France’s European leaders rush into isolation after Macron tests positive for Covid-19
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was questioned by judges on Monday over rape allegations that prompted outcry from women's organisations when he was appointed the country's "top cop" in July.
Facebook said Tuesday that it had removed two networks based in Russia and one linked to the French military, accusing them of carrying out interference campaigns in Africa.
A host of European leaders and top French officials rushed into isolation on Thursday after President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for Covid-19, upending political agendas across the continent.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel began isolating on Thursday pending a test result after he had attended the EU summit last week.
But a German government spokeswoman said Chancellor Angela Merkel took a test a few days after the EU summit and it was negative.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex will self-isolate after contact with Macron, his office said, adding that he was showing no symptoms and had tested negative.
He needs another confirmed negative result before he can come out of isolation next week, his office said.
Macron's wife Brigitte will also be self-isolating but also shows no symptoms.
Fellow world leaders rushed to wish Macron a speedy recovery.
"Sorry to hear my friend @EmmanuelMacron has tested positive for coronavirus. We are all wishing you a speedy recovery," tweeted Johnson, who has locked horns with Macron in recent months over the Brexit talks.
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The right-winger's lawyers told AFP he had spoken to two investigating magistrates "at his own request" over accusations of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of trust.
Two networks running multiple Facebook accounts were assigned to people associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, and the third had "links to individuals associated with French military," the social media platform said.
Darmanin has been the focus of protests against President Emmanuel Macron's centrist government in recent weeks, as the government introduced a bill that could criminalise sharing images of police -- even as video footage uncovered officers beating a black music producer and violently evicting migrants camped on a central Paris square.
All three were removed from the site for breaking its policy against foreign or government interference, Facebook said, adding that the networks targeted countries mainly in north Africa and some in the Middle East.
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The French military made no immediate comment on the allegations.
A woman has accused Darmanin of raping her in 2009 after she sought his help to have a criminal record expunged while he was a legal affairs adviser with the UMP, the predecessor of France's main right-wing party, the Republicans.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy, and David Agranovich, head of global threat disruption, said in a blog that the campaigns dueled with each other online.
"This was the first time our team found two campaigns -- from France and Russia -- actively engage with one another, including by befriending, commenting and criticising the opposing side for being fake," they said.
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The networks "used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action," Facebook said.
The French network targeted the Central African Republic and Mali, and, to a lesser extent, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Chad.
It involved 84 Facebook accounts, 6 pages, 9 groups and 14 Instagram accounts that violated policy against "coordinated inauthentic behavior."
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Some of the posts, in French and Arabic, were about France's policies in Francophone Africa, claims of Russian interference in CAR elections, supportive comments about the French military and criticism of Russia.
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"The Russian imperialists are a gangrene on Mali!" read a sample post shared by Facebook.
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In disrupting the two Russian networks, the social network removed 274 Facebook accounts and 18 Instagram accounts, along with an array of groups and pages.
"We shared information about our findings with law enforcement and industry partners," Gleicher and Agranovich said.
"We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we've said before, it's an ongoing effort and we're committed to continually improving to stay ahead."
The research published on December 14 by Washington-based think tank the Center for Global Policy follows years of investigations by human rights activists showing that Xinjiang is home to a vast network of camps where at least 1 million people have been imprisoned.
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The report – which used Chinese regime documents available online – said the total number involved in three majority-Uighur regions exceeds a 2018 estimate of 517,000 people forced to pick cotton as part of the scheme by tens of thousands.
“We have evidence from government documents that in 2018 the state transferred well over half a million Uighurs, and it’s a scheme that was set up by [Xinjiang] Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, the same person who set up a police state and mass internment of people in camps,” Zenz, a Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told FRANCE 24.
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>> Muslim countries’ silence on China’s repression of Uighurs
“The problem is very deep because the Chinese state is trying to put the Uighurs to labour; they need to be busy and preoccupied,” Zenz continued. “Children are being separated from their parents in boarding schools; parents are being put full-time work because if you work full-time in a factory or in a cotton field you can’t go to a mosque and you can’t participate in traditional religious or community activities.”
“Evidence shows that government work teams – 70,000 officials each year – are descending on Uighur villages; they’re asking in advance how many people are needed to pick cotton in the fields,” Zenz said. “They go to every household and perform a short indoctrination. Accounts show that lots of elderly Uighurs are lined up to pick cotton because so many of the younger ones are in internment camps.”
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>> Breaking the silence on China’s ‘two-faced’ campaign against Uighurs
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The report puts pressure on major companies such as Nike, Gap and Adidas, which have been accused of using Uighur forced labour in their textile supply chains.
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“This is a huge game-changer,” Zenz said. “Anybody who cares or who claims to have anything ethical in their business and supply chains has to divest.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the allegations.
“Helping people of all ethnic groups secure stable employment is entirely different from forced labour,” he told a media briefing in Beijing, saying that nearly 3 million people had been lifted out of poverty in Xinjiang.
France emerges from its second Covid-19 lockdown on Tuesday. But with new daily coronavirus infections still high above the government's 5,000-a-day objective, the easing will not look like it did in May. An 8pm-to-6am curfew goes into effect, except for Christmas Eve, and cultural venues remain closed, sparking anger in the sector.
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As the second lockdown lifts, theatres, concert halls, cinemas, museums and sporting venues remain closed, at least until January 7 – after a holiday season that, while normally lucrative for the culture sector, has authorities concerned festive gatherings this year will spur further the spread of the novel coronavirus.
French authorities justified keeping the venues shuttered in order to "avoid increasing public crowd flows, concentrations, and intermingling", but the decision has irked the culture sector in France after a difficult year.
Culture professionals and labour unions say the continued closures are a death blow for the sector, calling for all cultural venues to be allowed to reopen. To get the message across, they organised demonstrations across France on Tuesday.
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In Paris, several hundred culture professionals descended on the Place de la Bastille following a call from the CGT Spectacle union, denouncing the government’s “contempt” towards the sector.
"Open the theatres", "open the cinemas", "let's bring culture out of lockdown", they shouted in the crowded square and on the steps of the Bastille Opera House.
Demonstrators brandished placards that read "Culture, essential food", "We're going to die and not even on stage", "The show brings people to life" and "Art is a weapon of mass construction".
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"It's a disaster, I haven't worked for six months," Martin, 27, told AFP. "The theatre is also reluctant to make us work because the government’s decisions are constantly changing. They are putting a death sentence on culture.”
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Another demonstration organised by actors Jacques Weber, Audrey Bonnet and François Morel is slated for Paris late in the day in front of the Théâtre de l'Atelier in Montmartre.
Somalia cut diplomatic relations with neighbouring Kenya on Tuesday, accusing it ofmeddling in politics as protests and gunfire erupted in the capital Mogadishu over delayedelections.
The dispute could undermine cooperation in the fight against the Islamist group al Shabaab in Somalia, where K
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