French President Emmanuel Macron tried to reassert control over a nation wracked by increasingly violent protests with offers of tax relief for struggling workers and pensioners – and an exceptional admission Monday that “I might have hurt people with my words.”
It may not be enough.
Even as Macron broke his silence on the protests in a brief televised address, yellow-vested demonstrators vowed to keep up the pressure on a man they see as arrogant, out-of-touch and “president of the rich.”
“We are at a historic moment for our country,” the French leader said from the presidential Elysee Palace. “We will not resume the normal course of our lives” after all that has happened.
Speaking with a soft voice and gentle tone, Macron pleaded for a return to calm after almost four weeks of protests that started in neglected provinces to oppose fuel tax increases and progressed to rioting in Paris and a plethora of broad demands.
It’s a turning point in Macron’s presidency, and a crucial moment for both France and Europe. Macron rode to the presidency last year on promises of rejuvenating France’s stagnant economy and salvaging European unity. His credibility on both fronts is now deeply damaged, just as the EU struggles with Britain’s chaotic exit and as France’s protests have prompted copycat movements beyond its borders.
French protesters spent days demanding that Macron speak publicly about their concerns. After he did, they dissected his promises.
“It doesn’t solve the problem,” protester Alain Bouche told BFM television from a yellow-vest roadblock southwest of Paris. He said fellow demonstrators want a national referendum, too.
At a similar barricade near France’s border with Switzerland, demonstrators argued. Two retirees watching the broadcast on a tablet in a makeshift shelter dismissed it as too little, too late. But another yellow-vested protester who gave only her first name, Milliau, said it had “a few reassuring elements. He took one first big step. He has many more to take.”
Some protest representatives have said more demonstrations will be held Saturday, following those in Paris that turned violent during the previous two weekends.
Meanwhile, students opposing changes in key high school tests called for a new round of protests Tuesday.
Macron declared an “economic and social state of emergency,” ordering the government and parliament to take immediate steps to change tax rules and other policies that hit the wallets of working class French people.
He responded to several of the protesters’ demands, promising measures that included:
_A government-funded 100-euro increase in the minimum wage starting at the beginning of the new year.
_Abolition of taxes on overtime pay in 2019.
_Asking profit-making companies to give workers tax-free year-end bonuses.
_Slashing a tax hike on small pensions, acknowledging it was “unjust.”
One thing he didn’t do: Restore a special tax on households with assets above 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million) that he cut last year. Yellow vest protesters decry the end of the tax and wanted it revived.
Overall, Macron unveiled no radical changes, and clung to his vision for transforming France. Yet his costly promises will make it even more difficult to boost growth – already being hammered by protests that have damaged holiday retail sales and worried tourists and foreign investors.
“It’s more of a budgetary adjustment than a change of political course,” said Benjamin Cauchy, a yellow vest protest representative. “That doesn’t correspond to what the French want.”
Some protesters just wanted one thing: Macron to announce “I quit.”
He showed no signs of giving in. Instead, he defended his political independence and described his devotion to serving France. No French presidential or parliamentary elections are scheduled until 2022.
The most remarkable part of the speech may have been the moment an uncharacteristically unshaven Macron said: “I take my share of responsibility” for the anger gripping France.
It was an unusual admission for a president whose leadership has appeared marked by a single-minded determination to push through reforms he promised in his 2017 campaign, regardless of the fallout.
“I might have hurt people with my words,” he said.
Indeed, he wounded many when he told a jobless man that he just had to “cross the street” to find work. Or when he told retirees with small pensions to stop complaining. Or when he suggested some French workers are “lazy.”
However, the centrist leader insisted Monday that the protesters’ “malaise” is as old as he is – 40 years – and coincides with France’s struggles in recent decades to keep up with globalization.
He also denounced the protest-associated violence that led to hundreds of injuries, more than 1,000 arrests and the ransacking of stores in some of Paris’ richest neighborhoods.
Authorities will show “no indulgence” to those behind the vandalism and rioting, Macron said, adding that “no anger justifies” attacking police or looting stores.
Political analyst Dominique Moisi said the important thing in Macron’s speech was not only “what he said but the way he said it.”
Macron sought to establish his authority by declaring he wouldn’t tolerate violence, but also “gave the impression that he understood what is happening,” Moisi said.
Moisi predicted the protest movement could fizzle as the holidays approach and the government launches into the public dialogue Macron promised.
