#French President Macron postpones TV address amid Notre-Dame fire

French President Emmanuel Macron has postponed an important address to the nation that was to lay out his responses to the yellow vest crisis because of the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Macron was planning to announce on Monday evening a series of measures after three months of a national debate that encouraged ordinary people to propose changes to France’s economy and democracy.

Instead he headed to the scene of the fire,

The French presidency didn’t reschedule the speech yet.

When he does speak, Macron is expected to respond to protesters’ concerns over their loss of purchasing power with possible tax cuts and measures to help retirees and single parents.

Other proposed changes could affect France’s democratic rules. Some observers say Macron may open up the possibility that citizens could propose referendums.

The French leader has repeatedly said he won’t reintroduce a wealth tax on the country’s richest people   one of the protesters’ major demands.

The yellow vest movement prompted by a fuel tax hike in November, has expanded into a broader revolt against Macron’s policies, which protesters see as favoring the rich and big businesses. Their protests, which often turned violent, especially in Paris, provoked a major domestic crisis that sent Macron’s popularity to record low levels.

Still, the number of demonstrators has been falling in recent weeks.

Most yellow vests leaders have urged supporters not to take part in Macron’s national debate, saying they did not believe the government’s offer to listen to the French. Ingrid Levavasseur of the yellow vests published an open letter Monday called “M. President, don’t play the illusionist.” She demanded measures to boost purchasing power and maintain public services.

Macron has already made concessions, but they failed to extinguish the anger of the yellow vest movement. In December, he abandoned the fuel tax hike, scrapped a tax increase for retirees and introduced a 100-euro ($113) monthly bonus to increase the minimum wage, a package estimated at 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion).

EU president Donald Tusk says Brexit can be stopped: ‘We cannot give into fatalism’

The president of the European Council has warned opponents of BREXIT not to “give in to fatalism” and accept Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Speaking in the European Parliament on Tuesday Donald Tusk said Europe and Britain needed “dreams and dreamers” to keep the idea of a united Europe alive and the UK in the EU.

“During the European Council one of the leaders warned us not to be dreamers and that we shouldn’t think that Brexit can be reversed,” Mr Tusk told MEPs in Strasbourg.

“I didn’t respond at the time. But today in front of you I would like to say at this rather difficult moment in our history, that we need the dreamers and dreams. We cannot give into fatalism. At least, I will not stop dreaming about a better and united Europe.”

Mr Tusk says he accepts the result of the EU referendum and that the decision on whether to leave is for the British people; but he has made no secret of the fact he would rather see the UK stay in the bloc.

EU president Donald Tusk says Brexit can be stopped: 'We cannot give into fatalism'

EU leaders last Wednesday agreed to give Britain a long extension of Brexit until 31 October, after Theresa May requested a longer deadline to pass her deal. Mr Tusk defended the length of the extension, which he pushed for – in part because it would give time the UK to “rethink Brexit”.

“In my view it has a few advantages. Only a long extension ensures that all options remain on the table, such as ratification of the current withdrawal agreement, or extra time to rethink Brexit, if that were the risk of the British people,” he said.

“Second, it allows the EU to focus on other priorities that are at least as important, such as trade with the US or the new EU leadership.

“I know that some have expressed fear that the UK might want to disrupt the EU’s functioning during this time. But the EU did not give in to such scaremongering… in fact, since the very beginning of the Brexit process the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU member state. So we have no reason to believe that this should change.

Opposing protesters flock to parliament on would be date of Brexit

1/30Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters attend a rally in Parliament Square after the final leg of the “March to Leave” in London
The protest march which started on March 16 in Sunderland, north east England, finished on what was the original date for Brexit to happen before the recent extension
8/30A Brexit supporter sips a can of Stella in protests outside of the Houses
9/30Dedicated anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray and likewise pro-Brexit campaigner Joseph Afrane go head to head near the Houses of Parliament
10/30A pro-Brexit marching band in Parliament Square
11/30Remain supporters wave EU flags from a bus in Parliament Square
13/30A Brexit supporter protests outside parliament
14/30A Brexit supporter protests outside of the Houses of ParliamentGetty
15/30Brexit supporters protest outside of the Houses of Parliament
17/30The March to Leave nears the Houses of Parliament
18/30A Brexit protester holds a sign outside parliamentEPA
19/30Brexit supporters carry the coffin of democracy
21/30Brexit supporters take part in the March to Leave protest in London
22/30Brexit supporters protest outside parliamentAFP/Getty
23/30A Brexit supporter holds a sign outside the Houses of Parliament
24/30A man holds satirical paintings of politicians
25/30An pro-Brexit float on the March to Leave march in LondonReuters
26/30Far-right activist Tommy Robinson addresses protesters outside the Houses of Parliament

“Third, the flexible extension delays the possibly of a no-deal Brexit by six months. Thanks to this millions of people and businesses have gained at least some certainty in this unstable time.”

But Mr Tusk’s Commission counterpart Jean-Claude Juncker struck a less optimistic tone.

“If the UK has not ratified the withdrawal agreement by [31 October] then there will be a hard Brexit, which we would like to avoid. Of course the UK can request to revoke Article 50 – that is something that’s been made very clear. But that is not my working hypothesis, and it’s not my working hypothesis either that beyond the 31 October we will see another extension.”

Both leaders stressed their preference not to speak about Brexit for a few months. Mr Juncker told MEPs: ”We are on a Brexit break, we are focusing on the very many other issues for our union. With that in mind I want to be very brief.

“We have made sure that we do not need to discuss Brexit every other week and have given the United Kingdom the time and space to find a way out of the impasse.”

President Macron has pledged the cathedral will be rebuilt

Notre-Dame cathedral: Macron pledges reconstruction after fire

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame after a major fire partially destroyed the Paris landmark.

Firefighters managed to save the 850-year-old Gothic building’s main stone structure, including its two towers, but the spire and roof collapsed.

The fire was declared under control almost nine hours after it started.

The cause is not yet clear but officials say it could be linked to extensive renovation works under way.

Paris prosecutor’s office said it was currently being investigated as an accident. A firefighter was seriously injured while tackling the blaze.

Macron: ‘Terrible tragedy’

Visiting the site on Monday night, Mr Macron said the “worst had been avoided” with the preservation of the cathedral’s main structure as he pledged to launch an international fundraising scheme for the reconstruction.

“We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we’ll have for the coming years,” said Mr Macron.

“That’s what the French expect [and] because it’s what our history deserves,” he added, visibly emotional, calling it a “terrible tragedy”.

Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, has already pledged €100m (£86m; $113m) towards rebuilding Notre-Dame, AFP news agency reports.

The French charity Fondation du Patrimoine is launching an international appeal for funds for the cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage site.

French President Emmanuel Macron: “We will rebuild this cathedral”

The fire started at around 18:30 (16:30 GMT) on Monday and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.

Firefighters then spent hours working to prevent one of the iconic bell towers from collapsing. Search teams are now assessing the extent of the damage.

