Indian Students Protest After Being Stripped For Menstruation Checks

 

Scores of women students staged a protest outside an Indian college saying they were forced to strip to check if they were menstruating.

The students were told to undress after a used sanitary napkin was found in a garden outside Sahjanand Girls Institute, where they are banned from the hostel when they are having their periods.

“There are no words to describe the humiliation that we faced,” said one of the students protesting outside the college in Bhuj, in the western state of Gujarat.

Deep-rooted social taboos remain in India around menstruating women. In some rural areas, women are made to sleep separately during periods. They are banned from entering some temples.

College authorities lined up 68 students in the washroom and ordered them to undress one by one, the students told reporters.

The college is run by the conservative Hindu sect Swaminarayan. The sect runs lavish temples around the world, including in London.

Its rules bar students from staying in the hostel during their periods.

Menstruating women students must stay in an isolated basement area and keep away from the kitchen and the place of worship.

They also have to sit at the back of the classroom during lectures.

The college said it had set up an inquiry and indicated action could be taken against the staff behind the checks.

College trustee Pravin Pindoria said: “The girls were informed about the hostel rules before they took admission.

“I have called a meeting of the administrative committee which will take action against the responsible persons.”

AFP

At Least 14 Dead In DR Congo Road Crash

 

A man died after falling into a river on Sunday as Storm Dennis swept across Britain with the army drafted in to help deal with heavy flooding and high winds.

The man fell into the River Tawe, in south Wales, police said.

The storm also battered much of France, with some 60,000 people suffering power cuts in the northwest of the country.

Britain’s government weather agency issued a rare red warning for south Wales, saying there was a risk of “significant impacts from flooding” that included a “danger to life from fast flowing water, extensive flooding to property and road closures”.

Police said in a tweet the man who fell into the river was later found dead “further along the river in the Tebanos area”.

A record 594 flood warnings and alerts were in place on Sunday, extending from Scotland’s River Tweed to Cornwall in southwest England.

Winds of over 90 miles per hour (150 kilometres per hour) were recorded in Aberdaron, south Wales.

Pictures circulated on social media showed the nearby River Taff bursting its banks, while rescue workers rushed to get people trapped in their homes in Powys to safety.

“The forecast is for very significant levels of rain, especially in the eastern valleys of South Wales,” said Jeremy Parr, from government body Natural Resources Wales.

“Impacts could be severe overnight, and everyone should take the warnings extremely seriously,” he added.

Police declared major incidents in parts of Wales and England, with landslides also reported.

“Some communities have been cut-off…, but emergency service workers are working tirelessly to put measures in place to ensure the safety of residents,” South Wales Police said in a statement.

Roads and railways were badly affected by the downpours and winds, having barely recovered from a similar storm last week.

The Ministry of Defence deployed troops in West Yorkshire, northern England, which suffered badly from flooding caused by last weekend’s Storm Ciara.

“Our armed forces are always ready to support local authorities and communities whenever they need it,” said defence minister Ben Wallace.

British Airways and easyJet confirmed they had grounded flights, with footage posted online showing a massive Airbus A380 jet being blown about as it attempted to land.

Earlier, two bodies were pulled from rough seas off the south England coast on Saturday as the storm barrelled in.

One of the men is assumed to have been the subject of a search triggered when an LPG tanker reported that one of its crew was unaccounted for.

He had last been seen several hours earlier.

Northwestern France was also affected by the storm, especially Brittany where the Finistere and Morbihan regions were temporarily placed on orange alert for rain and flooding, according to the national weather service, Meteo-France.

Electricity provider Enedis said it had deployed 450 staff in an attempt to bring power back to homes affected.

A regional spokesman told AFP normal service would not likely resume before Monday.

By Sunday evening, Meteo-France said the worst seemed to have passed as winds dropped to below 100 kph (62 mph).

Several neighbouring countries were also affected.

“Winds will be increasing throughout the day on Sunday across Germany, Denmark and southern Sweden,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Maura Kelly said earlier Sunday.

