French Banks Call For End To ‘Yellow Vest’ Violence

Women march with balloons during a rally of the Women’s Yellow Vest protest movement (Femmes Gilets jaunes) near Place de la Bastille in Paris on January 6, 2019. France’s “yellow vest” protesters were back on the streets again on January 5 as a government spokesman denounced those still protesting as hard-liners who wanted only to bring down the government.
Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

French banks called Saturday for an end to violence against branches, cash machines and personnel as the country braced for a 20th day of “yellow vest” protests.

Since the “yellow vest” anti-government protests began in November, more than 760 banks have suffered damage.

“It is time for all to condemn acts committed against banks,” the French banking federation’s executive committee said in comments published in the daily Le Monde.

“Yellow vest” demonstrations are expected Saturday in several French cities despite bans in hotspots such as the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris and the centre of Bordeaux.

Banks have often been the targets of vandalism and arson during the protests, and last week 11 people were injured when a Banque Tarneaud branch was set on fire near the Champs Elysees.

“We must quickly put a stop to this unbridled and unjustified violence,” the federation said.

It called for order to be restored “so that our colleagues and shop owners can work safely” and meet their clients needs.

The call was echoed by the police union Alliance, which told AFP Saturday its members “were fed up” with critics that sought to blame them for the violence.

“Our duty is to maintain public peace, even if that sometimes means restoring public order,” Alliance secretary-general Frederic Lagache said.

The banking federation’s executive committee comprises the bosses of six large French banks; BPCE, BNP Paribas, Credit Mutuel, Banque Postale, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale.

“For a little more than four months, hundreds of local branches that are essential links in local life… have been targeted, vandalised, pillaged and burned, and bank officers physically threatened,” the federation said.

With taxes a key trigger in the initial protests, it said French banks were the primary contributor to fiscal revenues, paying 644 euros ($720) for each 1,000 euros in net profit, excluding social charges.

France counts 37,000 bank branches and the sector employs more than 360,000 people.

After Ronaldo Bruising, Japan’s Shoji Now Eyes Stopping Mbappe

Colombia’s midfielder James Rodriguez (C) fights for the ball against Japan’s defender Gen Shoji (L) and midfielder Gaku Shibasaki (R) during their friendly football match in Yokohama on March 22, 2019. Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

 

Japan defender Gen Shoji has already endured a bruising experience against one global superstar in Cristiano Ronaldo but hopes that experience will work in his favour when he confronts another in the shape of French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe on Sunday.

Shoji gets his chance to shut out Mbappe, one of football’s hottest properties, when his Toulouse team take on mighty Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1.

The 26-year-old, who arrived in France in the winter transfer window, came off worse when Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Real Madrid over Kashima Antlers at the 2016 World Club Cup.

“With my Japanese club, we tried to stop Ronaldo collectively. In France, when we defend, I feel as if the individual duel is more important so I will have to adapt the way I do things against Mbappe and the others,” said Shoji.

“To compare Ronaldo and Mbappe, I will have to have played both of them. I should have a better idea after the game but it will be complicated.”

Shoji, a native of Kobe, left Kashima Antlers — his only previous club — after 11 years and has helped Toulouse to a respectable mid-table place in Ligue 1.

“I wanted to have new experiences,” said Japanese international Shoji who admitted he has had to quickly adapt to a vastly different culture in France.

“You have to get out of your shyness. In Japan, if you are a little reserved someone will come to you; here, if you don’t make the effort, no one will come to you.”

To help him integrate in La Ville Rose (The Pink City), Toulouse have drafted in Japanese compatriot Toru Ota, who has played in the women’s teams at Lyon and PSG.

She interprets for Shoji in the dressing room and translates tactical tips being passed on to the pitch from the bench. A French teacher is also in the process of being hired.

Shoji opted against joining Toulouse after the World Cup last summer because he wanted to help Kashima win the Asian Champions League for the first time.