Sections of the building were under scaffolding as part of the renovations and 16 copper statues had been removed last week. Work began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

Mr Macron said the cathedral was “for all French people”, including those who had never been there, and praised the “extreme courage” of the 500 firefighters involved in the operation.

Mayor: ‘Artwork in safe place’

Emergency teams managed to rescue valuable artwork and religious items, including what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, which were stored inside the cathedral built in the 12th and 13th centuries.

A tunic, which King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown of thorns to Paris, was also saved.

“We had a chain of solidarity, especially in saving the works of art… [They] were able to be saved and put in a safe place,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “This is a tragedy for the whole world… Notre-Dame is the entire history of Paris.”

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV that “invaluable heritage” had been destroyed. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre-Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see.”

Damaged parts of cathedral
Presentational grey line

A symbol of a country

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre-Dame de Paris.

Notre-Dame_cathedral_on_fire_in_Paris

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

Reaction: ‘France is crying’

Thousands of people gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze, which happened as Catholics celebrate Holy Week.

“Notre-Dame is burning, France is crying and the whole world, too. It is extremely emotional,” Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit said.

The Vatican expressed “shock and sadness” while UK Prime Minister Theresa May described the fire as “terrible”.

Unesco said it stood “at France’s side to save and restore this priceless heritage” visited by almost 13 million visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower.

INTERACTIVE Notre-Dame cathedral fire

After

Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing

Before

Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.

US President Donald Trump said it was “horrible to watch” the fire and suggested that “flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the blaze.

In an apparent response, the French Civil Security service said that was not an option as it might result in the collapse of the entire building.

Because of the fire, Mr Macron cancelled a speech on TV in which he was due to address the street protests that have rocked France for months.

#Notre-Dame cathedral: Firefighters tackle blaze in Paris

A major fire has engulfed one of France’s most famous landmarks – the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Firefighters are battling to save the 850-year-old Gothic building, but its spire and roof have collapsed.

The cause is not yet clear, but officials say that it could be linked to renovation work.

A Paris fire official said the main structure had now been “saved and preserved”.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire.”

Loud bangs could be heard as flames burst through the cathedral’s roof, also destroying its stain-glass windows.

All efforts are now being put into saving the cathedral’s artwork and preventing the collapse of its northern tower.

Thousands of people have gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around the French capital have been ringing their bells in response to the blaze.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has arrived at the scene, said his thoughts were with “all Catholics and all French people.”

“Like all of my countrymen, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”

The fire department said a major operation was under way

Mr Macron had earlier cancelled an important TV speech to the nation because of the fire, an Élysée Palace official said.

A spokesman for the cathedral said the whole structure was “burning”.

“It remains to be seen whether the vault, which protects the cathedral, will be affected or not”, he said.

INTERACTIVE Notre-Dame cathedral fire

After

Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing

Before

Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV the fire was destroying “invaluable heritage.”

“For 800 years the Cathedral has watched over Paris”, he said.

“Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame.

“We can be only horrified by what we see”.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo urged people to respect the boundaries set up by fire crews in order to ensure that they remain safe.

“There are a lot of art works inside…it’s a real tragedy,” she told reporters.

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre Dame de Paris.

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

Presentational grey line
People watch the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral burning in central Paris on April 15, 2019
The cathedral is visited by millions of people every year

“I have a lot of friends who live abroad and every time they come I tell them to go to Notre-Dame,” eyewitness Samantha Silva told the Reuters news agency.

“I’ve visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It’s a real symbol of Paris.”

The_moment_Notre-Dame’s_spire_fell

US President Donald Trump suggested “perhaps flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the fire.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.

“My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral”, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet.

The Vatican has said news of the fire has caused “shock and sadness,” adding that it was praying for the French fire services.

The Notre-Dame cathedral, a popular tourist attraction, was undergoing renovations after cracks began to appear in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

Last year, the Catholic Church in France appealed for funds to save the building.

Graphic showing location of spire

Facts about Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame_cathedral_on_fire_in_Paris
  • The church receives almost 13m visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower
  • It was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries and is currently undergoing major renovations
  • Several statues of the facade of the Catholic cathedral were removed for renovation
  • The roof, which has been destroyed by the blaze, was made mostly of wood.
Are you in the area? Did you witness the fire? Email, haveyoursayonbbc@yahoo.com
There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell

Notre-Dame fire: Treasures that make it so special

A catastrophic fire has engulfed the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, destroying its roof, toppling the spire and threatening the remaining structure of the building.

The deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, said the cathedral had suffered “colossal damages”, and the emergency services were trying to salvage the art and other priceless pieces stored in the cathedral.

The wooden interior has been destroyed.

But which other features in the 850-year-old Gothic structure make it stand out in a city of iconic buildings?

Rose windows

The South rose window of Notre Dame cathedral

The cathedral has three rose windows dating back to the 13th century, which are among its most famous features. It is unclear whether any of them has survived the fire.

The first, and smallest, on the west facade, was finished in around 1225 and celebrated for the way the glass seemingly upheld the stonework around it.

The south rose has a diameter of nearly 13m (43ft) and is made up of 84 panels.

However, it no longer retains its original stained glass because it was damaged in previous fires.

Two towers

Notre-Dame

Most visitors to Notre-Dame will spend some time standing before two Gothic towers which crown the western facade of the cathedral.

Work on the western facade began in 1200, but the first tower – the north one – was not completed until 40 years later.

Ten years after that, in 1250, the southern tower was completed.

Both towers are 68m high, and climbing the 387 steps gives panoramic views of Paris.

Gargoyles

Gargoyle on Notre Dame

Anyone feeling fit enough to climb the stairs and gain views across Paris will have to pass another of the cathedrals best-known features – the gargoyles.

These mythical creatures are typically composed of more than one animal.

The most famous – known as the “Stryge” gargoyle – sits on top of the building, watching out over the city with its head in its hands.

Bells

Media captionWhy Notre-Dame is getting new bells

The cathedral has 10 bells – the largest, known as Emmanuel, weighs over 23 tonnes and was installed in the south tower in 1685.

The cathedral celebrated its 850th anniversary in 2013 by recasting the smaller bells from the north tower.

Each was blessed with the name of a Saint to replicate the original bells that were melted for cannon balls during the French Revolution.

Writer Victor Hugo used the cathedral as a setting for his 1831 work The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

His main character, Quasimodo, is feared by locals for the way he looks – but finds sanctuary in the cathedral and is employed as a bell-ringer.

Gothic spire

Scene of blaze in Paris
An image of the steeple taken last year, contrasted with Monday’s blaze

Notre-Dame’s famous spire, which collapsed during Monday’s fire, dates back to the 12th Century.

It underwent several changes in the building’s history – including being dismantled during the French Revolution, and later rebuilt in the 1860s.

