BLUE PASSPORTS: British PM urged to explain passport decision to UK workers

London – VIJAY SHAH via PA/Aol

The British prime minister Theresa May has been urged to explain her government’s decision to provisionally award the printing of the UK’s post-Brexit passports to a French firm, reported AOL via news agency Press Association.

The UK plans to change the colour of its passport to dark blue from the current maroon once it leaves the European Union (EU) next year. Supporters of the withdrawal, dubbed ‘Brexit’ have called for a new passport design that reflects ‘Britishness’, but have been angered by the Government’s choice of awarding the tender for the new travel documents to the French-Dutch security printers Gemalto, rather than continuing their current contract with Basingstoke-based company De La Rue. Gemalto offered the cheapest price for the tender, which will only involve producing the blank passport books and biometric chips.

 

The CEO of De La Rue had earlier this week expressed scorn at the tender award, saying the PM should explain herself in person to the printery’s workers in the north-east of England. Martin Sutherland said that it was “disappointing and surprising” that the blue passport so championed heavily by Leave supporters as an ‘icon of British identity’ would be printed outside the country, in France.

Home Office ministers however said that the tendering process has not been finalised and that De La Rue would have the right to appeal the interim decision to award passport manufacturing to Gemalto.

Mr Sutherland said: “I think we have heard over the last few weeks and months ministers more than happy to come on the media and talk about the blue passports and the fact that the blue passport is an icon of British identity.

“Now this icon of British identity is going to be manufactured in France.”

Sutherland said his firm had been producing passports for the UK for the last ten years “without a single hiccup” but had been “undercut on price” and would appeal against the decision.

Referring to the factory employees of De La Rue’s printing unit in Gateshead, he said: “I’m going to have to go and face those workers, look at them in the whites of the eyes and try and explain to them why the British government thinks it’s a sensible decision to buy French passports not British passports.”

He added: “I would actually like to invite Theresa May or Amber Rudd (the British home secretary) to come to my factory and explain to my dedicated workforce why they think this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon.”

Mr Sutherland said that his firm was “not allowed to compete for the French passport contract”.

Tory MP Sir Bill Cash, chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, branded the decision “completely wrong and unnecessary”.

Sir Bill said: “I think it is incongruous to say the least. It is completely unnecessary and it is symbolically completely wrong.

“Whatever the conditions which led to the decision in terms of pricing, the fact is that this is a symbolic event.”

Former cabinet minister Priti Patel told The Sun, a UK tabloid newspaper: “This should be a moment that we should be celebrating. The return of our iconic blue passport will re-establish the British identity.

“But to be putting the job in the hands of the French is simply astonishing. It is a national humiliation.

“I would urge Amber Rudd and the Government to look again at the powers they have to see what they can do.”

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake told the Press Association: “The blue passport saga is turning into a farce.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are running a fair and open competition to ensure that the new contract delivers a high quality and secure product and offers the best value for money for customers.

“All passports will continue to be personalised with the holder’s details in the United Kingdom, meaning that no personal data will leave the UK.

“We do not require passports to be manufactured in the UK. A proportion of blank passport books are currently manufactured overseas, and there are no security or operational reasons why this would not continue.”

SOURCES:

Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/

“May urged to explain passport decision to British workers” – Press Association via Aol. (22 March 2018) https://www.aol.co.uk/news/2018/03/22/may-urged-to-explain-passport-decision-to-british-workers/?ncid=webmail

IMAGE CREDIT:

“Fly Away Home” – King Huang, Flickr (12 January 2009) https://www.flickr.com/photos/kinghuang/3193491202

 

 

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NUTS ABOUT NUTELLA?: French shoppers riot over heavily discounted chocolate spread

Paris – VIJAY SHAH via CHRIS BAYNES and The Independent

Everyone loves a bargain. But on the negative side, a shopper’s paradise can very rapidly turn into a shopper’s nightmare when people turn ugly over bagging cut-price goods. Just ask any retail worker on a Black Friday in Britain. That free-for-all mentality became very obvious this past week in France, when local supermarket chain Intermarché heavily reduced the price of Nutella hazelnut and chocolate spread, only for riots to ensure and people reported injured in mad scrambles and store fisticuffs.

