France implements Macron’s Covid pass despite protests

Protesters and police face during a protest against the vaccine and vaccine passports, in Paris, France, Saturday Aug. 7, 2021. (AP)
Protesters and police face during a protest against the vaccine and vaccine passports, in Paris, France, Saturday Aug. 7, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 09 August 2021

France implements Macron’s Covid pass despite protests

Protesters and police face during a protest against the vaccine and vaccine passports, in Paris, France, Saturday Aug. 7, 2021. (AP)
  • Macron hopes the plan will further accelerate the vaccination drive in France where over 55 percent are now double-jabbed. Aides have noted that almost seven million new bookings were made for first jabs since the plans were outlined

PARIS: People in France will from Monday need to show a health pass to enjoy usually routine activities such as sipping a coffee in a cafe or traveling on an intercity train, in a plan championed by President Emmanuel Macron to squeeze Covid-19 infections and encourage vaccination.
The government is pressing ahead with the extension of an already-existing health pass to cafes, restaurants and intercity travel, despite four weekends of angry protests that saw almost a quarter of a million rally nationwide on Saturday.
Macron, who has expressed exasperation with the protests, hopes that the plan will help ramp up vaccinations and quell the fourth wave of coronavirus in France in a strategy similar to that of EU neighbors such as Italy and Germany.
The health pass is generated in a QR code either by a full course of vaccinations, a recent negative virus test or a recovery from Covid-19. The government expects a one-week grace period for consumers and businesses to get used to the new rules.
“The pass and the vaccination drive should help us avoid new curfews and lockdowns,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told Le Parisien daily.
Veran announced slight modifications in the rules — notably that tests could be 72 hours old and not 48, and also that self-tests carried out under medical supervision would be allowed.

But he emphasised there would be no going back on rules which will remain in place until at least November, lamenting the attention paid to those who are “anti-vax, anti-science and anti-state” over those who respected distancing and had been vaccinated.
“I am willing to hear the fears, do everything to reassure. But there comes a time when enough is enough,” he said.
The numbers in hospital are still way off previous highs seen in the pandemic, but there were 1,510 people in intensive care with Covid-19 on Saturday compared with 1,099 just one week ago.
Macron hopes the plan will further accelerate the vaccination drive in France where over 55 percent are now double-jabbed. Aides have noted that almost seven million new bookings were made for first jabs since the plans were outlined.
Cases have been rising fastest in Corsica and the Mediterranean coast, which are seeing a summer influx of holidaymakers.
But the biggest concern is over France’s overseas territories in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean, where new lockdowns have been ordered amid a slow vaccine uptake.
Opponents argue the new rules encroach on civil liberties in a country where individual freedom is prized.
About 237,000 people protested across France on Saturday, including 17,000 in Paris, the interior ministry said, exceeding the 204,000 recorded last weekend — numbers that are extremely unusual for protests at the height of the summer break.
Recent polls though have shown that a clear majority of French back the pass, even including the extension to cafes and restaurants.

The pass has already been required since July 21 to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theaters and museums. Its extension was approved by France’s Constitutional Council on Thursday.
It will be needed both in the indoor and outdoor areas of restaurants but will not be required on metro systems and suburban transport.
Macron, who faces re-election next year, has in recent days repeatedly taken to the social media platform TikTok, popular among young people, to get his message across.
“Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated,” Macron said in the latest video Friday.
“It’s a question of being a good citizen... our freedom is worth nothing if we infect our friends, neighbors or grandparents. To be free is to be responsible.”
 


Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast

Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast
Updated 9 sec ago

Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast

Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast
  • Search teams continue to look for the people, believed to be Somalis
  • MP: ‘The potential loss of life is extremely distressing’

LONDON: British Border Force officers and rescue teams are searching the English Channel amid fears that three migrants have died trying to cross from France to England in a small boat.

Two more people have been pulled from the water by rescuers, who continue to search the area using a helicopter and plane.