Reflecting on its collapse, Royal Institute of British Architects said: “The loss of the roof and spire of Notre Dame, and possibly the stone vault too, is an irreplaceable blow to the heritage of French Gothic architecture.

“Our heart goes out to the people of France, and to lovers of our shared cultural heritage wherever they are.”

Relics

Notre-Dame is home to relics from the Passion of Christ, described as a piece of the cross, a nail and the Holy Crown of Thorns.

The crown is said to have been rescued from the flames.

Watching the cathedral go up in flames is deeply upsetting for the locals

What Notre-Dame means to the French

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame.

Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s novel Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre Dame de Paris.

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution, when statues of saints were hacked by anti-clerical hotheads. The building survived the 1871 Commune uprising, as well as two world wars, largely unscathed.

It is impossible to overstate how shocking it is to watch such an enduring embodiment of our country burn.

Locals are not famous for their sunny disposition, but few can walk along the banks of the Seine in the central part of the capital without feeling their spirits rise at the majestic bulk of Notre-Dame.

It is one of the few sights sure to make a Parisian feel good about living there.

What Notre-Dame means to the French
The major operation to try to save the building

Like all cherished places everywhere, it is not one residents visit very often. In the three decades I spent in my native city, I can’t have been inside Notre-Dame more than three or four times – and then only with foreign visitors.

There are many of those. The cathedral is not just the most popular tourist site in Western Europe. Eight centuries after its completion, it is also still a place of worship – about 2,000 services are held there every year.

But it is also much more than a religious site. President Emmanuel Macron has expressed the shock of a “whole nation” at the fire. As Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said, Notre Dame is “part of our common heritage”.

Many of those looking on as flames engulf the building are in tears. Their dismay is shared by believers and non-believers alike in a nation where faith has long ceased to be a binding force.

The spire was quickly engulfed in flames

Images of the blaze at Notre-Dame in Paris

A massive fire has engulfed the Parisian landmark of Notre-Dame, bringing down the cathedral’s spire and roof.

Firefighters have surrounded the iconic 12th Century building, famed for its stained glass, flying buttresses and carved gargoyles.

Crowds of Parisians and tourists looked on as the flames took hold.

Scene of blaze in Paris
The spire was quickly engulfed in flames
Scene of blaze in Paris
An image of the steeple taken last year, contrasted with Monday’s blaze
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Firefighters tackle the blaze as dusk draws in
Scene of blaze in Paris
The extent of the blaze could be seen from a huge distance
Before and after at Notre-Dame
Scene of blaze in Paris
The damage to the iconic building will have a lasting impact on the French people
Scene of blaze in Paris

All images subject to copyright

Italian police arrest 34 people in ‘bone-breaking’ scam

Italian police have arrested 34 people allegedly involved in a “bone-breaking” medical insurance scam in Palermo, Sicily.

The perpetrators allegedly broke people’s limbs and staged road accidents in exchange for part of their insurance payout.

The scam was first uncovered when one individual died after being beaten, police say.

Eleven people were arrested over similar activity last August.

The perpetrators allegedly broke people’s limbs and staged road accidents in exchange for part of their insurance payout.

The scam was first uncovered when one individual died after being beaten, police say.

Eleven people were arrested over similar activity last August.

Police said the organised criminal enterprise had focused on drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill, and others “on the margins of society” in financial need.

More than 50 people were allegedly taken to “rooms of horror” in apartments or warehouses.

The victims were anaesthetised with drugs and had their limbs held on blocks of stone or cement, which were hit with bags of weights or large rocks.

Fake car accidents were later staged in areas of the city not covered by CCTV cameras, and gang members would take the victims to hospital, posing as relatives.

In another case, the group staged a fake accident on a ferry from Palermo to Genoa, with the victim alleging he had fallen down the ship’s stairs, Italian media say.

The victims were allegedly paid hundreds of euros under the scheme, despite their insurance claims being worth thousands.

Among those arrested are doctors and physiotherapists who allegedly filed false medical reports, and a lawyer who filed the insurance claims.

Local media report that the scheme brought in more than €2m (£1.7m; $2.26) a year.

Antti Rinne: "We are the largest party in Finland"

Finland election: Tough coalition talks after split poll

The Social Democratic Party has won a narrow victory in Finland’s general election with 17.7% of the vote.

But the far-right Finns Party was close behind on 17.5%, while the Centre Party of outgoing PM Juha Sipila saw its support crash by a third to 13.8%.

“For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland,” said SDP leader Antti Rinne.

But with the vote split and no party winning by a clear margin, it may be hard to build a workable coalition.

The Greens and the Left Alliance also increased their share of the vote.

It is the first time in more than a century that no party has won more than 20% of the vote.

Voter turnout was 72%.

The Social Democrats have won 40 seats in the 200-seat parliament, one more than the Finns Party.

At the last election in 2015, the Finns Party won 38 seats, but MPs split after a leadership election in 2017.

For Jussi Halla-aho, who has led the Finns Party since then, the rebuilding of the party’s parliamentary block was a cause for celebration.

“I could not expect a result like this, and no-one could, ” he told supporters on Sunday evening.

Mr Halla-aho had urged people to “vote for some borders” during the election campaign.

Before the election, most other parties ruled out any coalition with the Finns Party.

Jussi Halla-aho, Finns Party leader, 14 April 2019
Jussi Halla-aho: “I could not expect a result like this”

How did we get here?

Last month, Mr Sipila’s government resigned over its failure to achieve a key policy goal on social welfare and healthcare reform. His Centre Party had been in a centre-right coalition government since 2015.

Concerned about Finland’s expensive welfare system in the face of an ageing population, Mr Sipila made tackling the nation’s debt one of his government’s main aims, introducing planning reforms he hoped would save up to €3bn (£2.6bn; $3.4bn) over a decade.


More about Finland’s welfare experiment:

Finland’s basic income trial

But while the introduction of austerity measures – such as benefits cuts and pension freezes – resulted in Finland reducing its government debt for the first time in a decade last year, the reforms proved politically controversial.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party, a centre-left party with strong links to Finland’s trade unions, saw its popularity grow.

Why has this happened now?

The Social Democrats campaigned on a pledge to strengthen Finland’s welfare system.

Mr Rinne earlier described Mr Sipila’s policies as unfair, and said taxes needed to be raised to combat inequality.

One of Mr Rinne’s election pledges was to raise the state pension for those taking home €1,400 a month by €100, a move he said would help “more than 55,000 pensioners escape poverty”.

A nurse assists an elderly resident at the public care unit Heikanrinne in Forssa, Finland, 2 April 2019
Finland’s ageing population is putting pressure on its social welfare systems

Balancing taxes and spending is problematic for any government, and Finland’s personal income tax rate – at 51.6% – is among the highest in Europe.

However, a poll commissioned by the tax authority in 2017 found that 79% of Finns questioned were happy with their taxes.

Why is Finland’s welfare system an issue?

Like many developed nations, Finland has an ageing population that is putting financial pressure on its social welfare systems.