Intermarché unveiled a special promo on the popular spread, manufactured by Italian firm Ferrero SpA, reducing the price from €4.50 (£3.90) to €1.41 (£1.23) for the 950 gram jar. Customers keen to get their Nutella crepe fix practically fought over the jars in the aisles, causing police to be called to several of the chain’s outlets. There were reports of people pushing and shoving, with one woman left bleeding and a supermarket worker ambushed as they brought fresh stocks of Nutella to the shop floor.

 

According to UK newspaper the Independent, French social media users shared footage of shoppers swarming around shelves of the spread, jostling each other. “Seriously? All this for Nutella,” remarked one stunned bystander. Another commented: “This is not normal.”

One customer was said to have suffered a black eye during a fight that broke out over the sweet spread in a store in the town of L’Horme, in the central Loire region. That store sold out of Nutella in only fifteen minutes, a store employee told newspaper Le Progres. The manager of another Intermarché in Rive-de-Gier, central France, said 600 pots were sold within five minutes. One customer described shoppers as “like animals”.

“A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a blood [sic] hand,” they said. “It was horrible.”

Some extremely desperate Nutella fans in the town of Montbrison, also in central France, went to the extent of hiding Nutella jars in secret places in the shop, ready to harvest them the next day, while keeping the precious foodstuffs out of the sight of rival shoppers. The manager of that store, Jean-Marie Daragon, tried to remedy the madness by bringing in a Nutella rationing scheme, limiting customers to three jars per person.

Alba, Piedmont-based manufacturer Ferrero condemned the violence across the border but also distanced itself from Intermarché and its controversial promotion. “We wish to clarify that this promotion was decided unilaterally by the Intermarché brand,” it said in a statement. 

Nutella is extremely popular in France, with 100 million jars a year consumed by citizens, making France one of the hazelnut and chocolate flavoured spread’s biggest markets globally.

SOURCES:

The Independent, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/TheIndependentOnline/

“Nutella ‘riots’: Sale on chocolate and hazelnut spread sparks chaos in French supermarkets” – Chris Baynes, Independent (26 January 2018) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/nutella-riots-france-discount-supermarkets-french-police-intermarche-shoppers-customers-chocolate-a8178946.html?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook

IMAGE CREDIT:

“File:MAD OVER NUTELLA.JPG” – Raginianand, Wikimedia Commons (3 June 2015) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MAD_OVER_NUTELLA.JPG

 

FRANCE ELECTIONS: Last runoff between Macron and Le Pen begins, hackers cause havoc

Paris – VIJAY SHAH via JON HENLEY and The Guardian

The last stage of the French presidential elections has begun in earnest, with the European country’s voters choosing between centre-leaning former economist Emmanuel Macron and leader of the far-right nationalist party Front National, Marine Le Pen, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports.

Akin to the recent U.S. presidential elections where Russian hackers were accused of interfering with the system to guarantee a win for current president Donald Trump, the French voting rally has been marred by recent reports of a ‘massive online dump’ of campaign data by unknown parties and attributed to Macron’s new political movement.

 

Ten of thousands of stolen emails and documents, some claimed to be fake, were put in the public domain. Fearful of the likely impact on the outcome of the election, the French government has made it a criminal offence for the data to be published. The Senate also declared an electioneering blackout lasting until the close of polls today at 8 pm local time.

