France Faces Violent ‘New Form of Anti-Semitism,’ Country’s PM Says

France is facing a “new form of anti-Semitism” marked by violence, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Wednesday, deploring an assault this week in a Paris suburb on an 8-year-old boy wearing a Jewish skullcap.

President Emmanuel Macron has denounced the attack Monday in Sarcelles, a northern suburb with a large Jewish population, as “heinous.”

French media have described the attackers as teenagers who ran away after tripping and kicking the boy to the ground. Police were investigating, but there have been no arrests.

Speaking before lawmakers, Philippe noted the emergence of a new kind of anti-Semitism in France, which has the largest Jewish population in western Europe.

To fight something, one must have “the courage to put a name on it … to acknowledge that, yes, there is a new form of anti-Semitism, violent and brutal, emerging more and more openly in our land,” Philippe said.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and Jewish leaders say the number of anti-Semitic acts in France has risen this month after a drop in previous years.

An annual national count of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts — mainly threats — dipped in 2017 compared with the year before. However, the count, released Wednesday by the Interior Ministry, shows that violent racist acts in France increased overall, and notably anti-Semitic acts went from 77 in 2016 to 97 last year.

Collomb told Jewish leaders last week that such acts were “an attack on the principles that unify our nation.”

Macron tweeted: “Each time a citizen is attacked because of his age, appearance or religion, it is the whole nation that is attacked.”

Tillerson Heads to Latin America With Focus on Venezuela

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begins a six-day trip Thursday through Latin America in which he’s expected to rally the region’s governments in pressing democratic reforms in crisis-ridden Venezuela.  

Tillerson’s travels will take him to Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, with a final stop in Jamaica on February 7.

The United States will use “all its political, diplomatic and economic tools to address the situation in Venezuela,” a senior State Department official said at a briefing this week on the trip.

Venezuela is in its fifth year of a worsening political and economic crisis. In January, the U.S. Treasury added four current or former Venezuelan senior military officials to its sanctions list, accusing them of corruption and repression that have contributed to critical shortages of food and medicine and the erosion of human rights. The European Union also has imposed sanctions, and the Organization of American States’ secretary general, Luis Almagro, has championed democratic reforms for Venezuela. 

President Nicolas Maduro, who accuses the United States of leading an international effort to topple his socialist administration, announced in January that he would seek a second six-year term and called for an election by April 30.

Tillerson’s first stop will be at the University of Texas at Austin, where he’ll speak on the Trump administration’s policy priorities in the Western Hemisphere.

Later Thursday, Tillerson heads to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and other senior officials. The United States and Mexico have had tense relations over President Donald Trump’s proposals to curb illegal immigration and have Mexico pay for a reinforced border wall. This week, the United States, Mexico and Canada completed a sixth round of talks on renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal, which Trump often alleges has cost American jobs.

After visiting Buenos Aires and the Argentine mountain resort town of Bariloche, Tillerson is to head to Lima to meet with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on issues including the eighth annual Summit of the Americas. That summit is set for April 13 and 14 in Lima, Peru.

In Colombia, Tillerson plans to meet with officials including President Juan Manuel Santos, a fierce critic of the Maduro administration. They are expected to discuss not only Venezuela, but also “the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production, economic issues and the growing refugee population” from neighboring Venezuela, the State Department said in a statement.   

At the Monday briefing on Tillerson’s trip, a State Department official said “the pressure campaign is working” to aid Venezuela.

The Trump administration’s objective, the representative said, “is to help the Venezuelan people to deal with this economic crisis, but also to restore the democratic order so that they can be in charge of their future again.”

Independence Bid ‘Finished,’ Says Catalan Leader in Private Text Message

Exiled separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has stunned Spain with private remarks picked up by TV news cameras in which he said Catalonia’s independence bid is “finished.”

The shock admission came after Spain’s constitutional court ruled that Puigdemont could not be named president because he faced arrest and was not physically present to assume the presidency.

“The [independence] process is finished. I’ve been sacrificed,” Puigdemont wrote in a text message to a close confidant after the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, suspended a Tuesday session in which secessionists holding a majority of seats planned to nominate him.

Spain’s vice president, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, called on Torrent to look for another candidate to replace Puigdemont.

“Mr. Torrent has to open a new round of contacts to save the situation generated by Puigdemont,” she said.

A Telecinco news station reporter caught on camera Puigdemont’s message, which had been sent to the cellphone of Toni Comin, a close aide also in exile. The station had been filming a Brussels meeting that Puigdemont had been scheduled to attend.