As an increasing number of people live longer in retirement, the cost of providing pension and healthcare benefits can rise. Those increased costs are paid for by taxes collected from the working-age population – who make up a smaller percentage of the population than in decades past.

In 2018, those aged 65 or over made up 21.4% of Finland’s population, the joint fourth highest in Europe alongside Germany – with only Portugal, Greece, and Italy having a higher proportion, according to Eurostat.

Finland’s welfare system is also generous in its provisions, making it relatively expensive. Attempts at reform have plagued Finnish governments for years.

In February this year, caring for the nation’s elderly returned to the top of the political agenda amid reports that alleged neglect in care homes may have resulted in injury or death, according to YLE.

Finland’s basic income trial

€560

Monthly income for two years

  • €20m Cost to government
  • 8.1% Unemployment rate
  • 5,503,347 Finnish population

Kela, Statistics FinlandEPA

What are the other key issues?

Immigration has become an important topic following reports of alleged sexual assaults by foreign men. As a result, support has risen for the Finns Party, which has promised to cut immigration and enforce stricter asylum rules. Other parties have also pledged to crack down on migrants who commit crime.

Another key issue is climate change. Following the release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, almost all parties have vowed to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees, the New York Times reports.

But the Finns Party has not campaigned for greater environmental controls.

“Finland isn’t capable of saving the world,” Mr Halla-aho says.

“We have already done our part.”

Today’s result could also be felt outside Finland’s borders, as the country is set to take presidency of the European Union in July. The Finns Party’s success could affect EU policy making.

The party has already announced an alliance with Germany’s far-right AfD, Italy’s League party and the Danish People’s Party for the European elections in May.

They plan to form a parliamentary group, the European Alliance for People and Nations, to challenge the power of centrist parties.

Ukraine election: Poroshenko debates empty podium as Zelensky stays away

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has arrived to debate the man hoping to take his place, in front of thousands of people in the capital, Kiev.

There is only one problem: his rival Volodymyr Zelensky – a comedian with no political experience – hasn’t arrived.

The two men agreed to the televised debate last week, but failed to agree on the date it would take place.

Mr Zelensky favoured this coming Friday, two days before they go head to head in the election run-off.

Mr Poroshenko, who is trailing his rival after winning just 16% of the first round vote, appears to now be hoping to capitalise on Mr Zelensky’s failure to arrive at Kiev’s Olympiyskiy Stadium for the televised face-off.

According to the BBC’s correspondent Mr Ben, the former businessman had wanted the debate to expose the fact his opponent had never really articulated a political vision or had his ideas subject to scrutiny.

But instead the incumbent used his 45-minute wait at the podium to answer journalists’ questions, and attack his absent rival.

Ukraine election: Poroshenko debates empty podium as Zelensky stays away
Ukraine’s presidential candidates take a drugs test

Mr Poroshenko, who critics say has not done enough to fight issues like corruption in the Eastern European nation, dubbed the election campaign a “silent movie”, and accused Mr Zelensky of being afraid.

“If he hides from people again, if he is afraid, we will invite him again. We will invite him every day to every live show for the whole country to see who it is going to elect for the next five years,” he told the crowds and television cameras on his arrival.

In fact, this debate was Mr Zelenksy’s idea. However, it was a challenge he clearly thought Mr Poroshenko would turn down, according to our correspondent.

The comedian has so far ignored the usual rules around campaigning, staging no rallies and giving few interviews – preferring to communicate via social media.

It is also unclear what his political views are, apart from a wish to be new and different.

Despite this, he finished the first round comfortably in the lead, garnering more than 30% of the vote, and is still favourite to win next weekend’s ballot.

Presidential election results

Leading candidate in each region. Latest as of 17:00, 7 April, Kiev time (BST +2). 100% of votes counted
Volodymyr ZelenskyYuriy BoykoPetro PoroshenkoYulia Tymoshenko
Select a region from the dropdown or tap or click on the map belowWHOLE UKRAINECherkasyChernihivChernivtsiDnipropetrovskDonetskIvano-FrankivskKharkivKhersonKhmelnytskyKiev cityKiev regionKirovohradLuhanskLvivMykolayivOdesaPoltavaRivneSumyTernopilTranscarpathiaVinnytsiaVolynZaporizhzhyaZhytomyrRegions where no vote was taken
 Rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk
 Russia annexed Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014

WHOLE UKRAINE

Votes for each candidate (%)
Turnout: 63.53%

Volodymyr Zelensky30.24

Petro Poroshenko15.95

Yulia Tymoshenko13.40

Yuriy Boyko11.67

Anatoliy Hrytsenko6.91

Ihor Smeshko6.04

Oleh Lyashko5.48

Oleksandr Vilkul4.15
Voting results for all candidates on the Ukrainian Election Commission website

@MARTINMARINOV1/TWITTER The 250kg (550lb) device was detonated underwater early on Sunday

World War Two bomb detonated in Frankfurt’s river

A World War Two-era US bomb has been detonated in a river in Frankfurt, causing water to spurt high into the air, German media report.

Some 600 people were evacuated from parts of the city as bomb disposal experts got to work at about 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Sunday.

Following the explosion, divers were sent to check that the device was safe.

The bomb was discovered on Tuesday in Frankfurt’s River Main, German news agency dpa reports.

Divers with the city’s fire service were participating in a routine training exercise when they found the 250kg (550lb) device.

An image posted on social media showed what appeared to be a large water fountain jetting into the air between two bridges.

It is not uncommon for bombs and other war munitions to turn up in Germany.

Last year, German police defused a World War Two bomb in central Berlin, after some 10,000 people were evacuated.

Clashes erupt in yellow vest protests as Macron prepares policy response

TOULOUSE (Reuters) – Yellow vest demonstrators clashed with riot police in the French city of Toulouse on Saturday, even as President Emmanuel Macron prepared a series of policy announcements aimed at quelling 22 consecutive weekends of anti-government protests.

Police in the southeastern city fired teargas and arrested 23 people after several hundred demonstrators threw objects and set fire to cars, motorbikes, a construction cabin and rubbish bins.

Protesters also tried to enter areas of the city from which they had been banned.

Altogether between 5,000 and 6,000 protesters had gathered on the Allee Jean Jaures, a wide avenue in the city center, and on nearby side streets.

Activist groups had said on social media networks that Toulouse would be the focus for the 22nd round of demonstrations, prompting city mayor Jean-Claude Moudenc to express concern ahead of Saturday’s protests.

Marches in Paris and elsewhere were largely peaceful by late afternoon, though police detained 27 in the French capital. Minor clashes broke out near the port in Marseille.

The interior minister estimated a total of 31,000 protesters demonstrated across France, 7,000 more than on the previous Saturday but fewer than the several hundred thousand who took to the street during the first weeks of demonstrations.

The protests continue to put pressure on Macron, who has vowed to announce a series of measures aimed at easing discontent.