Macron’s election team, the En Marche! movement, condemned the hack, saying that it was clearly an attempt at democratic destabilisation, like that seen during the last presidential campaign in the US,”

The bitter and divisive at times runoffs are a litmus test for the future direction of politics not only in France, but also in Europe, particularly as politics in the developed world increasingly swings towards the far-right. Far-right candidates were recently just about kept out of the presidential palace in Austria, and are increasingly grabbing a greater share of the vote in the U.K. and Netherlands. The two forerunners in the French elections are also polar opposites. The Guardian writes: Macron, a 39-year-old former banker and economy minister running as an independent centrist, is economically liberal, socially progressive, globally minded and upbeat. Le Pen is a nation-first protectionist who wants to close France’s borders and possibly leave the euro and the EU.”

The last polls, published on Friday, suggest that Emmanuel Macron has a lead over Marine Le Pen of around 22-23 percentage points, buoyed in part by a recent controversial televised debate, where Le Pen was said to have spent more time laying into her rival than promoting her party’s policies to the country’s electorate.

“The commission calls on everyone present on internet sites and social networks – primarily the media, but also all citizens – to show responsibility and not pass on this content so as not to distort the sincerity of the ballot,” the national election commission said on Saturday.

Most French media decided not to break the news of the hack, whose origin was not mentioned by the Guardian. France’s leading broadsheet, Le Monde, declared it would not publish any of the 9 gigabytes of leaked data, due to both its volume and the risk of influencing the election’s outcome.

“If these documents contain revelations, Le Monde will of course publish them after having investigated them, respecting our journalistic and ethical rules, and without allowing ourselves to be exploited by the publishing calendar of anonymous actors,” the paper said.

The data was dumped onto popular sharing service Pastebin under a profile named EMLEAKS. The targeted political movement, Macron’s En Marche! (On the March!) were not perturbed by the public release of the data, saying that most of the emails were from day-to-day operations, and that some files were false, put in with the dump to ‘sow doubt and disinformation’.

France’s vote will be run in stages, with residents of the country’s overseas departments and territories being the first to mark their ballot papers. Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a small dependency off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland island, will be the first to cast their votes. French people in the diaspora will also take priority in voting, before Metropolitan France’s 47 million voters will begin visiting around 70,000 polling stations today.

SOURCES:

Google News https://news.google.co.uk/?ar=1494148359

“French election: voting begins as France decides between Macron and Le Pen” – Jon Henley, The Guardian/Guardian News and Media Limited (7 May 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/07/voting-begins-in-final-round-of-french-presidential-election

IMAGE CREDIT:

“File:French presidential election P1200051.jpg” – David Monniaux, Wikimedia Commons (14 April 2007) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:French_presidential_election_P1200051.jpg

BANKSY IN CALAIS: Secretive street artist leaves Steve Jobs painting at refugee camp

Calais, FRANCE
VIJAY SHAH via The Wrap

Guerilla artist Banksy, famed for his powerful street art laced with socio-political commentary, has resurfaced again, this time at the notorious refugee camp, dubbed ‘The Jungle’ in Calais, France, online magazine The Wrap and the New York Times reported yesterday.

As the debate on the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis reverberates across Europe and much of the world, the Bristol artist, famed as much for his guarded anonymity as for his works of many of which have sold for several thousand pounds, left behind an artwork on a wall in the Jungle, depicting the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, whose father was said to have emigrated from Homs in Syria to the United States shortly after World War II.

(c) Banksy via The Wrap

 

The technology visionary is shown in his characteristic black turtle neck top and denim carrying a sack over one shoulder and holding a vintage Apple monitor in the other hand. The look in his face mirrors the same of many Syrian and other refugees, who often face dangerous trips across open seas and walking thousands of kilometres to reach safety in Europe.

Job’s birth father, a Syrian named Abdul Fattah Jandali, met Job’s mother one summer in his native hometown and later emigrated to the US.

