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France has evidence of Syrian chemical attack

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday he has evidence that the Syrian government attacked the town of Douma with chemical weapons earlier this month, which come as the United States prepares to potentially strike.

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Eli Ridder | The Avro Post

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday he has evidence that the Syrian government attacked the town of Douma with chemical weapons earlier this month, which come as the United States prepares to potentially strike. 

Mr. Macron said that he would decide “in due course” whether to respond with air strikes,

Urine and blood samples from victims of the attack have tested positive for chlorine and a nerve agent, U.S. media report, citing U.S. officials as saying.

Russia’s U.N. envoy said the top priority is to avert war in Syria, doesn’t rule out possibility of U.S.-Russian conflict – AP

Cabinet ministers left Downing Street earlier on Thursday after meeting U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the British response to the suspected chemical attack.

The cabinet is expected to back her call to join military action threatened by the United States and its allies.

The prime minister is prepared to take action against the Assad regime without first seeking Parliamentary consent, reported BBC News.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier that her country would not engage in an allied offensive on Syria in response to the Douma chemical attack, but explained her country supports the chemical probe.

“Germany will not participate in possible military actions” against Syria, she said from Berlin, explaining that her country will “support and see to it that every effort is being made to show that this use of chemical weapons is unacceptable”.

The chancellor explained her country is behind the U.N. Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, who said they would be investigating Douma to find truth for the alleged chemical weapons attack.

If the U.S., the U.K. and France were to take military action, Berlin would seek other ways to help which don’t involve the military.

Damascus narrowly avoided U.S. and French air strikes in 2013 in retaliation for a suspected sarin attack by agreeing to hand over its chemical arsenal.

The U.S. and France vowed a “firm” response earlier this week and movements in the Middle East region, military brass moving in and out of the White House and flight rerouting by Syria shows anticipation of an incoming air assault by allies.

The U.S. maintained that “all options are on the table” for its response to the alleged chemical attack the Syrian government carried out last week following threats of a missile attack from President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would not go into further detail regarding the a possible U.S. strike, repeating that Mr. Trump had several options for a response to Syria, despite the president specifically suggesting earlier that an attack was imminent.

Mr. Trump tweeted in the morning that missiles “will be coming” to the condemnation of Russia, who blames the White Helmets, a Syrian rescue group, for the purported chemical weapons strike on April 7 that Syria denies responsibility for.

He clarified on Thursday, tweeting that he “never said when an attack on Syria would take place”.

Ms. Sanders also said that Russia plays a role in determining whether it becomes an enemy of Washington in regards to what she described as being a “bad actor”.

The suspected chemical strike in Douma may have affected some 500 people, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO said the mass of people had been seen at medical facilities exhibiting symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.

On Monday, Trump said that there would be a decision made within 48 hours, vowing a “firm” response with ally French President Emmanuel Macron, but Sanders on Wednesday said the president “has not laid out a timetable”.

The United Kingdom was more vocal on Wednesday, saying that “All indications are that this was the responsibility of the Syrian regime and we will now work with our closest allies to see how we can ensure that those responsible are held to account.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered submarines to move within missile range of Syria in preparation for a strike, the Telegraph reported.

Other U.S. allies such as Canada gave their condemnation over the attack for violating international law on the day it happened, but so far it appears that only the U.S., U.K. and France would participate in a multi-lateral attack on Syrian government forces.

Kuwait Airways has announced it has decided to stop flights to Beirut from Thursday onward until further notice on the basis of security warnings from the Cypriot authorities which say it is dangerous to fly in the atmosphere surrounding Lebanon.


More details to follow. Image of Emmanuel Macron from previous files.  ■

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Notre-Dame Cathedral base safe after massive fire

An international landmark burns.

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Eli Ridder | Report

Flames engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral in France on Monday to the shock of those in the French capital Paris and around the world but authorities said that the shell of the stone base was saved from destruction, unlike the devastated roof and spire.

The fire sparked into flames in the early evening, reported local media, and images showed the flames creeping up the spire — a structure that has survived 800 years of history and wars until its demise in 2019.

As the cathedral burned and the central Paris island it is on was evacuated, firefighters worked to extinguish the fire and at one point believed that they may not be able to get it out for some time, however, around 6 p.m., authorities said the had saved the base.

“We now believe that the two towers of Notre-Dame have been saved,” Paris fire chief Jean Gallet told gathered media outside the cathedral, saying that “we now consider that the main structure Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved.”

Though there is still the risk of a further collapse inside the religious building, Gallet explained that the firefighters would work overnight to cool some of the beams and framework down. It is believed the wooden interiors have all been lost.

Images from the interior taken by Laurent Valdiguie Marianne show that more of the Cathedral’s features may have survived the flames than originally predicted.

Interior, Laurent Valdiguie Marianne

Residents made up huge crowds of onlookers nearby watching the collapse of the sacred Cathedral and international landmark and world leaders gave their sympathy and condolences to the French people.

“Like all of our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.


Image of the cathedral from The Hill. ■

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Julian Assange arrested in Britain

A groundbreaking moment in the history of whisteblowers.

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Eli Ridder | Report

British police pulled whistleblower Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy on Thursday after his seven-year asylum was revoked, setting the Australian up for extradition to the United States for one of the largest leaks of classified information in history.