Puigdemont may have been excusing his absence to Comin, who organized the conference in which Puigdemont was expected to reaffirm his bid to continue as president, sources in the independence movement told VOA.

In an earlier statement to reporters Tuesday, Puigdemont said he would continue to work to remain president. Puigdemont’s first name, Carles, was clearly visible on the cellphone screenshots taken by Telecinco.

“La Moncloa’s [Spain’s presidential palace] plan has triumphed. I hope it’s true and that it means everyone in prison will be released. Otherwise, it would be a historical farce,” Puigdemont said. Some analysts say the comments could indicate some kind of plea-bargaining deal with the Spanish government.

‘Broken’ movement

When Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on Catalonia following the regional government’s declaration of independence last November, most members of Puigdemont’s Cabinet were arrested, while he fled to exile. Three of them, including his vice president Oriol Junqueras, remain in jail.

Spokesmen for Junqueras’ independence group, the Catalan leftist Republican party, have said that Puigdemont could be sacrificed so a new government could be formed. Claims by Puigdemont and his supporters that he could lead “telematically” by Skype have been ridiculed throughout Spain’s political spectrum.

“Puigdemont’s farce is finished,” tweeted Prime Minister Rajoy’s ruling PP party.

Puigdemont’s center-right rival for Catalonia’s presidency, Ines Arrimadas, said the independence movement was “broken.”

“They have to face the truth,” Arrimadas said. “If they name someone else who violates the law, the same thing is going to happen.”

Comin said the “pro-government bloc should have no illusions about divisions among supporters of independence.”

Violent protests

Four separatist lawmakers from the radical Catalan Unity Candidacy, or CUP, refused to leave the parliamentary chamber when Tuesday’s session was suspended. About 500 violent protesters, organized by the party’s Catalan republic defense committees, tried to storm the parliament building from a tent city erected in a nearby park. They overran police barricades and chased away officers who took refuge in the building.

The crowd jeered and insulted members of the Catalan parliament as they emerged from the session, calling Torrent a “traitor.” Twenty-seven Catalan police officers were injured in the clashes, according to press reports.

“We go back to seeing the last days of a Catalan republic,” Puigdemont texted Comin in an apparent reference to a previous attempt to set up an independent Catalan state at the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

While Puigdemont excused his comments as being the result of a momentary irritation, he did not seem to see many political prospects.

“My future is likely to be more judicial than political,” he wrote Comin. “I will have to dedicate my life to my legal defense.”

Dating App Tinder Cited for Discriminating Against Over-30s

A California court has ruled that the popular dating app Tinder violated age discrimination laws by charging users 30 and older more than younger ones.

Allan Candelore of California sued the app company over the pricing of its Tinder Plus premium service. Tinder Plus costs $9.99 per month for users younger than 30, while those 30 and older are charged $19.99 per month. The features for Tinder Plus are identical for users regardless of age.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian Currey ruled in favor of Allan Candelore, 33, of San Diego, saying Tinder’s pricing violates California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. That law “provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California.”

The company countered in court documents that it is “self-evident that people under 30 face financial challenges” and this “common knowledge provides a reasonable and non-arbitrary basis for Tinder to offer a discount to people under 30.”

“Why is Tinder allowed to get away with charging me more for the exact same product as any other 18-28 year old?” asked Reddit user jshrlzwrld02. “Nothing magically changes at age 29 on Tinder. I don’t get new features. I don’t get anything extra. So why is this not discrimination based on age/sex/religion/orientation?”

Tinder has faced similar accusations before. In 2015, Michael Manapol sued Tinder for age and gender discrimination, but a judge dismissed that claim, saying Manapol failed to show how he was harmed by the allegations. Also in 2015, Wired magazine took issue with Tinder’s pricing tiers, calling them “ageist.”

“The only time pricing should be staggered is if each step up in cost coincides with a step-up in service or concern,” said Robert Carbone, a digital marketer with the LinkedIn networking service.

“Tinder is a privately owned company and should be able to charge any amount they see fit to whoever wants to use their service. No one is forcing consumers to use Tinder. This ruling is an infringement of capitalistic practices,” said Katja Case, a math major at Iowa State University, on LinkedIn.

Tinder is popular among college-age people.

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Dating App Tinder Cited for Age Discrimination

A California court has ruled that the popular dating app Tinder violated age discrimination laws by charging users 30 and older more than younger ones.

Allan Candelore of California sued the app company over the pricing of its Tinder Plus premium service. Tinder Plus costs $9.99 per month for users younger than 30, while those 30 and older are charged $19.99 per month. The features for Tinder Plus are identical for users regardless of age.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian Currey ruled in favor of Allan Candelore, 33, of San Diego, saying Tinder’s pricing violates California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. That law “provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California.”

