Posts Tagged France

European-Wide Protests Against Immigration

PegidaGermany’s anti-Islam PEGIDA movement staged rallies in several cities across Europe on Saturday to protest against the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

The movement, whose name stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, originated in the eastern German city of Dresden in 2014, with supporters seizing on a surge in asylum seekers to warn that Germany risks being overrun by Muslims.

After almost fizzling out early last year, the movement has regained momentum amid deepening public unease over whether Germany can cope with the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the country during 2015.

The alleged involvement of migrants in assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve has also spurred PEGIDA, which says it is proof that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming stance to refugees is flawed.

“We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe’s external borders as well as its internal borders once again,” PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz told a crowd on the banks of the River Elbe who chanted “Merkel must go!”.

Police in Dresden declined to estimate the number of protesters. German media put the number at up to 8,000, well below the 15,000 originally expected by police.

Hundreds of counter-demonstrators also marched through Dresden under the motto “Solidarity instead of exclusion”, holding up placards saying “No place for Nazis”.

Far-right groups see Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast their anti-immigrant message. There were 208 rallies in Germany in the last quarter of 2015, up from 95 a year earlier, Interior Ministry data showed.

Protests also took place on Saturday in other cities, including Amsterdam, Prague and the English city of Birmingham.

In Calais, in northern France, more than a dozen people were arrested during a protest that was attended by more than a hundred people despite being banned, local authorities said.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East camp out in Calais, hoping for a chance to make the short trip across the English Channel to Britain.

In Prague, an estimated 2,200 people including both supporters and opponents of Pegida held a series of rival demonstrations around the Czech capital. Police had to intervene in one march when supporters of the migrants came under attack from around 20 people who threw bottles and stones.

Later, around 20 masked assailants threw Molotov cocktails during an attack on a center that collects donations for refugees, forcing the evacuation of the building and injuring one person who was hit by glass, police said.

In Warsaw, hundreds of people waved Polish flags and chanted “England and France are in tears, that’s how tolerance ends”.

“We’re demonstrating against the Islamisation of Europe, we’re demonstrating against immigration, against an invasion,” Robert Winnicki, leader of Poland’s far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), told demonstrators.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have together taken a tough stance on migration and have been largely opposed to taking in significant numbers of refugees.



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Iranian President Rouhani Hails New Relationship With France

President RouhaniPresident Hassan Rouhani hailed a “new relationship” between Iran and France during a visit Thursday that saw the signing of a host of post-sanctions business deals.

“Let us forget the resentment,” Rouhani said, calling for both countries to take advantage of the “positive atmosphere” following the removal of sanctions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.

“We are ready to turn the page” and establish a “new relationship between our countries”, Rouhani told a meeting of business leaders.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls responded that “Iran can count on France”.

“France is ready to use its companies, its engineers, its technicians and its many resources to help to modernise your country,” Valls said.

Rouhani was welcomed to Paris with military honours and national anthems on the second leg of a trip signalling Iran’s rapprochement with Europe since sanctions were lifted.

The real business of the visit will come when Rouhani officially signals Iran’s intention to buy more than 100 passenger planes from European aircraft maker Airbus.

French carmaker Peugeot said it will return to the Iranian market in a five-year deal worth 400 million euros ($436 million) that was announced Thursday.

Peugeot will produce 200,000 cars a year in a joint venture with local manufacturer Iran Khodro, according to a statement.

The French carmaker was forced to pull out of Iran in 2012 as sanctions began to bite.

In another potential bonanza for France, the head of French oil giant Total said his firm would sign a deal to buy Iranian crude.

Although the French state is rolling out the red carpet for Rouhani, the Iranian opposition will hold a human rights demonstration and Jewish groups also intend to protest in Paris.

Rouhani is to hold talks with President Francois Hollande which are expected to include discussions on Iran’s role in Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad in a war that has killed 260,000 people.

Talks are due to begin Friday in Geneva to take tentative steps towards ending the conflict.

After arriving from Italy, where he sealed deals for steel and pipelines worth between 15 and 17 billion euros, Rouhani began his Paris visit on Wednesday by unveiling a scheme to guarantee investment by French firms in Iran.

A source involved in the deal to buy Airbus planes said that only letters of intention will be signed at this stage, because some sanctions are still in place.

However, Iran is keen to bring its ageing fleet of mid- and long-haul aircraft up to date, so the deal is widely expected to go ahead soon, giving a huge boost to the European aviation industry.

Rouhani’s meeting with Hollande is also expected to touch on Iran’s bitter feud with regional rival Saudi Arabia.

