Clashes and arrests as 'yellow vest' protests return in France

KONFRONTASI-The French police fired tear gas and arrested more than 250 people in Paris as "yellow vest" protesters returned to the capital's streets in force for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.

The "yellow vest" movement, named after motorists' high-visibility jackets, began in late 2018 in protest against fuel taxes and economic reform, posing a big challenge to President Emmanuel Macron as demonstrations spread across France.

On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the starting points of two authorised marches.

France's Macron says 33 'terrorists' killed in Mali operation

KONFRONTASI-French President Emmanuel Macron has said 33 "terrorists" have been "neutralised" in an operation by his country's forces in the West African nation of Mali.

In a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast on Saturday, Macron said that French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by the fighters in central Mali's city of Mopti.

"This morning ... we were able to neutralise 33 terrorists, take one prisoner and free two Malian gendarmes who had been held hostage," Macron said during the speech.

French police begin to clear migrants sheltered at Dunkirk gym

KONFRONTASI-French police are clearing nearly 1,000 migrants from a gymnasium near the northern port city of Dunkirk after a court ruled it was a health and security hazard.

The mayor of Grande-Synthe, a suburb of Dunkirk, last December opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold.

Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp with approximately 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the cramped gymnasium where some 170 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds hoping to reach the United Kingdom, had taken shelter.

A court in the regional city of Lille ordered the gymnasium shut on September 4 following complaints from local authorities and residents about violence, rubbish and the presence of people-smugglers among the migrants.

Tuesday's clearance operation began shortly after 8:00am local time (6:00 GMT).

Young men travelling alone were the first to board buses that will take them to migrant shelters around the region, where they can apply for asylum. Families are to be moved later.

Britain joins Germany in criticizing Macron's Mercosur threat

KONFRONTASI-Britain joined Germany on Saturday in criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to block a trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur group of southern American countries to pressure Brazil on Amazon forest fires.

In a surprise statement on Friday, Macron said he had decided to block the EU-Mercosur deal and accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of lying in playing down concerns about climate change.

France says social media platforms will still sign hate speech pledge

KONFRONTASI-France said it was optimistic that U.S.-based social media platforms including Facebook and Snapchat would still sign a pledge to fight online hate speech despite a last-minute delay.

France, which is hosting the G7 summit in Biarritz, was initially hoping to make social media giants sign a so-called “Charter for an Open, Free, and Safe Internet” on Friday, according to the official program.

Bells of French cathedrals ring in solemn tribute to Notre Dame

KONFRONTASI-As soon as clocks struck 6:50pm on Friday, more than 100 cathedrals across France rang their bells to mark the exact moment that Notre Dame, one of the country's most iconic buildings, erupted in flames.

Heard in the Sacre Coeur of Paris and Sainte-Marie-Majeure of Marseilles, it was a solemn but defiant tribute to a loss that brought temporary unity to a country struggling to reconcile its many political and social divisions.

But the panic that sent thousands of Parisians and visitors rushing to the banks of the River Seine on Wednesday to watch the landmark burn, some bursting into tears or singing songs to keep spirits high, has gradually subsided.

Even as the fire consumed the centuries-old cathedral's roof and spire, many were grateful that its stone structure stood firm and the loss was not much greater.

Rebuilding efforts

Authorities said the building was only minutes away from complete destruction, but the daring response of 400 firefighters made a vital difference, saving the cathedral's famous bell towers, its ornate stained-glass rose windows and many irreplaceable artistic and religious treasures.

Since then, hundreds of millions of euros in pledges have flooded in from France's wealthiest families and industrialists to finance the rebuilding efforts, while the government has said that returning the cathedral to its former glory will be a national priority.

However, the remarkable speed of the fundraising effort has left some questioning whether French society values stone and cement more than its vulnerable.

"Of course it's a tragedy, it's a wonderful cathedral and very old, but all this money that's been given towards the rebuilding, would it not be better spent on people who are homeless?" Jacques, an enthusiastic supporter of France's anti-establishment yellow-vest movement, asked Al Jazeera.

