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France police security bill: Protests turn violent again

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Dozens of protesters have clashed with police in the French capital Paris in fresh demonstrations against a controversial draft security law.

Police fired tear gas after hooded protesters smashed shop windows and set several vehicles alight.

Nearly 100 rallies were planned nationwide on Saturday over the draft bill that would outlaw taking photos of police with malevolent intent.

Opponents say the bill undermines press freedom to document police brutality.

France has seen weekly nationwide protests over the draft bill, which intensified after footage emerged of three white policemen racially abusing and beating a black music producer.

Responding to the backlash, President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party said last week that parts of the law would be rewritten. However, this has not done enough to assuage its opponents.

On Friday Mr Macron acknowledged “there are police who are violent” and said “they need to be punished”, in a live interview with Brut, a youth-focused news portal site.

What happened on Saturday?

Thousands of people, including members of the anti-government Yellow Vest movement, had been marching peacefully in the capital when pockets of protesters, dressed in black and with their faces covered, started launching projectiles at riot police, Reuters reports.

The windows of a supermarket, property agency and bank were smashed, according to the AFP news agency, and police responded to the violence by firing tear gas.

Some of the demonstrators set up impromptu barricades in the street which they set on fire, it added.

Paris police, quoted by BFM TV, said some 500 rioters had infiltrated the protest. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 22 people had been detained over the incidents.

Police had been heavily deployed to the capital in a bid to avoid a repeat of the violent clashes seen there last weekend over the same law, which left dozens wounded.

Peaceful protests were staged elsewhere across France, including Marseille, Lyon and Rennes.

In his interview with Brut on Friday, President Macron lashed out at earlier violence in Paris, which he blamed on “crazy people”.

He said an online national platform would be launched for people to flag up unnecessary police checks, and that police would be wearing body cameras more widely from June 2021.

Why are people angry about the bill?

Article 24 of the proposed bill makes it a criminal offence to publish images of on-duty police officers with the intent to harm their “physical or psychological integrity”.

It says offenders could face up to a year in prison and be fined €45,000 (£40,500; $54,000).

Advocates say the article will protect police from harassment and targeting on social media.

But critics say media freedom and citizens’ right to film police action must not be impeded, as the French police are now under intense scrutiny for alleged racism.

Images of music producer Michel Zecler being kicked and punched at his Paris studio last month by three white policemen shocked the nation, and further enraged opponents to the bill.

Since then, four officers have been placed under criminal investigation and members of President Macron’s ruling party have pledged to “completely” rewrite part of the new law.

“We know that doubts persist about it…while we can never tolerate any reduction of press freedom or images,” said Christophe Castaner, who heads Mr Macron’s group of centrist MPs in parliament.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55201993

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Heidelberg shooting: One dead in gun attack on German students

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A lone gunman has killed one person and seriously injured three others inside a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany, before shooting himself dead.

He was an 18-year-old German student.

German police said the shooter, who was armed with two guns, had used a “long gun”, and fired shots around the amphitheatre “wildly”.

The bloodshed triggered a large operation at the university’s campus in the Neuenheimer Feld area.

Police asked people to avoid the area so rescue workers and emergency services could move around freely.

German media reported that the gunman appeared to have no religious or political motive.

Police have searched his flat in the city of Mannheim, and found a WhatsApp message he had sent shortly beforehand, in which he spoke of punishing people.

Heidelberg is a university town with about 160,000 inhabitants.

The country has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, and school shootings are rare. Anyone under 25 is required to pass a psychological evaluation before getting a gun licence.

Police initially said four victims had been wounded, with a later update confirming one had died in hospital.

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Ukraine crisis: Why Russia-US talks may prove crucial

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Senior diplomats from the US and Russia are meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva for the first of a series of crunch talks aimed at defusing tension over Ukraine.

The stakes for these talks on Monday are high. But both sides hold wildly different expectations. The US and other Western powers want to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.

But Russia wants to talk about its maximalist demands for Nato to retreat from eastern Europe. It’s calling for Nato to pull its forces out of former Soviet countries, end any eastern expansion and rule out Ukraine joining the alliance.

Some US officials fear these demands are deliberately unrealistic, designed to be rejected and used as a pretext for military action. Other diplomats believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is aiming high to squeeze concessions out of a Western alliance that is willing to give ground to avoid war.

They say the Russian president is effectively demanding an end to Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture and the establishment of a Russian “sphere of influence”.

A high price

Given this, the US and Nato have dismissed most of Russia’s demands as “non-starters”. And the US has categorically denied reports it is considering possible troop reductions.

But American officials have said they are willing to look at curbs on military exercises and missile deployments.

One idea is a partial revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that the US abandoned in 2019 after Russia was accused of breaching its provisions. Other ideas are more measures to build confidence and greater transparency between Russia and the US.

The fear among some European allies is that even this would be too much of a reward for Russia, too high a price for trying to avoid conflict in Ukraine.

They fear the US might be willing to concede too much so it can focus more on China and domestic challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy.

The US is aware of these fears and repeatedly insists it will not agree anything about Ukraine or European security without those countries involved.

Either way, President Putin has already made some gains, winning a platform this week to air his grievances and force the US and Europe to engage with his agenda of Nato reform.

Both sides are playing down expectations of an immediate deal. But that does not mean this week’s talks are not important.

A crucial staging post

At best, the talks could shed more light on Mr Putin’s intentions and reveal if he is serious about engaging in diplomacy.

At worst, a breakdown could lead to war, allowing Mr Putin to claim to his domestic audience that the West was not willing to talk and agree to his demands, and he was thus forced to act to ensure Russia’s security.

Western diplomats say they are ready for what they see as this false narrative: hence the Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, insisting the alliance is ready for any Russian military action, and the firm warnings from the US and Europe that any invasion would be met with massive economic sanctions.

So, this week’s talks could prove a crucial diplomatic staging post, with the fate of Ukraine and Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture in the balance.

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Russia fines Google over illegal content breach

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bbc– A Moscow court has fined Google 7.2bn roubles ($98m; £73m) for repeated failure to delete content deemed illegal in Russia.

Details of the offending content were not specified in the announcement by the court’s press service.

This is the first time in Russia that a technology giant has been hit with a fine based on their annual turnover.

Google told AFP news agency that it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.

Russian authorities have increased pressure on tech firms this year, accusing them of not moderating their content properly, and interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Hours after the Google verdict was announced, a 2bn rouble fine was handed to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for similar content-related offences.

Earlier this week, Twitter was also handed a 3m rouble fine for similar charges.

This is not Google’s first brush with Russian authorities over content laws. In May, Russia’s media watchdog threatened to slow down the speed of Google if it failed to delete 26,000 instances of unlawful content, which it said related to drugs, violence and extremism.

President Vladimir Putin has pushed for development of a so-called sovereign internet, which would give the government more control over what its citizens can access.

Critics have accused Russia of using the campaign to clamp down on free speech and online dissent.

The country’s media regulator has blocked dozens of websites linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose campaign groups have been labelled “extremist”.

Google and Apple were also forced to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign, which gave users advice on tactical voting to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

Websites like LinkedIn and Dailymotion have already been blocked for refusing to co-operate with authorities, and six major providers of Virtual Personal Networks (VPNs) – which help users to conceal their online activities – have been banned.

Earlier this year, Russia also introduced a new law requiring all new smartphones, computers and smart devices sold in the country to be pre-installed with Russian-made software and apps.

The government said the move would help Russian tech firms compete with foreign rivals.

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