In a reference to Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president told an audience in Paris that “some countries had wanted to use terrorism for their own means”.

“But this is a hand grenade with the pin removed,” he added.

During his visit to Rome, Rouhani dismissed suggestions that Iran should apologise to the Saudis for an attack on its embassy by demonstrators furious over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.

“Why should we apologise, because Nimr al-Nimr was executed? We are the ones to apologise because they are killing the people of Yemen? Apologise to them because they are helping terrorists?” he asked.

In the Italian capital, Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met at the Capitoline Museum where nude statues were covered up out of respect for the Islamic Republic’s strict laws governing propriety.

But Rouhani denied he had asked his Italian hosts to cover up the statues and Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who accompanied Rouhani on the museum trip, called the move “incomprehensible”.

Rouhani also visited the Vatican for the first time and met Pope Francis.


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Merkel Rebukes U.S. Over Request For Bigger Military Contribution

MerkelChancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday brushed off what a Germany magazine said was a request from the United States to provide more military help in the fight against Islamic State.

“I believe Germany is fulfilling its part and we don’t need to talk about new issues related to this question at the moment,” Merkel told the ZDF broadcaster when asked about the Der Spiegel magazine report of the U.S. request.

Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had sent a letter asking for a bigger military contribution from Germany, a week after parliament approved a plan to join the campaign in Syria.

A German Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed a letter had been received from the United States and its content was under consideration, giving no further details.

Der Spiegel said the letter did not make specific demands and was similar to requests sent to other U.S. partners.

Germany’s mission includes six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate to protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, refueling aircraft and up to 1,200 troops.

The deployment is a direct response to a French appeal for solidarity after militant attacks in Paris killed 130 people. Germany does not plan to carry out air strikes in Syria.

Germany has over the past two years shown a growing readiness to commit troops to foreign missions.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said last week Germany might need bigger armed forces to cope with the more assertive role.

More than 3,000 personnel are currently deployed overseas and the Syria mission will raise that by up to 1,200. Von der Leyen also wants to send 650 troops to Mali to help the French campaign against Islamist militants there.

Germany last year started arming Iraqi Kurds fighting Islamic State.

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Terror Threat Rises As Number of European Jihadi’s Doubles in a Year

Jihadi'sThe number of fighters from Western Europe pouring into Syria has more than doubled since last year, swelling the ranks of the Islamic State and other extremist groups by more than 30,000 despite efforts by the U.S. and other Western countries to cut off the flow, according to a new report by an international security firm.

There is also mounting evidence that significant numbers of these fighters — an average of between 20 percent and 30 percent — are starting to return to their home countries, posing threats that became a grisly reality in the November 13 attacks in Paris, which were coordinated by an ISIS recruit who returned to France, the authors of the report warn.

“All of our assumptions about our ability to monitor these people have been proven faulty,” said Patrick Skinner, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and one of the authors of the report prepared by the Soufan Group.

“When you look at France or Belgium, they have a massive problem,” Skinner added. “It’s clear they haven’t been able to stop people from going and it’s painfully clear they haven’t stopped people from coming back. It’s the round-trip nature of this that is really worrisome.”

The report also suggests that the motivation for those joining the fight is often more personal than political, and may well be immune to the “countering radical extremism” messaging that U.S. and other officials have touted as a potential solution to the problem.

“A search for belonging, purpose, adventure and friendship appear to remain the main reasons for people to join the Islamic State, just as they remain the least-addressed issues in the international fight against terrorism,” the report states.

The report with detailed, country-by-country breakdowns on the flow of foreign fighters, offers a sobering and in some cases more downbeat perspective on the state of the war against ISIS than the one President Obama offered the country in a nationally televised speech Sunday night.

Before U.S. officials began calling attention to the problem, the Soufan Group was among the first to highlight the threat posed by foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq in a major report it released in June 2014. Basing its figures on open-source reporting, official government estimates and private interviews with U.S. and allied intelligence officials, the consulting firm estimated at the time that about 12,000 foreign fighters from 81 countries had flocked to Syria and Iraq.

The new report puts the figure at between 27,000 and 31,000 from at least 86 countries. That is consistent with current U.S. intelligence estimates, updated in just the last few weeks, of about 30,000.

The Soufan Group accepts official U.S. estimates that about 250 of these have come, or attempted to come, from the United States, up from about 120 last year.

The numbers from Western Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Republics are far more pronounced — and rapidly accelerating. It estimates, for example, that about 5,000 fighters from European Union countries have flocked to the conflict, up from 2,500 in June 2014, with more than two- thirds of them coming from just four countries. The number from France is estimated at 1,700 (up from 700 last year); from the U.K. 760 (up from 400 last year); from Germany, 760 (up from 270 last year; and from Belgium, 470 (up from 250 last year.)