AFP

Three Dead As Gambians Protest Against President Barrow

Protesters hold banners bearing the faces of victims of the regime of Yahya Jammeh, the former President of the Gambia, during a demonstration asking for Yahya Jammeh to be brought to justice in Banjul on January 25, 2020. ROMAIN CHANSON / AFP

 

Three people died on Sunday in the Gambian capital Banjul during a demonstration calling for President Adama Barrow who wants to extend his term to step down, a hospital director said.

Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who responded by throwing stones, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.

“I can confirm that there have been three dead,” said Kebba Manneh, director of the Serrekunda hospital where victims were taken.

He told reporters that people brought to the hospital had been treated for gas inhalation, and said some were still under observation.

Tension has been building in The Gambia over Barrow’s decision to stay in office for five years — reversing an initial pledge to step down after three.

Red Cross sources said 28 people had been taken to Serrekunda hospital on Sunday.

Opposition activists added that police had arrested scores of people, including Abdu Njie, leader of the Three Year Jotna (is up) Movement.

AFP

Indian Police Battle Anti-Modi Protesters Over Disputed Law

Protesters hold placards and shout slogans against India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they participate in a protest against India’s new citizenship law, in Kolkata on January 11, 2020.
Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP

 

Indian police baton-charged protesters Sunday to stop them reaching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s car as nationwide protests against a bitterly disputed citizenship law entered a second month.

Tens of thousands staged protests through the night in the eastern city of Kolkata to denounce Modi’s weekend visit to the capital of West Bengal state, whose local rulers have strongly opposed the legislation.

Police said they were forced to act after protesters tried to storm past barricades to stop Modi’s vehicle outside a stadium, where the leader again defended the law and insisted the demonstrators were “misguided”.

Nearly 2,000 protesters gathered outside chanting “Fascist Modi, Go Back” before the showdown between demonstrators and police. More than 100 protesters were detained, a police official said.

Protesters have burned effigies of the prime minister during his visit and brandished black flags — considered an insulting gesture in Indian society.

“The government can’t suppress our voice. We are not afraid. We are determined to fight for our rights,” Samit Nandi, one of the protesters, told AFP. “We will continue our protests until Modi leaves our city.”

West Bengal has become a political battlefield between Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and regional powerhouse Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress party leads the state.

Banerjee is among state leaders nationwide who have said they will not implement the Citizenship Amendment Act, which excludes Muslims from a list of ethnic minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who are allowed to seek Indian nationality.

Opponents say the government has created a religious test for citizenship in the secular country.

Many among India’s 200 million Muslims fear the law is a precursor to a national register of citizens that could leave them stateless in the country of 1.3 billion. Many poor Indians do not have documents to prove their nationality.

“CAA is not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship,” Modi told supporters.

He has accused political opponents of “misleading” and “inciting” people against his government.

Widespread demonstrations have rocked the Hindu-majority nation since the law was approved by parliament last month.

At least 27 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed with police accused of using disproportionate force in several states.

Home Minister Amit Shah, the government number two, also held a rally in Jabalpur on Sunday to build support for the law and several hundred supporters of the measure marched in New Delhi.

But in a new sign of international unease over the law, a third Bangladesh minister cancelled a visit to Delhi in apparent protest. Deputy foreign minister Shahriar Alam was to have attended a diplomatic syposium in the Indian capital this week.

Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan called off separate visits in December. The government has denied any link to the new law, however.

The United Nations and a US government religious freedom commission have also expressed concern.

AFP

Iraqi Protesters Denounce Twin ‘Occupiers’ US And Iran

 

 

Iraqi protesters flooded the streets on Sunday to denounce both Iran and the US as “occupiers”, angry that fears of war between the rivals were derailing their anti-government movement.

For three months, youth-dominated rallies in the capital and Shiite-majority south have condemned Iraq’s ruling class as corrupt, inept and beholden to Iran.

Following a US strike on Baghdad Friday that killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders, Iraqi lawmakers urged the government Sunday to oust thousands of US troops deployed across the country.

For protesters who were hitting the streets, Iran was also a target for blame.