The protests, named after the high-visibility safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began in November to oppose fuel tax increases.

The movement quickly morphed into a broader backlash against Macron’s government, despite a swift reversal of the tax hikes and the introduction of other measures worth more than 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) to boost the purchasing power of lower-income voters.

In response to rioting that in December made parts of Paris resemble war zones, Macron launched a two-month consultation that included a series of town hall meetings across the country. He is due to introduce resulting policy measures early next week.

Ahead of next week’s announcements, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe this week presented the conclusions of the consultation, saying it had highlighted demands such as quicker tax cuts, action to address climate change, and more balanced relations between Paris and the provinces.

Yet given the array of sometimes contradictory yellow vest demands the government is unlikely to please all those who demonstrated on Saturday. Some are already preparing a 23rd round of protests next Saturday.

Mira Markovic, Slobodan Milosevic’s wife, dies at 76

Mira Markovic, the widow of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, has died in Russia at the age of 76.

BBC by a close family friend, Milutin Mrkonjic.

Known as the “Lady Macbeth of the Balkans”, Ms Markovic was a significant political figure during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

She was one of her husband’s most trusted and influential advisers before he was arrested in 2001 but fled to Russia two years later.

Mr Milosevic died in 2006 while being held at the UN war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands. He had been charged with genocide and other war crimes for his key role in the 1990s wars that tore the Balkans apart.

They were married for four decades and were almost inseparable until Milosevic’s extradition.

While Ms Markovic owed her political influence to being his closest confidante, she also had her own political party, the neo-communist Yugoslav United Left (JUL).

Prior to meeting her husband, Ms Markovic had a tormented childhood. Her mother was a Partisan fighter who was captured by the Nazis in 1942.

Under torture, she apparently gave away secrets. One account suggests that after her release, her own father – Ms Markovic’s grandfather – ordered the execution of his daughter for treachery.

In 2003, Ms Markovic fled Serbia, where she was charged with abuse of power and was suspected of cigarette smuggling and political assassination.

Brought together by tragic family histories

Markovic and Milosevic met as childhood sweethearts in Milosevic’s hometown Pozarevac and married in 1965. Those who knew them often said the couple was brought together sharing tragic family histories – Milosevic’s parents both committed suicide, while Markovic’s mother was estranged from her husband due to political differences during the World War II.

They had two children – daughter Marija and son Marko, who has lived in Russia with Markovic. Daughter Marija Milosevic was estranged from the family after her father’s death in 2006 and has been living in neighbouring Montenegro.

Serbian opposition parties called her “Red Witch” due to her political stance. She fled for Russia after Serbian justice began investigating a corruption cases, as well as threats and murders to journalists and political opponents of the couple.

Milosevic’s brother Borislav, once ambassador to Moscow, reportedly organised the move, as well as asylum for her and her son Marko.

Finland election: Leftist party tipped to win vote

Finland is tipped to turn left in Sunday’s election, with the Social Democrats leading in polls.

But with several parties, including the right-wing Finns, jostling closely for second place, their ability to govern could be curtailed and coalition-building lies ahead.

How did we get here?

Last month, former Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s government resigned over its failure to achieve a key policy goal on social welfare and healthcare reform. His Centre Party had been in a centre-right coalition government since the last parliamentary elections in 2015.

Concerned about Finland’s expensive welfare system in the face of an ageing population, Mr Sipila made tackling the nation’s debt one of his government’s main aims, introducing planning reforms he hoped would save up to €3bn (£2.6bn) over a decade.


More about Finland’s welfare experiment:

Finland’s basic income trial

But while the introduction of austerity measures – such as benefits cuts and pension freezes – resulted in Finland reducing its government debt for the first time in a decade last year, the reforms proved politically controversial.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party, a centre-left party with strong links to Finland’s trade unions, saw its popularity grow.

Why has this happened now?

Polls ahead of Sunday’s vote showed the Social Democrats, who campaigned on a pledge to strengthen Finland’s welfare system, leading by several percentage points. The party had been in front for almost a year.

The party’s leader, Antti Rinne, earlier described Mr Sipila’s policies as unfair, and said taxes needed to be raised to combat inequality.

“We need to spread our tax base and we need to strengthen it,” Mr Rinne recently told Reuters news agency, adding that the move would mark a “big policy change” for Finland.

One of Mr Rinne’s election pledges was to raise the state pension for those taking home €1,400 a month by €100, a move he said would help “more than 55,000 pensioners escape poverty”.

A nurse assists an elderly resident at the public care unit Heikanrinne in Forssa, Finland, 2 April 2019
Finland’s ageing population is putting pressure on its social welfare systems

Balancing taxes and spending is problematic for any government, and Finland’s personal income tax rate – at 51.6% – is among the highest in Europe.

Finland’s recorded “tax wedge” – the difference between a worker’s take home pay and what it costs the employer – has been larger than the average among top industrialised countries in recent years, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

However, a poll commissioned by the tax authority in 2017 found that 79% of Finns questioned were happy with their taxes.

Why is Finland’s welfare system an issue?

Like many developed nations, Finland has an ageing population that is putting financial pressure on its social welfare systems.

As an increasing number of people live longer in retirement, the cost of providing pension and healthcare benefits can rise. Those increased costs are paid for by taxes collected from of the working-age population – who make up a smaller percentage of the population than in decades past.

In 2018, those aged 65 or over made up 21.4% of Finland’s population, the joint fourth highest in Europe alongside Germany — with only Portugal, Greece, and Italy having a higher proportion, according to Eurostat.

Finland’s welfare system is also generous in its provisions, making it relatively expensive. Attempts at reform have plagued Finnish governments for years.

In February this year, caring for the nation’s elderly returned to the top of the political agenda amid reports that alleged neglect in care homes may have resulted in injury or death, according to Finnish state broadcaster YLE.

Finland’s basic income trial

€560

Monthly income for two years

  • €20m Cost to government
  • 8.1% Unemployment rate
  • 5,503,347 Finnish population

Kela, Statistics FinlandEPA

How is the vote likely to pan out?

Voting runs from 09:00 local time (06:00 GMT) until 20:00, with first results due shortly after.

The Social Democrats are widely tipped to become largest party, but under Finland’s proportional representation system, they may have to form a coalition with several other parties.

While the Finns Party has seen its support grow, many other parties do not want to work with them.

Representative Ilhan Omar is at the centre of the row about comments she made about 9/11

Ilhan Omar: The 9/11 row embroiling the US congresswoman

A Democratic congresswoman says she will not be silenced after facing a barrage of criticism over comments she made about the 9/11 attacks – including from Donald Trump.

The US president tweeted “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” alongside a video showing footage of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks spliced with a speech by Representative Ilhan Omar.

“Some people did something,” she is seen saying, in between footage of planes hitting the Twin Towers and people fleeing the buildings.

Republicans have accused her of downplaying the attacks, but Democrats have largely rallied to her defence, saying she had been quoted out of context and some accusing Mr Trump of inciting violence against her and Muslims. Here is how the row developed.

