, and generating profits for retailers, cabs and other businesses.
Despite the financial benefits New York City reaps from the UN headquarters presence, and the power the US wields at the UN, Trump brushed aside reports of the budget crisis or his nation’s failure to pay its share of the UN costs during his address on Sept. 24 to the UN General Assembly.
And a week later, Trump tweeted in response to UN officials’ budget concerns: “So make all Member Countries pay, not just the United States!”
The UN could suspend the voting of any nation that fails to pay its dues under Article 19 of the UN Charter, which states: “A Member of the United Nations which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. The General Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the Member.” (Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations)
A UN staff member said that it was unlikely that the UN would implement the rule against the US and that they fully expected the US “to pay at least part of what it owes” before the end of the year.
The UN was created in 1945 with the goal of ending human-rights abuses.
The power of the UN rests with the 15-member Security Council, which the US is a member of and controls through its veto to block any policies or resolutions it opposes.
The UN General Assembly includes 193 nations, serving as a platform for advocacy and action.