Dutch Police Searching for Gunman in Tram Shooting

Dutch police are searching for a Turkish-born man in connection with a shooting on a tram in the city of Utrecht that caused multiple injuries and one feared death Monday.

The Dutch national terrorism chief said the incident on the tram was one of “multiple” shootings in the city.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg reporters in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg declined to comment on the number of victims.

Police said that several trauma helicopters had been deployed to the scene to assist the wounded and appealed to the public to stay clear of the area to allow first responders to provide the necessary help.

“The surrounding area has been cordoned off and we are investigating the matter,” Utrecht police said.

A police spokesman is quoted as saying that all possibilities are being considered, including a terrorist motive.  Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was “deeply concerned” about the incident.

 

Local media have reported that counter-terrorism police were at the scene and showed images of masked, armed police and emergency vehicles surrounding a tram that had stopped near a road bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

France Starts New Chapter in National Debate Aimed to End Yellow-Vest Crisis

After wrapping up thousands of town hall meetings, France starts a new chapter of its “great debate,” aimed to address longstanding public grievances and offer solutions to the yellow vest protest movement.

But the broader crisis lingers, seen with upsurge of violence in Paris Saturday, where about 10,000 yellow vests marked their 18th straight week of protests.

Demonstrators smashed and looted businesses on the iconic Champs Elysees and hurled cobble stones at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Others participated in a peaceful climate march that brought together tens of thousand of people—underscoring the diffuse, unorganized complexity of the leaderless protest movement.

Eight weeks of citizen debates, launched in January by an embattled President Emmanuel Macron, have received mixed reviews. Some consider them a groundbreaking experiment in participative democracy. Others dismiss them as a public relations stunt.

The bigger question is whether and how Macron’s centrist government plans to transform the public feedback into tangible policy change that can address pent-up resentments and find an exit to the unrest.

“The problems start now” said analyst Jean Petaux of Sciences-Po Bordeaux University. “To totally finish with the yellow vests, the government has to address at least part of their demands, which are very disparate. And give the sense it is offering credible solutions.”

For Macron, the immediate takeaways have been largely positive. Up to half-a-million French participated in 10,000 town-hall-style meetings nationwide that tackled pre-set topics, ranging from taxes and pubic services, to democracy and the environment. Organizers also received more than 1.4 million online comments outlining other issues of public concern, including jobs and immigration.

“People are learning that politics and how to change a system is a very difficult process,” said Bernard Reber, an expert on participative citizenship at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, citing one early achievement.

A mixed review

The debates have also given the president and his government some breathing room — time that will last through the current “phase two,” which ends in April. Citizens are being randomly selected to participate in regional meetings aimed to prioritize the myriad demands.

Surveys show the majority of French have broadly given the national debates a thumbs up. More than eight in 10 respondents said the meetings gave citizens an opportunity to express themselves, while smaller majorities said they addressed their personal problems and those aired by the yellow vests, according to a Harris Interactive-Agence Epoka poll published this week, echoing others.

But many appear skeptical that all the talking will amount to much. Another survey found roughly two-thirds doubt the government will ultimately take the public feedback into account.

France’s leading Le Monde newspaper, however, gave the effort a careful, initial thumbs up. Critics who dismissed the debates as a diversion “were misguided,” it wrote in an editorial, while the yellow vests “were eclipsed and marginalize by this exercise in democracy.”

“Macron has not yet won,” it added, “he needs to show he hasn’t just listened but heard the country.”

Government members insist that will happen.

“The idea we have to do things differently is obvious,” Territorial Collectives Minister Sebastien Lecornu, who helped to organizing the debates, told the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche. “We may beef up certain themes, accelerate or correct others.”

But Prime Minister Edouard Philippe offered a more cautionary note, those expecting a flurry of government measures emerging from the debates were misguided.

The months of yellow vest protests have slowed Macron’s reformist agenda. The protest movement, named after the fluorescent jackets French keep in their cars, has morphed well beyond its initial opposition to a planned fuel tax hike, to embrace a hodgepodge of grievances of a largely rural and working class France left behind.