Fallout from the protests so far could cost France 0.1 percent of gross domestic product in the last quarter of the year, French Finance Minister Le Maire warned Monday.
“That means fewer jobs, it means less prosperity for the whole country,” he said.
The yellow vest protests began in November against a rise in fuel taxes – which Macron retreated from last week – but mushroomed into other, sometimes contradictory demands.
Before his TV speech, Macron met with local and national politicians and with union and business leaders to hear their concerns – but with no representatives of the scattered, leaderless protest movement. (AP=newsis)
French President Emmanuel Macron tried to reassert control over a nation wracked by increasingly violent protests with offers of tax relief for struggling workers and pensioners – and an exceptional admission Monday that “I might have hurt people with my words.”
The wife of the former Interpol president who disappeared in China has revealed that she had received a threatening phone call warning of agents coming for her while she fights a so-far fruitless battle for information about her husband’s fate.
In her first one-on-one interview since Meng Hongwei went missing, Grace Meng denied bribery allegations against her high-profile husband, and told The Associated Press that speaking out about his disappearance was placing her “in great danger.”
Meng Hongwei – who is also China’s vice minister of public security – disappeared while on a trip home to China late last month. A long-time Communist Party insider with decades of experience in China’s sprawling security apparatus, the 64-year-old is the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to a sweeping purge against allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials under President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian administration.
Speaking to the AP late Monday at a hotel in Lyon, France, where Interpol is based, Grace Meng said her last contact with her husband was by text message, on Sept. 25, when he wrote “wait for my call” and sent her an emoji image of a knife after traveling back to China.
After a week with no subsequent news, and on an evening when she was at home in Lyon having put their two young boys to bed, she then got a threatening call on her mobile phone from a man speaking in Chinese.
“He said, `You listen but you don’t speak,”‘ she said. He continued: “We’ve come in two work teams, two work teams just for you.”
She said the man also said, “We know where you are,” and that when she tried to ask a question, he repeated: “You don’t speak, you just listen to me.”
As a result, Mrs. Meng is now under French police protection.
Chinese authorities said Monday that Meng Hongwei was being lawfully investigated for taking bribes and other crimes that were a result of his “willfulness.” Hours earlier, Interpol said Meng had resigned as the international police agency’s president. It was not clear whether he did so of his own free will.
Mrs. Meng suggested that the bribery accusation is just an excuse for “making him disappear for so long.”
“As his wife, I think he’s simply incapable of this,” she said. She said she would be willing to make their bank accounts public.
She said that she spoke out in hopes that doing so might help other families in similar circumstances.
Mrs. Meng refused to provide her real name to the AP, saying she was too afraid for the safety of her relatives in China. It is not customary for Chinese wives to adopt their husbands’ names. Mrs. Meng said she has done so now to show her solidarity with her husband. Her English name, Grace, is one she has long used, she said.
A French judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AP that police are investigating the threat against Mrs. Meng, but said the probe has yet to determine whether there were indeed Chinese teams sent to Lyon. (AP=Newsis)
The powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s central Sulawesi province has claimed many victims, a disaster official said Saturday, as rescuers raced to reach the region and an AP reporter saw numerous bodies in a hard-hit city.
Disaster officials haven’t released an official death toll but reports from three hospitals seen Saturday by The Associated Press listed 18 dead.
Dawn revealed a devastated coastline in central Sulawesi where the 3-meter high (10 foot) tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake Friday smashed into two cities and several settlements.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a television interview there are “many victims.”
In Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, a large bridge spanning a coastal river had collapsed and the city was strewn with debris.
The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they raced into the tight inlet.
An AP reporter saw bodies partially covered by tarpaulins and a man carrying a dead child through the wreckage.
Indonesian TV showed a smartphone video of a powerful wave hitting Palu, with people screaming and running in fear. The water smashed into buildings and a large mosque already damaged by the earthquake.
Communications with the area are difficult because power and telecommunications are cut, hampering search and rescue efforts.
Nugroho said the runway of Palu’s airport is not damaged and essential aircraft can land there.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said U.N. officials were in contact with Indonesian authorities and “stand ready to provide support as required.”
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. (AP=Newsis)
A powerful earthquake shook Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, causing landslides that crushed homes, knocking out power across the island, and forcing a nuclear power plant to use a backup generator.
The magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck southern Hokkaido at 3:08 a.m. Thursday at the depth of 40 kilometers (24 miles), Japan’s Meteorological Agency said. The epicenter was east of the city of Tomakomai but the shaking also affected Hokkaido’s prefectural capital of Sapporo, with a population of 1.9 million.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said a man was found without vital signs in Tomakomai, and several people were reported missing in the nearby town of Atsuma, where there was a massive landslide. At least 20 other people were injured in nearby towns.
National broadcaster NHK aired footage of the moment the quake struck Muroran, with its camera violently shaking and all city lights going out a moment later. In Sapporo, a mudslide on a road left several cars half buried.
Power was knocked out for Hokkaido’s 2.9 million households. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters that the extensive power outage was caused by an emergency shutdown of the main thermal power plant that supply half of the electricity to all of Hokkaido.
Utility officials are starting up hydroelectric plants to help restart the main thermal plant, Seko said, adding that he to get power back “within a few hours.” In the meantime, authorities have sent power-generator vehicles to hospitals so they can accept emergency patients when needed, he said.
In the town of Atsuma, a massive landslide on a mountain crushed houses below. Reconstruction Minister Jiro Akama told reporters that five people were believed to be buried underneath of the landslide in the town’s Yoshino district, where 40 people were being stranded, according to NHK television. Some of them have been airlifted to safer grounds, NHK said.
At least 76 people were injured and 19 others were missing, NHK said, citing its own tally.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the authorities have received hundreds of calls about people missing and buildings collapsing. Officials are doing their utmost for the search and rescue while they assess the extent of damage, he said.
The central government set up a crisis management taskforce at the prime minister’s office.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a taskforce meeting that 4,000 self-defense troops are being deployed on Hokkaido to join search and rescue operations. The government will send 20,000 more to the affected sites, he said.
Three reactors at the Tomari nuclear plant were offline for routine safety checks, but they are running on backup generators that kicked in after losing external power because of the island-wide blackouts, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said. Spent fuel in storage pools was safely cooled on backup power that can last for a week, the agency said.
The powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that hit northerneast Japan destroyed both external and backup power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns.(AP=Newsis)
Chinese students are known for their focus on rote learning and high test scores, much of which has been attributed to the rise of tutoring companies. Now more and more companies are working on how to alleviate the burdens on students with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
Tomorrow Advancing Life (TAL), a Chinese K-12 education company, unveiled its brain science program in Beijing Thursday, announcing a plan to build six global labs with the assistance of scientists from universities like Stanford.
“The latest brain science research has proven the possibility of nurturing smarter brains using AI technology. Once we know how brains react to one specific course they are learning, we can provide personalized courses to different students so as to fully activate their brains,” said Huang Yan, TAL’s chief technology officer.
Within three years, it will build 500-member research and development team who specialize in AI and brain science application, according to Huang.
“On the one hand, we will monitor trainee’s brain functions with class observation and diagnosis in a bid to build a system that can track learning process effectively. On the other hand, we will upgrade the assessment scale accordingly,” said Yang Ying, head of the program, also a neuroscience researcher.
Products must be designed under scientific guidance and based on the data collected from real learning situations, said Yang.
According to a KPMG study released last year, venture capital investment in China shifted from big data in 2015 towards AI in 2017.
Transformational new technology such as AI or digital technology are bringing new personalized education to both tutoring centers and formal schools.
Chinese high-tech companies like Baidu and iFlytek have spent big in applying their cutting edge technology to the field of education. IFlytek opened a free automated test scoring platform in 2014, which has attracted more than 10,000 schools.
“Teachers can detect a student’s learning pattern from mistakes they have made. The platform has enabled teachers to focus more on class interaction, instead of test scores,” said Jiang Tao, vice president of iFlytek.
Over the past decade, Chinese government spending on research has seen double-digit growth on average annually, according to the KPMG study. China is aiming to nurture well-rounded talent who can face fierce competition in the future, instead of pedants.
“One good thing about the brain science program is it can make learning more efficient allowing students more spare time for arts, PE or projects that can arouse their interests and promote critical thinking,” said Huang. (Xinhua=Newsis)
French investigators were searching the headquarters of dairy giant Lactalis on Wednesday as part of an investigation over salmonella contamination that affected scores of infants and triggered an international recall, state-run radio reported.
Gendarmes and officers from the National Investigation Service of the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) raided also four other sites of the French company, including factory in Craon, northwest France where the milk had been tainted, France info said.
The search is part of an inquiry opened last month by the health division of Paris prosecutor office for “involuntary injuries”, “putting in danger of the life of others”, ” non-performance of recall procedure.”