Who is Congresswoman Omar?

Ms Omar won a Minnesota seat in the House of Representatives last November, becoming one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to the US Congress.

Her family originally came to the US as refugees from Somalia and she is the first congresswoman to wear the hijab.

The women who made history in the mid-terms

Despite being a newcomer to Washington, this is not the first time Ms Omar has made headlines.

She has been accused of anti-Semitism over comments she made about Israel and pro-Israel lobbyists. After being rebuked last month, including by Democrats, she apologised and said she was “listening and learning”.

The congresswoman has also raised the alarm about anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding her, in response to a Republican poster that showed her alongside the Twin Towers.

Just last week, police arrested a 55-year-old man in New York state for allegedly calling her office with a graphic death threat in which he reportedly labelled her a “terrorist”.

What did she say?

The “some people did something” quote was from a speech Ms Omar gave to a civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), on 23 March.

In the 20-minute speech she discussed issues affecting the community like Islamophobia and the recent mosque attack in New Zealand.

The comments in Mr Trump’s video were taken from a point she made about the treatment of US Muslims in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks:

“Here’s the truth. For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. Cair was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

After the Washington Post fact-checked the statement to clarify Cair was actually founded in 1994, a spokesman for Ms Omar told the paper that she misspoke and meant to say the organisation’s size had doubled after the attacks.

How did the row develop?

Her speech began getting attention on 9 April, when a clip was shared by Texas Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw, who described her phrasing as “unbelievable”.

Conservative media outlets, including Fox News, then started discussing it in-depth.

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, described the congresswoman as “anti-American”.

Ms Omar responded by calling some of the comments as “dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face” and comparing her remarks to ones made by former President George Bush.

On Thursday, the New York Post published a front-page spread of an image of the attack with the headline: “Here’s your something”

The cover proved divisive. Some on social media praised it, but others heavily criticised the use of 9/11 images.

Then, on Friday, President Trump posted the video of Ms Omar. It is currently pinned to the top of his account and has been shared tens of thousands of times.

What was the response?

Many social media users responded by using #IStandWithIlhan – which trended worldwide on Twitter on Friday.

CNN showed the clip in discussions, but then presenter Chris Cuomo apologised for airing it. MSNBC host Joy Reid also refused to show it.

A number of high-ranking Democrats, including many in the running for the 2020 presidential nomination, , have come out to criticise Mr Trump and defend Ms Omar.

Elizabeth Warren accused the president of “inciting violence against a sitting congresswoman”.

Bernie Sanders referred to “disgusting and dangerous attacks” against Ms Omar.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris both accused the president of spreading hate.

Kirsten Gillibrand did not defend Ms Omar’s comments but she also called Mr Trump’s rhetoric “disgusting”.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, said Mr Trump was wrong to use the images but also suggested Ms Omar had been dismissive of the attacks.

One reply to Ms Pelosi, by film director and frequent Trump critic Ava DuVernay, which said Ms Pelosi’s comment was “not enough”, has been liked thousands of times.

Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim serving in Congress, and another Democratic Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have both called on senior Democrats to do more to support Ms Omar.

Responding directly in a series of tweets on Saturday, the congresswoman thanked people for their support and vowed that she “did not run for Congress to be silent”.

Migrants rest on the rescue ship Alan Kurdi

EU countries take migrants after Mediterranean stand-off

Four European Union countries have agreed to take in 64 African migrants who were rescued after being stranded at sea for almost two weeks.

The Alan Kurdi ship, operated by the German humanitarian group Sea-Eye, had been refused entry by Italy and Malta.

Both countries had said it was Libya’s responsibility, Sea-Eye had claimed.

But on Saturday the Maltese government announced that the migrants will be redistributed among Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg.

“None of the migrants will remain in Malta. The ship Alan Kurdi will not be allowed to enter Malta,” the government said in a statement.

The agreement had come through the co-ordination of the European Commission, it added.

Two migrants had already been evacuated to Malta after falling ill on the German ship, named after the three-year old boy who drowned as his family fled the conflict in Syria.

“Once again the smallest member of the European Union was put under unnecessary pressure, being asked to resolve a case which was neither its responsibility nor its remit,” the Maltese government said.

“A solution was found in order not to let the situation deteriorate further while making it clear Malta cannot keep shouldering this burden.”

Three teenage migrants were charged in Malta last month,  after “hijacking” an oil tanker that had rescued them.

#Emmanuel Macron has united his country – against him

An embattled, incompetent leader distrusted and disliked by a vast majority of voters. A wobbly economy that might be tipped into recession by Brexit. A re-energised opposition. Huge street protests. Squabbling with European partners. The government is paralysed, the opposition is emboldened — and the nation stands humiliated, as the world looks on in horror wondering how a leader who was so popular two years ago could get things so wrong.

Not Theresa May, but Emmanuel Macron, the politician who may be the greatest Brexiteer of them all. As the saga of British withdrawal enters its final chapter, Macron has emerged as the loudest advocate for pushing Britain out the door, deal or no deal, consequences be damned.

Why does he behave in this way? Wouldn’t France suffer even more from a no-deal Brexit? But to understand his rage, you need to understand the depth of the hole in which he now finds himself.

It’s now common for Brits to consider themselves the laughing stock of Europe. To be sure, the Westminster drama is embarrassing — but it could be worse. We could be France. Just two years ago, Macron was seen as the great centrist hope not just of France but of Europe. The country’s youngest ever president was elected aged 39¾ to the near unanimous approval of European bien pensants. He promised to drag France out of political, economic and social sclerosis, to see off the menace of populism, sack half a million supernumerary functionaries and make France great again.

He quickly discovered that reform of a state riddled with clientelism and protectionism is easy to talk about but difficult if not impossible to achieve. His predecessors made the same discovery.

His domestic failure has been spectacular and comprehensive. The suburbs are in turmoil and Macron’s vaunted reform project has ground to a halt. The legions of civil servants remain in place, many recently revealed to work less than 35 hours a week. State spending accounts for a gargantuan 58 per cent of the economy, with the highest taxes in Europe to pay for it all. Enterprise is crushed by further taxes on employment, which can double the cost of hiring a worker. Tax cuts are promised but undelivered and cannot be without inflating the alarming deficit or cutting back the state.

The French have had enough. The opinion polls are striking. Macron is now the most unloved leader in Europe, by a distance, according to the YouGov Eurotrack survey. Among Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Macron has achieved a clean sweep, finishing dead last in every category.

Do you approve of the government’s record to date? Seventy-six per cent of French voters disapprove. Do you think the financial situation of your household will change over the next 12 months? By a four-to-one ratio, they think it will get worse. Has the financial situation of your household changed in the past 12 months? Half say it has got worse, or a lot worse. How do you think the country’s economy has changed in the past 12 months? Fifty-seven per cent say it’s worse or a lot worse. A different poll found 75 per cent of French agree that Macron can be referred to as a ‘president for the rich’.

