Tension palpable as thousands hit Paris for May 1 rallies

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French police apprehend protesters during the traditional May Day labour union march with French unions and yellow vests protesters in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. (Reuters)
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French police gather in the district of Montparnasse in the French capital prior to the start of May Day demonstrations, in Paris on May 1, 2019. (AFP)
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French police apprehend protesters during the traditional May Day labour union march with French unions and yellow vests protesters in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. (Reuters)
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French trade union members take part in the May Day or Labour Day rally in Paris on May 1, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 01 May 2019

Tension palpable as thousands hit Paris for May 1 rallies

  • More than 7,400 police and gendarmes deployed with orders from President Emmanuel Macron to take an “extremely firm stance” if faced with violence
  • Authorities had warned this year’s marches would likely spell trouble

PARIS: Paris riot police fired teargas as they squared off against hard-line demonstrators among tens of thousands of May Day protesters, who flooded the city Wednesday in a test for France’s zero-tolerance policy on street violence.
Tensions were palpable as a heady mix of labor unionists, “yellow vest” demonstrators and anti-capitalists gathered in the French capital, putting security forces on high alert.
Ahead of the main march, the city was on lockdown with more than 7,400 police and gendarmes deployed with orders from President Emmanuel Macron to take an “extremely firm stance” if faced with violence.
Clashes briefly erupted on Montparnasse Boulevard, where hundreds of anti-capitalist “black bloc” activists pushed to the front of the gathering crowd, hurling bottles and other projectiles at police, who fired tear gas and stingball grenades, an AFP correspondent said.
Used at ground level, the grenades release scores of rubber pellets that cause an intense stinging to the legs.
Authorities had warned this year’s marches would likely spell trouble, coming barely a week after leaders of the yellow vest anti-government movement angrily dismissed a package of tax cuts by President Emmanuel Macron.
And with some agitators vowing on social media to turn Paris into “the capital of rioting,” the government moved to deploy security on an “exceptional scale” throughout the capital.
Last year, officials were caught off guard by some 1,200 troublemakers who ran amok in Paris, vandalising businesses and clashing with police.
By early afternoon, thousands had flocked to the Montparnasse area, many wearing the hi-visibility jackets that gave the name to the yellow vest protesters.
Since November, the city has struggled to cope with the weekly yellow vest protests, which have often descended into chaos with a violent minority smashing up and torching shops, restaurants and newspaper stands.
Across the city on Wednesday, streets were barricaded and shops had boarded up their windows, with police ordering the closure of all businesses along the route of the main march.
“We are not afraid of the union marches but of the black blocs,” local restaurant owner Serge Tafanel told AFP.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said several groups on social media had urged protesters to transform Paris into “the capital of rioting,” with police gearing up for the arrival of up to 2,000 activists bristling for a fight.
Many are anti-capitalist youths, often known as black blocs, who dress in black and wear face masks.
Nearly 200 motorcycle units have been deployed across the capital to respond quickly to flare-ups of violence, and drones are being used to track protesters’ movements.
Castaner said police would carry out pre-emptive searches of anyone planning to march, a new tactic allowed under a security law passed recently in response to the yellow vest violence.
From the early hours of Wednesday, several dozen police officers could be seen at the city’s main train stations, carrying out bag random searches, AFP journalists said.
By midday, police said 88 people had been detained for questioning.
Last Thursday, in a major policy speech aimed at calming the yellow vest anger, Macron promised a string of reforms including tax cuts worth five billion euros ($5.5 billion).
The yellow vests rejected it as too little, too late, pledging to keep up the protests, which began last year over rising taxes on fuel and pensions but have since morphed into a wider movement.
Although the numbers have steadily fallen, the rallies have remained in the headlines, largely over disorder by a handful of violent protesters along the Champs-Elysees.
Following a particularly violent demo in March, the government adopted a “zero-tolerance” approach, passing an “anti-rioter” bill which included making it a criminal offense to wear a mask at a protest.
France’s powerful labor unions are also hoping to use the traditional May Day march for workers’ rights to raise their profile after finding themselves sidelined for months by the grass-roots yellow vest movement.
Like the yellow vests, the unions were also disappointed by Macron’s speech.
“We must be careful not to lose the meaning of this day,” warned Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT, one of France’s biggest unions.
“It is a day of mobilization which deserves our full attention after Emmanuel Macron’s announcement in which he said: ‘I hear you and I’m not changing anything’.”


Afghan security forces confirm killing of top Al-Qaeda leader

Updated 26 October 2020

Afghan security forces confirm killing of top Al-Qaeda leader

  • Egyptian national Abu Muhsin Al-Masri was on the US most wanted terrorists list
  • Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) said he was killed in a special operation in Ghazni province

KABUL: Afghan security forces have confirmed the killing of a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Ghazni province, eastern Afghanistan, prompting the country's president to accuse the Taliban of having links with the terrorist network.

Egyptian national Abu Muhsin Al-Masri, alias Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, was on the US list of most wanted terrorists. The US issued a warrant for his arrest in December 2018.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) in a tweet late on Saturday said that Al-Masri was killed “in a special national security operation.”

Following the announcement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused the Taliban of having links with the terrorist group.

"The killing of this significant leader of Al-Qaeda's terroristic network proves that there is still the threat of terrorism and Taliban have ties with terrorists," he said on Sunday afternoon.

According to NDS sources in Kabul and Ghazni, he was one of the most senior leaders of Al-Qaeda.

“Al-Masri was one of the most senior Al-Qaeda authorities and was a financial and logistical facilitator of the network and had meaningful ties with Taliban,” the source in Kabul said on condition of anonymity.

He added that an Afghan affiliate of Al-Masri was arrested during the raid.

An NDS officer in Ghazni said that Al-Masri was killed in Andar district, where scores of foreign militants have settled in recent years and have been “protected by the Taliban.”

The Taliban deny the claim.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News that Al-Qaeda has had “no ties with the Taliban” since the historic US-Taliban peace accord in late February. In accordance with the deal, the Taliban pledged to sever ties with foreign militants and deter them from using territories under the group’s control.

The US invaded Afghanistan and in late 2001 ousted the Taliban government, which refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders accused of being behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 3,000 Americans.

The terrorist network has been decimated over the years, but US officials believe its fighters are still operating in Afghanistan and some have deep ties with the Taliban.

Al-Masri’s reported killing comes a year after the NDS announced that in a joint raid with US troops it had killed Asim Omar, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. Omar was reportedly killed in southern Helmand province — a Taliban stronghold.

A former Afghan spy master, Rahumatullah Nabil, in a tweet said that Al-Masri and some other members of Al-Qaeda were frequently traveling between Ghazni and other parts of Afghanistan and a tribal region in Pakistan’s north in recent months.

The head of the US National Counter-Terrorism Center, Chris Miller, confirmed Al-Masri’s death in a statement, saying that his “removal” was “a major setback to a terrorist organization that is consistently experiencing strategic losses facilitated by the United States and its partners.”

According to Afghan analysts, however, a replacement for Al-Masri will soon be found within the terrorist group’s ranks.

“The killing will have some impact on the network’s activities and the war in Afghanistan, but not a drastic one as new leaders will jump up to fill the gap,” security analyst Ahmad Saeedi told Arab News.

The development comes as an uptick in deadly violence has been observed in Afghanistan despite ongoing talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar to yield a lasting peace and end decades of conflict in the war-torn country. 

At least 20 people were killed at an educational center Kabul on Saturday, hours after a roadside bomb killed nine civilians east of Kabul. Officials blamed the Taliban for the roadside attack.