“As we have indicated, Lactalis puts itself at the disposal of the justice and will bring all the elements necessary for the good progress of the investigation,” Michel Nalet, Lactalis spokesman was quoted as saying by local media.
Thirty-five infants in France, who had consumed infant milk products manufactured by Lactalis’ factory in Craon have been confirmed with salmonella infection during the last few months.
The food safety affair worsened after France’s retailers including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc admitted they sold the products recalled in December.
The salmonella scare had forced the family-owned dairy group, one of the world’s leading dairies to recall more than 12 million tins of baby milk(xinhua=Newsis)
A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire Friday outside a church in a Cairo suburb and at a nearby store, sparking a shootout that killed at least nine people, including eight Coptic Christians, authorities said. It was the latest attack targeting Egypt’s embattled Christian minority.
The gunman was also killed, along with at least one police officer, officials said.
The local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack late Friday, saying it was carried out by a “security detail” and that one of its men was “martyred” in the strike. The claim was carried by the group’s Aamaq news agency.
The attack began when the gunman tried to break through the security cordon outside the Coptic Church of Mar Mina. It was not clear how many assailants were involved. Egypt’s Interior Ministry referred to only one, but the Coptic Orthodox church mentioned “gunmen.”
Five people were wounded, including another police officer, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said.
The attack came amid tightened security around churches and Christian facilities ahead of the Coptic Orthodox Christian celebrations of Christmas on Jan. 7. Police have been stationed outside churches and in nearby streets across Cairo. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has personally chaired meetings with his top security chiefs in recent days to discuss security during New Year’s Eve and the Orthodox Christmas.
President Donald Trump spoke with Egypt’s president after the attack, condemning it and reiterating “that the United States will continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism.”
“President Trump emphasized his commitment to strengthening efforts to defeat terrorism and extremism in all their forms,” a White House statement said. Trump has promised to make protecting beleaguered Christian communities overseas a priority for his administration.
A video circulating on social media after Friday’s attack apparently showed the gunman lying on the ground with his face covered in blood. Authorities closed off the area around the church.
The Interior Ministry identified the assailant as Ibrahim Ismail Mostafa, who, the agency said, was involved in several previous militant attacks. The Interior Ministry said he was wounded and arrested but made no mention of his death, which was reported by the Health Ministry.
The assailant had earlier opened fire at the nearby store owned by a Christian, the Interior Ministry said.
Islamic militants have for years battled security forces in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency now led by IS. It is centered in the turbulent northern part of Sinai but has also carried out attacks in the mainland.
The militants are targeting mainly security personnel and Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.
The latest attack, in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan, showcases the difficulties faced by security forces in containing an insurgency that is growing in sophistication and brutality. The assault came a little more than a month after militants killed 311 worshippers inside a mosque in Sinai, the deadliest attack by militants on civilians in Egypt’s modern history.
Last week, they fired a guided rocket that destroyed an army helicopter at the airport of the city of el-Arish in northern Sinai during an unannounced visit there by the defense and interior ministers. At least one senior officer was killed and two wounded in that attack, which pointed to an unusually high level of intelligence available to the militants.
Samir Gerges, a witness to Friday’s church attack, said people inside the church closed the gates when the shooting began but that some bullets penetrated the building. Gerges said he was walking along a nearby street when the gunfire broke out. He saw people running and some taking cover in a nearby restaurant.
Another witness, 40-year-old Raouth Atta, was praying inside the church when the violence broke out.
“People were terrified and wanted to check on their families in other buildings of the church,” she told The Associated Press by phone. “We stayed inside for 30 minutes before we were able to get out.”
Once she was able to leave, Atta said, she saw blood everywhere.
“We kept praying,” said the Rev. Boules, who was teaching a class in the church complex. On hearing gunfire, he went to check on his students, who were panicking and terrified.
Since December 2016, Egypt’s Copts have been targeted by the militants, who waged a series of attacks that left more than 100 dead and scores wounded. The country has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday.
The local IS affiliate has claimed responsibility for all the bombings targeting Christians.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. They have long complained of discrimination in the Muslim-majority nation and claim that authorities have often failed to protect them from sectarian attacks.
Just last week, hundreds of Muslim demonstrators stormed an unlicensed church south of Cairo, wounding three people. The demonstrators shouted anti-Christian slogans and called for the church’s demolition, according to the local diocese. The demonstrators destroyed the church’s fittings and assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them.(AP=Newsis)
At least 13 people were dead and two missing on Sunday after a South Korean fishing boat collided with a refueling vessel and capsized, the coast guard said.