The trajectory of the Macron project has been a case study in hubris. He has taken green politics and tested them to destruction. His putting up of fuel taxes last year while cutting the wealth tax was a manoeuvre so ill-judged as to beggar belief: it seems to show his contempt for those priced out of the cities, who live in provincial areas where they need cars. His diesel tax and carbon tax was the proximate cause for spawning the gilets jaunes movement, which is still bringing cities to a standstill every Saturday. His explanation that fuel prices had to rise to counter climate change cut little moutarde with voters.

France has now had 21 consecutive weekends of demonstrations and riots in which thousands have been arrested, hundreds injured, many gravely, and ten killed. The frequent brutality of the police, relayed instantly on social networks, has been condemned by Amnesty International and the UN. The physical damage has cost hundreds of millions. The reputational hit has been much worse.

Invest in France? Hopes of attracting many bankers from Brexit island have gone up in flames, along with the Porsches on the Avenue Kléber. Macron’s response has been to denounce protesters as ‘enemies’ of the state, and to impose new laws suppressing ‘fake news’. It’s easy to understand his allergy to reporting outside the usually obedient conventional channels.

Sanctimonious he may be, but Macron’s probity is in as much doubt as his competence. His clumsy efforts to cover up a scandal in his inner circle, involving a handsome young bodyguard of North African origin, now fired, but apparently still in touch with Macron’s circle, have shaken even some of the normally complaisant Paris press corps.

And now there’s his latest project, to launch his ambitious ‘EU Renaissance’, a largely inchoate big idea that has strikingly failed to resonate with French people, who have truly not a clue what he is talking about and whose own deeply eurosceptic views are ignored. Having failed to reform France from Paris, he seems to imagine that his reborn EU might do the job for him, delivering the country from 40 years of stagnation.

With Europe as his standard, Macron’s fightback has been unconvincing. For several weeks, France has been treated to the embarrassing spectacle of his great national debate, launched to distract attention from the insurgency of the gilets jaunes. Hailed as a great exercise in consultative democracy, it’s been more of a monologue. He has toured the country, not debating, not listening, but talking, talking, talking, sometimes for three hours with nary a pause. Not even his handpicked audiences could feign rapt attention.

Tellingly, one subject almost entirely excluded from the agenda of this so-called debate was Europe. Macron has never had any intention of consulting the voters on this subject, and for good reason. The French are among the most eurosceptic voters in Europe. They rejected the European constitution in 2005 by 55-45 per cent. (The constitution was subsequently relabelled a treaty and imposed regardless.)

It is a curiosity that Macron remains deeply admired abroad, notably by the Economist, whose Paris correspondent practically worships him, and the New York Times, which has annointed him the anti-Trump. The Washington Post has even swooned over his marriage — a triumph for feminism, apparently. But in France, even those who intend to vote for his list in the forthcoming European parliamentary election will hold their noses.

As his economic reforms have ground to a standstill, and his attempts to buy off the gilets jaunes have pushed France’s debt to the very edge of 100 per cent of GDP, Macron now faces two further tests. Neither may work out for him. It is ironic that if Brexit is thwarted, only Nigel Farage is likely to be more disappointed than Macron. The second is the May election, in which he risks humiliation.

Faced with opposition from a barmy extreme left and toxic extreme right, Macron’s candidates may yet emerge with the largest number of seats. The received wisdom is that as much as voters do not like Macron, many will not stomach the alternative. (It is a particularly French expression of democracy that a politician can win an election with a 14 per cent approval rating.)

Or maybe not. Voters who would otherwise vote for Macron as the lesser of two evils in a presidential election may be less scrupulous in a contest for the European parliament. The gilets jaunes are more likely to be motivated to vote, and Macron’s base may not be large enough to push him over the line. Whichever camp is able to declare victory, France is inevitably going to return a large number of eurosceptic MEPs, and with allies from across Europe, they are going to make Macron’s renaissance a mission impossible.

Whither the boy wonder? Macron’s obsession with European federalism has not just alienated him from voters, but has irritated his most important ally, German chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany wants nothing to do with Macron’s proposed fiscal union. Why should Germans pay France’s debts? And lately, she has been especially alarmed by his inflammatory anti-British rhetoric. Macron might imagine that for the cause of his renaissance it’s essential to push the British out into the cold as soon as possible, deal or no deal. Merkel is listening to German industrialists, especially car makers, who call the UK ‘treasure island’.

The prospect of a messy Brexit scares plenty of people in France, too. Officials in the north, closer to the UK than Paris, are in open rebellion. French farmers and fishermen are spooked by the potential loss of markets and fishing rights. Even my neighbours in the south, a long way from the United Kingdom, fear the impact on wine and tourism, which essentially is all they’ve got.

When Macron was elected, a friend of mine who’d worked with him during his brief stint at Rothschild, and who found him an unlikeable and slippery colleague, nonetheless assured me that he was brilliant. He was always a swot, not just impressing but marrying his teacher. He won all the glittering prizes, admission to the École Nationale d’Administration, advancing thereafter to the status of haut fonctionnaire and economy minister under former president François Hollande.

But he is utterly lacking in emotional intelligence. He has failed to temper his narcissism and grandiosity, failed to listen, failed to master the essential art of politics, which is to bring people together, not divide them. His attempted listening tours have ended in disaster. Last summer, he was filmed telling an unemployed gardener how to find work: ‘In hotels, cafés and construction, everywhere I go people say to me that they are looking for staff,’ he said. ‘I can find you a job just by crossing the road.’ The video went viral. In his stubbornness and near autistic indifference to others, Macron has united France against him.

It will now be hard, perhaps impossible, for him to recover his popularity or his agenda which may help explain his Brexit obsession. He sees in it the concerns of provincial people who feel ignored by arrogant elites — the sort of people he’d hoped would go away. Brexit reminds him that they are unlikely to do so. As a result, his European renaissance is as undeliverable as the revolution he promised in France.

Could Macron and Brexit make Paris the capital of European tech?

Shortly after his election in May 2017, President Macron said he wanted France itself “to think and move like a start-up” – a vision of the country’s digital future that is gaining traction as Britain wrestles with Brexit.

French President EMMANUEL MACRON’s vow to make France a ‘start-up nation’ amid the uncertainty ‘s over BREXIT,  raising the question of whether could supplant London as the capital of European tech.

Since his election, Macron has wooed tech entrepreneurs with a string of initiatives in the form of lavish tax breaks, subsides, and credits for research. In March 2018, he promised to invest €1.5 billion into artificial intelligence research through 2022.

Some of these initiatives, in addition to Macron’s dynamism, have lured British tech companies who are looking to gain a foothold in EUROPE.

“It made sense to have a European base,” said Cedric Jones*, a Briton who recently launched a start-up at Station F, the cavernous old train station that is now home to the world’s largest start-up campus. “If I’m going to make waves in continental Europe… I wanted to get here before Brexit happened.”