“No to Iran, no to America!” chanted hundreds of young Iraqis as they marched through the southern protest hotspot of Diwaniyah.

Young children present carried posters in the shape of Iraq and waved their country’s tri-colour.

“We’re taking a stance against the two occupiers: Iran and the US,” one demonstrator told AFP.

Nearby, a teenage girl held a handwritten signing reading: “Peace be on the land created to live in peace, but which has yet to see a single peaceful day.”

Iraqi helicopters circled above, surveying the scene.

Relations between Tehran and Washington have been deteriorating since the US abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed crippling economic sanctions.

But tensions boiled over during the last week, culminating in a US drone strike outside Baghdad Airport that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and several Iraqi paramilitary leaders.

‘Don’t ignore our demands’

Some protesters initially rejoiced, having blamed Soleimani for propping up the government they have been trying to bring down since early October.

But joy swifty turned to worry, as protesters realised pounding war drums would drown out their calls for peaceful reform of Iraq’s government.

In a bold move, young protesters in the southern city of Nasiriyah blocked a mourning procession for Soleimani and top Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis from reaching their protest camp.

Outraged pro-Iran mourners fired on the protesters, wounding three, medical sources told AFP.

“We refuse a proxy war on Iraqi territory and the creation of crisis after crisis,” said student Raad Ismail.

“We’re warning them: don’t ignore our demands, whatever the excuse,” he said.

The demonstrators are calling for early parliamentary voting based on a new electoral law. They hope this would bring transparent and independent lawmakers to parliament.

They have also demanded Iran — their large eastern neighbour which holds sway among Iraqi politicians and military figures — reduce its interventions in Iraq.

Tehran has especially strong ties to the Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network of mostly-Shiite factions which has been incorporated into the state.

The US has accused one vehemently anti-American Hashed faction, Kataeb Hezbollah, of attacking US diplomats and troops in Iraq.

No sovereignty, no state?

On Saturday, Kataeb Hezbollah told Iraqi security forces to “get away” from US troops, sparking fears they would fire rockets at bases shared by soldiers from both countries.

Just moments before, explosions rocked the enclave in the Iraqi capital where the US embassy is located and an airbase north of the capital housing American troops.

In the shrine city of Karbala, student Ahmad Jawad denounced Soleimani’s killing and the ensuing violence.

“We refuse that Iraq becomes a battlefield for the US and Iran, because the victims of this conflict will be Iraqis,” he told AFP.

Another student, Ali Hussein, was worried about the precarious situation.

Iraq’s premier Adel Abdel Mahdi resigned last month over the protests but political factions have not agreed on a replacement, and are now focused on the aftermath of the US strike.

“The Americans violated Iraq’s sovereignty by hitting the Hashed bases and carrying out another strike by the Baghdad airport,” said Hussein.

For demonstrators whose main rallying cry had been “We want a country,” Hussein said the foreign military operations were jarring.

“It’s proof that there’s no state in Iraq,” he said.

Trump Threatens Iran After Baghdad Embassy Attack

 

US President Donald Trump warned Tehran it would “pay a very big price” after a mob of pro-Iranian demonstrators stormed the American embassy compound in Iraq, as his government said it is sending hundreds more troops to the Middle East.

Angered by US airstrikes that killed two dozen paramilitary fighters on Sunday, hundreds of protesters spilled through checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone Tuesday, demanding the removal of American troops from Iraq and voicing loyalty to a powerful Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the attack was “orchestrated by terrorists,” one of whom he named as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Muhandis has been identified as second-in-command of the Tehran-backed Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group which includes Kataeb Hezbollah, the group that was targeted in the US airstrikes.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said around 750 troops from a rapid response unit of the 82nd Airborne Division are prepared to deploy over the next several days to the region.

“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,” he said.

Prior to the announcement, a US official told AFP that “up to 4,000 (troops) may ultimately be deployed”.

The US had already flown a rapid response team of Marines into Baghdad to reinforce its embassy after the attack Tuesday, which left smoke and flames rising from the embassy entrance and further heightened tension between Tehran and Washington.