One huge source of the flow has been Russia, a major reason cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to begin military strikes in Syria. The report estimates that about 2,400 fighters have come from Russia, up from 800 last year. The largest sources, however, remains Tunisia about 6,000 (twice the estimate from last year); Turkey, between 2,000 and 2,200 (up from 400 last year); and 2,500 from Saudi Arabia (the same number as last year.)

In his talk from the Oval Office Sunday night, President Obama promised an intensification of air strikes and special operations forces against the ISIS. But he offered no major change in U.S. strategy and again vowed to avoid sending a large influx of U.S. ground troops to dislodge ISIS from the territory it now holds.

But Skinner of the Soufan Group said it is increasingly clear that the flow of fighters will not stop until the ISIS suffers a decisive defeat on the ground. “Until the Islamic State is demonstrably defeated, militarily, until they get toppled from Mosul and Raqqa, they will continue to be a magnet,” he said. “They need to have an undeniable loss.”


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Russia Expects Iran Nuclear Deal to be Implemented in January

Iran  Nuclear DealRussia’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday he expected a historic nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to be implemented in January, leading to sanctions against Tehran being lifted.

At talks in Vienna, senior officials from those major powers discussed with Iran a text they have prepared that would close the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 12-year investigation of Tehran’s past activities while ensuring the IAEA could still check for signs of suspicious behaviour.

Under the deal, Iran must scale back its nuclear program, including its stockpile of low-enriched uranium – which it plans to do via a swap for non-enriched forms of uranium with Russia, to remove concerns it could be put to developing nuclear bombs.

That swap will be done before the end of the year, the Russian envoy to the IAEA, Vladimir Voronkov, told reporters.

Iran has said it will fulfill all its commitments under the July agreement only if the IAEA’s Board of Governors passes a resolution formally closing its investigation into Iran’s nuclear past when the board meets on Dec. 15.

The draft resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors drawn up by the major powers France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China, and sent to other states on Monday contained provisions that both sides could claim as victories.

“(The board) also notes that all the activities in the road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program were implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule and further notes that this closes the Board’s consideration of this item,” the text said.

The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, also said the board would eventually no longer be seized of “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, referring to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That phrase, and a shorter version before the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions were passed, has been the title of the IAEA’s regular reports on its investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities since 2003.

The draft resolution did, however, also provide for the board to tackle a new item covering “implementation and verification and monitoring” of the July deal in Iran, and for the IAEA to provide quarterly reports on Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the accord.

More generally, it requests the head of the agency to “report, in this regard … to the Board of Governors for appropriate action, and in parallel to the United Nations Security Council, at any time if the Director General has reasonable grounds to believe there is an issue of concern.”

Earlier on Monday, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, who met with senior officials from major powers in Vienna, after the meetings said he was satisfied with the draft resolution and expected it to be adopted next week.

For sanctions on Iran to be lifted, the IAEA must first verify that the Islamic Republic has honoured all its commitments under the July deal, including dismantling large numbers of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and filling parts of its Arak nuclear site with cement.

The IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear past, which was issued last week, strongly suggested Tehran had a secret nuclear weapons program before 2003, but, in a sign of the shift in relations since July, Western powers voiced little concern.

Araqchi said Iran rejected the findings of the report about its program before 2003, but added that, in Iran’s view, overall the document showed the peaceful nature of Iran’s atomic activities.

“We believe that based on this final assessment the Board of Governors should close the so-called PMD issue,” he told reporters, referring to the report into what is also known as the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear past.


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Putin Vows To Continue Cooperating Western Allies in ISIS Fight

PutinRussia will keep cooperating with the United States and its partners to fight Islamic State in Syria, but that cooperation will be in jeopardy if there are any repeats of Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet, Russia’s Vladimir Putin said.

Speaking after talks in the Kremlin with French President Francois Hollande, Putin voiced lingering anger at Turkey’s actions, saying he viewed the downing of the jet as an act of betrayal by a country Moscow had thought was its friend.

But he said he would order Russia’s military to intensify cooperation with the French armed forces, including exchanges of information about targets and viewed that as part of creating a broader international coalition bringing together Russia and Western states.

“We are ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States. But of course incidents like the destruction of our aircraft and the deaths of our servicemen… are absolutely unacceptable,” Putin said at a news conference, standing alongside Hollande.

“And we proceed from the position that there will be no repeat of this, otherwise we’ll have no need of cooperation with anybody, any coalition, any country.”

