Notre-Dame fire: Eight centuries of turbulent history

There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell
There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell

The grief caused by the near-destruction of Notre-Dame may seem puzzling for a country as resistant to religion as France.

But the mass devotion the cathedral attracts is not a spiritual one. It is rooted in the building’s location at the heart of the nation’s intellectual life.

Notre-Dame dominates the Latin Quarter – named after the language spoken by the scholars and students that flocked there in medieval times. Just down the river are the Louvre, a royal palace turned into the world’s largest museum, and the grand building of the Institut de France, the country’s foremost learned society.

Since the 16th Century bibliophiles have wandered among the bookstalls that line the banks of the Seine in the cathedral’s shadow.

Bouquiniste in Paris (undated picture)
A tour of the waterside “bouquinistes” is one of Paris’s great pleasures

The English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company lies across the Petit Pont to the south This is where Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and other giants of world literature have come to imbibe French culture, along with more liquid delights in the many cafés nearby.

Notre-Dame seems to have grown naturally from its surroundings. Its soaring towers provide a focus of attention in a city that fancies itself as the capital of high culture; the eminent British art historian Kenneth Clark once called it “the most rigorously intellectual facade in the whole of Gothic art”.

Kenneth Clark on Notre-Dame: 'I recognise civilisation when I see it'
Kenneth Clark on Notre-Dame: ‘I recognise civilisation when I see it’

The cathedral is linked with Paris’ emergence as a centre of learning. The Gothic building – built over a century from the 1160s – replaced a Romanesque structure that was home to the “École cathédrale”.

France’s first celebrity philosopher, Pierre Abélard, had taught logic and theology there in the early 12th Century, attracting admirers from all over Europe.

The new church maintained this legacy of scholarship. In due course the “École cathédrale” morphed into the University of Paris, the Sorbonne and its offshoots, which all still stand a few minutes’ walk away.

The history of Notre-Dame, however, is more turbulent than its current, majestic appearance suggests.

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Notre-Dame before the fire in 360° image


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The cathedral played a role in the Hundred Years’ War: in 1431, King Henry VI of England was crowned there as King of France to assert English claims to the throne across the Channel.

From the 16th Century, Notre-Dame fell victim to France’s political and religious strife, as well as changing cultural tastes.

Renaissance men sought to break away from the medieval period and rediscover the cultural treasures of ancient Greece and Rome. Gothic was out. Classical was in. Internal pillars and walls were covered with tapestries, as if its custodians were ashamed of them.

France’s fierce wars of religion took their toll on the cathedral. In 1548 Huguenot Protestants attacked statues which they regarded as sacrilegious.

In 1572 the future Henri IV, a Huguenot who sought to end the bloodshed, married Marguerite de Valois, a princess from the ruling Catholic dynasty. The wedding was celebrated in front of Notre-Dame – although Henri did not go so far as to enter the building.

1857 drawing of NOtre Dame

But the symbolic reconciliation on the cathedral’s doorstep did not last long. Within days thousands of Protestants who had come to Paris to attend the wedding were slaughtered by Catholics in the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

The Enlightenment was not kind to Notre-Dame either. In the 18th Century, it was more out of step with the prevailing intellectual mood than at any other time in its history.

A masterpiece of Gothic art held no appeal to thinkers who equated the medieval period to the Dark Ages and were deeply suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church.

The clergy themselves did not seem to care much for the building. In the early 1750s, some felt the cathedral was too dark and decided to replace the stained glass window with clear glass to let in more light. A few years later sculptures above the main portal were knocked down to make it easier for processions to pass through.

By the 1780s, the 13th Century spire was beginning to look wobbly. The authorities fixed the problem by taking it down.

Gallery of Kings at Notre Dame
The statues of kings on the facade were decapitated during the revolution

Things got even worse for the cathedral during the French Revolution. The Church, loathed by many as the ally of the Ancien Regime, and taken over by the state.

Church bells were removed across the country. In 1791, those of Notre-Dame were crushed and melted down. In 1793, the 28 statues of kings that stand above the front portals of Notre-Dame were decapitated by rioters.

Later that year religion was banned outright and the cathedral was converted into an atheist “Temple of Reason” dedicated to Enlightenment and Revolutionary ideals.

When it turned out that the worship of liberty, equality and fraternity did not fill pews, the cathedral was turned into a warehouse for storing food.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jean-Louis David
The Coronation of Napoleon at Notre-dame was painted by Jean-Louis David

Notre-Dame was not returned to the Catholic Church until 1802, after Napoleon Bonaparte made peace with the Vatican.

It was spruced up in time for Napoleon to be crowned emperor there in 1804, with Pope Pius VII in attendance.

He chose the venue over the cathedral in Reims, where French kings were traditionally crowned, to indicate a clean break with the Old Regime. Paris, not Reims or Versailles, was the centre of his world and Notre-Dame was at the centre of it.

But imperial favour did not revive the fortunes of the cathedral. In the first two decades of the 19th Century many medieval buildings were regarded as antiquated eyesores.

Some were pulled down, others were submitted to botched-up restoration work. Notre-Dame itself did not seem safe from the wrecking ball.

Esmeralda and Quasimodo, illustration by Eugene Deveria for the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Notre-Dame was saved by a humble hunchback

But another swing of the cultural pendulum changed everything. The Romantic movement turned against grand, Roman-inspired architecture, and rediscovered the messy beauty of the Middle Ages. Classical was out. Gothic was in.

No-one did more to save Notre-Dame than Victor Hugo. In a 1825, the young writer published an angry tract “on the destruction of the monuments of France”. “The hammer that mutilates the face of France must be stopped,” he wrote.

But it was his hugely popular 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame – simply “Notre Dame de Paris” in French – that was most effective. By portraying the building as a character, Hugo literally brought it back to life.

A nationwide campaign led to a massive renovation project. The work, between 1844 and 1864, returned the cathedral to its former glory – and more.

Notre-Dame gargoyle
Many of Notre-Dame’s gargoyles are 19th Century additions

Lead architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc used traditional building methods to secure the buttresses and put up a new spire, the one destroyed by fire this week.

Sculptors repaired the beheaded sculptures. Glassmakers and other craftsmen restored the original decoration from drawing and engravings.

Where these were not available, Viollet-le-Duc and his artists used their imagination. Many of the medieval-looking gargoyles and monsters crawling all over the cathedral are their creations.

In the 1850s and 1860s Baron Haussmann carried out a vast urban renewal programme that made Paris the city of wide boulevards and distinctive stone buildings it is today.

The hospital and cluster of smaller buildings that had stood in front of Notre-Dame for centuries were cleared. They were replaced by a wide-open space – known as the “parvis” – creating a sense of distance and grandeur.

Notre-Dame in 1900

It the 20th Century Notre-Dame witnessed a succession of traumas – from two world wars to the 1968 unrest literally a cobblestone’s throw away – but it escaped unscathed.

It also became a focus for historical ceremonies. This is not inconsistent with France’s secular constitution – under the 1905 law on separation of Church and state, all cathedrals are property of the French government.

An official Mass was celebrated there to mark the end of World War One. Following the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in August 1944, General de Gaulle attended a similar service after marching with his troops down the Champs-Élysées.

As the general stepped out of his car, sustained gunfire rang out on the parvis, causing panic among the crowd. De Gaulle walked into the cathedral and took his seat without batting an eyelid. No-one knows to this day who fired the shots.

Charles de Gaulle at Notre-Dame, 25 August 1944
Charles de Gaulle (in uniform, centre) took part in a Mass celebrating the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944

When de Gaulle died in 1970, a memorial service attended by heads of state from around the world was held at Notre-Dame. François Mitterrand, who died in 1996, was the only other former French president to be honoured in the same way.

But the best sign of Notre Dame’s significance is not the odd official event, but the homage of 13 millions visitors every year – more than any other site in Western Europe.

Notre-Dame stands tall as a symbol of permanence. The fire shocked Parisians because it showed that such a fixture in their physical and cultural landscape was vulnerable. But the cathedral has also shown its power for renewal in difficult times.

Greta Thumberg: the speech in the Senate, the offenses of Libero and the world we have become

There are no words. It almost seems like a title produced by the diabolical minds of Lercio to make us smile, but in reality it is the first page of Libero di oggi, which offends and insults Greta Thunberg.

The young Swedish activist, today on a visit to the Senate, probably causes more than a few stomach ache to the pens of the newspaper.

“La Rompiballe goes to the Pope” reads the opening, but the other words addressed to Greta are no less: “Bergoglio in the Vatican: Come on, Gretina”. There is no need to comment on this verbal violence from which we dissociate ourselves. regardless of whether or not he agrees with his protests, he should turn to a young girl, the same girl who sold out today in the Koch room in Palazzo Madama.