The French president took an initial step back by repealing the fuel tax increase. Then in December, he went further, announcing billions of dollars of aid for the most vulnerable and laying out plans the debates. Yellow vests dismissed the announcements as insufficient, the most extreme calling for Macron’s resignation.

“Emmanuel Macron now has to show that his statements — that there is a before and and after the yellow vests — are translated into acts,” says analyst Petaux. “Otherwise, it’s just talk.”

The next step?

So far, there are at least stylistic changes. Often dismissed as arrogant and aloof, Macron has rolled up his sleeves — literally — and participated in roughly a dozen public debates, in a style reminiscent of his presidential campaign.

Political opponents grumble the French leader has hogged media coverage ahead of May European Parliament elections. And indeed, polls show Macron’s approval rating jumped eight points by early March, to reach 28 percent, and his Republic on the March party inching up to overtake the far-right opposition National Rally.

Still, some observers note the debates ultimately involved only a small slice of the population — including many elderly, with time on their hands. “The great majority of French stayed home,” said analyst Petaux. “It’s not that they were sidelined. It’s that they don’t care. They have other things to do.”

But analyst Reber, who attended roughly 30 of the town hall meetings, believes the debates should not be underestimated. “They’ve been unprecedented in every sense,” he said.

A few months ago, he said, many would have dismissed the idea that French would show up and hash out often deeply divisive issues. “But that’s not been the case,” Reber added. “People mobilized — and stayed for a long time. I don’t know many countries in the world that allow citizens to participate in hours-long debates.”

Macron is expected to announce the after-debate roadmap next month. So far, the French president has given little indication of his long-term exit strategy. Some believe he doesn’t yet have one.

 “I’m not sure the government has a clear idea of what it’s going to do with this mass of information” Reber said. “But it has all kinds of options.

A referendum may be the most obvious path, many analysts say. But it carries risks — not only in terms timing, notably whether to schedule such a vote during May European Parliament elections — but also the chance French may vote against it.

The next steps for the yellow vests are also unclear. A number of analysts believe the movement will slowly die out.

Some diehards will likely continue and harden the protests, Petaux believes, while another group will be absorbed into existing politics parties — mostly on the far right and far left.

A third “will relive the nostalgia of the Republic of roundabouts,” he said, remembering the solidarity and friendships struck during the protests.

France Cleans up Champs-Elysees After Yellow Vest Rioting

Paris cleaned up one of the world’s most glamorous avenues Saturday after resurgent rioting by yellow vest protesters angry at President Emmanuel Macron stunned the nation.

 

Luxury stores, restaurants and banks on the Champs-Elysees assessed damage Sunday after they were ransacked or blackened by life-threatening fires. Tourists took pictures as shop owners tried to repair broken windows and city workers scrubbed away graffiti, much of it targeting Macron.

 

The renewed violence by a movement that had been fizzling in recent weeks was a wakeup call to a president seen as favoring the elite.

 

Macron promised a crackdown on troublemakers he said “want to destroy the republic, at the risk of killing people.” But he also tweeted that the rioting showed that his government needs to do more to address protesters’ concerns.

 

Macron cut short a weekend ski trip to meet Saturday night with security officials at the crisis center overseeing the police response.

 

On the Champs-Elysees, an eerie calm replaced the hours-long chaos of the day before on the street that Parisians call “the most beautiful avenue in the world.”

 

No police were visible Sunday, and traffic rolled down cobblestones that had been the scene of battles between rioters and police struggling to contain them.

 

In the midst of Saturday’s violence, firefighters said that a mother and her child were barely saved from a building set ablaze because it housed a bank on the ground floor. Smoke from fires set by protesters mingled with clouds of tear gas sprayed by police.

 

The protesters sought to revive their movement Saturday by marking the end of a two-month-long national debate called by Macron that protesters say failed to answer their demands for economic justice.

 

Police had braced for an uptick of violence, but appeared caught off guard by the speed and severity of Saturday’s unrest.

 

Authorities and some protesters blamed black bloc extremists who come to demonstrations with the express goal of attacking police and damaging property. They dress in black, including masks and hoods to make it harder for police to identify them, and often target symbols of capitalism or globalization.