“We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources, but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant,” Banksy said in a statement. “Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7 billion a year in taxes — and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”

Nowadays, the debate about allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the United States has became increasingly negative, in comparison to places such as Germany and Canada, where refugees have been largely welcomed with open arms, including one planeload of refugees who were greeted by the Canadian prime minister himself. In the recent light of the tragic San Bernardino killings, where a foreign-born health service worker and his wife gunned down fourteen of their colleagues last week, and comments about banning Muslims from American territory made by presidential candidate Donald Trump, a recent poll among American state governors said that thirty-one were not open to allowing refugees to move to their states, according to The Wrap.

Banksy’s artworks, nearly always done in public areas using traditional stencils and paints have commented on everything from rampant consumerism, the credit crunch, politics, the war on terror to social media, celebrity culture and the British monarchy.

SOURCES:
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/VShah1984
bar Yehudit, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/SMCADMAN
TheWrap, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/TheWrap
“Banksy Creates Steve Jobs Portrait to Support Syrian Refugees” –  Tim Kenneally, The Wrap/The Wrap News Inc. (11 December 2015) http://www.thewrap.com/banksy-creates-steve-jobs-portrait-to-support-syrian-refugees/
IMAGE CREDIT:
“Banksy Creates Steve Jobs Portrait to Support Syrian Refugees” –  Tim Kenneally, The Wrap/The Wrap News Inc. (11 December 2015) http://www.thewrap.com/banksy-creates-steve-jobs-portrait-to-support-syrian-refugees/

PARIS MASSACRES: 150 believed killed in terrorist atrocity

Paris, FRANCE
VIJAY SHAH via Rediff News & Google News

The French capital is in mourning today after a coordinated attack by terrorists said to be allied with the so-called Islamic State on bars, restaurants and the Stade de France left around 150 people dead. Most of the fatalities occurred at a Cambodian restaurant where terrorists armed with AK-47s gunned down diners and tourists as they dined. Suicide bombs were also set off at one of Paris‘ largest stadia, the Stade de France, where a football match between France and Germany was taking place. Gunmen also targetted a death metal concert, shooting at concert goers as they fled screaming.

The news has sent ripples of shock and disgust throughout the world, and social media posts urged people to pray for Paris and France, as well as the victims. Another 180 people have been hospitalised, many of them with serious injuries.

(c) Sebastien Amiet/Wikimedia Commons

Indian news service Rediff.com reports that sets of terrorists, some carrying guns and others wearing bombs strapped to vests, attacked seven sites around central Paris. One of these is believed to be the Avenue de la Republique, popular with tourists and packed as Paris gears up for the Christmas season.

Rediff reported that the worst carnage took place on yesterday night (Friday 14th November) as gunmen stormed a concert where am American death metal band were performing. Dozens of fans were taken hostage, and the terrorists were reported as hurling grenades at panicked concertgoers as they tried to flee the venue. The Parisian gendarmerie later stormed the Bataclan concert hall building, killing three attackers, reeling in horror at the bloody scenes that unfolded before them last night. Pictures taken after the siege show police securing the road just outside the Bataclan and establishing a perimeter.

The prosecutor of Paris, Francois Molins, said that five attackers have been killed. Other reports said six militants had been taken down, but no-one has yet determined how many took part in the atrocities or if any gunmen are still at large.

In five other shootings, it was reported that 38 were murdered. These took place in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (districts) of Paris, an area comparable to outlying parts of central London. Two explosions occurred outside the Stade de France, where the France vs. Germany match was in attendance by the country’s president Francois Hollande. Reports of casualties at the stadium have not yet been confirmed by police or the prosecutor’s office, but spectators were seen vacating the stadium in droves.

It is not yet known who exactly was behind the attacks, but the president believes that IS were responsible. Some reports claim that IS have claimed responsibility, hours after British IS member Mohammed al-Emwazi, popularly known as ‘Jihadi John’ was allegedly killed in a drone rocket strike in Raqqah, Syria.

Following the attacks, Hollande declared a nationwide state of emergency, the first in many years and today also instituted a three-day period of mourning for the many who lost their lives going about their daily business. President Hollande also ordered the closing of France’s borders to prevent any remaining gunmen from fleeing. Paris has gone into virtual shutdown with the city’s Metro train service as well as schools, universities and government building closed down today.

