Archive for December, 2019

‘Art against austerity’: Paris Opera gives free street performance amid strikes over pension reform

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on ‘Art against austerity’: Paris Opera gives free street performance amid strikes over pension reform

Paris Opera musicians on strike over unpopular pension reform plans proposed by the French government delighted passers-by with a free New Year’s Eve concert on the steps outside the Bastille opera house.

In the Tuesday evening show, the musicians performed classics like the Dance of the Night from Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz, as well as offering a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, France's national anthem.

The striking musicians are covered by one of France's 42 individual pension schemes, which President Emmanuel Macron's government is trying to streamline into one cohesive system. Under the new plan, opera employees would lose their right to early retirement.

One musician told the crowd before the free concert began that opera employees "still refuse to participate in any parody of negotiations," France24 reported.

The proposed reforms have sparked major unrest and travel chaos as transport workers also went on strike demanding that the government abandon the new scheme. Some demonstrations have also turned violent, as protesters clashed with police.

The opera strike has led to the cancellation of dozens of December performances at both the Bastille and Garnier opera houses and at least €8 million in lost revenue.

"We refuse to be the gravediggers of our own retirement system," the musicians said.

On Christmas Eve, a group of 27 ballet dancers also protested the reforms, performing a piece from Swan Lake on the steps of the Garnier Opera. Banners reading ‘Opera de ‘Paris Opera on strike’ and ‘Culture in danger’ hung in the background.

Demonstrators against the pension reform joined the Yellow Vests protesters on Saturday, in a joint effort to defy Macron's unpopular government. Trade unions have kept up their strike over the Christmas period, and it is now entering its fourth week.

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Unrest at US embassy reveals Iraqis are fed up with American ‘occupiers’

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on Unrest at US embassy reveals Iraqis are fed up with American ‘occupiers’

Anti-American sentiment has taken deep root in Iraqi society and ultimately fueled the fiery siege of the US Embassy in Baghdad, as the locals blame Washington for the sorry state of Iraq, military and political analysts tell RT.

Chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” a crowd of protesters surrounded the US diplomatic mission on Tuesday, angered by the death of two dozen Iraqis in US airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia over the weekend.

At one point, the mob set a checkpoint at the entrance on fire and attempted to storm the embassy. Dozens of people made it inside the heavily-guarded compound and delivered some damage to the property before eventually retreating as a force of US Marines backed by attack helicopters arrived as reinforcements.

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© Reuters / Wissm al-Okili
US sends reinforcements to its Baghdad embassy amid Iraqi protests over strikes

What unfolded in Baghdad “of course, allows [us] to draw parallels” with the attacks on US diplomatic missions in Benghazi in 2012, Grigory Lukyanov, senior lecturer at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, told RT. Four Americans died in that attack, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. 

Lukyanov also drew comparisons with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, following the 1979 Iranian revolution, when 52 American diplomats and staff were held hostage for 444 days.

“There’s nothing surprising” about the embassy in Baghdad being targeted by protesters, Lukyanov pointed out. The US has been directly involved in Iraqi affairs since the invasion in 2003 and the locals now blame the “foreign sponsors” of the Iraqi government for its inability to improve their security and well-being.

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FILE PHOTO: The US consulate in Benghazi burns following a jihadist attack, 2012 © Reuters / Esam Al-Fetori
‘Trump’s Benghazi’ or crisis averted? Embassy siege brings up parallels with Clinton’s darkest hour

The operation against backed Kataib Hezbollah, launched without any approval from Baghdad, became “yet another sign for the ‘Iraqi street’ that the Americans are behaving like occupiers,” he added. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi called it an “an unacceptable vicious assault” and said the US had violated the sovereignty of his country.

“The level of anti-American sentiment is as high in Iraq as it was in Libya and Iran. It’s not something that’s fueled by some military or political entities,” Lukyanov told RT.

The US don’t want their long-established relations with Iraq to be held hostage by the ongoing unrest.

President Donald Trump declared the embassy safe on Tuesday afternoon and called the entire thing an “anti-Benghazi.” The embassy building itself wasn’t breached and would not be evacuated, a State Department spokesperson said.

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A protester holds an Iraqi flag outside the main gate of the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019.
This is not warning, it is a threat: Trump declares US embassy in Iraq safe, says Iran will pay ‘big price’ for attack

“A full evacuation of the Embassy could be seen as severing all diplomatic ties, which is impossible” given the current level of US involvement in Iraq, Lukyanov noted. In addition to the embassy and other diplomatic offices, Washington has a major military presence on Iraqi soil, using it to project power in the region. 