French Quality

With that ambition achieved in November, Shoji was free to move to France in a three-million-euro deal.

“He learns very quickly. He has been a good purchase,” said Toulouse coach Alain Casanova.

For his part, Shoji believes that from a technical perspective “the Japanese championship is perhaps better” but “Ligue 1 is superior when you add in the speed and physicality”.

“I was very surprised by the quality of French football,” added the 15-time capped international who was left heartbroken by Japan’s World Cup elimination in a 3-2 last-16 loss to Belgium in Russia last summer after they had led 2-0.

“But you will see and I do not know when, maybe it will be after me, but one day, Japan will go very, very far at the World Cup,” he predicted.

In his brief Ligue 1 career, Shoji has endured some sobering experiences — a 5-0 rout at the hands of Lyon was particularly painful.

“In Japan, with Kashima, we won all the time. I have never thought that I have made a bad choice. I don’t have any experience of a team that has these kind of difficulties. It’s important to have this kind of experience.”

Casanova is confident that Shoji will be a success story in France. To help his new recruit, he has even picked up a smattering of Japanese.

“I have mastered the main words — hello and goodbye!”

French New Wave Film Director Agnes Varda Dies At 90

 

French film legend Agnes Varda, the only woman director to emerge from the New Wave scene in the 1960s, has died aged 90, her family said on Friday.

With her two-tone bowl haircut, Varda was seen as the arty, eccentric “grandmother” of French cinema, loved and revered for her startling originality.

“The director and artist Agnes Varda died at her home on the night of Thursday, March 29, of complications from cancer. She was surrounded by her family and friends,” the family said in a statement.

Varda worked right up to the end of her life, with a new autobiographical documentary premiering at the Berlin film festival just last month.

She won an honorary Oscar last November at 89 for her documentary “Faces Places”, which saw her ditch her walking stick for an impromptu celebratory dance with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

She made “Faces Places” with the hip young French street artist JR — more than half a century her junior — hopping into a van with him at the wheel to drive around France to shoot interesting people and places they came across.

The pair made an unlikely but endearing double act. With her eyesight failing but imagination undimmed, Varda at one point admits, “Every new person I meet feels like my last one.”

The film took her back to her cinematic roots, with a visit to her reclusive New Wave colleague Jean-Luc Godard, just over the border in Switzerland.

Husband and Wife Team

Varda and her late husband, director Jacques Demy, were one of the New Wave’s great double acts, with her often recording life on set and pitching in on his masterpieces like “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Bay of Angels”.

She made her name in 1962 with her first feature “Cleo de 5 a 7” (Cleo from 5 to 7), about a hypochondriac singer who gets increasingly worried that she has cancer while she is waiting for test results from her doctor.

But it was in her documentaries and films that mixed real-life events with fiction that Varda weaved her very particular brand of gritty poetry.

She won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and a host of other awards for her 1985 film “Vagabond”, which retraced the life of a homeless woman who was found frozen to death in a ditch.

Her social conscience was also clear in her now classic documentary, “The Gleaners & I” (2000) – about people who comb the fields after the harvest for leftover grain and fruit, and urban gleaners who make a living from junk.

It is on the BBC’s list of the best films made since the turn of the century.

Varda has never hidden her interest in politics, making a series of documentaries in the United States and Cuba as both countries reeled from social and political revolutions, including “Black Panthers” (1968), “Hi Cubans!” (1971) and “Far From Vietnam” (1967).

Born in Belgium in 1928 to a French mother and Greek father whose family had fled Turkey, Varda changed her first name from Arlette to Agnes when she turned 18 and began her career as a photographer.

Her work often crossed over between cinema and art and her own personal story, like her documentary “Uncle Yanco” (1967) about San Francisco hippie artist Jean Varda — a relative of hers.

But some of her most poignant work focused on the three decades she spent with Demy until his untimely death in 1990 – “Jacquot de Nantes” (Jacky from Nantes), “The Beaches of Agnes” and “The World of Jacques Demy”.