Hollande who was led to safety as the Stade de France attack unfolded, spoke on French television to say that the country would stand firm and united.

“This is a terrible ordeal that again assails us,” he said. “We know where it comes from, who these criminals are, who these terrorists are.”

He later visited the Bataclan hall, and said that France would wage a ‘merciless’ fight against terrorist forces. Thousands of police, paramedics and doctors were put on immediate emergency duty and all leave of absence was cancelled. Around 1,500 army reinforcements were brought into Paris and hospitals were getting ready for the influx of injured.

  • IS have claimed responsibility, saying that the attacks were in revenge for Western and Arab state-led strikes against their operatives in Syria. They have lauded the atrocity as an ‘act of war’.
  • All sporting fixtures in Paris have been cancelled.
  • Several cities including London, Melbourne in Australia, New York and Dublin, Ireland have lit up buildings in the colours of the French tricouleur in solidarity with Paris.
  • UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has sent a telegram stating that the Paris teror attacks are against all of humanity. Governments, including those from the UK and US have also expressed their horror at the atrocities.
SOURCES:
Francois Gautier, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/francoisgautierofficial/?fref=nf
“Bloodbath in Paris: Over 150 dead as terrorists plan Mumbai-style attacks” – Rediff News/Rediff.com (14 November 2015) http://www.rediff.com/news/report/pix-bloodbath-in-paris-hundreds-dead-in-mumbai-style-attacks/20151114.htm
Google News.
IMAGE CREDIT:
“File:Marche hommage Charlie hebdo et aux victimes des attentats de janvier 2015 (31).jpg” – Sébastien Amiet (sébastien amiet;l), nikleitz2009 & Paris 16, Wikimedia Commons (11 January 2015) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marche_hommage_Charlie_hebdo_et_aux_victimes_des_attentats_de_janvier_2015_(31).jpg

CHARLIE HEBDO: Protesters torch churches in Niger riots, five people killed

Protesters angered by the publishing of satirical cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad by French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo have reportedly gone on the rampage and set fire to local churches, while five people have been killed, the Huffington Post and Reuters news agency have stated.

In the second day of violence in the French-speaking West African nation, five people were killed yesterday as Niger was gripped by religious violence stirred up by the publication of the cartoons in France, which have seen widespread condemnation by Muslim communities across the globe. Charlie Hebdo, a well-known satirical publication that frequently mocks politicians and religions, was the victim of an atrocity last week in which seventeen people, including the editor, Stephane Charbonnier alias Charb, several members of his cartoonists team and three police officers were gunned down by two brothers, the Kouachis, said to have links to Islamic State in Syria. Four shoppers were also taken hostage by another militant at a kosher supermarket, also in Paris, and were killed along with the militant, identified as Amedy Coulibaly, when police raided the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Vincennes on the 9th of January.

The magazine defied the militants by publishing a ‘survivors’ edition’ featuring a cartoon depiction of the founder of Islam crying under the words “Tout est pardonné” (“All is forgiven“). This edition led to numerous protests across the world by Muslims offended by the depiction of their prophet. Islam forbids the depiction of living things, especially Muhammad, as it can be seen as encouraging the unpardonable sin of idolatry. The Charlie Hebdo killings were roundly condemned by leaders of France’s 5 million-strong Muslim minority, many who have become the victims of Islamophobic revenge attacks in the wake of the militant attack last week.

Niamey, Niger's capital and economic hub
Niamey, Niger’s capital and economic hub (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reporting from the Niger capital Niamey, Reuters journalists say the country has been rocked by two days of violence, and that the death toll has already reached ten. Gangs of youths were reported to have set fire to shops, businesses and places of worship belonging to Niger’s Christian community after a meeting of local Muslim community leaders was allegedly banned by the authorities. Police attempted to battle the rampage and contain the youths by using tear gas. The youths retaliated by throwing stones, before attacking a police station and torching two squad cars in the vicinity.