” A special thanks to Greta, who has traveled thousands of miles to be here today with us ” were the words of Senate President Elisabetta Casellati. ” Without you, without your courage, without your example, dear Greta, the road to bringing environmental issues to the center of the international political debate would have been more difficult, more tortuous .”

Many important people congratulate me, but I don’t know what to congratulate. Millions of students have gone on strike for the climate, and nothing has changed, the emissions continue as before. So why these important people congratulate me “We took to the streets not to take selfies, but because we want you to act. We do it to take back our dreams and our hopes,” Greta said this morning in her speech in the Senate.

Other authoritative newspapers like Time have included Greta in the top 100 of the most influential people of 2019 with this motivation:

Struggling in his home country, Sweden, for a future free of pollution, environmental degradation and climate change, Greta is a source of inspiration for apathetic students and adults. He soon realized that the powers would be used against her and her mission, stating: “We cannot save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules must be changed.” Greta has continued to plan a multitude of student protests focused on action against our changing climate “.

Whatever the opinion built on the figure of this girl, this cannot and must not justify verbal violence directed at a young woman, little more than a child. A verbal violence that reigns every day on social media, in political discourses and that begins to violate even the deontological rules, in a world in which it almost seems that to make us feel we must offend more. But she has shown the opposite. With his calm, determined, pungent tone.

Some say it is manipulated, that his stubbornness and his conviction are the fruit of Asperger’s syndrome. Probably in a short time we will no longer hear about her, but the fury that is being unleashed against a teenager is at least significant. It reflects what we are becoming. Ready to point the finger, not to question ourselves.

Tomorrow Greta will be, in Rome for the umpteenth Friday For Future one of his Friday protests around the world. The young people of the capital are preparing to welcome it and to ask with it a future in which the earth is not destroyed by the interests of a few.

“We didn’t take to the streets for selfies, we do it because we want to re-take our hopes and our dreams,” concluded Greta this morning.

National Enquirer sold to US magazine distributor

Newstand with National Enquirer closest to camera
The newspaper has gained a reputation for outlandish celebrity coverage

The owner of US tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer has agreed to sell the title to magazine distributor James Cohen.

American Media Inc (AMI) said it would sell the title and two of its sister publications to Mr Cohen.

The tabloid has been embroiled in high-profile scandals involving US President Donald Trump and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

The sale terms were not disclosed but the Washington Post reported a sale price of $100m (£77m).

In a statement, AMI said it had reached an agreement in principle with Mr Cohen to sell the title’s US and UK editions, along with the Globe and National Examiner.

“The sale of these brands shows their vitality in today’s newsstand marketplace where they continue to generate nearly $30 million in profit annually,” AMI chief executive David Pecker said.

Mr Cohen’s family built the Hudson chain of airport newsstands. The family now owns US magazine and book distributor Hudson News Distributors.

“Year after year, the Enquirer has continued to be one of the best-selling and most profitable newsstand titles,” Mr Cohen said.

He said he plans to boost the National Enquirer’s video and documentary collaborations, as well as its theme park business.

High-profile scandals

The National Enquirer is best known for its outlandish celebrity gossip and crime coverage.

Last year the publisher admitted to helping Mr Trump’s presidential campaign bury a report about an alleged extramarital affair with a former Playboy model.

Federal prosecutors announced in December that AMI had admitted paying Karen McDougal $150,000 for a “catch and kill” on her story in the run-up to the 2016 election.

In February, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos accused its owners of trying to blackmail him over lewd photographs.

He said AMI wanted him to stop investigating how they had obtained his private messages.

Earlier this month the publisher announced it was looking for a buyer for the 93-year-old title.

The tabloid was originally founded as The New York Evening Enquirer back in 1926, when it was distributed as a broadsheet on a Sunday.

At its peak it had a weekly circulation of millions, but the internet has had a huge impact on sales.

Last year it was announced circulation had dropped to about 265,000 – 18% down in one financial year.

Notre-Dame was already undergoing renovation work when the fire broke out

France Notre-Dame fire: Temporary wooden cathedral proposed

A temporary wooden cathedral should be built in the shadow of Notre-Dame’s famed towers while the building is being repaired, officials have said.

The structure would serve as a home for worshippers and tourists alike, the rector of the Paris landmark, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, suggested.

The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral has been closed after a fire tore through its roof and destroyed its spire.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed it will reopen in five years.

But temporary arrangements will need to be made in the meantime, Monsignor Chauvet told France’s CNews.

“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years and that’s it’,” he said.

“Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on the esplanade [in front of Notre-Dame]?” he added.

The wooden structure, Monsignor Chauvet said, should be “beautiful, symbolic and attractive”.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is understood to have given her approval to the idea, which is not the first of its kind.

After the cathedral in New Zealand’s Christchurch was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake, which left 185 people dead, a temporary structure was built.

Meanwhile, some in France have reacted negatively to the government’s plan to invite architects from around the world to submit their designs for a new spire.

Notre-Dame before the fire in 360° image.

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The spire, which was added to the cathedral during a 19th Century restoration project led by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, was completely destroyed when the fire took hold on Monday.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters on Wednesday he hoped for “a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era”.

But Mr Philippe questioned “whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc… or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire”.

Jean-Marie Henriquet, 76, a descendant of Mr Viollet-le-Duc, said it needed to be rebuilt.

“Not reconstructing the spire would equate to amputating an element that belongs to it,” he told news agency AFP.

What is the damage?

The blaze, which began on Monday evening and was not fully extinguished until almost 15 hours later, destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and led to the collapse of its famous spire.

Firefighters have used a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed

Photos appear to show that at least one of the famed rose windows survived, but there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. The 18th Century organ has not been burned but it is not clear if it is damaged.

It was still too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the Fondation du Patrimoine, an independent non-profit heritage group.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said.

But on Thursday, Culture Minister Franck Riester revealed there were still fears over the possible collapse of some parts of the building – including a gable between the bell towers, as well as one in the north transept.

Graphic showing scale of damage to Notre-Dame
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What happens next?

Investigators trying to establish the cause of the fire have begun questioning workers from five companies involved in the renovations that were under way at the cathedral. Officials believe the works could have accidentally led to the disaster.

Offers of help to rebuild the cathedral have come from several world leaders, groups and individuals, including:

  • Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, who pledged €100m
  • Bernard Arnault’s family and their company LVMH, a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora, who pledged €200m
  • French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family promised to give €200m while oil giant Total pledged €100m

Mr Riester said some of the artworks and religious items rescued would be sent to the Louvre museum where they would be kept and eventually restored.

A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral
A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral

They include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown to Paris.

Work to remove the cathedral’s paintings will begin on Friday, Mr Riester said.

INTERA CTIVE Inside Notre Dame

15 April 2019

Debris of the fallen spire inside Notre Dame

26 June 2018

Looking down on people attending a service of mass in the cathedral
A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed
Brooke Windsor says she took the photo shortly before fire broke out at Notre-Dame cathedral

Notre-Dame: Family in viral photo found after search

A family pictured outside Notre-Dame cathedral minutes before the fire erupted has been found after a viral search.

Brooke Windsor, 23, says the father and child she photographed about an hour before the blaze have come forward.

Her photo, showing them playing in front of the 850-year-old landmark, was shared widely on Twitter.

She told the BBC she wanted to share the “memory” with them, prompting an international hunt.

Confirming they had been found, Ms Windsor tweeted: “The search is over! The photo has reached the dad and family.”

The man and his family, Ms Windsor says, do not wish to be identified.

Instead, Ms Windsor says he wrote a message to her, which reads: “Thanks again for that beautiful photo, we will find a special place for it.”

Ms Windsor’s tweet was shared more than 240,000 times and liked 467,000 times, with people across the world joining the hunt to find them.

Her poignant photo was described as “historic” and a “special moment in time” by Twitter users as the extent of the damage to Notre-Dame shocked the world.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to re-build the cathedral. More than €800m ($902m; £692m) has already been pledged to help reconstruct the Unesco World Heritage site.

Brexit: Second poll shows Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party on course for European election victory

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is heading for a stunning victory in upcoming European elections, according to a second opinion poll in as many days.

The YouGov survey for The Times put the party launched by the former Ukip leader last week on 23 per cent, a point in front of Labour and five ahead of the Tories, and appeared to confirm the result of a, shock poll published on Wednesday.

Jeremy Corbyn has been urged, to back a fresh Brexit referendum unequivocally within weeks to prevent Mr Farage surging to victory.