 

Overall, the Interior Ministry said that around 32,000 yellow vest protesters demonstrated nationwide Saturday, including about 10,000 in Paris. That was up from last week, when about 26,000 people marched around France including 3,000 in Paris.

 

However, it was far from the 250,000 yellow vest demonstrators who protested in December — and a fraction of the 145,000 people who took part in peaceful climate marches Saturday around France, according to the ministry’s figures.

 

The four-month-old movement tapped into widespread discontent with high taxes and diminishing living standards in working class provinces — and anger at Macron, seen as too friendly with the rich and powerful and out of touch with French concerns.

 

But the yellow vest movement has lost support because of protest violence, internal divisions and concessions by Macron’s government. The remaining protesters appear increasingly extreme.

 

 

 

Putin to Mark 5 years of Annexation in Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Crimea on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of Moscow’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, condemned by the West but celebrated by most Russians.

A Kremlin statement on Sunday said Putin would visit the peninsula and its largest city Sevastopol to attend celebrations marking five years since Crimea “rejoined” Russia.

The Russian leader will take part in a ceremony opening a new power station and meet representatives of civil society during the visit, it said.

On March 18, 2014, Putin signed a treaty with representatives from Crimea to make it part of Russia, two days after a referendum that was not recognized by the international community.

Kyiv and the West slammed the move as an annexation, leading to sanctions against Moscow, but it resulted in a major boost of Putin’s popularity at the time.

In Russia, March 18 has been officially proclaimed as the “Day of Crimea’s Reunification with Russia.”

UK Leader to Lawmakers: Back my Deal or Face Lengthy Delay

British Prime Minister Theresa May warned Sunday that it would be “a potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure” if a Brexit delay meant that the U.K. has to take part in May’s European elections — almost three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, May also cautioned that if lawmakers failed to back her deal before Thursday’s European Council summit, “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”

 

“If the proposal were to go back to square one and negotiate a new deal, that would mean a much longer extension… The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.

 

May is expected to try to win Parliament’s approval of her withdrawal agreement for the third time this week. After months of political deadlock, lawmakers voted on Thursday to seek to postpone Brexit.

 

That will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — though power to approve or reject an extension lies with the EU. The European Commission has said the bloc would consider any request, “taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.”

 

By law, Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.

 

May is trying to persuade opponents in her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies to support the withdrawal agreement, which Parliament has already resoundingly defeated twice.

 

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Sunday his party is against May’s deal — but indicated that it would back an amendment that supports the deal on condition it is put to a new referendum.

 

Corbyn has written to lawmakers across the political spectrum inviting them for talks to find a cross-party compromise.

 

He also told Sky News that he may propose another no-confidence vote in the government if May’s deal is voted down again.

Paris Exhibit Traces Post-Colonial Migration Through Music

As rising nationalism and the crisis surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union intensify divisions on the continent, a new exhibit in the French capital looks instead at a powerful unifier: Music.

The music the came with the postwar colonial migrations helped turn two of Europe’s most important hubs, London and Paris, into multicultural melting pots.

Rhythm and blues, reggae, rai and rock ’n’ roll — Europe and other Western regions got world music long before the term was invented. Even the Beatles were much more than a British brand — borrowing from Asia and sometimes West Africa.

How it blended into popular culture today is a central theme of a new exhibit that examines three decades of post-war migration to Paris and London — through music.

France and Britain needed extra manpower to fuel their fast-growing economies. They got it from former colonies that had just achieved independence. For immigrants in Paris, it was a tough beginning.

“Immigrants lived in special areas, what we call foyers,” said Stephane Malfettes. “There were a lot of strikes in the foyers de travelers. They were working in factories during the day — sharing the life of everybody — but at the end of the day, they vanished in their foyers.”

 

WATCH: Post-Colonial Migration to London, Paris Traced Via Music

Malfettes is the curator of the exhibit that opened this week at the Paris Museum of Immigration History. He says the immigrants were initially sidelined from France’s mainstream musical scene, as well. Things changed in the 1970s.