One of the protesters, named by Reuters as Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, was quoted as saying “They offended our Prophet Mohammad, that’s what we didn’t like,”

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou announced that the five killed on Saturday (17 January 2014) were all civilians. Four were burned to death inside blazing churches and bars selling alcoholic drinks. The Niger president said that an inquiry into the killings would take place and organisers of the riots would be apprehended and punished. “Those who pillage religious sites and profane them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots or foreigners who live on our soil, have understood nothing of Islam,” he said in a televised address.

President Issoufou, himself a Muslim, however disagreed with the publication of the Charlie Hebdo survivors’ issue saying that he shared the disgust and outrage of Muslims at the caricatures of their beloved prophet and that freedom of expression should be accountable of the need to respect religious beliefs. Charlie Hebdo has long attracted flak for lampooning Jews, Catholics and Muslims, but since the killings of its staff last week, the small Paris-based magazine has become a popular bastion of journalistic freedom of expression, including the controversial right to offend. Hundreds of thousands have identified themselves with the trending slogan “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie“) in solidarity with the slain journalists and protecting freedom of speech.

Issoufou was one of the participants last week of a march held in Paris against the atrocity, alongside many world politicians from opposing sides. Yesterday though, he said his participation in that march was to demonstrate his opposition to terrorism and not in support of the magazine itself.

Niamey, Niger
Niamey, Niger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the riots, calm returned to the streets of Niamey by yesterday afternoon, but another planned march by the city’s Muslim community is feared to possibly re-ignite tensions. The civic authorities put a block on the march going ahead, but organisers have said they will defy the ruling and proceed anyway, possibly risking confrontation with local police and members of the Christian community.

Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns across Niger, including Maradi, 600 km (375 miles) east of Niamey, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in the eastern town of Goure.

The foreign minister of France, which once ruled Niger as an overseas colony, Laurent Fabius, roundly condemned the weekend violence in the country, stating “France expresses its solidarity with the authorities in Niger,” France currently maintains a battery of troops and defences in co-operation with Niger to battle against Islamist insurgencies in the neighbouring state of Mali as part of a regional counter-terrorism operation.

Four preachers of Islam who organised the meeting were arrested on Saturday as tensions began to flare, according to local police. The French government has warned its citizens living as expatriates in Niamey to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel.

Residents in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder said that a burned corpse was discovered in the remains of a Catholic church torched by rioters there, bringing the death toll to five from Friday’s clashes. Locals also claimed that wholesale attacks against Zinder’s Christians were instigated, with religious books, churches and minority-owned shops ransacked and set on fire.  A French cultural centre was also set alight, and a police officer is among the dead, the rest are civilians, according to sources from the police.

In contrast with Niger, demonstrators in other Francophone west African nations, including Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, and in Algeria in North Africa, made peaceful protests against the Charlie Hebdo controversy after leaving their mosques after they finished Juma’a (Friday) prayers, Reuters reports.

Niger’s 17 million people are almost all Muslims, though its government remains secular. About 94% profess Islam, mostly of the Sunni branch. There are also communities professing Nigerien animism and Christianity.

SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
“Niger Protesters Burn Churches On Second Day Of Anti-Charlie Hebdo Violence” – Abdoulaye Massalaki, Daniel Flynn & Andrew Roche, Reuters & The World Post, The Huffington Post & Berggruen Institute on Governance (17 January 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/17/niger-charlie-hebdo_n_6492054.html
IMAGE CREDITS:
“File:Niamey night.jpg” – diasUndKompott via FlickreviewR, Wikimedia Commons (4 January 2007) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Niamey_night.jpg
“File:Niamey-Moschee.jpg” – Dominik Schwarz, Wikimedia Commons (17 December 2009) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Niamey-Moschee.jpg