French ‘Spiderman’ stages protest climb against pension reform

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French skyscraper climber Alain Robert, popularly known as the "French Spiderman", starts the climbing of the Total tower in the west of Paris's business district of La Defense on January 13, 2020 as a symbolic action to support on strike workers on the 40th day of a nationwide movement against a French government pension reform. (AFP)
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French urban climber Alain Robert, well known as "Spiderman", raises his arms as he finished to climb the Total tower in the Paris business district of La Defense, Monday, Jan 13, 2020, in support of the transport strikes. (AP)
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French skyscraper climber Alain Robert, popularly known as the "French Spiderman", climbs the Total tower in the west of Paris's business district of La Defense on January 13, 2020 as a symbolic action to support on strike workers on the 40th day of a nationwide movement against a French government pension reform. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

French ‘Spiderman’ stages protest climb against pension reform

  • “People spend 40 years of their lives slaving away, often in a job they don’t even like,” Alain Robert told AFP

PARIS: A daredevil French climber on Monday made his own contribution to a long-running protest against planned pension reforms, scurrying up a towering skyscraper just outside Paris.
“People spend 40 years of their lives slaving away, often in a job they don’t even like,” Alain Robert told AFP before beginning his climb. “We want people to live decently.”
Robert, known worldwide for scaling landmark towers without ropes — and usually without permission — began his ascent of the 187-meter (614-feet) Total building in the La Defense business district at around 10:30 am (0930 GMT).
Passers-by gaped as he mounted the lattice of metal-framed glass panes, taking 52 minutes to reach the top, where as usual police and security guards were waiting.
“It was quite cold, I couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers so it was tricky,” Robert said. “And also I’m not in the same shape as I was 20 years ago!“
“I’m 57, so technically not far from retirement. And climbing is the only way I make money,” Robert said before being taken away.
“Will I have to keep climbing solo until I’m 64? Or even 67?“
Unions have been waging a crippling transport strike against the pension overhaul since December 5, disrupting train services and making commutes miserable for millions, especially in the Paris region.
The government wants to forge a single system from 42 separate schemes and intended to push back the official age for a full pension to 64 from 62 — a measure it withdrew temporarily under union pressure over the weekend.
“They need to stop telling people to work more and accept less, because that’s what this reform is about,” Robert said, echoing claims from France’s hard-line unions, which are demanding the government withdraw its plan.
It is not the first time Robert has climbed to promote a political message.
Last August, he unfurled a “peace banner” while racing up the 68 floors of the Cheung Kong Center in Hong Kong as the city was rocked by pro-democracy protests challenging Beijing’s authority.
And in 2015, Robert scaled the Engie tower in La Defense to draw attention to calls for a more transparent banking system.


At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

In this Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 image, Lizzie Chimiugak looks on at her home in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2020

At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

  • The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska: Lizzie Chimiugak has lived for 90 years in the windswept western wilds of Alaska, born to a nomadic family who lived in mud homes and followed where the good hunting and fishing led.
Her home now is an outpost on the Bering Sea, Toksook Bay, and on Tuesday she became the first person counted in the US Census, taken every 10 years to apportion representation in Congress and federal money.
“Elders that were before me, if they didn’t die too early, I wouldn’t have been the first person counted,” Lizzie Chimiugak said, speaking Yup’ik language of Yugtun, with family members serving as interpreters. “Right now, they’re considering me as an elder, and they’re asking me questions I’m trying my best to give answers to, or to talk about what it means to be an elder.”
The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867. The ground is still frozen, which allows easier access before the spring melt makes many areas inaccessible to travel and residents scatter to subsistence hunting and fishing grounds. The mail service is spotty in rural Alaska and the Internet connectivity unreliable, which makes door-to-door surveying important.
The rest of the nation, including more urban areas of Alaska, begin the census in mid-March.
On Tuesday, Steven Dillingham, director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.
“The 2020 Census has begun,” he told reporters after conducting the first interview with Chimiugak, a process that lasted about five minutes. “Toksook Bay isn’t the easiest place to get to, and the temperature is cold. And while people are in the village, we want to make sure everyone is counted.”
Dillingham was hours late getting to Toksook Bay because weather delayed his flight from the hub community of Bethel, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. Conditions didn’t improve, and he spent only about an hour in the community before being rushed back to the airport.
After the count, a celebration took place at Nelson Island School and included the Nelson Island High School Dancers, an Alaska Native drum and dance group. Later, the community took over the commons area of the high school with a potluck of Alaska Native foods, including seal, moose and goose soups, herring roe served with seal oil and baked salmon.
Robert Pitka, tribal administrator for Nunakauyak Traditional Council, hopes the takeaway message for the rest of the nation is of Yup’ik pride.
“We are Yup’ik people and that the world will see that we are very strong in our culture and our traditions and that our Yup’ik language is very strong,” he said.
For Chimiugak, she has concerns about climate change and what it might do to future generations of subsistence hunters and fishers in the community, and what it will do to the fish and animals. She talked about it with others at the celebration.
“She’s sad about the future,” he eldest son Paul said.
Chimiugak was born just after the start of the Great Depression in the middle of nowhere in western Alaska, her daughter Katie Schwartz of Springfield, Missouri, said. Lizzie was one of 10 siblings born to her parents, who lived a nomadic lifestyle and traveled with two or three other families that would migrate together, her son said.
Lizzie and her 101-year-old sister from Nightmute, Alaska, survive.
In 1947 Lizzie married George Chimiugak, and they eventually settled in Toksook Bay after the town was founded in 1964 by residents of nearby Nightmute. There are five surviving children.
He worked maintenance at the airport. She did janitorial work at the old medical clinic and babysat.
Like other wives, she cleaned fish, tanned hides and even rendered seal oil after her husband came home from fishing or hunting. Her husband died about 30 years ago.
She is also a woman of strong Catholic faith, and told her son that she saved his life by praying over him after he contracted polio.
For her own hobbies, she weaved baskets from grass and remains a member of the Alaska Native dance group that performed Tuesday. She dances in her wheelchair.
She taught children manners and responsibility and continued the oral tradition of telling them stories with a storyknife.
Chimiugak used a knife in the mud to illustrate her stories to schoolchildren. She drew figures for people or homes. At the end of the story, she’d use the knife to wipe away the pictures and start the next story with a clean slate of mud.
“She’s a great teacher, you know, giving us reminders of how we’re supposed to be, taking care of subsistence and taking care of our family and respecting our parents,” her granddaughter Alice Tulik said. “That’s how she would give us advice.”