Macron’s broken promise? Hundreds still freezing on Paris streets

Hundreds are still stranded in Paris despite the French president having vowed to clear the streets of rough-sleeping migrants by the end of 2017. RT spoke to refugees in the camps, who are still hoping to get asylum in France.

When President Macron promised that the public would “no longer see anyone on the streets” by the end of 2017, following criticism of the way migrants were living in France, many people welcomed such a bold statement. Others believed it would come back to bite him – and it has. As the first week of 2018 rolls in, thousands of migrants are still on the streets of France, still waiting for a shelter more permanent than a flimsy tent.

Rafi is one among hundreds of migrants who have camped for at least one night near Jaurès metro station in Paris during the past two years. He’s been in France for seven months. First, he headed to Calais in the hope he could reach the UK. After failing to cross the English Channel, however, he came to Paris, hoping that he would be given asylum.

“I fled Afghanistan because of the Taliban,” he tells me. “I’ve been here in Paris for a month and it’s cold,” he says, as he shows me the number of layers he’s wearing. Rafi takes me down to the side of the canal and shows me the tiny, pop-up, two-man tent he currently calls home. He sleeps there with two others ‘for warmth.’ “This is my life,” he repeats over and over. When I ask if it’s the life he thought he would have, he pauses before bowing his head and quietly says “No.”

If Rafi’s story has been told once, it’s been told a thousand times or more by other migrants. The makeshift camp at Jaurès is full of men like him. They came to Europe for asylum, for jobs, for a better life, but many haven’t found it. I see men huddled around open fires, holding their hands to the flames in a bid to keep warm. Others are patiently waiting near the metro station. It’s night, and they are hoping the food station that has become a nightly fixture will show up again. It does. A small table is set up and a group of volunteers dish out hot soup with a side of French stick. The men wolf down the meal, some remain standing. They are so hungry, they don’t want to waste any time.

Jaurès has become a temporary home for one main reason; it’s where there’s a reception center for migrants to register. There, they can start the path to finding a more permanent home in France and possibly the documentation to one day work here legally. Outside the center, a long queue has already formed. It won’t open until the morning, but these men are camped out as they want to ensure they are first in line. That’s because centers like this one are limited in the number of people they can process each day.

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French police point a gun at a man on the ground while soldiers secure the area following an attack on October 1, 2017 at the Saint-Charles main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille. © Paul-Louis Leger

Residents are angry with the situation at Jaurès and have made it known to Macron. Pierre Vuarin, spokesperson for the local Collectif des Habitants Associés, is demanding a resolution and says the camp by the metro isn’t the only one. “In the neighborhood there are another 30 camps, unfortunately like this,” he says. Vuarin is also concerned because there have been outbursts at the reception center. “There is a problem with violence between the people who are waiting in the queue in front of the reception office because they want to be the first.”

Whose fault, is it? I ask. He’s to the point: “It’s not the fault of the migrants, it’s the fault of the system. It’s poorly organized and it has posed problems for two years. It’s completely dysfunctional and creates the situation of confrontation and violence. People have been at the reception office. The people are angry at the situation because it continues in the same way and because there is no solution.”

France wants to help those who have fled persecution, with Macron saying“They must be welcomed on our territory.” He’s also said he wants people to be put up in “worthy” accommodation. Hotels have already been bought to convert into shelters. But Macron has been clear that the same helping hand will not be offered to all, saying: “No country can take all the economic migrants.” The problem is that there appears to be a never-ending trickle of migrants coming to France. As soon as people are cleared from the street, more arrive, and the cycle continues.

In a bid to try and tackle the crisis head on, orders were given by the Interior Ministry to regional authorities, instructing them to set up mobile teams to make checks on emergency housing to ascertain the status of migrants in them. That provoked anger from charities who also criticized a new hardline immigration law, planned by Macron to speed up the process for asylum, but which could also be used to expel migrants without giving them a chance to claim asylum.