The company countered in court documents that it is “self-evident that people under 30 face financial challenges” and this “common knowledge provides a reasonable and non-arbitrary basis for Tinder to offer a discount to people under 30.”

“Why is Tinder allowed to get away with charging me more for the exact same product as any other 18-28 year old?” asked Reddit user jshrlzwrld02. “Nothing magically changes at age 29 on Tinder. I don’t get new features. I don’t get anything extra. So why is this not discrimination based on age/sex/religion/orientation?”

Tinder has faced similar accusations before. In 2015, Michael Manapol sued Tinder for age and gender discrimination, but a judge dismissed that claim, saying Manapol failed to show how he was harmed by the allegations. Also in 2015, Wired magazine took issue with Tinder’s pricing tiers, calling them “ageist.”

“The only time pricing should be staggered is if each step up in cost coincides with a step-up in service or concern,” said Robert Carbone, a digital marketer with the LinkedIn networking service.

“Tinder is a privately owned company and should be able to charge any amount they see fit to whoever wants to use their service. No one is forcing consumers to use Tinder. This ruling is an infringement of capitalistic practices,” said Katja Case, a math major at Iowa State University, on LinkedIn.

Tinder is popular among college-age people.

Russian Presidential Candidate Shuns Communist Party Dogma

The Communist Party’s candidate for president would seem to be an odd choice: He’s a millionaire and proud of it. He also openly rejects the basic tenets of Communism.

 

 Pavel Grudinin is the Russian party’s first new nominee in 14 years as it hopes to rejuvenate itself and broaden its appeal from its traditional base of aging voters who are nostalgic for the old Soviet Union.   

 

Not that Grudinin – or any other candidate – has much of a chance of unseating President Vladimir Putin when Russia votes on March 18. The presence of Grudinin and other official candidates are largely viewed as a Kremlin ploy to boost voter participation in an election that has a foregone conclusion.

 

A low presidential vote turnout would be seen as an embarrassment for the Kremlin. That’s why opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was leading a grassroots campaign for nearly a year before being formally barred from running, has been urging his supporters to boycott the presidential election and dent its legitimacy.

 

In contrast, Grudinin is urging voters to come to polls and bring change through the political process.

The 57-year-old agricultural college graduate runs what is still known as the Lenin State Farm, a sprawling collective farm south of Moscow, the capital.

 

With his bushy mustache and salt-and-pepper hair, Grudinin’s looks are often compared to those of a young Josef Stalin. Grudinin worked on the farm in the mid-1980s and was appointed its director a decade later.

 

While most of the collective plots outside Moscow were sold off years ago to property developers, the Lenin State Farm evolved into a successful private business, growing vegetables and raising livestock. Its signature product is strawberries, accounting for a third of all of them produced in Russia.

 

While metal or wooden strawberries adorn lampposts, fences and farm buildings in the town, Grudinin’s self-promoted image of a farmer is not the whole story. He admits that his company over the years has made only a third to half of its income from agricultural production, which he blames on a lack of government subsidies and low wages for consumers who cannot afford his organic produce.

 

In fact, the Lenin State Farm makes most of its money from property deals, leasing and selling land for shopping centers.

 

Corruption is rampant in the Moscow region, home to some of Russia’s most expensive real estate. Yet many international corporations doing business here refuse to pay officials under the table.

 

Communist-capitalist

Grudinin views his deals with companies like the Swedish furniture giant IKEA as a badge of honor, citing it as proof that he does not pay bribes.

 

Grudinin owns 44 percent of the farm and runs it with 33 other shareholders. The Communist-capitalist prides himself on reinvesting the profits back into the business or creating housing, education and other benefits for the community.

 

The small town that bears the same name as the farm is dominated by two Disneyland-like castles with spires and a futuristic building that looks like a sports arena but is actually a high-tech, 1.7 billion-ruble ($30 million) school that the farm built for residents.

 

“We spend this money in line with socialist principles: We spend it on people,” he says.

 

Grudinin boasts that he is fighting corruption just like opposition leader Navalny – but “not only with words but also with deeds, by not paying bribes.”

While Grudinin refuses to recognize Navalny as the only viable alternative to Putin, he is willing to appropriate some of the opposition leader’s agenda.

 

“We have too many bureaucrats and no one is responsible,” Grudinin said on state television. “If I tell the rich ‘instead of buying yachts, you should pay a higher income tax here, just like they do abroad,’ then maybe we will replenish the budget and we will modernize education and health care.”