Born on May 30, 1928, Varda often used her own life as the framework for her work, which brought her an honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in 2015 — the first female to win the coveted award.

“Her work and her life are infused with the spirit of freedom, the art of driving back boundaries, a fierce determination and a conviction that brooks no obstacles. Simply put, Varda seems capable of accomplishing everything she wants,” the Cannes festival said at the time.

Frenchman Jailed For Flying Drone In Myanmar

File Photo

 

A French tourist has been sentenced to one month in prison with labour for attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar’s parliament, a court official said Wednesday. 

Arthur Desclaux, 27, was detained on February 7 in the capital and charged under an export-import law which forbids the use of “banned goods” brought in from abroad without obtaining a license.

Myanmar has tight restrictions on drones used in the country, especially around religious and government sites.

Desclaux “confessed” his ignorance about these laws, Judge Sulab Yadanar Oo told the courtroom after the hearing.

“We gave him a light sentence — one-month imprisonment with labour was given to him as he confessed with sincerity that he was guilty,” the judge said.

Speaking outside court after the verdict was delivered, a French embassy official said they were “satisfied that his good faith” was taken into account by the judge in the sentencing.

“That said, a month in prison is still a lot for a simple tourist,” said consul Frederic Inza, adding that the embassy will start making sure tourists know the risks.

“We fear that other people might be in the same situation because the use of drones are becoming more and more common.”

READ ALSO: Dozens Buried In Indonesia Gold Mine Collapse

The harshest sentence for the law could see offenders spending up to three years in prison.

In 2017 journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were making a documentary for Turkish state broadcaster TRT when they were detained in October 2017 along with Myanmar reporter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin.

They were flying a drone outside the sprawling parliament complex and confessed to the act thinking that they would receive a fine.

Instead, the four were sentenced to two months in prison under Myanmar’s aircraft act.

French Troops Kill Senior Islamist Militant In Mali

 

 

French forces have killed a top jihadist leader, Yahya Abou El Hamame, in an operation in Mali, Defence Minister Florence Parly said Friday.

The Algerian, a commander in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was reputedly responsible for kidnapping a number of Westerners in North and West Africa.

A ministry statement issued in Paris said he was “the mastermind and financier of several attacks”.

El Hamame was killed Thursday when French land and air forces ambushed a column of vehicles he was travelling with north of Timbuktu, Parly said.

He reportedly served as AQIM’s “governor” in Timbuktu when the city was held by Islamist rebels from April 2012 to January 2013.

A number of other “terrorists” were “neutralised”, Parly added.

READ ALSO: Death Toll From South African Coal Mine Blast Rises To 18

El Hamame was believed to be second in command of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), also known as Nusrat al-Islam, led by Iyad Ag Ghali.

The group was formed by the merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun and El Hamame’s Saharan branch of AQIM.

The operation was announced as Parly, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian were due to visit Mali, where some 4,500 French troops have been deployed since 2014 to reconquer the north of the country after it fell to jihadist fighters.

AFP

Apple Reaches Agreement On French Back Taxes

 

Apple has reached an agreement with French authorities over 10 years of back taxes, the US firm told AFP on Tuesday, confirming information published by the French magazine L’Express.

The magazine reported that the firm paid nearly 500 million euros ($570 million) to resolve the case in a confidential settlement reached in December.

“The French tax administration recently concluded a multi-year audit on the company’s French accounts and an adjustment will be published in our public accounts,” Apple told AFP.

The company declined to disclose the amount paid, but a source familiar with the case confirmed to AFP the sum of nearly 500 million euros reported by L’Express.

“We know the important role taxes play in society and we pay our taxes in all the countries where we operate, in complete conformity with laws and practices in force at the local level,” added the company.

French authorities declined to comment citing the confidentiality of tax matters.