Many people in France are equally outraged when crimes are committed by illegal migrants. In October, there was palpable anger when it emerged that a man who killed two women in a terrorist attack in Marseilles had been released by police two days before the incident, despite the authorities’ knowledge that he was an illegal immigrant. Ahmed Hanachi, from Tunisia, had been living in the area since at least 2005 and had ignored an order to leave France. He’s not the only one. In 2016, around 91,000 illegal migrants were arrested in France, though fewer than 25,000 left the country, according to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. Yet Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said they are cracking down on illegal migrants, with a 14-percent increase in expulsions in 2017. 

A crackdown may inflate the figures somewhat, but the reality is that thousands have already found a way to bypass the system, which is in place to distinguish real asylum seekers from economic migrants. It’s a task that will never be simple. Neither will a plan to find shelter for all migrants sleeping rough in France, as Macron has just found out.

Charlotte Dubenskij for RT

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Haul of guns, ammo and explosives found in derelict Essex building

Police who raided a derelict building in Essex have found a haul of weapons and munitions. That includes two AK-47 automatic rifles, a sawn-off shotgun, a handgun, ammunition and a number of “highly explosive” grenades.

They were discovered during a search of a site in North Ockendon, Essex on Thursday, Essex Police said in a statement. They are believed to have been there for “some time.”

The Ministry of Defence Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit is assisting police at the site, the force said, where they may carry out a controlled explosion later on Thursday. There is no risk to the public, police added.

Detective Superintendent Mark Hall, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said in a statement: “The investigation is at an early stage and I am maintaining an open mind as to the origin of these weapons, however from their condition they may have been in situ for some time.

“This is a significant seizure and clearly in the wrong hands these weapons could have caused very considerable harm.  I am very pleased that we have been able to safely recover them.”

Hall said the weapons would now be subject to examinations by forensic and ballistic specialists.

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Nuke your dinner without raising a finger: Amazon trolled over microwave voice control

Amazon is being mocked online for the latest update to its smart personal assistant – Alexa can now control microwaves, saving people the mere ‘micro’ seconds it takes to switch on the device after placing your food inside.

Twitter users are deriding the new addition to Alexa’s skill-set teasing that there is finally help out there to work the “complicated” microwave.

Others have questioned the practicality of the control, pointing out that a person will still have to physically put the food in the microwave.

And of course, as with many smart device developments, it begs the question are people really that lazy?

Alexa, the voice assistant of Amazon Echo, can already control cameras, door locks, lights, entertainment systems, and thermostats in the home.

Privacy activists have previously raised concerns over the internet connected assistant and its equivalents warning that these devices harness too much individual data and are open to being hacked.

The upgrades announced by Amazon, Thursday, will initially apply to microwaves before being extended to conventional ovens and other smart cooking appliances.

Customers will be able to set microwave cook times, modes, power levels, and more by simply using their voice to tell Alexa what to do.

Alexa’s cooking capabilities will be first rolled out in the US before being made available elsewhere. The functions don’t work with existing microwaves and ovens, so anyone wishing to avail of the new facility will have to fork out on a new machine.

Whirlpool is expected to launch its connected microwaves in the near future. GE Appliances, Kenmore, LG, and Samsung are also working on using the cooking capabilities in the Smart Home Skill API to let customers control their ovens and more appliances by using Alexa.

READ MORE: For fuel’s sake! Oregonians freak out over prospect of pumping their own gas

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The law that’s freeing UK’s 'worst rapist,' while other petty criminals face indefinite terms

Many are asking why the UK’s ‘worst sex offender’ – a cabbie believed to have assaulted 100 women – will be freed from jail while thousands of others on indeterminate sentences for lesser crimes are still without a release date.

John Worboys, 60, a former stripper and porn actor, was convicted of 19 offences in 2009 and ordered to serve at least eight years in jail. He was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP), meaning he could be kept in prison for as long as he was deemed to be a danger to the public.

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© Murray Sanders / Global Look Press

After a secretive hearing about his case in November, however, the Parole Board decided to approve his release, on condition that he report to probation staff every week and is barred from contacting any of his victims.