Esper’s announcement is the latest move by Washington to step up its defences in the region since US President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled out of a multinational nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed crippling economic sanctions.

Trump blamed Tehran for the embassy attack and warned that it would face punishment if Americans are killed.

“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” Trump said on Twitter.

“They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” wrote Trump, adding “Happy New Year!”

However, Trump later told reporters that he did not foresee war with Tehran.

Surprise, fury

Trump’s message came at the end of a day in which Washington officials appeared surprised and furious over the ease at which the protestors entered the Green Zone, reaching the US embassy compound for the first time in years.

Live broadcasts showed the protesters battering down the high-security doors of the embassy reception building, smashing windows, burning a sentry box and chanting “Death to America!”

The State Department and Pentagon demanded Iraq’s leaders provide security to the compound — which was already heavily fortified.

By the time a contingent of US Marine reinforcements flew in, some of the demonstrators had pulled back and others settled in for a sustained protest, preparing food for the evening.

Tehran said the United States is itself to blame for airstrikes that killed about two dozen Kataeb Hezbollah fighters on Sunday.

“The surprising audacity of American officials is so much that after killing at least 25… and violating the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, that now… they attribute the Iraqi people’s protest against their cruel acts to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.

‘Strategic patience’

The mob attack put a focus on the strains in the US-Iraqi relationship. Allies of Iran, which enjoys significant support in parts of the Iraqi government, increasingly challenge Washington’s influence in the country.

US jet fighters on Sunday struck five Kateab Hezbollah outposts in Iraq and Syria after a series of rocket attacks on US-occupied facilities in Iraq over the past two months that are blamed on the group and its alleged Iranian sponsors.

One of those attacks, in Kirkuk on Friday, left an American civilian contractor dead and exhausted what US officials called Trump’s “strategic patience” with Tehran.

‘First lesson’ to US

It also added to the growing calls by some political factions in Iraq to push US troops out of the country nearly 17 years after they entered and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The protesters who besieged the US embassy on Tuesday carried posters reading: “Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will!”

Late Tuesday Kataeb Hezbollah hailed the attack as a “first lesson” to Washington, “so that Trump knows he did something extremely stupid”.

US officials said there were no plans to evacuate the mission, and no US personnel were reported injured. Ambassador Matthew Tueller, who had been on holiday, was on his way back to the embassy.

Pentagon Says Sending 750 Troops To Mideast After Embassy Attack In Iraq

 

The United States is sending around 750 more troops to the Middle East immediately, following an attack by pro-Iranian demonstrators on the US embassy in Baghdad, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

More troops from a rapid response unit of the 82nd Airborne Division are prepared to deploy over the next several days, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement.

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“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,” he said.

“The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.”

Iraq Protesters Attack US Embassy Over Airstrikes

Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend’s air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades near Al-Qaim, an Iraqi district bordering Syria, on December 31, 2019.  AFP

 

Several thousand protesters attacked the US embassy in the Iraqi capital on Tuesday in anger at US air strikes that killed more than two dozen pro-Iran fighters at the weekend.

A stream of men in military fatigues, as well as some women, marched through checkpoints that usually restrict access to Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone.

They waved flags in support of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of armed groups that has been largely incorporated into the security forces.

On Sunday, at least 25 fighters from a hardline Hashed faction known as Kataeb Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) were killed in US air strikes on a base in western Iraq.

The strikes were in response to escalating rocket attacks on Iraqi bases where US forces are deployed.

The attacks have not been claimed but US security assessments have largely blamed them on Kataeb Hezbollah.

The demonstrators on Tuesday reached the US embassy walls, chanting “Death to America” and burning US flags.

They held up posters calling for the embassy to be shut down and for parliament to order US forces to leave the country.

“Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will,” one poster said.

They pulled security cameras off the wall as Iraqi security forces tried to keep them back.

Sudan Sentences 29 To Death Over Teacher’s Killing

 

A Sudanese court on Monday sentenced 27 intelligence agents to death for torturing and killing a protester early this year, an AFP correspondent said.

