Yellow vest protests hit with police water cannon, tear gas in Paris

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The movement, which began as protests over high fuel taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of French President Emmanuel Macron and his policies. (AFP)
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French riot police clears the streets of yellow vest protestors in Bourges, central France, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP)
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Protesters face gendarmes and BAC police officers during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vests "Gilets Jaunes" movement, in Nantes, western France, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)
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BAC police officers stand in a group during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vests "Gilets Jaunes" movement, in Nantes, western France, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)
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Protesters wearing Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) and waving Brittany flags march during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Saint-Brieuc, western France, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Yellow vest protests hit with police water cannon, tear gas in Paris

  • Officials have vowed zero tolerance for the violence that has marred the weekly protests since they began two months ago
  • The movement, which began as protests over high fuel taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of Emmanuel Macron and his policies

PARIS: Paris police fired water cannon and tear gas to push back "yellow vest" demonstrators from around the Arc de Triomphe monument on Saturday, in the ninth straight weekend of protests against French President Emmanuel Macron's economic reforms.
Thousands of protesters in Paris marched noisily but mostly peacefully through the Grands Boulevards shopping area in northern Paris, close to where a massive gas explosion in a bakery killed two firefighters and a Spanish tourist and injured nearly 50 people early on Saturday.
But small groups of demonstrators broke away from the designated route and threw bottles and other projectiles at the police.
Around the 19th-century Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs Elysees boulevard, riot police fired water cannon and tear gas at militant yellow-vest protesters after being pelted with stones and paint, witnesses said.
Groups of protesters also gathered on and around the Champs Elysees, the scene of disturbances in recent weeks, many of them calling loudly for Macron to resign.
"Macron, we are going to tear down your place!" one banner read.
The Interior Ministry said it estimated that there were 32,000 demonstrators nationwide on Saturday, including 8,000 in Paris, below the 50,000 counted last week and well below the record 282,000 nationwide on Nov. 17, the first day of yellow vest protests.
But the number of demonstrators in Paris was well above the past two weekends, when authorities counted just 3,500 people on Jan. 5 and only 800 on Dec. 29.
Much of central Paris was in lockdown on the first week of post-Christmas sales with bridges across the Seine river closed and official buildings such as parliament and the Elysee presidential palace protected by police barriers.
In Paris, 121 "gilets jaunes" (yellow vest) were arrested, some for carrying objects that could be used as weapons, police said. By nightfall, there had been no looting or burning of cars as seen in previous weeks.
There were also thousands of marchers in the cities of Bordeaux and Toulon in southern France as well as Strasbourg in the east and the central city of Bourges.
Bourges authorities said nearly 5,000 yellow vests stuck to the designated demonstration area. The historical city centre was off-limits for demonstrators, but some 500 protesters made their way to the centre where they scuffled with police and set garbage bins on fire.
Many businesses in Bourges had boarded themselves up to avoid damage and authorities had removed street furniture and building site materials that could be used for barricades.
In Strasbourg, up to 2,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the European Parliament building and later marched to the centre of the city on the Rhine river border with Germany. No serious violence or looting was reported there.
More than 80,000 police were on duty for the protests nationwide, including 5,000 in Paris.
The "yellow vests" take their name from the high-visibility jackets they wear. Their rage stems from a squeeze on household incomes and a belief that Macron, a former investment banker seen as close to big business, is indifferent to their hardships.
Macron, often criticised for a monarchical manner, is to launch a national debate on Jan. 15 to try to mollify the yellow vest protest, which has shaken his administration.
The debate, to be held on the internet and in town halls, will focus on four themes - taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship. But aides to Macron have said changing the course of Macron's reforms aimed at liberalising the economy will be off limits.


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 March 2019
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US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.