While Warboys was found guilty of assaulting 12 women, police believe there were more than 100 victims. More came forward after the trial, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) declined to bring any more charges. It is understood the CPS may have taken this decision because Worboys was on an indeterminate sentence.

Worboys is due to be released within weeks – roughly eight years and nine months after he was jailed. Including the year when he was on remand before trial, he will have been behind bars for less than a year for each of the attacks he was convicted of, and a month for each of the women he was suspected of attacking.

At last count, there were 3,162 people in prisons across England and Wales serving the controversial, and now-abolished, IPP sentences. Because of a law which prevents the disclosure of Parole Board proceedings, it is not known why Worboys’ release was approved while so many other IPP prisoners are denied parole.

“I recognise there is a lack transparency of Parole Board processes and I have recently set out options for change,” Professor Nick Hardwick, the Chair of the Parole Board, said in a statement. “We currently have a statutory duty under the Parole Board Rules that prevents disclosure of proceedings.”

The Parole Board has made it one of its key aims to bring down the number of people on indeterminate sentences to 1,500 by 2020. In 2016-2017, 46 percent of all IPP offenders considered for parole were successful, but the recall rate is extremely high.

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrats spokesperson, questioned whether Worboys’ release would raise questions about other IPP prisoners. “Worboys is being released after an indeterminate sentence (IPP) with min eight years. Has the injustice of 3,300 IPP prisoners with no release date – many far less dangerous – that Parole Board Chief Nick Hardwick highlighted last year been solved then?,” she tweeted.

British Labour peer Charlie Falconer added: “Worboys is an IPP prisoner. He had a tariff of 8 years. There were about 500 IPP prisoners, as at June 17, with tariffs of less than 2 years, about half of who had served 8 years or more over their tariff. How has he been released, and they not?”

A former IPP prisoner, Jamie, said Worboys is being released despite being “a true danger to society.” He added on Twitter: “The Worboys case is all about having the money to pay for a top legal team to guide him thru the hoops. Myself and 7500 out the 8000 given an IPP didn’t have that and were left to rot.”

Cleansheet, an organization that supports men and women into employment after they leave prison, called the decision to release Worboys and not other IPP prisoners a “disgrace.”

IPP sentences were introduced in 2005 under Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett. They were designed to protect society from dangerous, violent, and sexual offenders whose crimes were not deemed serious enough to warrant a life sentence but who posed a “significant risk.”

The sentence was applied far more widely than envisaged, however, swelling the prison population to unprecedented levels and putting huge pressure on the already stretched parole board. Rather than targeting dangerous criminals – with an expected rise in the prison population of 900 – and IPP sentence was handed down to 8,711 offenders between 2005 and 2012. They included arsonists, pub brawlers, and street muggers.

READ MORE: Britain’s forgotten prisoners: 4,000 people trapped behind bars in ‘never-ending’ IPP limbo

In 2012, IPP was abolished under the Coalition government after a European Court ruling claimed it was “arbitrary and unlawful.” Its abolition was not retrospective, however, meaning there are still more than 3,000 prisoners – or nearly five percent of the prison population – serving sentences without a release date. The scheme costs British taxpayers approximately £131 million every year.

There are some prisoners who are serving four times their sentence. Last year, RT reported the cases of Ian Hartley, who is twelve years into a three-year jail term for robbery, and Joshua McCrae, who is eleven years into a four-year jail term for ‘wounding.’

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DoJ probing Clinton Foundation over alleged ‘pay-to-play’ schemes – report

The Justice Department (DOJ) has launched a probe into whether the Clinton Foundation conducted any “pay-to-play” schemes during Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, The Hill reported, citing law enforcement officials.

FBI agents from Little Rock, Arkansas, where the Foundation began, had taken the lead in the investigation and interviewed at least one witness in the past month, the newspaper reported. Law enforcement officials also told The Hill that additional activities were expected in coming weeks.