It is the first time members of the security forces have been condemned to death in relation to the killing of protesters whose movement toppled veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The defendants were found guilty of torturing to death Ahmed al-Kheir Awadh at an intelligence services facility and sentenced to be hanged, judge Sadok Albdelrahman said.

The teacher was beaten and tortured to death after he was arrested in late January by intelligence operatives in Kassala state in eastern Sudan, the judge said.

Dozens of protesters from the capital’s teachers’ association gathered in front of the court in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, carrying pictures of Awadh.

Defence lawyers have two weeks to lodge an appeal against the death sentences.

Sudanese first took to the streets just over a year ago, to protest against high bread prices, but the demonstrations soon turned into demands for Bashir to step down.

The president was deposed in April by the military, but huge protests continued, culminating in a compromise that saw a joint military-civilian transitional council formed in August.

At least 177 people were killed in repression of the months-long protests, according to rights group Amnesty International, while a doctors’ committee close to the protest movement put the toll at over 250.

Many of those killed were the victims of a June 3 massacre outside army headquarters in Khartoum, perpetrated by men in military fatigues.

On the first anniversary of the protests, thousands of Sudanese citizens earlier this month took to the streets of Khartoum and other cities, in order to pay their respects to the “martyrs of the revolution”.

Bashir was on December 14 sentenced to two years in an elderly offenders’ institution after being convicted in a corruption case.

The former president faces numerous other domestic probes, and he has long been wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes, including genocide, related to the conflict in Darfur.

The transitional administration inherited an enfeebled economy, which was battered by years of US sanctions under Bashir, patronage and the secession of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011.

The first post-Bashir budget was unveiled by the government late Sunday. It envisages an increase in the deficit to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, up from 3.3 percent in 2019.

AFP

Protestors Block Traffic Ahead Of Politically Charged Clasico

 

Demonstrators take part in a protest called by Catalan separatist movement Democratic Tsunami outside the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on December 18, 2019, prior to the “El Clasico” Spanish League football match between Barcelona FC and Real Madrid CF. Tension in Spain’s north-east region boiled over in October when demonstrations and riots caused the original La Liga fixture between Barcelona and Real Madrid

 

Hundreds of protestors blocked traffic outside Camp Nou on Wednesday as Barcelona and Real Madrid prepared to play a Clasico overshadowed by calls for Catalan independence. 

Supporters of Democratic Tsunami, the protest group advocating Catalan self-determination, gathered at the four corners of the stadium from 1500 GMT, four hours before kick-off.

Many held Catalan flags and blue banners that carried the group’s slogan – ‘Spain, sit and talk’ – as well as the words ‘Freedom, rights, self-determination’.

“We must take advantage of the magnitude of this match so the world can see our situation from Europe and around the world,” said Antoni Rabull, a 73-year-old retiree.

There was a visible police presence outside the stadium but there was little sign of trouble as protestors stayed true to Democratic Tsunami’s pledge to carry out its demonstrations peacefully.

“To perform the action of Democratic Tsunami it is essential that the game can be played and the fans with tickets can enter the stadium,” read a message posted by the group’s official Twitter account.

Police were also stationed outside the nearby Hotel Princesa Sofia, with players, coaching staff and referees instructed to gather there and then leave together for the match two hours before kick-off.

Around 3,000 security personnel will be posted around the stadium after renewed fears of unrest. The original fixture in October had to be postponed due to violent demonstrations breaking out across Catalonia.

“We know we are living in a complex social and political situation but I am convinced that it is compatible with playing a football match,” said the club’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu last week.

– ‘Spain, sit and talk’ –

Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia claimed there were plans to throw inflatable balls onto the pitch to denounce the use of rubber bullets by police during the October riots.

“Tsunamis are like water, they adapt to and adopt ideas,” read a message posted on Twitter by Democratic Tsunami account on Wednesday morning.

“We accept the #ChallengeLaVanguardia and call on everyone to throw an inflatable ball and write a message to the world.”