"I think this money might be better spent, as a Catholic, helping people who need it. If all the cathedrals burn, I'll still be able to practise my religion."

On the south bank of the Seine, hordes of tourists on Friday vied for space to take photos of the Gothic masterpiece, prevented by a police cordon from getting any closer. The city's most popular destination for foreign visitors, drawing more than 12 million per year, has clearly not lost its charm.

"We took a hop-on, hop-off bus and so we could see it, just the day before," said Ressa, a visitor from Ravensburg in Germany. "No we didn't [go inside], that's a big pity."Gazing from the Pont Saint-Michel at the cathedral's almost untouched facade with its bell towers gleaming in the spring sunshine, Marina Ressa said she regrets missing the opportunity to visit Notre Dame before disaster struck.

"I was shocked. I couldn't really believe that it was happening at first," said Grace Ryan, whose hopes to visit Notre Dame were dashed as she watched the conflagration on TV shortly before flying from Chicago to Paris.

"It was crazy to see the fire falling into the building and just being worried the whole time that the whole thing was going to fall down."

French president plans measures to tackle anti-Semitism

KONFRONTASI-French President Emmanuel Macron has announced measures including legislation to combat online hate speech, adding that the scourge of anti-Semitism has grown in recent years.

"Our country, and for that matter all of Europe and most Western democracies, seems to be facing a resurgence of anti-Semitism unseen since World War II," Macron said on Wednesday.

France, home to Europe's biggest Jewish community, is reeling after a string of attacks that have made global headlines.

New legislation will be introduced in May to force social media companies to withdraw hate speech posted online and use all available means to identify the authors "as quickly as possible".

Addressing the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), the French leader pledged that he will recognise anti-Zionism as a modern form of anti-Semitism.

"Behind the negation of Israel's existence, what is hiding is the hatred of Jews," said Macron.

French president added that anti-Semitism is based on "radical Islamism" as a rampant ideology in France's multiethnic, poor neighbourhoods.

'Incompatible with universal human rights'

"Macron's comments imply a false and dangerous equation of Zionism and Judaism," said Dr Denijal Jegic, a researcher with Muftah - a Middle East-focused publication.

"Zionism emerged as a modern settler-colonial, nationalist movement which, in the forms it has been exercised by the Israeli state, is incompatible with universal human rights and international law," he said.

On Tuesday, Macron visited a Jewish graveyard in the Alsace region where 80 gravestones were vandalised and painted with swastikas, the symbol of Nazi Germany, while thousands of people across the country demonstrated against anti-Semitism.

The episode is one of many that shook France in the past weeks. A torrent of hate speech was directed at Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Saturday march by yellow vest protesters.

The insults included words like "Zionist!" and "Go back to Tel Aviv!" and "We are France!"

The number of anti-Semitic attacks in France has jumped recently, rising by 74 percent year on year in 2018, to reach 541.

Six people arrested in France over 'loose' plan to attack Macron

KONFRONTASI-Six people have been arrested as part of a preliminary investigation into a suspected plan to attack French President Emmanuel Macron, an official close to the probe said.

The source said French security services arrested the six on Tuesday on suspicion of undertaking an “imprecise and loosely-formed” plan for “violent action” against the president.

French TV channel BFM TV reported that the six were members of the far-right, but that could not be independently confirmed.

Ex-French president Sarkozy loses latest court appeal in campaign financing case

KONFRONTASI-Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lost an appeal against an earlier decision to send him to trial over charges of illegal campaign financing, and his lawyer said he would challenge the decision in France’s highest appeals court.

If Sarkozy stands trial, he would be the second French president in the dock since Jacques Chirac, who was president from 1995 to 2007. Chirac was given a suspended sentence in 2011 after being convicted of misusing public funds.

Deadly flash floods hit southern France

KONFRONTASI-At least 13 people are known to have died on Sunday night as flash floods swept through villages around the southern French city of Carcassonne, according to the interior ministry's rescue service.

In the village of Villegailhenc, the river Trapel swelled to such an extent that it swept away at least one road bridge.

French emergency service personnel were out in area rescuing people from the floods.