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Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. © Mario Anzuoni

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the inquiry is looking into whether the Clintons promised or performed any favors in return for contributions to their charitable efforts, or whether donations were pledged in the hope of securing certain outcomes involving the government. The newspaper cited officials as saying that the investigation may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use, and whether the Foundation complied with applicable tax laws. A witness, interviewed by the FBI, said he was answering questions about whether donors to Clinton charitable activities received any favorable treatment from the Obama administration.

Neither the Foundation nor Nick Merrill, spokesman for Hillary Clinton, returned the Hill’s request for comment. Both have previously denied the allegations of trading government policy decisions for donations.

The DoJ is also reopening its probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State (between 2009 and 2013), The Daily Beast reported on Thursday. The department is reportedly trying to collect new details on how Clinton and her aides, former top aide Huma Abedin among them, handled classified material. Among other things, law enforcement officials are endeavoring to find out how much classified information was stored on Clinton’s private email server, as well as how that data got there.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on the DOJ to reopen its investigation into Clinton. “Many people in our Country are asking what the ‘Justice’ Department is going to do about the fact that totally Crooked Hillary, AFTER receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and ‘acid washed’ 33,000 Emails? No justice!” he tweeted last month.

READ MORE: Justice Dept asks FBI to explain evidence found in Clinton-facilitated Uranium One deal – report

On Tuesday, Trump lambasted the DoJ for being part of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy, urging ‘jail’ time for Huma Abedin for using a non-secure private email account while conducting government business.

“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors [sic] pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others,” Trump tweeted, referring to the former FBI director and an incident where a US sailor was punished for sharing a photo from inside a submarine.

Last Friday, the State Department released a batch of nearly 2,800 work-related documents from the email account of Huma Abedin, who served as the deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton. At least five of the trove of emails, stored on a laptop belonging to Abedin’s then-husband, former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner, were marked “confidential,” and involved private talks with Middle Eastern leaders and Clinton’s top aide.

The emails were released in response to a 2015 lawsuit, filed by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch against the State Department after it failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request (FOIA) seeking access to “all emails of official State Department business received or sent by former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin from January 1, 2009 through February 1, 2013 using a non-‘state.gov’ email address.”

The emails were discovered on Weiner’s laptop during an FBI investigation into allegations over ‘sexting’ with a 15-year-old girl. The discovery of the emails triggered the FBI’s reopening of an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server only 11 days before the 2016 presidential election. Clinton repeatedly claimed the announcement contributed to her loss to Donald Trump.

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Ethereum hits new high, soaring above $1,000 for first time

Ethereum, the third-largest cryptocurrency by market value, has hit an all-time high after breaking through the $ 1,000 mark for the first time.

The digital currency rose above $ 1,000 per unit in early trading on Thursday. Ethereum’s rise echoes that of other alternative cryptocurrencies, such as ripple, which have experienced massive surges as bitcoin loses its market dominance.

Ethereum’s market capitalization rose above $ 100 billion for the first time on Thursday, according to Coinmarketcap data. One ether was worth between $ 700 and $ 800 for most of the second half of December but, over the past week, this has rallied by 40 percent.

Ripple is still the second-biggest cryptocurrency by market capitalization after massive surges – including a 1,300-percent increase over the last month – led it to surpass ethereum a week ago.

Despite the growth of other cryptocurrencies, bitcoin still sits at the top in terms of market capitalization at $ 251 billion, with its price at more than $ 15,000. Bitcoin has seen a 25-percent fall from its record of more than $ 20,000 in mid-December.

READ MORE: Tired of bitcoin? Here are 5 cryptocurrencies to watch this year

Earlier this week, ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin announced the launch of two subsidies to support research into the scalability and development of the cryptocurrency.

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Tony Blair warns of populist uprisings & collapse of EU if Muslim immigration not addressed

More countries could break away from the EU in a wave of populist revolts, says Tony Blair. The former UK PM has called on EU countries to “seize the moment” and to deal with underlying Muslim migration issues.

Blair told German newspaper Die Welt that the same migration concerns that sparked Brexit aren’t issues faced solely by the UK, and other EU countries could face backlashes down the line.