Britain’s former ambassador to Brussels has warned Tory leadership contenders who promise to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement if they take over from Theresa May will “wreck any prospect” of getting a future trade deal.

Sir Ivan Rogers, who stood down from his role in January 2017, told BBC Two’s Newsnight last night: “If various candidates make pledges as to the future direction of the Brexit talks, what they would do in phase two, that will essentially wreck any prospect of phase two succeeding.

“So if people were to give commitments, saying ‘when I’m in power, if you give me this job, I will reopen the Withdrawal Agreement’, and indicate we can’t possibly accept the backstop and take a much more robust and bellicose position with Brussels – well, that leads fairly inexorably to a breakdown of the talks.”

He said he was a “little bit surprised” the UK was not further down the exit process and suggested the public still do not know what the public know about Brexit.

The government must “bring the country behind one version of Brexit in the next two to three years – otherwise we’re going to re-fight this civil war for the next generation,” he added.

One vote Nigel Farage can count in next month’s EU election is that of George Galloway.

The former Respect Party leader and Bradford West MP tweeted that he would supporting the Brexit Party “for one-time only” as he wants to secure the UK’s departure from the EU.

Galloway and Farage have teamed before up to campaign for Brexit, ahead of the 2016 referendum.

At the time, Galloway insisted, they were “not pals” but “allies in one cause. Like Churchill and Stalin”.

Nigel Farage says he is being “slightly cautious” about his new party’s favourable polling, although he believes “the public are warming to us”.

In interview with the Daily Express, he said: “There’s great grassroots support, large numbers of people joining, grassroots donations and all of it feels very exciting.

“I think we will be announcing a few more candidates next week.

“People want a fresh, positive vision. They are tired of career politicians endlessly threatening them, sounding miserable and not believing in the country.”

That attack on “career politicians”, of course, comes from some who has been an MEP since 1999 and has stood for election to UK parliament seven times.

With Nigel Farage seemingly on track for victory in 23 May’s European elections, worried Labour backbenchers are piling renewed pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to come in support of a second referendum.

MPs warned Labour risked “leeching support to other parties” unless it sent a pro-Europe message “loud and clear”.

Brexit: Second poll shows Nigel Farage's Brexit Party on course for European election victory

Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has the full story: 

Jeremy Corbyn told to commit to Brexit vote or let Farage snatch shock European elections victory.

Fearful backbenchers urge Labour leader to shift his stance in manifesto after poll shows former Ukip leader on course to triumph with new Brexit Party.

A second opinion poll in as many days as indicated that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is heading for victory in European elections. 

The YouGov poll for The Times found the former Ukip leader’s new group had surged ahead of Labour and the Tories since it was launched last week.

Brexit Party are leading on 23%, with Labour on 22% and the Conservatives heading for a crushing defeat on 17%. Last week the same poll put Farage’s party on 15%, with Labour on 24% and the Tories on 16%.

Much of the support for Farage’s party seems to have been drawn from Ukip, who languish in seventh place on 6%

The latest poll appears to confirm the findings of another YouGov survey, released yesterday, which put the Brexit Party on the lead in 27%.

The bus plunged off a road and overturned near houses

Madeira crash: At least 29 killed on tourist bus near Caniço

At least 29 people have died after a bus carrying German tourists plunged off a road and overturned on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Another 27 were injured in the accident near the town of Caniço.

The accident happened at 18:30 (17:30 GMT) when the driver lost control of the bus at a junction and went off the road, according to Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Pictures show how the vehicle stopped just short of destroying a house.

“I have no words to describe what happened. I cannot face the suffering of these people,” the mayor of Caniço, Filipe Sousa, told broadcaster SIC TV.

He said all the tourists on the bus were German but some local people could also be among the casualties. Eleven of the fatalities were men and 17 women, Mr Sousa added. The bus was reported to be carrying 55 passengers, as well as the driver and a tour guide.

Another woman later died of her injuries in hospital.

The vice-president of Madeira’s regional government Pedro Calado said the bus met safety standards and so it was “premature to talk about what caused the crash”.

Firemen stand next to the wreckage of a tourist bus that crashed in Madeira on April 17, 2019
The bus appeared to have rolled down a hillside
A woman receives medical treatment on April 17, 2019 in Caniço, on the Portuguese island of Madeira
Ambulances ferried the injured to hospital

An investigation into the crash has been launched, with the bus company, Madeira Automobile Society (SAM), saying it has a “deep commitment” to finding out exactly what happened, local newspaper Diario de Noticias Madeira reported.

According to reports, the vehicle was only five or six years old and the driver was experienced.

The scene of the crash has been sealed off and the injured transferred to a hospital in the island’s capital, Funchal, Lusa said.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is flying to the island to visit the scene, the agency said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa has sent a message of condolence to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Reuters reported.

The German government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted: “Our deep sorrow goes to all those who lost their lives in the bus accident, our thoughts are with the injured.”

Madeira was the scene of another fatal bus crash in 2005 when five Italian tourists died in São Vicente, on the northern coast.

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Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad who was held by Islamic State fighters in Iraq for three months is to address the UN Security Council on Tuesday

Germany struggles in UN push to address sexual violence

A German-led bid to step up efforts to combat sexual violence in conflicts has run into resistance at the UN Security Council, diplomats said Wednesday, just days before Nobel laureate Nadia Murad is to appear before the UN body to issue a call for justice.

Germany is pushing for the adoption of a draft resolution next Tuesday during a council debate that will feature Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist.

Murad, who was held by the Islamic State fighters for months after they overran her home town in northern Iraq in 2014, is expected to call on the council to take action against perpetrators of sexual violence.

The German-drafted resolution would establish a working group of the Security Council that would develop measures to address sexual violence and strengthen prevention, according to the draft text seen by AFP.

It would encourage commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions set up by the United Nations to address rape and other sexual crimes in their investigations of human rights violations in war zones.

The measure would also urge UN sanctions committees to apply targeted sanctions against rapists and other perpetrators of sexual violence.

UN diplomats said negotiations on the text were complicated, with Russia, China and the United States raising objections.

Russia has questioned the need for the working group while the United States has taken aim at references to the International Criminal Court, which it does not support, and those that deal with reproductive health for rape survivors, according to diplomats.

“There are several outstanding issues with the United States, Russia and China,” said a diplomat.

Some council members argued that the working group could undermine the UN envoy for sexual violence, Pramila Patten, who has been tasked by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with stepping up action to prevent the use of rape as a weapon of war.

France, which backs the German draft, had proposed that there be an alert mechanism set up for cases of mass rape during conflicts.

EU struggles over law to tackle spread of terror online

EU officials are struggling to agree on a law aimed at preventing the spread of “terrorist content” online.

The European Parliament approved a draft version of the law on Wednesday evening, which would impose a one-hour deadline to remove offending content.

But a European Commission official told the BBC changes made to the text by parliament made the law ineffective.

It now plans to agree a version closer to the original with a new parliament after the elections in May.

“Given the importance, we have to come back and work on this again with them,” the official said.

The law would affect social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which could face fines of up to 4% of their annual global turnover.

What does the law say?

The legislation, proposed by the Commission last year, gives internet companies one hour to remove offending content after receiving an order from a “competent authority” in an EU country.

“Terrorist content” includes material that incites or advocates for terrorist offences, promotes the activities of a terrorist group or teaches terrorist techniques, according to the draft text.

In the original text, companies are also expected to take “proactive measures” to stop the spread of terrorist content.

This includes using automated tools to prevent content that has previously been removed from being re-uploaded.

Under the rules, companies operating in the EU could face hefty financial penalties if there is a “systematic failure” to comply.

What were the changes?

In its amendments, the European Parliament said websites would not be forced to “monitor the information they transmit or store, nor have to actively seek facts indicating illegal activity”.

It said the “competent authority” should give the website information on the procedures and deadlines 12 hours before the agreed one-hour deadline the first time an order is issued.

It also ruled that authorities dealing with “terrorist content” being posted in another EU member state should contact officials in that country, rather than dealing directly with the website.

“This is a strong position from the parliament which ensures that there will be a one-hour deadline to remove content. It also ensures safeguards for smaller platforms, ensures that there are no upload filters and preserves freedom of speech,” MEP Daniel Dalton, the rapporteur for the proposal, told the BBC.

‘Christchurch test’

The Commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that the latest version did not pass the “Christchurch test” of whether it would have been effective at stopping the spread of content during last month’s New Zealand mosque attacks, which was live-streamed on Facebook.

“We don’t think the amendments provide for effective measures,” he said.

Mr Dalton, however, told the BBC it was “the only possible compromise agreement which could have got through the parliament”.

“If the Commission thinks they can make significant changes to this proposal and get it through the parliament then they don’t know this parliament very well,” he said.