 

Grudinin, who has declared 157 million rubles ($2.8 million) in income in the past six years, is no political novice. He sat on the local council in the early 2000s and was a member of the ruling United Russia Party until 2010.

 

In Putin’s first presidential election in 2000, Grudinin was one of 100 proxies for him, representing or speaking on his behalf in the campaign.

 

Asked if it feels strange now to run against Putin, Grudinin replies: “I wouldn’t say I’m running against Putin. I stand for a different path for the country’s development.”

 

Coopted by the Kremlin

Although openly critical of the current political order – saying that “people don’t trust the authorities” and that “corruption has taken the upper hand” – Grudinin is careful not to blame it all on the man who has been leading Russia for the past 18 years. Putin is just part of the system, he says.

 

That line echoes the rhetoric of his predecessor, long-time Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, who has run in four presidential elections since 1996.

 

Once a searing critic of President Boris Yeltsin, the 73-year-old Zyuganov and the Communists have been coopted by the Kremlin. These days, the Communists support all crucial Kremlin directives, such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, while dissenting on minor issues, which allows Putin to maintain a facade of democracy.

 

While running against Yeltsin in 1996, Zyuganov spooked Russia’s oligarchs and foreign investors by promising to re-nationalize the strategic sectors of the economy while still allowing private property. Grudinin rejects calls to ban private ownership of land – once a key tenet of Communism.

 

Unlike Russia’s oligarchs who make headlines by buying foreign sports teams or giant yachts, Grudinin’s investments like those in the town of 5,000 people have made him a popular figure.

 

‘Putin’s place’

Pavel Samoilov, who works in a car repair shop, says he would love to work for Grudinin but the jobs on the farm are hard to get.

 

“People in the regions are much worse off than what they say on television,” says Samoilov, 33. He says he admires Putin’s foreign policy but says he has “allowed the country to come to ruin.”

 

Putin enjoys national approval ratings of over 80 percent. While Grudinin once was polling second to Putin, he has since fallen to a tie with perennial candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has run for president six times.

 

Many of those who admire Grudinin still do not see him as a leader.

 

Maria, a 40-year-old mother of two who wouldn’t give her last name, sounded ecstatic about the well-equipped local school and kindergarten and likes Grudinin. But she won’t vote for him.

 

“We need to vote for Putin because he is a strong leader,” she said. “This is Putin’s place.”

 

Former Brazil President Leads Poll Despite Conviction

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva enjoys a strong lead ahead of the October 7 presidential elections despite his recent conviction on corruption charges, according to a poll published Wednesday.

The Datafolha poll was the first since an appeals court last week upheld a corruption conviction against da Silva — a decision likely to knock him out of contention.

The survey indicated that if da Silva were running now, he would get between 34 and 37 percent of votes in the first round. That’s a comfortable lead over right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro, with 16 to 18 percent of the vote.

According to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2 percentage points, da Silva would also defeat all other likely candidates in an October 28 runoff election that would be held if no single candidate wins a majority in the first round.

A congressman of the conservative Social Liberal Party, Bolsonaro is a former army paratrooper who has vowed to wipe out corruption and crime and get the economy growing again. He has alarmed critics with fierce opposition to gay rights and abortion.

If da Silva isn’t allowed to run, Bolsonaro tops the first round with 18 to 20 percent of votes in the survey. But he trails in a runoff behind Marina Silva, a former environment minister under da Silva, Datafolha said.

Environment, Gender Equality on Agenda at G-7 Canada Meeting

Climate change will be on the agenda for this year’s Group of Seven summit in Quebec despite Canada’s difference of opinion with the Trump administration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal representative for the summit said in an interview Wednesday that implementation of the Paris climate accord will be discussed even though U.S. President Donald Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. Peter Boehm said if countries agreed on everything, there wouldn’t be a reason to meet.

 

The June gathering of leaders from seven wealthy democracies will mark Trump’s first trip to Canada.

 

Gender equality and women’s empowerment will also be major themes.

 

Boehm is hosting a meeting with the representatives of each country in Waterloo, Ontario, and says Trump’s representative is happy with Canada’s focus.

 

 

African Migrants Crossing From Mexico Face Lengthy Detention, Deportation

Africans account for only about five percent of undocumented migrants arriving in the United States. And activists say they are largely excluded from the broader conversation about immigration reform, especially along the U.S. border with Mexico. VOA’s Henok Fente reports from San Antonio, Texas where African asylum seekers face immediate detention and prolonged court battles to avoid being deported.