Sergey Balmasov of the Institute of the Middle East in Moscow, also believes that the withdrawal of the US from Iraq is unrealistic. Such a move would hurt President Donald Trump’s chances of reelection in 2020 and “lead to Iran strengthening its position in the region.”

Unrest in Baghdad could instead create a pretext for the Americans to increase their military presence in Iraq to put additional pressure on Tehran and Damascus, Balmasov told RT, adding, “I doubt that Trump will now send a massive 200,000 contingent into the country, which his predecessor Barack Obama earlier pulled out.”

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© Reuters / Wissm al-Okili
Iran slams US ‘audacity’ to blame it for Baghdad embassy storming

While Trump noted that Iraqi security forces had rapidly responded to his request to help the embassy, earlier reports spoke of them letting the protesters through. Either way, the “the US-Iraqi relationship is further weakened by these events,” military analyst Scott Ritter pointed out.

The Iraqi opposition will now most likely “double down on its political pressure on the Iraqi government to evict US military forces from Iraqi soil," Ritter told RT.

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North Korea won’t stop nuclear expansion in face of US threat – but US attitude adjustment can work wonders, Kim says

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on North Korea won’t stop nuclear expansion in face of US threat – but US attitude adjustment can work wonders, Kim says

North Korea will continue building up its nuclear deterrent to counter US aggression, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said - but the degree to which it expands its weapons program will depend on the US’ attitude.

Accusing the US of insincerity regarding discussions about the partial lifting of sanctions, Kim held up Washington’s “gangster-like demands” as the reason no agreement had yet been reached between the two countries.

The more the US stalls for time, Kim said, the more it will find itself “helpless in the face of North Korean power.” North Korea has a “new strategic weapon” up its sleeve, he warned, and time was running out before his government would be moved to take “shocking actual action.”

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FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un calls for ‘positive & offensive’ measures to ensure N. Korea’s security amid stalled denuclearization talks with US

North Korea would no longer hold to its self-imposed ban on nuclear and long-range missile tests, because the US had kept on staging military drills with South Korea. he noted.

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This is not warning, it is a threat: Trump declares US embassy in Iraq safe, says Iran will pay ‘big price’ for attack

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on This is not warning, it is a threat: Trump declares US embassy in Iraq safe, says Iran will pay ‘big price’ for attack

US President Donald Trump said that the embassy in Baghdad has been secured by US and Iraqi troops, and threatened to hold Iran “fully responsible” for any damages or loss of life at any American facility.

“This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” Trump declared in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon, adding that Iran will “pay a very BIG PRICE!” for the embassy siege earlier in the day.

A task force of US Marines was rushed to the embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, after protesters and fighters of the Shia militia Kataib Hezbollah stormed the perimeter, chanting “Death to America.”

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© Reuters / Wissm al-Okili
Iran slams US ‘audacity’ to blame it for Baghdad embassy storming

Attack helicopters circled the compound, dropping flares in attempts to scatter the protesters, who had reportedly breached the front gate. Iraqi security forces were initially said to have let the militants through, but Trump’s tweet said that the government in Baghdad rapidly responded to his request for assistance.

The embassy siege appeared to be Kataib Hezbollah’s response to the series of US airstrikes over the weekend, targeting their positions in Iraq and Syria. The Iranian-backed militia has been fighting against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists, but the Pentagon blamed it for last week’s attack on a US coalition base near Kirkuk, in which one contractor died.

The Iraqi government had condemned the airstrikes as a violation of their sovereignty. Iran rejected all accusations that it was responsible for the embassy siege, calling it “surprising audacity” to blame Tehran for protests over the “savage killing” of at least 25 Iraqis.

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Iran slams US ‘audacity’ to blame it for Baghdad embassy storming

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on Iran slams US ‘audacity’ to blame it for Baghdad embassy storming

Iran has flatly rejected US accusations that it is behind violent protests which broke out at the American embassy in Baghdad in response to US airstrikes on militia groups in Iraq.

In a tweet on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump accused Iran of "orchestrating an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq," and said Tehran will be held "fully responsible.” Trump also called on "millions" of Iraqis to resist Iran.

Iran hit back at the “audacity” of Washington to blame Tehran for the attacks in a statement posted by the Foreign Ministry.

"America has the surprising audacity of attributing to Iran the protests of the Iraqi people against (Washington's) savage killing of at least 25 Iraqis…," it said.

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Protesters throw stones at the US embassy in Baghdad © Reuters / Wissm al-Okily
‘This is your time’: Trump calls for Iraqis to rise up against Iran

The US hit five Kataib Hezbollah targets in Iraq and Syria last week in retaliation for an attack on a US coalition base near Kirkuk, which no group took responsibility for, but which Washington blamed on the Iranian-backed militia.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the airstrikes, calling them a violation of Iraq's sovereignty and said there could be "grave consequences." Protesters then stormed the US embassy compound on Tuesday, shouting "death to America” and waving Hezbollah flags.