“The music became a very strong protest in the public space as an instrument of revolt and protest,” he said.

Across the English Channel, migrants in London also faced racism. But Martin Evans, another exhibit curator, said they were introducing the city to ska and reggae from Jamaica, music from East Africa, and calypso from Trinidad and Tobago.

“They become profoundly London,” Evans said. “And in a sense, I think that’s a measure of how much this migration has transformed London by the end of the 1980s.”

The parents of British musician and filmmaker Don Letts immigrated to Britain from Jamaica as part of the so-called Windrush generation. He says they wanted to integrate by denying their roots. It didn’t work.

“Ironically, it was their culture, particularly their music, that would capture the imagination of the white working-class kids,” he said. “And it was our culture that would actually help us to integrate with society.”

Letts says the cultural exchange went both ways.

“I was inspired by a lot of things that I grew up with. I grew up digging the Stones, the Beatles, Bowie, Roxy Music and all the rest of it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Paris by the 1980s had become a hub for African music — singers like Papa Wemba, Khaled, Youssou Ndour and Salif Keita. Music producer Martin Meissonnier was among their earliest fans — and producer for some of the biggest artists.

“Out of pleasure I was discovering all these new musics, and I thought it was a gold mine. It was fascinating. It was all these incredible bands,” Meissonnier said.

The musical fusion has left a powerful imprint on today’s artists. And it has changed not only how we think about music, but about each other.

Report: May Partner Insists on Role in Post-Brexit Trade Talks

The Northern Irish party that props up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government is demanding a seat at post-Brexit trade talks as its price for supporting her twice-defeated divorce deal, The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.

The Democratic Unionist Party also wants a guarantee that Northern Ireland will be treated no differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, the newspaper said.

“We are determined that Brexit should happen in accordance with the referendum result, but the only way it can happen which is acceptable to us is if the United Kingdom is treated as one,” DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told The Sunday Telegraph. “The government is now focused on this key issue, but political statements or pledges are not enough.” 

Earlier, May warned lawmakers that unless they approved her twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal, Britain’s exit from the European Union could face a long delay and could involve taking part in European Parliament elections. 

After 2½ years of tortuous divorce negotiations with the EU, the final outcome is still uncertain with options including a long delay, exiting with May’s deal, a disorderly exit without a deal, or even another referendum. 

An ultimatum

May has issued Brexit supporters a clear ultimatum: Ratify her deal by a European Council summit March 21 or face a delay to Brexit way beyond June 30 that would open up the possibility that the entire divorce could be ultimately thwarted. 

Negotiation of a new deal “would mean a much longer extension — almost certainly requiring the United Kingdom to participate in the European Parliament elections in May,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.

“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about. There could be no more potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure.”

EU leaders will consider pressing Britain to delay Brexit by at least a year to find a way out of the domestic maelstrom, though there is shock and growing impatience at the political chaos in London. 

Her deal, an attempt to keep close relations with the EU while leaving the bloc’s formal structures, was defeated by 230 votes in parliament on Jan. 15 and by 149 votes on March 12. 

But May continues to fight to build support for her plan, which is expected to put before lawmakers for a third time next week, possibly on Tuesday.

To get it through Parliament, the prime minister must win over dozens of Brexit-supporting rebels in her own Conservative Party — and the Democratic Unionist Party. 

The DUP has voted against May’s plan because of concerns about the Northern Ireland backstop, which is an insurance policy aimed at maintaining an open border between the British province of Northern 

Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Thousands of Catalan Separatist Supporters Protest in Madrid

Thousands of supporters of Catalan independence marched through central Madrid on Saturday to protest the trial of 12 separatist leaders who face years in prison for their role in organizing a failed independence bid from Spain in 2017.

Demonstrators, many who made the journey from the northwestern Catalonia region for the protest, waved Catalan flags and carried signs reading “Self-determination is not a crime.”

Protest organizers put the turnout at 120,000 while police gave a figure of 18,000. 

Tensions between Madrid and Barcelona have thawed since the political crisis triggered by Catalonia’s independence declaration in late 2017, but the trial of 12 separatist leaders for their role in the secession bid and events leading up to it has been one of several sticking points to derail negotiations. 