After being alerted to the distressed boat on Monday, officers continued to search for any more survivors well into Tuesday.

It is understood that they are looking for Somali passengers who may have left France as early as the weekend, the Daily Mail reported.

Days of treacherous weather and winds have further exacerbated fears for the safety of the other passengers.

Harwich and North Essex MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said: “Obviously the potential loss of life is extremely distressing. We should be extremely grateful to Border Force, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and search and rescue teams for all their efforts.”

He added: “We must redouble our efforts to deal with the criminal gangs who are trafficking migrants, taking money from them and putting them in great peril.”

If the three missing individuals are confirmed dead, this incident will have been one of the deadliest ever off the coast of England.

The UK has experienced record numbers of arrivals of refugees and migrants crossing in small boats from France.

The short but treacherous journey has been made by an estimated 2,500 people in October alone.

Figures so far this year have tripled those from the whole of 2020, with some 19,500 making crossings compared with 8,410.

A Coastguard spokesperson told the Daily Mail: “HM Coastguard will continue to safeguard life around the seas and coastal areas of the UK, working with search and rescue resources in the area.

“If a vessel needs search and rescue assistance, HM Coastguard will continue to respond and rescue those in danger.”

Despite controversy from anti-immigration elements of British society and media, the RNLI — a life-saving service at sea that relies almost entirely on public donations — has reiterated its firm commitment to protecting the lives of anyone caught in distress off Britain’s coast.

“Those we rescue are vulnerable people in danger & distress,” it tweeted earlier this year. “Each of them is someone’s father, mother, son or daughter — every life is precious. This is why we launch.”


Daesh in Afghanistan could be able to attack US in 6 months-Pentagon official

Daesh in Afghanistan could be able to attack US in 6 months-Pentagon official
Updated 26 min 38 sec ago

Daesh in Afghanistan could be able to attack US in 6 months-Pentagon official

Daesh in Afghanistan could be able to attack US in 6 months-Pentagon official
  • Afghanistan could still pose serious national security concerns for the US even after it ended its two-decade-old war in defeat in August
  • Undersecretary of defense for policy said it was still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight Daesh effectively following the US withdrawal

WASHINGTON: The US intelligence community has assessed that Daesh in Afghanistan could have the capability to attack the US in as little as six months, and has the intention to do so, a senior Pentagon official told Congress on Tuesday.
The remarks by Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, are the latest reminder that Afghanistan could still pose serious national security concerns for the United States even after it ended its two-decade-old war in defeat in August.
The Taliban, which won the war, are enemies of Daesh and have seen its attempts to impose law and order after the US pullout thwarted by suicide bombings and other attacks claimed by Daesh.
They include bombings targeting the minority Shiite sect and even a Daesh beheading of a member of a Taliban militia force in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kahl said it was still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight Daesh effectively following the US withdrawal in August. The United States fought the Taliban as well as striking groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
“It is our assessment that the Taliban and Daesh-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after Daesh-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” Kahl said, using an acronym for Daesh in Afghanistan.
Kahl estimated Daesh had a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters.
Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi of the new Taliban government has said the threat from Daesh militants will be addressed. He also said Afghanistan would not become a base for attacks on other countries.
Kahl suggested Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan posed a more complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban. It was those ties that triggered the US military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 following Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Taliban had harbored Al-Qaeda leaders.
Kahl said it could take Al-Qaeda “a year or two” to regenerate the capability to carry out attacks outside of Afghanistan against the United States.
Democratic President Joe Biden, whose supervision of the chaotic end to the war last summer has damaged his approval ratings, has said the United States will continue to be vigilant against threats emanating from Afghanistan by carrying out intelligence-gathering operations in the country that would identify threats from groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Kahl said the goal was to disrupt those groups so that Daesh and Al-Qaeda don’t become capable of striking the United States.
“We need to be vigilant in disrupting that,” he said.
Still, US officials privately warn that identifying and disrupting groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh is extremely difficult without any troops in the country. Drones capable of striking Daesh and Al-Qaeda targets are being flown in from the Gulf.
Kahl said the United States did not yet have any agreement with countries neighboring Afghanistan to host troops for counterterrorism efforts.