Washington announced earlier Tuesday that it was sending reinforcements to the Baghdad embassy, in what Defense Secretary Mark Esper said were measures “to ensure our right of self-defense.”

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French chef thought of suicide after Michelin star lost over using English cheddar

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on French chef thought of suicide after Michelin star lost over using English cheddar

French courts have dealt a fresh blow to a chef who said he thought of suicide when his restaurant was stripped of a Michelin star, dismissing his request for the prestigious guide to explain its claim he used cheddar in a dish.

Chef Marc Veyrat said the only reason he was given for the shocking decision to strip one of his three Michelin stars was that he had used English cheddar in a souffle instead of a French cheese. 

"Can you imagine the sense of shame I feel?” Veyrat told local reporters months after losing the star. “I am the first chef in history to have won a star and lost it the next year.”

“I'm at the end of my tether,” he added. “I have dark thoughts.”

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© Benoit Tessier / Reuters
Amuse Bouche: Mistaken identity sees small French cafe awarded Michelin star

Veyrat vehemently denies the cheddar claim, and took the Michelin Guide to court in a bid to force it to prove its inspectors had actually been to his restaurant, the Maison des Bois, and were qualified to judge its cuisine.  

Michelin in turn argued it couldn’t possibly reveal details about its inspectors, as their anonymity is key in being able to judge a restaurant's fare at all. In the end, a Nanterre court rejected Veyrat’s request. 

Speaking to Reuters after the ruling, Veyrat said he had “had enough” of Michelin at this point – and just wants his restaurant left out of their listings altogether.

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FILE PHOTO.
Ban meat to save the planet? Swedish preschool conducts mandatory vegan diet ‘experiment’

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Israeli court dismisses attempts to block Netanyahu’s reelection campaign over charges

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on Israeli court dismisses attempts to block Netanyahu’s reelection campaign over charges

Three Israeli High Court judges have rejected a petition attempting to bar PM Benjamin Netanyahu from seeking reelection due to the indictments hanging over him, arguing that the matter only becomes an issue if he wins.

There are no legal reasons Netanyahu cannot run for reelection, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut declared in Tuesday’s court session, dismissing the petition filed in response to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict the embattled PM last month. The panel agreed that it would be irrelevant and quite unprecedented to discuss the matter before the March 2 election results were in.

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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, which he wants to annex. © AFP / Menahem Kahana
Seeking immunity? Netanyahu vies for six more months as PM ‘only to annex Jordan Valley’

Even Mandelblit, in a brief submitted last week, maintained the issue would remain hypothetical until the votes had been counted.

There is an attempt to drag the legal system into the political system, it’s a minefield, which one enters only when they have no choice,” said Aner Helman, Mendelblit’s representative in the court, Haaretz reported.

Mendelblit has thus far been reticent on whether Netanyahu, who handily won a vote last week to remain chief of the Likud Party, should be allowed to form a new government after next year’s general election, preferring to wait to hear the High Court’s decision before opining.

Netanyahu himself argued that the matter was outside the court’s jurisdiction entirely, and would remain so even if he won reelection in March – an unprecedented third contest in a year after the previous two left both Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz unable to form a government.

There are those who are trying to drag the Supreme Court into the political turmoil to legally deny and thwart my candidacy for prime minister. I do not think that the Supreme Court of Israel will fall into this trap,” the PM tweeted ahead of the hearing.

In a democracy, who decides who will lead the people is only the people and not anyone else.

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FILE PHOTO.
Surrounded? Netanyahu faces internal party dissent while arch-rival Gantz accuses him of inciting ‘CIVIL WAR’ in Israel

A group of 67 academics, former defense officials, and other public figures filed the petition, asking the court to officially bar any Knesset member under indictment for a crime of “moral turpitude” from being given the mandate to form a government, no matter how many supporters he has in the parliament.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving PM, is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three cases. The leader has maintained his innocence, slamming the three-year investigation that led to the charges as cooked up by “foreign interests” trying to “carry out a legal revolution.”

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‘This is your time’: Trump calls for Iraqis to rise up against Iran

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on ‘This is your time’: Trump calls for Iraqis to rise up against Iran

President Donald Trump has called on ‘millions’ of people in Iraq to resist Iran, as the fallout over US airstrikes on an Iran-backed militia brings Washington and Tehran one step closer to proxy war.