The 12 are on trial in Madrid on charges ranging from rebellion to misuse of funds, which they deny. 

The Catalan crisis is set to play a major role in April 28 elections, with three right-leaning parties — the conservative People’s Party (PP), the center-right Ciudadanos and the relatively new far-right Vox party — calling for Spain to take a tougher position with separatists. 

Polls show the support of Catalan parties may prove decisive if Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is to form a government after the vote. Most polls indicate Sanchez’s Socialists winning the most seats but falling short of a parliamentary majority. 

Sanchez came to power by winning a confidence motion last year with the support of Catalan separatist parties but was unable to secure their backing for his budget, effectively dooming the project and leading him to call an early election. 

Serbian Protesters Enter State TV Headquarters in Belgrade

Protesters demonstrating against the autocratic rule of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic burst into state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade on Saturday to criticize a broadcaster whose reporting they consider highly biased. 

Riot police arrived at the scene in the Serbian capital and were trying to evict dozens of people, including some opposition leaders, who had entered the downtown building. Some protest leaders said they wouldn’t leave the building until they were given time on the main evening news broadcast.

This was the first major incident after months of peaceful protests against populist leader Vucic. The demonstrators are demanding his resignation, free elections and media, and more democracy.

The protests began after thugs beat up an opposition politician in November. A former extreme nationalist, Vucic has said he wants to lead Serbia into the European Union. 

Some 10,000 others also demonstrated Saturday against long-serving Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica.

Djukanovic and his party have ruled Montenegro virtually unchallenged for three decades. He led the country to independence from much larger Serbia in 2006 and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. 

Both Vucic and Djukanovic have rejected calls to resign.

Blazes, Clashes Hit Paris During Yellow Vest Protest

Large plumes of smoke rose above Paris’ landmark Champs-Elysees avenue as French yellow vest protesters set fires, smashed up luxury stores and clashed with police Saturday in a 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

Police tried to contain the demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons. Fire trucks rushed to extinguish two burning newspaper kiosks that were set ablaze, sending black smoke high into the sky.

As demonstrators targeted symbols of the luxury industry, shops including brands Hugo Boss and Lacoste were smashed up and pillaged, and mannequins thrown out of the broken windows. A posh eatery called Fouquet’s, which is associated with politicians and celebrities, was vandalized and set on fire. A vehicle burned outside luxury boutique Kenzo, one of many blazes on and around the Champs-Elysees.

The violence started when protesters threw smoke bombs and other objects at officers along the famed avenue — scene of repeated past rioting — and started pounding on the windows of a police van. Riot police then retreated, with protesters kicking the side of the large truck.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there were 7,000-8,000 demonstrators in Paris on Saturday of which 1,500 were “ultraviolent ones that are there to smash things up.”

Pushing a hard line, Castaner ordered police to retaliate against these “inadmissible” acts, condemning those who “call for violence and are here to ferment chaos in Paris.”

After dwindling numbers in recent weekends, protesters are hoping their latest day of action can breathe new life into their movement against a president seen as favoring the elite.

Paris police told The Associated Press that 64 people were arrested by early afternoon. Bracing for a potential uptick in protester numbers and violence, the French capital deployed more police Saturday than in previous weekends. Police closed down several streets and fanned out around the Right Bank.

Yellow vest groups representing teachers, unemployed people and labor unions were among those that organized dozens of rallies and marches Saturday in the capital and around France.

The actions mark the end of a two-month national debate that Macron organized to respond to protesters’ concerns.

Protesters dismiss the debate as empty words and a campaign ploy by Macron for European Parliament elections in May. They are angry over high taxes and Macron policies seen as coddling the business world.

“Those who participated in this great debate are mostly retirees and upper middle class, meaning Macron’s electorate, even though we understood this great national debate was supposed to respond to the yellow vest crisis,” lawyer and protester Francois Boulo told Europe-1 radio.

In their online appeal for Saturday’s protests, organizers said they wanted the day to serve as an “ultimatum” to “the government and the powerful.”