According to L’Express, the deal followed several months of talks between Apple and French tax authorities and concerned the small amount of revenue the firm booked in France while the sales it reported in Europe ballooned, thanks in particular to iPhone sales.

L’Express said Apple’s European revenues exploded seven-fold, from 6.6 billion euros in 2008 to 47.7 billion in 2017, and most of it was booked in Ireland where the US firm has its European headquarters.

Ireland has low corporate tax rates that have attracted many multinationals, but there are widespread concerns that firms manipulate accounting rules to escape paying revenues in European countries where taxes are higher.

The French deal with Apple follows one with Amazon, which agreed to pay $252 million (202 million euros) to cover back taxes for the years 2006 to 2010.

The French government is also pushing to impose a tax on digital firms and is expected to unveil legislation later this month that would raise 500 million euros this year.

Indonesia Recaptures French Drug Suspect After Jailbreak

Frenchman Felix Dorfin (R) is under escort after escaping from jail in Mataram on the holiday island of Lombok on February 2, 2019,/ AFP

 

A French drug suspect on the run since escaping from an Indonesian jail nearly two weeks ago has been recaptured, police said on Saturday.

Felix Dorfin — who faces the death penalty if convicted — was found hiding in a forest in North Lombok on Friday night, police said, and was returned to jail in Mataram, capital of the island.

Wearing dishevelled black clothes and looking tired, Dorfin initially tried to bribe officers to let him go.

“He didn’t resist arrest, but wanted to bribe our officers,” North Lombok police chief Herman Suriyono said Saturday, adding he was found following a tip-off from locals in the area.

After being checked by medical teams he was returned to jail.

The 35-year-old Frenchman was arrested in September allegedly carrying a false-bottomed suitcase filled with four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of drugs — including cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines — at the airport on the holiday island next to Bali.

On Friday officials said a female police officer had been arrested for allegedly helping Dorfin escape in exchange for Rp 14.5 million (around $1,000).

Jailbreaks are common in Indonesia, where corruption is endemic at all levels of society and inmates often held in squalid and poorly guarded prisons.

In 2017, four foreign inmates tunnelled their way out of Bali’s Kerobokan prison.

Two of them were captured a few days later, but an Australian and Malaysian are still at large.

Macron Calls For ‘Humane Solutions’ To Rescue Migrants Stranded Off Italy

A video grab taken from a footage released by France Televisions on December 25, 2018 shows France’s president Emmanuel Macron (L) gesturing as he speaks during a special program dedicated to French soldiers at the military airbase in N’Djamena, on December 25, 2018.
Handout / FRANCE TELEVISIONS / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday there is a need for “humane solutions” to rescue operations in the Mediterranean, citing the case of 47 migrants stranded off Italy’s coast.

Macron called for the group saved on January 19 to be disembarked in the nearest port “in Italy”, which has so far refused to allow the NGO-run rescue ship to dock.

Speaking in Cyprus during a leaders’ summit, Macron pushed for countries to share responsibility for the migrants and said France would play its part.

French Police Claim Shooting Of Christmas Market Gunman

An armed gendarme stands guard at Strasbourg’s Christmas market, on its reopening day, on December 14, 2018, one day after French police shot dead the gunman who killed three people there. Photo: Patrick HERTZOG / AFP

 

The gunman who killed three people at a Christmas market in Strasbourg was shot dead by French police on Thursday as the Islamic State jihadist group claimed him as one of its “soldiers”.

More than 700 French security forces had been hunting for 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt since the bloodshed on Tuesday night — the latest in a string of jihadist attacks to rock France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said three police tried to question Chekatt after spotting him on the street in the Neudorf area of the northeastern French city where he grew up, but he opened fire.

“They immediately returned fire and neutralized the assailant,” Castaner said.

A source close to the investigation said a woman spotted a man fitting Chekatt’s description with a wounded arm on Thursday afternoon and alerted authorities, who sealed off the area and used a helicopter with thermal cameras to hunt for the suspect.