“To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, the president accused Iran of “orchestrating an attack on the US embassy in Iraq,” as scores of protesters stormed the compound chanting “death to America,” waving Hezbollah flags and setting fires. Embassy security forces fought back with stun grenades, and US officials told Reuters that additional Marines would be deployed to the embassy to bolster security.

The protests were triggered by US airstrikes on three Kataib Hezbollah targets in Iraq and two in Syria on Sunday. Washington blames the Iranian-supported militia for attacking a coalition base in Kirkuk on Friday, a strike that killed one American contractor and left several US troops injured.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the Kirkuk attack, and Iran has denied responsibility for any militia attacks on US personnel. Yet Washington has pinned the blame on Tehran, with Trump claiming that “Iran killed” the contractor and State Secretary Mike Pompeo declaring it an “Iranian proxy attack.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has claimed that Kataib Hezbollah and its allied Shia militias that make up the ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ are under the control of the Iraqi government in “95 percent of cases,” and has warned the US against policing their activities. Yet, many on the ground see these Shia militias as doing the bidding of Tehran.

Trump’s tweet seems therefore to be aimed at Iraq’s Sunni minority, many of whom fear the growth in power of the Shia militias. However, it is unclear what exactly Trump is calling for. The US president issued similar statements last year, declaring that the “US is watching” as “the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.” However, Trump never acted militarily against the Islamic Republic, and the government in Tehran remains in power.

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© Reuters / Wissm al-Okili
US sends reinforcements to its Baghdad embassy amid Iraqi protests over strikes

Still, calling for Iraqi resistance against the influence of Tehran is an inflammatory message at a time of heightened tension between America and Iran. As Mahdi attempts to balance relations with both sides, the Iraqi PM accused the United States of violating his country’s sovereignty with its airstrikes, while his National Security Council said it rejects the idea of Iraq becoming a battlefield for the US and Iran to fight over.

Iraq’s top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the American airstrikes, but also called on the militias to refrain from revenge attacks, “to ensure Iraq does not become a field for settling regional and international scores.”

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US sends reinforcements to its Baghdad embassy amid Iraqi protests over strikes

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on US sends reinforcements to its Baghdad embassy amid Iraqi protests over strikes

The US is sending more troops to its embassy in Baghdad, which was previously surrounded by protesters angry over airstrikes that Iraq called a breach of its sovereignty.

The American reinforcements had been summoned in line with “appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens” in Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday. The troops, he explained, were only “to ensure our right of self-defense.”

Video of several Apache helicopters shooting flares was posted to Twitter by the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, the military operation including, but not limited to fighting the terror group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Dozens of Iraqi protesters, angered by US airstrikes believed to have killed 25 Kataib Hezbollah fighters, descended on the Green Zone earlier in the day, smashing doors and cameras and breaching the heavily fortified perimeter. The embassy itself was not breached and would not be evacuated, a State Department spokesperson confirmed.

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Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces) fighters set fire on the U.S. Embassy wall to condemn air strikes on their bases, in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. ©  REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
Protesters ‘break into’ US embassy compound in Baghdad, as crowds rally against American airstrikes in Iraq (PHOTO, VIDEO)

Esper called on the Iraqi government “to fulfill its international responsibilities” and “assist in the protection of our personnel in country.”  While Iraqi PM Adel Abdul Mahdi has condemned the protests, he has also slammed the US airstrikes, calling them a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

US President Donald Trump was quick to blame Iran for what he referred to as “an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq,” warning that it “will be held fully responsible” despite no evidence linking the protesters to Tehran. The president had previously blamed a rocket attack on a coalition base near Kirkuk that killed one American contractor on Iran, also without apparent evidence.

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Trump calls US helping Russia thwart terror attack ‘great & important coordination’

Posted by RT on December 31, 2019  |   Comments Off on Trump calls US helping Russia thwart terror attack ‘great & important coordination’

President Donald Trump has lauded coordination that helped Russian security services prevent New Year terror attacks in St. Petersburg, after they received intelligence from their US counterparts.

“They were able to quickly apprehend the suspects, with many lives being saved. Great & important coordination!” Trump said in a tweet.

On Sunday, the Kremlin first revealed that Putin called Trump to express gratitude for the information that led to the arrest of two suspects. Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB ) detained two Russian citizens for plotting high-profile attacks over the New Year holidays in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. At least one of the men reportedly pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Arabic.

Although the relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated over recent years, the countries are still cooperating on preventing terrorism, and the exchange of information in this respect occurs rather often. The two presidents also agreed to maintain this work.

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© FSB
New Year holidays TERRORIST ATTACK in St. Petersburg averted after US tip-off: FSB releases VIDEO of suspects’ arrest

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