“The Commission proposal simply didn’t have a majority in the parliament as it raised too many questions. It also didn’t properly address the legality of cross border removal orders. The modifications we have made ensured that it could pass, whilst ensuring the key elements of the Commission proposal remain”.

People walk past flowers and tributes displayed in memory of the twin mosque massacre victims outside the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch
Tributes in memory of the mosque attack victims in Christchurch, New Zealand

What about free speech?

Others said the amendments did not go far enough in protecting free speech.

In February, German MEP Julia Reda of the European Pirate Party said the legislation risked the “surrender of our fundamental freedoms [and] undermines our liberal democracy.”

Ms Reda welcomed the changes brought by the European Parliament but said the one-hour deadline was “unworkable for platforms run by individual or small providers.”

She argued that pressure to keep such content offline would result in companies using automated filters that were “bound to lead to the deletion of legal uploads”.

Does terrorism spread online?

David Ibsen, executive director of the Counter Extremism Project, said “the easy availability of terrorist content online continues to have a huge impact on radicalisation, recruitment, and incitement to violence.

“Police investigations have repeatedly found a critical link between radicalising content online and terror attacks. Nice, France, the Bataclan concert hall attack in Paris, and the Manchester arena bombing are but a few examples of how individuals can be radicalised online.”

European Commissioner for the Security Union Sir Julian King described the spread of terrorist content online as “a clear and present danger that needs to be stamped out”.

“It has had a role to play in every single attack on European soil in the last few years, whether through incitement to commit an attack, instruction on how to carry it out or glorification of the deadly results,” he told the BBC.

“The potential damage caused by terrorist content online rises dramatically with every hour it remains online, spreading from platform to platform. And it’s not only Da’esh [IS]: other jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda are still a threat, as are violent right-wing extremists.”

He said the Commission “look forward to continuing our work with MEPs and with the Council in the coming months to find an effective way forward on this critical security file”.

Madeira crash: At least 28 killed on tourist bus near Caniço

A bus carrying German tourists has plunged off a road and overturned on the Portuguese island of Madeira leaving 28 people dead.

Another 22 were injured in the accident near the town of Caniço, according to national news agency Lusa.

The accident happened at 18:30 (17:30 GMT) when the driver lost control of the bus at a junction and went off the road, reports said.

Portuguese media showed the overturned vehicle had come to rest near houses.

“I have no words to describe what happened. I cannot face the suffering of these people,” local Mayor Filipe Sousa told broadcaster SIC TV.

He said all the tourists on the bus were German but it was not clear if the fatalities occurred only in the bus.

The scene of the crash has been sealed off and the injured transferred to a hospital in the capital, Funchal, Lusa said.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is flying to the island to visit the scene, the agency added.

Madeira was the scene of another fatal bus crash in 2005 when five Italian tourists died in São Vicente, on the northern coast.

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Tom Hollander reads an extract from Victor Hugo's novel

Notre-Dame fire: Booksellers urge Hunchback publishers to donate

French booksellers are urging publishers of the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame to donate funds to help rebuild the burnt-out cathedral

A fund launched to rebuild the fire-ravaged Gothic cathedral is expected to surpass €1bn ($1.1bn; £870m).

More than €800m has already been raised since the monument was engulfed by flames on Monday evening.

Now Amandine Ardouin and Antoine Bonnet, whose bookshops are based in Paris, are asking other sellers and publishers to do their part.

A share of their income from sales of Hugo’s novel, first published in 1831, will be pledged to the restoration project, they told French media.

It is heartbreaking to make money on this misfortune, so we decided to redistribute these funds to the cathedral repair work,” Mr Ardouin told Livre Hebdo.

Within hours of the devastating blaze, Hugo’s epic rocketed to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. A French version of the book, published in 1975 by Le Livre de Poche, remained in first place on the best-seller list of Amazon France on Wednesday.

Prices range from €4.60 for the pocket edition, to €43.04 for the paperback, according to the Amazon listing for Le Livre de Poche’s releases.

One paperback edition, published by Penguin Classics in 1978, is listed as “temporarily out of stock” on the e-commerce giant’s website.

Notre-Dame cathedral
Scaffolding surrounds Notre-Dame cathedral two days after the devastating fire
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Other editions by the Folio Society (1998), Flammarion (1984) and other publishers are still available to buy on Amazon and other websites.

Speaking to Le Figaro, Mr Ardouin said he would like publishers to emulate his “symbolic act” by donating to the cause.

“We would like Folio, Pocket book, Flammarion, who sell this book in pocket format, to do the same,” he told the paper. “Literature can save Notre-Dame.”

The BBC has approached Penguin, Folio Society, Flammarion and Le Livre de Poche for comment on the calls to donate funds but is yet to receive a reply.

What is the Hunchback of Notre-Dame about?

Hugo’s classic tells the tale of Quasimodo, a deformed and half-blind bell-ringer who falls in love with a beautiful young gypsy woman named Esmeralda.

Ashamed of his appearance, he admires her from afar, longing to meet her from the isolated confines of Notre-Dame’s bell tower.

A chain of events unfolds in which Quasimodo attempts to protect Esmeralda from his jealous master, Archdeacon Claude Frollo, who also lusts after her. The story culminates in their tragic deaths.

Literary critics argue that Hugo’s main motivation for writing the book was to draw attention to the then-dilapidated cathedral and the value of the Gothic architecture.

Warren Clarke as Quasimodo in the 1970s TV series The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
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Why is the novel important to the cathedral?

Prior to the publication of Hugo’s book, sections of Notre-Dame cathedral had fallen into disrepair.

He began writing the story, also known as “Our Lady of Paris”, in 1829, using the building as the backdrop for his dramatic tale.

At the time, parts of it lay in ruins, having sustained serious damage during the French Revolution.

Hugo’s enormously popular novel – set in Notre-Dame’s heyday in the 1400s – is partly credited with saving it.

Its roaring success emboldened the historical preservation movement in France, leading to the formation of the Commission on Historical Monuments.

In 1841, architects Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and Jean-Baptiste Lassus led major renovations at Notre-Dame, restoring it to its former glory.

“A commission formed in 1837, in part due to the success of Victor Hugo’s novel the Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” Dr Emily Guerry, lecturer in medieval European history at the University of Kent, told the BBC.

“That’s when a collective group of people in Paris and across France fell back in love with the monument.”

Colin Jones, a professor at Queen Mary University of London specialising in the history of Paris, told the BBC Hugo “played an enormous part in the cause of restoration of medieval monuments in the 19th century”.

He said the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral was “in some ways closely associated” with Hugo’s famous novel.

Notre-Dame fire: International call for architects to design new spire

France is to invite architects from around the world to submit their designs for a new spire to sit atop a renovated Notre-Dame cathedral.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters they hoped for “a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era”.

The spire was completely destroyed in the blaze that tore through the 850-year-old Gothic building’s roof.

The entire cathedral was minutes away from total destruction, officials say.

However, much of the Parisian building – including its famed towers – survived, and thoughts have now turned to how to reconstruct what has been lost.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed it will be rebuilt “even more beautifully”, adding that he wants the work done within five years – although experts warn its reconstruction could take decades.

The spire destroyed in the blaze was added to the cathedral during a 19th Century restoration project led by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.

But Mr Philippe questioned “whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc… or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire”.

Meanwhile, a copper statue of a cockerel – a symbol of France – that topped the spire was recovered from the rubble, the culture ministry said. It was “battered but apparently restorable”, a spokesman added.

So far, €800m ($902m; £692m) has already been pledged by a number of companies and business tycoons to help rebuild the Unesco World Heritage site.

Mr Philippe promised “every euro paid for the construction of Notre-Dame will serve this purpose and nothing else”, while also announcing a tax reduction for those donating towards the reconstruction.

The cause of the fire is unknown but an investigation is under way.

What is the damage?

The blaze, which began on Monday evening and was not fully extinguished until almost 15 hours later, destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and led to the collapse of its famous spire.

Firefighters have used a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed

Photos appear to show that at least one of the famed rose windows has survived but there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. The 18th Century organ has not been burned but it is not clear if it is damaged.

It was still too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the Fondation du Patrimoine, an independent non-profit heritage group.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said the structure was in good condition “overall” but that “some vulnerabilities” had been identified in the stone vaults and the remainder of the ceiling.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, he said.

In his speech Mr Macron heaped praise on the fire services, saying they took “extreme risks” to tackle the blaze.

Graphic showing scale of damage to Notre-Dame
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What happens next?

Investigators trying to establish the cause of the fire have begun questioning workers from five companies involved in the renovations that were under way at the cathedral. Officials believe the works could be linked to the disaster.

“Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act,” said public prosecutor Rémy Heitz, adding that he expected to be a “long and complex” case.

Offers of help to rebuild the cathedral have come from several world leaders, groups and individuals, including:

  • Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, who pledged €100m
  • Bernard Arnault’s family and their company LVMH, a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora, who pledged €200m
  • French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family promised to give €200m while oil giant Total pledged €100m

Culture Minister Franck Riester said some of the artwork and religious items rescued would be sent to the Louvre museum where they would be kept and eventually restored.

Notre-Dame fire: International call for architects to design new spire
A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral

They include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown to Paris.

Work to remove the cathedral’s paintings will begin on Friday, Mr Riester said.

Germany news: German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Germany CRISIS: Strongest exporting state could face damages worth BILLIONS from Brexit

GERMANY’S strongest exporting state could face crippling damages worth billions to the Bavarian economy if Britain exits the European Union without a deal, it has been warned.

Bavaria’s economics minister Hubert Aiwanger said his state is keeping a close eye on Brexit updates in anticipation for a disorderly exit, which he claims could erupt a devastating impact on the German economy. The Munich Economic Institute ifo has already predicted how expensive a hard Brexit could become for the Bavarian economy, with the group forecasting the state could see around £1.2 billion (€1.4 billion) less economic output per year. Speaking this week, Mr Aiwanger shared these fears as he warned: “We take the development very seriously. “We see damages heading for the Bavarian economy that are worth billions, if there is no order.”

Economist Gabriel Felbermayr from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy is also predicting more than a billion pounds could be lost if a hard Brexit takes place.

He said: “And in such a worst-case scenario, there would be damages to the Bavarian economy worth up to 1.4, perhaps 1.8 billion euros…“

Bavaria has a particular interest in Brexit as Britain is the fourth largest export market for the German state, which especially makes cars and planes to be sold to the UK.

Investors have breathed a sigh of relief on the the latest Brexit developments as Prime Minister Theresa May secured a delay to Britain cutting ties with the bloc.

The new deadline for Britain leaving has been set for October 31, with traders viewing this as a greater opportunity for Parliament to thrash out the final details of the withdrawal agreement.

The delay sent German investor morale higher, improving for the sixth month in a row due to more time to work out Brexit, according to a survey released today.

The ZEW research institute said its monthly survey showed economic sentiment among investors improved to 3.1 from -3.6 in March.

Economists had expected a smaller increase to 0.8.

A separate gauge measuring investors’ assessment of the economy’s current conditions fell to 5.5 from 11.0 in the previous month.

Markets had predicted a dip to 8.0.

Germany news: Bavaria’s economics minister Hubert Aiwanger 

However, the growth outlook for Europe’s largest economy remains clouded by external risks.

The German government is expected to slash its 2019 growth forecast later this week as exporters struggle with weaker demand from abroad and trade tensions with the United States.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government will update its growth forecasts for this year and next on Wednesday.

ZEW President Achim Wambach said the slight improvement in economic sentiment was largely based on the hope that the global economy would develop less poorly than previously assumed.

He said: “The postponement of the Brexit deadline may also have contributed to buoy the economic outlook.”

Recent German data has painted a mixed picture of the economy, as industrial orders tumbled and manufacturing output stagnated in February while construction boomed and retail sales rose more than expected in the same month.

Germany CRISIS: Strongest exporting state could face damages worth BILLIONS from Brexit
Ludovic Marin, AFP | Roses have been laid near Notre-Dame-de Paris Cathedral a day after a fire devastated the cathedral in central Paris on April 16, 2019.

We will rebuild’: Macron vows to retore Notre-Dame within five years

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame “even more beautifully” within five years, as all of France’s cathedrals prepared to ring their bells on Wednesday to mark 48 hours since the colossal fire began.

The blaze on Monday gutted the great Paris landmark destroying the roof, causing the steeple to collapse and leaving France reeling with shock.

Emmanuel Macron announced the fast timescale for restoration — a process some experts said would take decades — in an address to the nation where he hailed how the disaster had shown the capacity of France to mobilise and unite.

Pledges worth around 700 million euros ($790 million) have already been made from French billionaires and businesses to restore the Gothic masterpiece.

An unknown number of artefacts and paintings have been lost and the main organ, which had close to 8,000 pipes, has also suffered damage.

But the cathedral’s walls, bell towers and the most famous circular stained-glass windows at France’s most visited tourist attraction remain intact.

Macron’s defiant comments indicated he wants the reconstruction of the cathedral to be completed by the time Paris hosts the Olympic Games in 2024.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said from the Elysee Palace. “And we can do it.”

Macron said that the dramatic fire had brought out the best in a country riven with divisions and since November shaken by sometimes violent protests against his rule.

“Our history never stops and that we will always have trials to overcome,” he added.

The bells of all cathedrals in France will sound at 6:50 pm (1650 GMT) on Wednesday, 48 hours after the fire started.

‘Saved in half an hour’

Images from inside the cathedral showed its immense walls standing proud, with statues still in place and a gleaming golden cross above the altar.

However the floor was covered in charred rubble from the fallen roof and water while parts of the vaulting at the top of the cathedral had collapsed.

Junior interior minister Laurent Nunez told reporters at the scene that work to secure the structure would continue into Thursday, allowing firefighters access to remove remaining artefacts and artworks.

He said the building had been saved within a critical time window of 15-30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters who worked flat out through the night.

Though “some weaknesses” in the 850-year-old structure had been identified, overall it is “holding up OK”, he added.

Renovation work on the steeple, where workers were replacing its lead covering, is widely suspected to have caused the inferno.

Investigators interviewed witnesses and began speaking with employees of five different construction companies that were working on the monument, said public prosecutor Remy Heitz.

“Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act,” Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to what he expected to be a “long and complex” case.

A public appeal for funds drew immediate support from French billionaires and other private donors as well as from countries including Germany, Italy and Russia which offered expertise.

French billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH luxury conglomerate, rival high-end designer goods group Kering, Total oil company and cosmetics giant L’Oreal each pledged 100 million euros or more.

Support came from outside France as well, with Apple chief Tim Cook announcing the tech giant would give an unspecified amount.

But experts had warned a full restoration will take many years.

“I’d say decades,” said Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral.

Treasures evacuated

Thousands of Parisians and tourists watched in horror Monday as flames engulfed the building and rescuers tried to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s treasures.

Many more came Tuesday to the banks of the river Seine to gaze at where the roof and steeple once stood.

A firefighter suffered injuries during the blaze, which at one point threatened to bring down one of the two monumental towers on the western facade of the cathedral that is visited by 13 million tourists each year.

The Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, was saved by firefighters, as was a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis IX.

Rescuers formed a human chain at the site of the disaster to evacuate as many artefacts as possible, which were then stocked temporarily at the Paris town hall.

Young recruits based on the Baltic island of Gotland, seen here undergoing routine training, are at the forefront of Sweden's efforts to bolster its military as Stockholm worries about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic Young recruits based on the Baltic island of Gotland, seen here undergoing routine training, are at the forefront of Sweden's efforts to bolster its military as Stockholm worries about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic AFP

Amid worries over Russia, Sweden returns troops to Baltic island

Under an icy rain, camouflage-clad Swedish soldiers crouched behind a log pile, aimed their machine guns towards the Baltic Sea and, at their officers’ barked orders, opened fire down the snow-covered range.

A few kilometres away another group wrapped in thick winter jackets, body armour and helmets fired anti-tank missiles, throwing up sprays of ice and snow behind them as instructors watched the orange rockets streak down the range.

It was routine training for the young recruits based on the Baltic island of Gotland, but these troops are at the forefront of Sweden’s efforts to bolster its military as Stockholm worries about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.

Following the annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine, incidents of Russian military jets approaching Swedish aircraft around the Baltic and the 2014 sighting of a mystery sub ?- suspected to be Russian, which Moscow denied — near Stockholm, Sweden has scrambled to beef up a military that was cut back after the end of the Cold War.

The Nordic nation, which has not been to war in two centuries, reintroduced limited conscription in 2017, stepped up defence spending and placed a garrison on Gotland in January 2018.

Taking a break from the target practice by a campfire on the icy ground near the firing ranges, Ida Delin, a young lance-corporal from Gothenburg who is a part of the new garrison, was upbeat about her posting to the island.

“Everybody feels it’s very important, what we’re doing really matters for Sweden,” she said, the collar of her camouflage smock pulled up around her ears to protect against the cold.

– Rebuilding the garrison –

Gotland’s location in the Baltic has long given it a high strategic value, giving its owner the ability to dominate nearby air and seaways, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said.