British police allegedly tried to remove protesting husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

British police allegedly tried to remove protesting husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Updated 45 min 20 sec ago

British police allegedly tried to remove protesting husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

British police allegedly tried to remove protesting husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
  • Richard Ratcliffe was protesting outside UK Foreign Office over London’s alleged inaction regarding his wife’s detention in Iran
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained by Tehran for over five years for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government

LONDON: Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has claimed that British police tried to remove him from his protest outside the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and has pledged to stay until the government responds to his demands.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran for over five years on national security charges that she strenuously denies. Her husband has argued repeatedly that the UK is not doing enough to secure her release.

Ratcliffe began a hunger strike over the weekend to pressure the government to do more to bring his wife home, and he alleges that police tried to remove him from his picket outside the FCDO at 3.45 a.m. on Monday morning.

He said that despite the attempted removal, he intends to stay until Whitehall takes action, according to the Evening Standard newspaper.

Ratcliffe was joined by his daughter Gabriella on Monday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government. She has spent four years in the notorious Evin prison and one under house arrest in her family’s home in Tehran.

Her family said Iranian authorities revealed she was being held as a bargaining chip over a historic debt between the UK and pre-revolutionary Iranian government worth £400 million ($552.168 million).

Ratcliffe told the Standard: “I’m staying until the government responds. I’m hoping that response is to engage with the demands and not to tell the police to move me on.”

He has demanded that Whitehall “acknowledge Nazanin and the others as hostages, punish the perpetrators, keep the promise to settle the debt and commit to end state hostage taking in Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiations.”

The JCPOA, often referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, is currently being renegotiated by world powers including the US and European nations with Iran. Critics have said that the narrow deal focuses too heavily on Iran’s nuclear activity without addressing other malignant behavior, such as support for regional proxies and the use of kidnapping as a tool of diplomacy.

Ratcliffe has lamented the harm that the ordeal is doing to his daughter, who herself was previously not allowed to leave Iran. He has also criticized the British government for its treatment of his family.

“Two years ago we were allowed to camp in front of the Iranian Embassy for 15 days, much to their considerable anger. But it got Gabriella home. We are now giving the UK government the same treatment.

“In truth, I never expected to have to do a hunger strike twice. It is not a normal act,” he said. “It seems extraordinary, the need to adopt the same tactics to persuade the government here, to cut through the accountability gap.

“Of course Iran still remains the primary abuser in Nazanin’s case. But our family is caught in a dispute between two states.”

He added: “The UK is also letting us down.”

Sacha Deshmukh, interim CEO of Amnesty International UK, said: “It’s so incredibly upsetting that it’s come to this.

“Like Richard, we’ve grown tired of hearing ministers saying they’re ‘doing all they can’ for Nazanin and other arbitrarily-detained Britons in Iran — it doesn’t look like that to us, and it certainly hasn’t produced results.”

A spokesperson for the FCDO said: “Iran’s decision to proceed with these baseless charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an appalling continuation of the cruel ordeal she is going through.

“Instead of threatening to return Nazanin to prison, Iran must release her permanently so she can return home.

“We are doing all we can to help Nazanin get home to her young daughter and family and we will continue to press Iran on this point.”


30 Brits in video plea for help escaping Afghanistan

30 Brits in video plea for help escaping Afghanistan
Updated 26 October 2021

30 Brits in video plea for help escaping Afghanistan

30 Brits in video plea for help escaping Afghanistan
  • UK govt appears to have ‘completely forgotten and abandoned us’
  • The 30 are part of group of 100 stranded Brits

LONDON: A group of 30 Britons stranded in Afghanistan has released a video pleading for help in getting them and their families out of the country, accusing London of abandoning them to the Taliban.