An official from the Korea Coast Guard said seven people were rescued and the two missing included the boat’s captain. He said 22 people were aboard the 9.8-ton fishing boat that capsized after colliding with the 336-ton refueling vessel in waters off the port city of Incheon.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. The refueling vessel did not suffer damage.
President Moon Jae-in ordered authorities to deploy as many helicopters and other aircraft as possible to search for the missing, according to his office.
The coast guard official said 19 coast guard and naval vessels and five aircraft including helicopters were dispatched to the site. Authorities were questioning the crew of the refueling vessel to determine the cause of the collision.
South Korea has seen its share of significant maritime accidents in recent years, including the 2014 sinking of a ferry that killed more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren. More than 50 fishermen died or went missing months later after their vessel sank in the Bering Sea. (AP=Newsis)
South Korea was hit by the country’s second biggest ever earthquake of 5.4- magnitude, with no serious casualty being reported yet, the weather service said Wednesday.
The 5.4-magnitude tremor struck an area, 9 km north of the southeast coastal city of Pohang in North Gyeongsang province at about 2:29 p.m. local time (0529 GMT), according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.
The seismic intensity was the second biggest in the country’s history after the biggest ever quake of 5.8-magnitude hit the Gyeongju city, just south of the Pohang city, in September last year.
No serious casualty was reported yet. As of 3:00 p.m. local time, four minor injuries were reported, according to the firefighting agency.
The weather service revised the magnitude from an initial 5.5 to 5.4 after a rigorous analysis.
The epicenter, with a depth of 9 km, was at 36.10 degrees north latitude and 129.37 degrees east longitude.
Before the main tremor, earthquakes of magnitude- 2.2 and 2.6 struck areas near the Pohang city. An aftershock of 3.6-magnitude took place in an area 7 km north of the coastal city, followed by third and fourth shocks.
According to local TV footage, some of the buildings saw external wall damaged and window broken. Electric lamp hanging from the ceiling was shaken, with books falling from a bookshelf.
Some passenger cars were seen broken as external walls fell on roof. Students were evacuated from school buildings and people stood on the streets after dashing out of office buildings and apartments.
The quake was sensed across the country, including the capital Seoul, some 270 km away from the Pohang city, as well as the southern resort island of Jeju, according to local media reports.
Nuclear power plants were being normally operated, according to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, an operator of the country’s nuclear reactors. Most of South Korea’s atomic power plants are located along the southeast coastal area.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was briefed on the quake on his flight to Seoul after ending a weeklong trip to Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Moon convened an emergency meeting with his secretaries. (AP=Xinhua)
The United States and South Korea on Saturday started joint naval exercises that will involve three U.S. aircraft carriers in what military officials describe as a clear warning to North Korea.
The four-day drills that began in waters off South Korea’s eastern coast come as President Donald Trump continues a visit to Asia that has been dominated by discussions over the North Korean nuclear threat.
The battle groups of the USS Ronald Reagan, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Nimitz will successively enter the exercise area during the drills that run until Tuesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The three carriers will be likely together in the drills around Monday, according to a South Korean military official, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
The exercises will also involve 11 U.S. Aegis ships and seven South Korean naval vessels, including two Aegis ships. The Aegis technology refers to missile tracking and guidance.
They will aim to enhance combined operation and aerial strike capabilities and also display “strong will and firm military readiness to defeat any provocation by North Korea with dominant force in the event of crisis,” Seoul’s military said in a statement.
It’s the first time since a 2007 exercise near Guam that three U.S. carrier strike groups are operating together in the Western Pacific, according to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet. The U.S. carriers will also participate in separate exercises with three Japanese destroyers on Sunday, according to Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The United States has been sending its strategic assets, also including long-range bombers, to the region more frequently for patrols or drills amid accelerating North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear weapons program.
In recent months, North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland with further development and has conducted its most powerful nuclear test. It also flew two new midrange missiles over Japan and threatened to launch them toward Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory and military hub.
Trump continued his tough talk against Pyongyang on Friday in a speech to business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, saying that the region’s future “must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies of violent conquest and nuclear blackmail,” referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump had also delivered a sharp warning to North Korea in a speech at South Korea’s parliament on Wednesday, telling the country: “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”(AP=Newsis)