But regional developments, from Russia’s 2008 conflict with Georgia to the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, prompted a rethink in Sweden.

“I don’t talk about the threat directly to Sweden, I talk about a security situation that is worse today than 10 years ago,” Hultqvist told AFP. “Because of that we have upgraded our national military capability.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has long denounced the “myth of a Russian threat” in Europe and accused Western powers of destabilising the continent.

Down the road from the firing ranges, the regiment paraded under a leaden sky to mark the anniversary of the creation of the first unit on the island in 1811, presided over by the unit’s mascot — a ram named Harald V -? and its commander, Colonel Mattias Ardin, a powerfully built native of the island tasked with rebuilding the garrison.

The 50-year-old started his military career at the garrison in the twilight years of the Cold War, when non-aligned Sweden eyed the USSR warily — its navy chased suspected Soviet submarines from its waters and it maintained a conscript army to watch its borders.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Sweden cut defence spending, doing away with its regiment on Gotland in 2005 and selling its barracks.

But with the conflict in Ukraine and rising tensions between Moscow and the European Union, Sweden’s parliament voted to return troops to the island again in 2016.

“We have a strong Russia that has a lot more military activity than before and we see what is happening in Ukraine, so we see a deteriorating security situation,” Ardin said after the ceremony.

Nearby, bulldozers and diggers worked on new facilities for the 282 full-time soldiers that make up the garrison and that will shelter the several dozen tanks and armoured vehicles based there.

– ‘Everyone will be affected’ –

Sweden’s decision to boost its presence in the Baltic can also be seen as a message to its neighbours.

NATO has deployed troops to the Baltic states and Poland as part of its response to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and although Sweden is not a member of the alliance it has increased cooperation with it, dispatching troops to take part in military exercises in Norway last November.

The official view is also that if any war does take place in the Baltic region, then we will all be affected,” said Robert Dalsjo of the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

The tall stone walls around the island’s medieval capital Visby testify to Gotland’s turbulent history -? it was fought over by Swedes, Danes, Germans and Teutonic Knights and it was even briefly occupied by Russia during the Napoleonic wars.

News of the army’s return prompted some objections from the community, but other residents were more sanguine about the changes.

Outside his office on a street leading up to the Old City walls, Niclas Bylund, a project manager, saw unexpected positives for the island.

“We have people moving here with their families, more people to spend money in the shops,” he shrugged. “A more lively island in the low season,” he smiled.

Unpatriotic’ Afghan war film angers Russian veterans

Russian veterans want to ban a film about Soviet troops in Afghanistan they say is “unpatriotic,” while the director insists it is an honest account of a disastrous conflict.

“Brotherhood” is distributed by the local arm of Walt Disney and is sharply different in tone from recent patriotic war blockbusters.

Shot by renowned Russian director Pavel Lungin, it shows Soviet soldiers getting drunk and looting during the chaotic final months of the Soviet-Afghan war.

The conflict with the Mujahideen lasted from 1979 to 1989 and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet soldiers.

The conflict with the Mujahideen lasted from 1979 to 1989 and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet soldiers.

The movie’s release date was set for May 9, a public holiday when Russia celebrates victory over the Nazis in World War II with a massive military parade on Red Square.

But this is now uncertain after protests from veterans and relatives of those killed in the war, who say the film insults those who fought.

The movie is a “classic example of mud-slinging Russophobia,” wrote Boris Gromov, the former commander of the main Soviet contingent in Afghanistan, in a letter to the culture ministry, which controls cinema releases.

“Brotherhood” depicts Soviet troops as “a rabble of degenerates, thieves, swindlers, murderers and scoundrels,” complained Gromov, the head of an association of more than 10,000 veterans, who is demanding the ministry deny permission for the film’s release.

Another former combattant, Igor Morozov, now the head of the Russian upper house of parliament’s culture commission, told AFP that Lungin “has made an unpatriotic film that deters young people from serving in the army.”

The film “shows our troops looting caravans, fighting and drinking on every street corner,” he complained, saying it “sullies the memory of Soviet dead” and “damages the country’s image.”

The war ended with Moscow’s humiliating withdrawal from the country and was denounced even by Soviet leadership at the time as a foreign policy blunder.

– Wounds of Afghanistan, Chechnya –

Russia’s culture officials have massively stepped up efforts to fund and promote cinema that positively depicts Soviet history including World War II.

Other recent state-funded pictures have highlighted sporting triumphs and the space race, and have put a positive spin on the annexation of Crimea.

Last year the culture ministry banned British director Armando Iannucci’s black comedy “The Death of Stalin”.

And this year the director of a Russian comedy set during the World War II Siege of Leningrad opted to release his film online rather than apply for a cinematic release, after it prompted outrage from lawmakers.

“Brotherhood” director Lungin told AFP that he was “shocked by this new type of censorship from below” — led by influential veteran groups rather than culture ministry officials.

“I wanted to make an honest film for young people so that they could identify with those guys who were lost in the middle of the war,” he said.

Lungin stressed the fact that the idea for the film came from a former director of Russia’s security service, Nikolai Kovalyov, who was involved in episodes of the conflict.

Shortly before his death aged 70 this month, Kovalyov “congratulated me on the result and gave his blessing to the film,” said Lungin.

We have to stop glorifying our history and start talking about the wounds left by the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya.”

The controversy over the film comes shortly after the 30th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal in March.

Some former combatants have attempted to recast the painful historic episode as having been justified by the interests of national security.

European voters urged to mobilise behind child climate activists

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg holds back tears at a European Parliament committee where she warned that time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg holds back tears at a European Parliament committee where she warned that time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming (AFP Photo/FREDERICK FLORIN.

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) – Sweden’s teenage activist Greta Thunberg choked backed tears on Tuesday as she warned of climate disaster and urged Europeans to vote in next month’s elections to press for decisive action on cutting greenhouse gases.

In a speech to a packed committee of the European Parliament, Thunberg, 16, warned time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming.

“I want you to panic, I want you to act as if the house was on fire,” Thunberg told the environment committee of the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.

Citing scientific reports endorsed by the United Nations and holding back her tears, she warned of accelerating disasters like mass species extinction, erosion of top soil, deforestation, air pollution, loss of insects and the acidification of oceans.

She received a warm round of applause before composing herself and continuing her speech.

“You need to listen to us, we who cannot vote,” Thunberg said, referring to the tens of thousands of students taking to the streets worldwide to fight climate change.

“You need to vote for us, for your children and grandchildren,” she said. “In this election, you vote for the future living conditions for human kind.”

Voters in EU countries will elect on May 23-26 a new European Parliament, which will also play a role in chosing the head of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

– ‘Hijacked for political ends’ –

During a visit to Brussels in February, Thunberg urged the European Union to double its ambition for greenhouse gas cuts, upping its target from 40 percent to 80 percent by 2030.

Under the 2015 Paris climate deal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the 28-nation EU has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990.

EU officials are now talking of increasing the figure to 45 percent.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has said warming is on track toward an unliveable 3C or 4C rise, and avoiding global chaos will require a major transformation.

Thunberg has inspired tens of thousands of children worldwide to boycott classes to draw attention to climate change.

Around 100 young people marched Tuesday through the streets of Strasbourg to the parliament building to press for urgent action against climate change.

Francoise Grossetete, a French member of the European Parliament, said she would skip the committee hearing because she strongly objected to Thunberg’s alarmist stand that in her view is anti-economic growth.

Thunberg has become “the symbol of this just environmental cause that is hijacked for political ends” by environmental lobbies, said Grosssete, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party.

The Swede hit global headlines with her speech in December at a UN climate meeting in Poland and has received support from climate activists.

Notre Dame fire – updates: Paris cathedral could take decades to be rebuilt after ‘tragedy with a European dimension’

Millions pledged to help restoration work as world reacts to devastation

The fire which devastated, Notre Dame cathedral, thought to have been caused by an accident rather than arson, the public prosecutor has said, as investigators work to establish what led the centuries-old architectural masterpiece to be consumed by flames.

Wealthy French benefactors have pledged hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the famous building after its roof and spire were ravaged by the blaze.

However, architects have warned the work to repair the building could take decades.

Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II have led a global outpouring of grief for the cathedral, as work begins on assessing the damage following firefighters’ 14-hour battle to extinguish flames.

Donald Trump has expressed condolences to French president Emmanuel Macron over the Notre Dame fire during a phone call on Tuesday and offered US assistance in the rehabilitation of the cathedral, the White House said.
“Notre Dame will continue to serve as a symbol of France, including its freedom of religion and democracy,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We remember with grateful hearts the tolling of Notre Dame’s bells on 12 September, 2001, in solemn recognition of the tragic 11 September attacks on American soil. Those bells will sound again.”