Other posts from the same account added: “At 8pm, everyone will be able to see the match and the message ‘Spain, sit and talk’ will be transmitted around the world.

“The actions of today, like all of Democratic Tsunami’s, will be strictly non-violent.”

Barcelona had issued a statement on Tuesday night to fans planning to attend the game, advising supporters to use public transport, allow plenty of time and warning of “exhaustive security checks” at entrances to the stadium.

Barca also called for calm around the fixture, asking fans “to come to the game at Camp Nou on Wednesday to support the team”.

“The game between Barca and Real Madrid is a festival of football and yet it is without doubt also compatible with a civil and peaceful demonstration of opinion, given the exceptional circumstances faced in Catalonia in recent times,” the statement read.

– Catalan uprising –

Protests broke out in October after nine separatist leaders were sentenced to heavy prison sentences for their involvement in the independence referendum of 2017.

The Clasico was supposed to be played on October 26 but the RFEF decided to postpone “due to exceptional causes”.

“Football has to be for everyone, all over the world,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde on Tuesday. “People should be able to express themselves freely tomorrow, that is what we ask, but that there is respect for everyone.”

Meetings have taken place between the police, clubs and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to ensure the safe arrival of the two squads and referees, as well as the nearly 100,000 fans expected to attend.

As well as the massive security presence in Barcelona, the numbers of private security staff in the stands will also be increased to reduce the threat of pitch invasions that could interrupt the game.

“The operation will ensure that the Clasico is played normally,” said the chief commissioner of the Catalan regional police Eugeni Sallent.

Democratic Tsunami hopes to transmit its message — ‘Spain, sit and talk’ — through the world’s most-watched club football fixture, which has an estimated global audience of 650 million.

Barcelona has historically had a close association with Catalan nationalism, with Camp Nou routinely used as a setting for flags, banners, and chants in support of the cause.

The club could suffer the consequences of any altercations or interruptions during the game.

At a meeting in Madrid last week, the RFEF warned it “will apply the regulations in force,” which range from heavy economic sanctions to the closure of Camp Nou to supporters.

AFP

France’s Pensions Chief Resigns As Strike Hits 12th Day

FILES) This file photo taken on December 10, 2019 shows French High Commissioner for Pension Reform Jean-Paul Delevoye listening during a session of Questions to the government in Paris.DOMINIQUE FAGET / AFP

 

The French official leading a controversial pensions overhaul stepped down on Monday over a scandal involving undeclared payments, as a crippling transport strike against the proposals entered its 12th day, imperilling the holiday plans of thousands.

Jean-Paul Delevoye became the target of unions’ ire after admitting over the weekend that he had failed to disclose 13 private sector posts, both paid and unpaid, in a recent asset declaration.

One of his jobs, as president of the Parallaxe education think-tank, paid nearly 5,400 euros ($6,000) a month on top of his ministerial salary — money he should have forfeited under a 2013 political transparency law.

“Jean-Paul Delevoye made these omissions in good faith, he will now be able to explain himself,” an official in the French presidency said, adding that Emmanuel Macron will name a new commissioner “as soon as possible”.

Delevoye has said he will pay back the money, totalling more than 120,000 euros since September 2017.

But Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest union, the CFDT, called Delevoye’s omissions “shocking”, telling France Info radio that “they obviously damage his credibility”.

The unions are demanding that Macron drop his plan to forge a single pensions system out of the existing 42 schemes — arguing that millions would have to delay their retirement to get a full pension.

Macron has expressed his “solidarity” with the millions affected by the strikes but has so far shown no sign of backing down on what he has called “a historic reform”.

 ‘Huge political mistake’ 

Fresh demonstrations are planned for Tuesday, with several universities including the Sorbonne in Paris said they had cancelled or postponed year-end exams because students would not be able to show up.

A day of road blockades by truckers demanding higher pay added to traffic jams Monday, which reached nearly 630 kilometres (390 miles) in Paris and its suburbs during the morning rush hour — nearly double the average levels.