People gathered at the police cordon where Chekatt was shot and applauded, some shouting “Bravo!”, a source said.

“It’s really a huge relief,” said Alain Fontanel, a local official in the mayor’s office, describing the anxiety that locals had felt since Tuesday’s attack.

“We didn’t really feel very safe,” one 18-year-old local named Arthur told AFP.

 Watchlist

The propaganda wing of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack.

The perpetrator of “the attack in the city of Strasbourg is one of the soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition” against IS, the Amaq agency said in a message posted on Twitter.

Chekatt, who lived in a rundown apartment block a short drive from the city center, was flagged by French security forces in 2015 as a possible Islamic extremist.

France has been hit by a wave of attacks from people claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda or IS since 2015, which have claimed the lives of nearly 250 people, according to an AFP toll.

It is also not the first time a Christmas market has been targeted in Europe.

In 2016, a jihadist attacked a Christmas market in Berlin and went on the run through the Netherlands and France before being shot and killed three days later in northern Italy.

Defiant local authorities insisted the Strasbourg Christmas market would reopen as usual on Friday.

 Career criminal 

Chekatt was believed to have been wounded after exchanging fire with soldiers during the attack, but managed to escape and had not been seen since fleeing the scene on Tuesday.

Police in several other countries had joined the hunt for the career criminal with at least 27 convictions in four European states.

Officers who had already detained Chekatt’s parents and two brothers on Wednesday took a fifth person into custody for questioning on Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron thanked security forces in a tweet and vowed: “Our commitment against terrorism is total.”

He earlier expressed “the solidarity of the whole country” towards the victims.

“It is not only France that has been hit… but a great European city as well,” he added, referring to the seat of the European Parliament in the eastern French city that lies on the border with Germany.

Strasbourg’s location in the heart of western Europe means that Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg can be easily reached by car or train, making the search for Chekatt more complicated.

Swiss police had reinforced border checks, while German authorities also widely published the photo of the suspect, which showed him with dark hair, a short beard and a mark on his forehead.

Plea to ‘yellow vests

As police hunted Chekatt, the French government urged “yellow vest” protesters angry over French economic reforms not to hold another round of demonstrations this weekend, given the strain on the country’s security forces.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called on the anti-government protesters to be “reasonable” after nearly four weeks of often violent demonstrations that have led the government to offer a range of financial relief to low earners.

“Our security forces have been deployed extensively these past few weeks,” Griveaux told CNews television.

“It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again.”

The yellow-vest protesters, known for their fluorescent high-visibility jackets, had called for a fifth round of protests this Saturday.

The protests began on November 17 over fuel tax increases but snowballed into a revolt over living standards as well as Macron’s perceived indifference to the problems of ordinary citizens.

AFP

France To Cut Public Spending Despite Fuel Tax Suspension

French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire (C) gives a press conference following his meeting with employers and professional organizations at the Economy Ministry in Paris on December 3, 2018. ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday said France would stick to its EU commitments to slash public spending despite a decision to suspend a fuel tax to quell fierce protests.

“There is a course set by the French President Emmanuel Macron, which is to respect our European commitments, reduce spending, reduce debt and reduce taxes, and that course will be maintained,” Le Maire told journalists in Brussels.

AFP

French Govt To Freeze Electricity, Gas Price Hikes After Protests

President of France Emmanuel Macron. John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

The French government plans to freeze upcoming increases on regulated electricity and gas prices in the wake of protests over rising costs of living, lawmakers in the ruling Republic on the Move party said.

Stricter vehicle emission controls set to kick in in January 2019 will also be suspended, one of the demands of the “yellow vest” movement which erupted last month, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers before a televised address later on Tuesday.