Historic England has offered to support France’s efforts to restore Notre Dame Cathedral.
Chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “We are shocked and devastated by the terrible fire at Notre Dame de Paris and the extent of damage to one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe – a symbol of France and an extraordinary example of Gothic architecture. “We are in contact with friends and colleagues in France and stand ready to offer any support that might assist in the challenging work that lies ahead to secure Notre Dame and plan for its future.”

Opinion: Notre Dame shows the raw power of cathedrals – just as the far right tries to hijack Christianity

Extremists are increasingly using the church as a symbol of a white immigrant-free Europe that must be salvaged at all costs

Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he too was “utterly heartbroken” to learn of the fire. Charles, who has expressed strong feelings about protecting traditional architecture, said in a message to Mr Macron: “I realise only too well what a truly special significance the cathedral holds at the heart of your nation; but also for us all outside France it represents one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilisation.”
He added: “It is a treasure for all mankind and, as such, to witness its destruction in this most dreadful conflagration is a shattering tragedy, the unbearable pain of which we all share.”

Queen Elizabeth has sent a message to French president Emmanuel Macron to say she was deeply saddened by the fire which engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral and that her prayers were with all of France, Buckingham Palace said. “Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral,” Queen Elizabeth’s message said. “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument. “My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Czech president Milos Zeman is offering France the expertise and assistance of leading Czech specialists.
In a letter to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, Mr Zeman said the Czech Republic is, like France, a country with many Gothic and medieval historic buildings and palaces. Mr Zeman said “the fire of Notre Dame affects us all”. Mr Zeman offered teams of top restoration experts that work at Prague Castle, the historic seat of Czech presidency, which includes St Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic architectural masterpiece. Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said his country is also ready to send France financial assistance.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner said there are still some risks that may endanger the structure of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Mr Castaner told reporters after a brief visit to the cathedral it is “under permanent surveillance because it can still budge”. He added that state employees will need to wait 48 hours before being able to safely enter the cathedral and take care of the art works that are still there. Some were too big to be transferred. Mr Castaner said: “We will be standing at [Notre Dame’s] bedside.”

Our shock at the damage to Note Dame is “to do with the sudden and gaping loss of something we assumed was permanent”, writes architecture critic Jay Merrick

The burning of Notre Dame is proof that truly great architecture has a hallucinatory power.

Bells at churches and cathedrals across England are to be rung in solidarity with France, Downing Street has announced.

The bells at Westminster Abbey will toll at 5.43pm this evening to mark the moment the fire began.

Other churches and cathedrals across the country will follow suit on Thursday.

Theresa May said the gesture would “underline our solidarity with France and her people”.

Experts from Historic England are also coordinating with colleagues across the UK heritage sector to make an offer of support to their French counterparts once the damage has been assessed.

The prime minister said: “Notre Dame is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – a symbol of France and the French people, and cherished across the globe. The images of destruction we saw last night were truly heart-rending.

“President Macron has pledged to rebuild the cathedral and I have conveyed to him that the UK will support this endeavour however we can.

“When it comes to the task of rebuilding, French craftsmen and women are among the finest in the world. As they prepare to embark on this daunting task, we stand ready to offer any UK experience and expertise that could be helpful in the work that lies ahead to restore this magnificent cathedral.”

French energy company Total has pledged €100m (£87m) towards Notre Dame repairs, bringing the total amount of funding offered by businesses and tycoons to more than €600m (£519m).

The oil and gas giant said it would donate “to help the construction of this architectural jewel”.

L’Oreal, the French cosmetics firm, has pledged to give the same amount to rebuild “a symbol of French heritage and of our common history.”

Rival billionaire fashion tycoons Francois-Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault, earlier pledged €100m and €200m (£174m) respectively.

Emmanuel Macron to hold a full day of cabinet meetings fully dedicated to the aftermath of the fire tomorrow.

The French president’s office said a morning session would be followed by another in the afternoon focusing on the national fund-raising campaign and reconstruction work. 

Mr Macron is to speak by phone with Pope Francis later today. 

He has postponed a speech and a news conference aimed at responding to the yellow vest crisis for an indefinite period, to respect “a moment of great national emotion.”

Mr Macron was initially planning to announce measures this week addressing the concerns of anti-government protesters. 

The French Bishops’ Conference says that the bells of all cathedrals across the country will ring on Wednesday at 6.50pm, the time when the fire started on Monday.
On Tuesday the Bishops’ Conference said in a statement that this will show the solidarity of all dioceses toward Paris and said the fire at Notre Dame “is a shock that affects far beyond just the Catholics of our country.”
France has 103 Catholic cathedrals.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner has arrived at Notre Dame to see the damage caused by the fire and speak to firefighters who worked to extinguish the blaze.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has said the company will donate to help restore Notre Dame.

French firefighters have sent a drone over Notre Dame to survey the damage caused by the blaze.

Denis Jachiet, deputy bishop of the cathedral, said there would be no Easter celebrations in Notre Dame this year.
He said: “It’s impossible to enter into the cathedral so these religious celebrations will take place in other churches. “For the religious I think there is really an invitation to prayer and the internalisation of this situation.” He continued:The fire department told us that they at first tried to confine this blaze, it was impossible to put it out – no human could have done that. But it was certainly possible to contain it. They battled to contain it to preventing from spreading from the interior of the spire. They succeeded in saving the tower and therefore saved the facade. The bishop said the emergency services had worked through the night to remove works of art and take them to safe keeping. I feel the greatest sadness for this disaster. In around one hour it destroyed something that had spanned almost nine centuries.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the message of encouragement to France after the Notre Dame Cathedral fire should be that “it’s not the end of the world” and that the damage will be repaired.
Mr Tusk told Polish reporters in Strasbourg after a European Parliament debate on Brexit it was the duty of all Europeans and all Poles to give France courage after this “dramatic” event. Recalling his native Poland’s efforts to rebuild its cities, many reduced to rubble, after the Second World War, Mr Tusk said his compatriots “have the right and the duty to say – ‘You will manage, this is not the end of the world'”.

French cosmetics group L’Oreal, along with owners the Bettencourt Meyers family and a linked charitable foundation, have said they will donate €200m (£172m) for repairs to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The director of Unesco has said expert work must be carried out immediately to protect Notre Dame Cathedral’s remaining structure.
Audrey Azoulay said it is too early to say whether the treasured rose windows of Notre Dame are unscathed because art experts have not been able to study the site yet. She said the first 24-48 hours are crucial to protecting the stone and wood structure from water damage and assessing next steps. She warned parts of the cathedral remain “extremely fragile”, notably hundreds of tonnes of scaffolding set up around the cathedral spire that collapsed. She said Notre Dame has “a particular place in the world’s collective imagination”. Notre Dame is part of a Unesco heritage site that includes the surrounding quais and islands, and Unesco has offered its expertise to help rebuild.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of Paris fire brigade, has been hailed as a hero entering the burning Notre Dame cathedral to recover the famous Crown of Thorns.

Mr Fournier insisted on being allowed to enter the edifice with fire fighters and played a role in the relic’s rescue, according to Philippe Goujon, mayor of Paris’s 15th district.

The chaplain’s bravery had previously been noted after the November 2016 Bataclan terror attack, when he tended to the injured at the music venue and prayed over the dead.

Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” has rocketed to the top of the bestseller list of Amazon in France in its original version. 
Meanwhile, the English translation of the 1831 novel is also number one in sales in the category of historical fiction. 
Telling the story of Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer of the cathedral in the 15th century, the book helped rally support for Notre Dame’s massive renovation later in the 19th century. 
Campaigning for the preservation of the cathedral, Hugo described it as crumbling and marked by “countless defacements and mutilations,” contributing to alert the public about the issue. 

British defence secretary Gavin Williamson has responded to MPs’ concerns that parliament could suffer a similar fate to Notre Dame.

Politicians including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had urged for the Paris blaze to act as a warning over the crumbling Westminster estate.

Mr Williamson said: 

It is important that the investment is made in the parliamentary buildings to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again.

That is why it is the right thing to do to be making the investments that are in order to ensure that such an iconic building such as the Palace of Westminster isn’t vulnerable to fire as well.

I think that the House authorities have been very clear in terms of their commitment to making this happen.

I know that you see around parliament today a vast amount of investment that’s already been undertaken in order to be able to ensure that the work that needs to be done to Parliament is being done to Parliament.

With what Andrea (Leadsom, Leader of the House) is doing in terms of leading that restoration and renewal, the right attitude and the right approach has been taken by the house authorities.

The chief architect of Cologne cathedral has predicted it could take decades to repair the damage Notre Dame cathedral.