Jones is among dozens of foreign entrepreneurs who have recently launched their start-up at Station F, whose 3,000 desk hub has seen spiralling applications from English-speaking nationals in the last two years.

Some cite political woes back home, the burgeoning French tech sector, or are inspired by Macron’s bid to make Paris the innovation heart of Europe.

“There’s an air of optimism and a can-do spirit in France that I feel we’ve lost somewhat in the US,” said Mark Heath, a New Yorker, who stayed on in France to launch a start-up after studying at INSEAD in 2017.

The Macron effect

Much of the investment in French tech predates Macron’s reforms. The state investment bank Bpifrance, launched by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2013, has been widely credited with developing the sector. His successor, former French president François Hollande, set up new foreign visas for start-up entrepreneurs.

But Zahir Bouchaary, a Briton who works out of Station F, credits Macron with injecting dynamism into the sector.

“Macron has installed a [start-up] mentality within the French ecosystem itself,” said Bouchaary, adding that it has become much easier to do business in France in the last few years.

“French customers are a lot more willing to work with start-ups than they were before,” said Bouchaary. “France was a very conservative country and our clients were used to working with big old-fashioned companies that have been around for a while. For the past few years they’ve opened up a lot more to working with younger companies and seem to take more risks than they did before.”

Jones agreed that Macron was “the single variable”. “When he [Macron] goes, the dynamism will go too. I absolutely would not expect that to remain the case if he’s not president.”

However, although Macron has moved to ease labour laws, Jones said that navigating the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy in French remained “very burdensome”, and that it was far easier to build a business in the UK. “Whether it’s from a tax perspective or from a legal perspective it’s just so much more complicated.”

UK tech ‘resilient’

The tech scene in London appears to be just as vibrant as ever, explained Albin Serviant, president of Frenchtech in London, who said many UK-based tech entrepreneurs are adopting a “wait and see” approach to Brexit.

“The UK ecosystem is quite resilient,” said Serviant.

“In the first quarter of 2019, there were about €2 billion invested in tech in London. That’s compared to 1.5 billion last year, which is plus 30 percent. And that’s twice as much as France – which invested 1 billion. France is catching up very fast but the investment money is still flowing in the UK,” he added.

Serviant cited London’s business-friendly ecosystem and international talent pool as reasons for why London remains the capital of the European tech sector.

Nonetheless Serviant cautioned against the effects that a hard Brexit would have on the tech sector in the UK.

“‘If Brexit happens in a bad way and if people like me and other entrepreneurs have to leave, obviously that’s very bad for the UK because what makes it very different is the international DNA of London.”

Hard Brexit would not just damage the UK tech sector but would also pose challenges for British developers, who post-Brexit may need a carte de séjour to work in the country, looking to find work in France.

Sarah Pedroza, co managing director of Hello Tomorrow technologies, a Paris-based startup NGO, said that if she had to choose between hiring a British national and an EU citizen with the same skillset, she would opt for an EU citizen because there would be less paperwork involved.

Brexit aside, others suggest that France is snapping at the UK’s technological heels.

“I do think France has the potential under Macron to close the gap with the UK,” said Jones.

“The single biggest factor in what’s going on for France is that France is developing a sense of confidence in itself, in its start-up scene, as a tech hub, that’s being helped by France and that’s also being helped by Brexit.”

Some of the children involved in the case have waited years for the confirmation

Dutch fertility doctor used own sperm to father 49 children, DNA tests show

A Dutch fertility doctor accused of using his own sperm to inseminate patients without their consent has been confirmed as the father of 49 children.

DNA tests revealed that Jan Karbaat, who died two years ago, impregnated their mothers at his clinic in Bijdorp, near Rotterdam.

The results were confirmed on Friday after judges allowed their release.

One of the children, named Joey, said he could “finally close the chapter” now he knew Mr Karbaat was his father.

“After a search of 11 years I can continue my life. I am glad that I finally have clarity,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Tim Bueters, a lawyer who represented the 49 children, said he was pleased about the outcome of the case after years of uncertainty.

“It means that there is finally clarity for the children who are matched,” he told NOS.

Mr Karbaat was first taken to court in 2017 by a group of donor children and their parents over suspicions they were related.

Dutch fertility doctor used own sperm to father 49 children, DNA tests show
Most of the children were born in the 1980s

One of the cases involved a donor child who physically resembled the doctor, the court heard.

Items were seized from his home after his death in April 2017 at the age of 89.

‘Serious suspicions’

Judges ruled in 2017 that DNA tests could be carried out but said the results must be sealed pending the outcome of further court cases, Dutch media reported.

In February this year, Rotterdam District Court ruled that the results of the tests could be finally be revealed.

They substantiate “serious suspicions that Mr Karbaat used his own sperm in the clinic”, a statement on the website of legal firm Rex Advocate says.

Mr Karbaat called himself “a pioneer in the field of fertilisation”.

His clinic was closed in 2009 amid allegations that he had falsified data, analyses and donor descriptions and exceeded the permitted number of six children per donor.

Police sealed off the site where Eric Torell was shot by police on 3 August 2018

Swedish police charged over fatal shooting of man with Down’s syndrome

Three Swedish police officers have been charged in connection with the fatal shooting of a man who had Down’s syndrome and autism.

Police opened fire on Eric Torell, 20, in response to what they described as a “threatening situation” in August 2018.

His mother said at the time he had been carrying a toy that was “like a submachine gun”.

Two officers have been charged with official misconduct and one with causing the man’s death.

Mr Torell had been reported missing from his home in the capital Stockholm hours before police received reports of a man in possession of a gun.

His mother, Katarina Söderberg, said the toy was a gift.

Three officers found Mr Torell in a residential courtyard in the Vasastan district and ordered him to discard what they believed was a dangerous weapon.

Flowers, candles and cards placed at the scene of the shooting for Eric Torell's memorial
Flowers were left at the scene of the shooting amid a public outcry

“I have decided that the police who have been charged for the shooting did not follow the procedures they should have done and had they done so, they would have realised that Eric – the victim – was not a threat,” prosecutor Martin Tiden told reporters.

He said the officers were justified in opening fire but said they should have stopped when he turned away from them.

Mr Torell was taken to hospital and later confirmed dead.

“This can’t be allowed to happen again,” said Mr Tiden.

Ms Söderberg said she was relieved there would now be justice. “We will know everything that happened. No stone will be left unturned,” she said.

She described her son as “the world’s kindest man” and said: “It’s impossible to understand. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Sweden’s National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg has asked for a government review of the rules surrounding the use of firearms following an increase in the number of people shot and killed.

In a country of 10 million, on average one person per year has been shot to death in Sweden over the past 20 years. In 2018 six people were shot and killed.

This compares to four in the UK in 2017-18, where the population is six times that of Sweden. In the US, 992 people were shot and killed by police in 2018.