Most metro lines in the capital were again closed or operating just a handful of trains, and across France just one in three high-speed TGV trains and one in four regional trains were running.

“Until now I’ve been working from home or taking my car,” a man who gave his name as Francois told AFP at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris, saying he had left home shortly before 5:00 am.

“But the car is no longer an option, because of the cost but also because it’s exhausting.”

French officials have said they are willing to negotiate, particularly on a “pivot age” of 64 that would grant rights to a full pension, beyond the official retirement age of 62.

“The government is making a huge mistake in terms of social justice, and a huge political mistake if it persists,” said Berger of the CFDT, which nonetheless backs the plan for a single pension system.

He and other union leaders have vowed to maintain the transport strike until the government backs down, a standoff that is compromising holiday travel plans for many.

Rail operator SNCF has already warned that unless the strike ends in a few days, it will not have time to get service back to normal by December 25.

“We’re going to try to make miracles happen” for the Christmas holidays that begin on Saturday, the SNCF’s Rachel Picard told the Parisien newspaper over the weekend.

“If the government drops its project and we start serious talks on how to improve the system… everything will be fine,” Philippe Martinez of the hardline CGT union said Sunday.

“Otherwise, the strikers will decide on what to do on Thursday or Friday.”

AFP

India Protests Spread Over ‘Anti-Muslim’ Law

A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following a demonstration against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 15, 2019.  STR / AFP

 

Fresh protests rocked India on Monday as anger grew over new citizenship legislation slammed as anti-Muslim, with six people dead in the northeast and up to 100 reported injured in New Delhi.

The law fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from three neighbouring countries, but critics allege it is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalise the 200 million Indians who follow Islam.

In the country’s northeast, however, even allowing non-Muslims citizenship is opposed by many locals who fear their culture is threatened by Bengali-speaking Hindus.

Modi, who insists he is not anti-Muslim, said the citizenship law is “1,000 per cent correct” and that Muslims from the three countries are not covered because they have no need of India’s protection.

Rahul Gandhi, former opposition Congress chief, tweeted on Monday that the law and a mooted nationwide register of citizens also seen as anti-Muslim were “weapons of mass polarisation unleashed by fascists”.

On Sunday night in Delhi, police with batons fired tear gas and charged protesting students before storming a university.

On Monday fresh protests took place in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Lucknow, where hundreds of students — most of them Muslims, television pictures indicated — tried to storm a police station, hurling volleys of stones at officers cowering behind a wall.

In the east in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, thousands gathered for a major demonstration called by state premier Mamata Banerjee, a firebrand opponent of Modi.

In recent days empty trains were torched there and on Monday internet access remained suspended.

In Kerala in the south, another state whose government refuses to implement the citizenship law, several hundred people also protested. Kerala’s finance minister Thomas Isaac tweeted: “United action of all secular force is the need of the hour.”

 Weekend of violence 

Protests were reported in Mumbai, West Bengal, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Patna and Raipur over the weekend.

Authorities in northern Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, have cut internet access in western parts of the state following demonstrations in Aligarh, home to a large university and a sizeable Muslim population.

The main epicentre of the protests has been in India’s far-flung northeastern states, long a seething and violent melting pot of ethnic tensions.

There, where protesters are mostly Hindu, late last week four people died from gunshot wounds, one in a fire and a sixth beaten to death.

On Sunday night in Assam state — following days of rioting and clashes with police — around 6,000 people protested on Sunday evening, with no major incidents reported.

Modi blamed the main opposition Congress party and its allies of “stoking fire”, saying those creating violence “can be identified by their clothes” — a comment interpreted by some as referring to Muslims.

The UN human rights office said last week it was concerned the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution”, while Washington and the European Union have also expressed concern.

The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, arguing that it is against the constitution and India’s cherished secular traditions.

Ashok Swain, a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University said that the scale of the protests had caught Modi’s government, which is presiding over a serious slowdown in economic growth, off guard.

“The protest is getting international attention and also spreading to different parts of the country. This certainly will add pressure on the regime when the economy has failed,” Swain told AFP.

AFP