Peter Fuessenich, who oversees all construction work for the Gothic cathedral in the German city, told broadcaster RTL on Tuesday that “it will certainly take years, perhaps even decades, until the last damage caused by this terrible fire will be completely repaired.” 

Cologne cathedral was heavily damaged during World War II and work to repair it is still ongoing more than 70 years later. 

Fuessenich called the fire in Paris “a tragedy with a European dimension” as many churches and cathedrals across the continent were inspired by buildings in France. He said “when the last stone was set in Notre Dame, the first one was laid here in Cologne, and in this respect it affects us all very much.” 

The timbered roof of Cologne cathedral’s was replaced with an iron frame during the 19th century, meaning a fire there would be less devastating. 

All of the “most precious” treasures in Notre Dame were rescued, says French culture minister Franck Riester.

Some of them will be placed in the Louvre as early as today.

Mr Riester told a press conference: 

First of all the treasures, the most precious ones, were saved last night and stored at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, and I’d like to thank the town hall of Paris, and also the teams of ministry of culture, the fire officers and also everyone who really tried to save the crown (of thorns) and various other treasures.

Some of them will also be placed in the Louvre today or tomorrow, as soon as possible. As far as the major paintings, they will in fact only be withdrawn from Notre Dame probably on Friday morning.

They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored.

A number of parts of Notre Dame’s structure “have been identified as particularly vulnerable” but “what remains of the roof should hold”, France’s culture minister Franck Riester has said.

Architects and firefighters have this morning been assessing damage to the cathedral.

Mr Riester said the structure was largely still “sound” and large paintings, despite suffering some fire damage, were mostly still intact.

Artworks salvaged from Notre Dame cathedral are to be transferred to Paris’s Louvre museum, the French culture minister has said.

My colleague Simon Calder has taken a look at the implications of the fire for the city’s tourism industry, and you can read that Here.

British MPs have warned the Palace of Westminster is at risk of a “huge” fire on the scale of the blaze which has devastated Notre Dame.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the inferno in Paris should act as a warning over the crumbling state of buildings in Westminster, which are in need of multibillion-pound restorations.

He said: “You can see the majesty and beauty of that building and to see it destroyed is devastating, I think, for everybody in Paris and indeed around the world, because you see beautiful buildings like that and think of the beautiful buildings we’ve got in this country.

“If any of those were destroyed in fire, how would we feel about it?”

Politicians have acknowledged that action is needed to safeguard the Houses of Parliament but have spent years wrangling over the best way to proceed.

A “restoration and renewal” programme is not expected to start in earnest until the mid-2020s after MPs and peers voted in early 2018 to leave the historic building to allow the work to be carried out.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who sat on a joint committee of parliamentarians from both Houses which examined the issue, said: “We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place.

“Parts of the Palace are as old as Notre Dame and we must make sure that every fire precaution is taken as the major work goes ahead. God knows we’ve had enough warnings.”

The joint committee noted in a 2016 report that “a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace”.

Queen Elizabeth II has sent a message to French president Emmanuel Macron, saying she was “deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral” and extending her “sincere admiration to the emergency services”. 

She added: “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Newspapers around the world splashed images of the Notre Dame inferno on their front pages today. Cyril Petit, an editor at Le Journal du Dimanche, tweeted this mosaic of international coverage: 

Two police officers and one firefighter were “lightly wounded” during the nine-hour effort to extinguish the blaze, Paris’s fire brigade has said.

More than 400 firefighters were involved. 

Officials previously said, that one firefighter had been seriously injured. 

Twelve construction workers involved renovating Notre Dame’s renovation at time of the fire have already been interviewed by French police, reports Le Monde.

Forty detectives have been deployed to collect witness testimonies as they look to establish what caused the blaze.

Police said last night they had opened an investigation into “involuntary destruction by fire” and did not believe the flames were started deliberately.

The first images taken in today’s morning light have revealed the extent of the damage to Notre Dame cathedral, writes my colleague Chiara Giordano:

First dawn images show scale of damage to Notre Dame cathedral.

Emmanuel Macron has suspended campaigning for the European elections following the Notre Dame fire. 

French politician Nathalie Loiseau, who is spearheading the campaign for the president’s LREM party, said the decision had been taken to mark this “moment of extreme sadness”. 

The campaign has been halted “until further notice”, she tweeted.

Matteo Salvini has repeatedly clashed with politicians in Europe over his hardline stance against immigration

Italy’s prime minister and Matteo Salvini under investigation over detention of migrants

Investigation concerns minister’s decision to block rescue ship from landing in January

Far-right politician Matteo Salvini, and Italy prime minister have been placed under investigation over the detention of 47 migrants.

Mr Salvini said he was once again under investigation for alleged false imprisonment on Monday after a dispute earlier this year over whether the interior minister and Lega party leader should be tried over the detention of 177 asylum seekers last August.

The current case concerns the decision to prevent migrants from leaving a Sea-Watch rescue ship, which rescued them off the coast of Libya, on 19 January.

Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio and infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli, also face charges with Mr Salvini and Mr Conte.

The 47 migrants were forced to wait off the coast of Sicily for more than a week after the ship was denied the right to dock in Palermo the right to dock in palerma, inspiring an emergency appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and criticism from the, United Nations.

The Sea-Watch ship was only allowed to dock after other European countries agreed to accept the migrants.

Matteo Salvini – Italy, Lega
2/7 Matteo Salvini – Italy, LegaThe leader of Italy’s junior governing party has pledged to deport 500,000 irregular migrants; stated joining the euro was a mistake and wants to end sanctions against Russia. He said: ‘The only antidote to racism is to control, regulate and limit immigration’

In March, senators stopped a criminal case against Mr Salvini for blocking a rescue ship in August after an Italian court ruled that he should be tried.

Mr Salvini has repeatedly clashed with rescue ships and accused charitable organisations of aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

“I am under investigation again, but as long as I am the interior minister, the government colleagues can say what they want, the Italian ports remain closed,” he said, maintaining his hardline stance on immigration.

“Another 18 criminal proceedings can be opened, I don’t change my mind.”

Before the senate vote on Mr Salvini’s case in March, Mr Conte and Mr Di Maio, who leads the Five Star Movement (M5S), formally defended the minister.

“If Salvini is responsible for the seizure [of the boat] then the whole government is responsible,” they said in a statement.

Giorgia Linardi, a spokesperson for Sea-Watch in Italy, said the organisation had worked within the law and was unjustly detained.

“The detention on board for propaganda purposes cannot once again be unjustified, because it is protected be politics,” she said.

“People fleeing Libya must be rescued and protected, not exploited.”

The court will reportedly have three months to decide whether the four politicians should face trial.

If they decide to bring charges, the senate will vote to decide whether their parliamentary immunity should be removed

Italy's Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

Italian governing party wants to ban political science textbook which describes it as ‘far-right’

The book, La Lega di Salvini, was included on the reading list of a political science course at the University of Bologna  

Italy’s governing far-right party has called for a political science textbook which describes it as “extreme right” and xenophobic to be banned from a university course.

La Lega di Salvini, by academics Gianluca Passarelli and Dario Tuorto, describes the message of the League’s leader Salvini’s message as having “fascist traits”.

“The party has taken on the features of an extreme right formation, with racist, xenophobic, politically and socially violent traits,” it says.

But when the book was put on the reading list of political science students at the University of Bologna, League representatives in the university’s region of Emilia Romagna called for action to be taken.

League deputies in the regional assembly says the region should use its anti-discrimination laws to protect students who are ideologically aligned with the party, and who may feel discriminated against in the university course or exam.

“The Region’s anti-discrimination policies also apply to students who feel politically similar to the position of the League party for Salvini Premier or not,” a group of League regional deputies said in a statement.

“The professors, as civil servants, are bound to a duty of loyalty to the State, regardless of which political force governs it, and the universities should not be places of political propaganda and, in the case in question, anti-party.”

They added that “faculties are not places of political propaganda”.

The description of the party in the book is not particularly controversial outside Italy, where the party is routinely described as xenophobic and far-right.

“If we did we would question not our freedom, but that of research and science, protected by the charter.”

The League, previously known as the Northern League, has been a feature of Italian politics for decades – though often in the background. It has gone mainstream in recent years on the back of its anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric.

Its leader, Matteo Salvini, is now deputy prime minister and the country’s interior minister – though he is by far the Italian government’s most prominent representative and is sometimes described as its de facto leader.

The League is in coalition government with the anti-establishment populist Five Star Movement. Since the election that put the pair of parties in power the Five Star Movement’s support has waned while the League’s has grown, according to the latest opinion polls.