He said he and the French leader had “agreed how we will cooperate in the near future, on a bilateral basis and with, as a whole, the coalition led by the United States.

“We are talking about a designation of the territories against which we can conduct strikes, and where it is better to refrain from strikes, about the exchange of information on various issues, and the coordination of our actions on, so to speak, the battlefield,” Putin said.

On bilateral cooperation with France, he said the aim was to “establish constructive work by our military specialists to avoid duplication and avoid strikes on those territories and groups which are themselves ready to fight terrorism.”

“We view this as the formation of a wide anti-terrorist coalition under the aegis of the United Nations,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said, under the cooperation already established with the U.S.-led coalition, Russia’s military had passed on details of the flight plan of the jet that was shot down this week.

“Why did we pass this information to the Americans? Either they were not controlling what their allies were doing, or they are leaking this information all over the place,” Putin said.


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British Prime Minister Cameron Makes Case for UK Airstrikes Against ISIS

David CameronBritish Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain should join air strikes against the Islamic State (Isis) in Syria, arguing the UK should not outsource its security to allies.

Cameron, who lost a vote on air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in 2013, needs to persuade several lawmakers in his own Conservative Party and some in the opposition Labour Party to back his cause if he is to win parliament’s backing for military action.

“Whether or not to use military force is one of the most significant decisions that any government takes. The need to do so most often arises because of a government’s first duty: the responsibility to protect its citizens. Decisions to use force are not to be taken lightly. It is right that Parliament, on behalf of the people, asks difficult questions and holds the Government to account. For its part, it is important that the Government should listen and learn. But it is also vital that the Government can act to keep this country safe.

Throughout Britain’s history, we have been called on time and again to make the hardest of decisions in defence of our citizens and our country. Today one of the greatest threats we face to our security is the threat from ISIL. We need a comprehensive response which seeks to deal with the threat that ISIL poses to us directly, not just through the measures we are taking at home, but by dealing with ISIL on the ground in the territory that it controls. It is in Raqqa, Syria, that ISIL has its headquarters, and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated.

We must tackle ISIL in Syria, as we are doing in neighbouring Iraq, in order to deal with the threat that ISIL poses to the region and to our security here at home. We have to deny a safe haven for ISIL in Syria. The longer ISIL is allowed to grow in Syria, the greater the threat it will pose. It is wrong for the United Kingdom to sub-contract its security to other countries, and to expect the aircrews of other nations to carry the burdens and the risks of striking ISIL in Syria to stop terrorism here in Britain.

That is why I believe that we should now take the decision to extend British airstrikes against ISIL into Syria, as an integral part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses to us. At the same time, we must close down the ungoverned space in Syria that ISIL is exploiting, by working round the clock to bring about a political resolution to the war there. That means putting Britain’s full diplomatic weight, as a full member of an international coalition, behind the new political talks – the Vienna process.

It means working through these talks to secure a transition to an inclusive Government in Syria that responds to the needs of all the Syrian people and with which the international community could co-operate fully to help restore peace and stability to the whole country. It means continuing to support the moderate opposition in Syria, so that there is a credible alternative to ISIL and Assad.

It means using our aid budget to alleviate the immediate humanitarian suffering. It means insisting, with other countries, on the preparation of a proper stabilisation and reconstruction effort in Syria once the conflict has been brought to an end. And it means continuing, and stepping up, our effort here at home to counter radicalisation.

We must pursue all these tracks in parallel. As the threat from ISIL to our national security grows, we must take action – recognising that no course of action is without risk, but that inaction not dealing with ISIL at source, also carries grave risk. We have a comprehensive overall strategy in place to tackle the ISIL threat globally.

“If we believe that action can help protect us, then with our allies we should be part of that action not standing aside from it,” Cameron said. “And from this moral point comes a fundamental question: If we won’t action now, when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking ‘If not now, when?’

“But Mr Speaker, we do face a fundamental threat to our security. We can’t wait for a political transition; we have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands right now. And we must not shirk our responsibility for security or hand it to others. Mr Speaker, throughout our history the United Kingdom has stood up to defend our values and our way of life. We can and we must do so again and I commend this statement to the house.”

Cameron confirmed, after a series of questions from opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, that British boots would not hit Syrian soil.

“Let me give an assurance, we are not deploying British combat forces, we are not going to deploy British combat forces,” the prime minister said. “We think actually the presence of western boots on the ground in that way would be counter-productive. That is one of the things we have all, I think collectively across the house learnt from previous conflicts and we don’t want to make that mistake again.”

Lawmakers will have a few days to mull over Cameron’s case and a vote could take place early next week.


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