AFP

 

French Govt Holds Crisis Talks After ‘Yellow Vest’ Riots

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) sits in front of French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (back) during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on December 2, 2018, a day after clashes between police and yellow vest protesters. STEPHANE MAHE / POOL / AFP

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe holds talks with party leaders on Monday as Paris scrambles to forge a response to violence by anti-government protesters that has left hundreds injured nationwide and caused widespread destruction around the capital.

The talks follow a crisis meeting chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday as he surveyed the damage from a day of riots across Paris that saw violence “on a level not seen in decades.”

Philippe has been asked to meet protest organizers and party leaders as part of a “constant wish for dialogue,” the Elysee Palace said.

Environment Minister Francois de Rugy met representatives of the so-called “yellow vest” protesters last week but failed to convince them to end the demonstrations that have taken place over the last two weeks.

The government has not ruled out imposing a state of emergency to combat the protests, which began over fuel taxes but have morphed into a broad opposition front to Macron, 40, a pro-business centrist elected in May 2017.

The president on Sunday assessed the damage at the Arc de Triomphe, the massive monument to France’s war dead at the top of the Champs-Elysees avenue, where rioters scrawled graffiti and ransacked the ticketing and reception areas.

Inside, rioters smashed in the iconic face of a sculpture, a partial reproduction of the frieze “La Marseillaise” by Francois Rude.

Macron also saw the wreckage of burnt-out cars and damaged buildings from rioting at other sites, where he praised the police but was also booed by sections of the crowd.

Paris police said 412 people were arrested on Saturday during the worst clashes for years in the capital and 378 remained in custody.

Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said the violence had been “on a level not seen in decades.”

A total of 263 people were injured nationwide, including 133 in the capital, 23 of the members of the security forces.

“I will never accept violence,” Macron said. “No cause justifies that authorities are attacked, that businesses are plundered, that passers-by or journalists are threatened or that the Arc du Triomphe is defiled.”

The violence has caused deep concern in the French business community which claims it has already lost billions of euros, and representatives are set to attend a meeting at the economy ministry on Monday.

“Our worst fears have been confirmed: this is the third consecutive weekend of (protest) blockades which amount to a major loss for the whole business community,” Jacques Creyssel, representative of a federation of retail businesses, told AFP.

 ‘Yellow vests will win’ 

Three people have died in incidents linked to the anti-government protests, which were sparked initially by a rise in taxes on diesel.

In Paris on Sunday as groups of workers set about cleaning up the mess from the previous day, the scale of the destruction became clear.

Around famous areas including the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre museum, the Opera and Place Vendome, smashed shop windows, broken glass and the occasional burnt-out car was a testament to the violence.

Dozens of cars were torched by the gangs of rioters, some of whom wore gas masks and ski goggles to lessen the effects of police tear gas.

One person was in a critical condition after protesters pulled down one of the huge iron gates of the Tuileries garden by the Louvre, crushing several people.

Nearly 190 fires were put out and six buildings were set alight, the interior ministry said.

Graffiti was daubed at the Arc de Triomphe, with one slogan saying: “The yellow vests will win.”

State of emergency?

Some 136,000 people joined demonstrations nationwide on Saturday, most of them peaceful, the interior ministry said.

The figure was well below the first day of protests on November 17, which attracted around 282,000 people, and also down on the revised figure of 166,000 who turned out last Saturday.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attributed the violence to “specialists in destruction”.

Referring to the possibility of imposing a state of emergency — a demand made by the police union Alliance — Castaner declared: “Nothing is taboo for me. I am prepared to examine everything.”

 ‘We won’t change course’ 

Macron faces a dilemma over how to respond, not least because the “yellow vests” are a grassroots movement with no formal leaders and a wide range of demands.

“We have said that we won’t change course. Because the course is good,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM television defiantly on Sunday morning.

Jacline Mouraud, one of the protest movement’s prime instigators over social media forums, told AFP that scrapping the fuel tax was a “prerequisite for any discussion” with the government.

Macron insists the taxes are needed to fund the country’s transition to a low-emission economy.

AFP