Sixteen men, many of them clasping their British passports, appeared in the video, begging the British government to evacuate them and their families.

A spokesperson for the group said there are 100 of them in the country, all part of a WhatsApp group, and 30 had managed to make it to Kabul in secret to record the message earlier this month.

“We demand that the government doesn’t walk away from its responsibilities towards its citizens and their families,” he said. “We need to get back to our lives in the UK.”

The Taliban seized Afghanistan from the former government in July and August this year, in an offensive that was so swift that it caught the US, the UK and other countries off guard.

The British group’s spokesperson said their numbers include healthcare workers, plumbers, taxi drivers, engineers and more, and requested that visa requirements be waived for their family members in order to speed up their removal from Afghanistan.

“We can’t forget the enormous sacrifices men and women in uniform made to help and evacuate thousands to safety during Operation Pitting — we stand with them and we thank them. But the mission isn’t accomplished yet,” he said. “We’re still stranded and need to get back to our lives in the UK.”

In their video message, the Britons highlighted how American evacuations from Kabul airport — which is now fully functional — have continued, while it appears that London has “completely forgotten and abandoned us.”

The spokesperson said: “We demand the UK government to act now and arrange for chartered flights immediately for all the British citizens and their immediate family members.”


British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans
Updated 26 October 2021

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans
  • Islamophobic campaigns include filming refugees, making baseless accusations, lobbying MPs
  • Extremism monitor: Far right ‘reviving and refining similar attacks used during Syria crisis’

LONDON: Thousands of Afghans housed temporarily in British hotels have faced increasing harassment by far-right groups, according to organizations monitoring the activities of extremists.

Campaigners said the groups are drawing on Islamophobic narratives to whip up hate against the refugees.

Britain First is one of the most notorious and prominent groups involved in the campaign, and according to its own website, it has made more than a dozen unsolicited visits to hotels housing refugees across England in recent weeks.

Right-wing extremism monitor Hope Not Hate said the resettlement schemesfor Afghans have become a focal point for many far-right groups.

It said the arrival of the refugees has led to the far right “reviving, and refining, similar attacks used during the Syria crisis.”

The far right, it added, is using ideas rooted in Islamophobia such as the “Muslim takeover of Europe,” or framing refugees as potential terrorists or sex offenders, to incite hatred against them.

In the videos, far-right activists are seen filming themselves showing up at hotels and trying to find and film refugees, who they incorrectly describe as illegal immigrants.

They usually say they are filming for social media instead of identifying their organization, and are often escorted from the premises by staff.

Banned from traditional social media, some of Britain First’s videos on Telegram of the hotel harassment have accrued views of up to 40,000.

Many of the Afghans who have been evacuated to the UK were taken out of their country because they worked closely with British forces during the two-decade war. Around 8,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan to Britain in total.

Far-right groups cite the alleged financial burden on the British taxpayer of resettling Afghans, and claim that they will also hurt British wallets because of the increased unemployment costs of new migration.

They have also made baseless accusations in the past that male refugees were harassing local schoolgirls — a claim discredited by police.

One group, Patriotic Alternative — a white nationalist political group — is promoting a “write to your MP” action to its followers to protest the resettlement of Afghans in Britain. They have also unfurled banners with the words “we will not be replaced” to protest the resettlement of Afghans in Britain, including one in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s constituency.

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told The Guardian: “It’s grimly predictable to see the far-right harassing Afghan refugees where they are living. Immigration has long been a focus of the far-right, but they have capitalized on the Afghan resettlement scheme to bring together Islamophobic tropes with anti-migrant hate.

“They are using Islamophobic narratives of a ‘Muslim takeover of Europe,’ framing refugees as potential terrorists or sexual predators, and underpinning these with a rejection of the political system to offer a hateful alternative.”