“Let’s be clear: the anxieties of the British people that led to Brexit are not confined to Britain,” he said.

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Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair © Stefano Rellandini

“With strong leadership we would seize the moment of Brexit also to deal with those underlying issues which are not only the preoccupation of the British people but are the preoccupation right across Europe. Because otherwise, this populism will get fueled.”

Blair made a clear distinction between EU migration – a problem that he believes is only an issue in certain areas of the UK –  and non-EU migration. He said tensions occur from non-EU migration “when people aren’t sure the people coming are sharing our values” – particularly from majority-Muslim countries.

Blair believes this is already an issue in Holland, Denmark and Sweden.

At the end of December, Blair’s think tank, the Institute for Global Change, released a report warning of a populist uprising in Europe as voters become frustrated with European immigration issues.

Last January, the former Labour leader poured a whopping £10 million of his funds into the Tony Blair Institute, another step in forwarding his anti-populist crusade.

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Supporters of Hungary's main opposition Jobbik party attend a torchlight demonstration in Budapest © Bernadett Szabo

On Thursday, Blair took to his ‘Institute for Global Change’ website to hit out at serving UK Prime Minister Theresa May, calling her handling of Brexit negotiations “farcical” and accusing Labour of having a timid political approach to the issue.

Blair has also called for a second referendum, once the details of the Brexit agreement have been thrashed out, so the people of the United Kingdom can have a say on whether they still want to leave the EU or not.

“When we voted in 2016, we knew we were voting against our present membership of the European Union, but not what the future relationship with Europe would be,” he said.

“Once we know the alternative, we should be entitled to think again, either through Parliament or an election or through a fresh referendum, which will, of course, not be a rerun of the first because it will involve this time a choice based on knowledge of the alternative to existing EU membership.”

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'Meltdown' & 'Spectre' flaws affect all Macs and iOS devices – Apple

All Mac systems and iOS devices are vulnerable to the recently discovered security flaws known as Spectre and Meltdown, Apple has confirmed. The tech giant said that mitigations are on the way and some have been already issued.

The flaws, which allow hackers unauthorized access to a computer’s memory and sensitive data, were discovered by security researchers at Google Project Zero on Wednesday. Security vulnerabilities called Meltdown and Spectre affect almost all modern CPUs, including those produced by Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and ARM Holdings.

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© 4kodiak / Getty Images

“All Mac systems and iOS devices are affected,” Apple acknowledged in a statement on Thursday, adding that no cases had yet been reported of customers being affected by the security flaws.

Apple has issued updates for the iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2 and tvOS 11.2 systems to protect against Meltdown, which the company believes “has the most potential to be exploited.” The tech giant added that Apple Watch is not affected by the flaw, which allows hackers to “melt” security boundaries between user applications and the operating system.

Patches to protect users from another vulnerability, Spectre, are expected to be released “in coming days.” While the flaw’s techniques “are extremely difficult to exploit,” it can still potentially affect devices in JavaScript running in a web browser, according to Apple. Spectre can be used by hackers to dissolve the barrier that separates different applications and trick otherwise error-free applications into leaking information stored in their memory.

Both security flaws require a malicious app to be loaded on the device operating on Mac systems or iOS, so the general recommendation from Apple is to avoid downloading software from suspicious sources and use only trusted ones such as the App Store.

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1 dead, 12 injured after hot air balloon carrying tourists crashes near Egypt’s Luxor

A hot air balloon carrying around 20 people, including tourists, has crashed near Egypt’s city of Luxor and at least one person has reportedly been killed, according to security and medical officials.

At least 12 people were also injured in the accident and have been hospitalized. Luxor Governor Mahmoud Badr said a statement about the incident would be released shortly, according to AFP.

Luxor has suffered a series of hot air balloon accidents. 19 tourists were killed in 2013 after their balloon caught fire mid-flight over the ancient Egyptian city. The tragedy came four years after a hot air balloon crash injured 13 tourists seeking an aerial view of the city.

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