Video: RT Snagged Exclusive Video of Assange’s Arrest


Assange, sporting a long white beard, was seen being carried out by several police officers to a waiting van around 9 a.m. local time. He was yelling “this is unlawful” and “I’m not leaving”.

Assange said he was not guilty in failing to surrender to British authorities in 2012 in front of a London judge, Michael Snow, who convicted him of skipping bail with sentencing scheduled for a later date. The maximum sentence for the crime is 12 months.

There will be a consideration by the justice system in the United Kingdom over whether to extradite Assange to the United States, where prosecutors said after the arrest that they had charged Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

To some, the white-haired Assange is a hero for exposing what his supporters say is an abuse of power by several countries and for promoting free speech via the leaks that he carried out, but others say he is a dangerous vigilante who attacked U.S. national security.

Assange, who ran WikiLeaks until recently from the small, cramped rooms of the Ecuadorian embassy, made headlines in 2010 when, via WikiLeaks, he published a classified U.S. military video showing an attack by Apache helicopters in 2017 inside Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including journalists.

Countless other documents were released by whistleblower, who fled the U.S. soon after.

The United Nations’ Human Rights office has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be allowed to leave the embassy and walk free, most recently releasing a statement in December 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters he “knows nothing about” WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, despite the fact that Trump repeatedly professed his love for the publication during the 2016 presidential campaign.


U.S. charges Assange

The United States charged Julian Assange in March 2018 of conspiring to hack a computer as the judicial response to his leak of huge amounts of classified files in 2010, in an indictment that was unsealed on Thursday, which puts him for the first time within close reach of U.S. custody.

Read the U.S. Indictment Against Assange

The charge, “Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion”, is part of his agreement to break past a password and into a U.S. government computer in coordination with then-U.S. army private Bradley Manning. The charge carries a penalty with a maximum five years in prison.

It is significant that Washington did not charge Assange with an espionage-related crime that would have resulted in a significantly longer sentencing and a more serious case in general, according to analysts. The New York Times reports that up until last year, the U.S. government considered charged Assange with an espionage offence.


Response

The United Kingdom’s House of Commons clapped and cheered when Prime Minister Theresa May announced the arrest of Julian Assange on Thursday morning, saying it shows “no one is above the law” in the country.

Ecuador’s former president, who granted Assange asylum in the embassy in London seven years ago, criticized the current leader, President Lenin Moreno for allowing the Metropolitan Police inside their embassy, saying that because WikiLeaks revealed corruption by Moreno, he was taking revenge.

Moreno said he took the action due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily life”.

Edward Snowden, also considered a prominent whistleblower who fled the United States in 2013, said on Twitter that “the weakness of the US charge against Assange is shocking”. Snowden now lives in Russia and is a fugitive from Washington.

“The allegation he tried (and failed?) to help crack a password during their world-famous reporting has been public for nearly a decade: it is the count Obama’s DOJ refused to charge, saying it endangered journalism.”

Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, called on the UK in a statement “to prioritize the principles of freedom of expression and protection of the role of journalism, including journalistic sources, in their treatment of Assange”.

“Assange had refused to leave the Ecuadorian embassy during that time out of fear that he could be extradited to Sweden and face charges in the United States in connection with Wikileaks’ publication of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables in 2010.”

Italy and Bolivia have since criticized the British handling of the Assange case.

The Centre for Investigative Journalism said that WikiLeaks is a publisher and the arrest of Assange is an attack on journalists as a whole.

“Charges now brought in connection with its material, or any attempt to extradite Assange to the United States for prosecution under the deeply flawed cudgel of the Espionage Act 1917, is an attack on all of us,” a statement said.


Image of Julian Assange inside police van on Thursday via Reuters news agency on Twitter. ■

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Protestors slam France as climate meeting continues

In France, protests continue, and in Poland, the future of climate change as hit a stalemate.

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Eli Ridder | Analysis

The yellow vests continued into their fifth consecutive Saturday of protests in France over government reforms while United Nations climate plan discussions went over into an extra day in Poland, largely due to a standoff over climate liability.

Representing some 100 countries worldwide, key ministers are in Katowice to craft the next steps to the future of the landmark climate Paris Accord, with the majority of the details settled outside of carbon credits.

Wealthier governments look to attack emissions by paying for environmental and carbon-cutting programs in other countries, but it’s a system hard to police, reports say.

In the back drop of the conference, so-called “yellow vest” protestors, who initially protested against a rise in fuel taxes that has since been curbed, are rising up for items such as education reforms.

Instead of the 10,000 in Paris the weekend before, only some 2,000 French showed up, after the government asked the demonstrators halt over the Tuesday attack on the Christmas market in Strasbourg.

Some 35,500 have turned out across the country, a significant drop from previous protests where intensity and violence killed seven people, and some skirmishes occurred on the main avenue of the capital, Champs-Elysées.

In Poland, further negotiation may be kicked to 2019, with some citing poor organization on Warsaw’s part. A primary contention is that wealthy nations are concerned about being legally liable for causing climate change.

Environment Minister Kathrine McKenna told The Associated Press that “we’ve come a long way” on Saturday, noting “really late negotiations” and “shuttle diplomacy all through the night”.

“Now we are coming to the wire,” McKenna said.

It’s a picture of contrast. In France, protestors were successful, at least for 2019, in pushing back against President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike, an increase that Macron once said was critical to fight climate change.

On Dec. 5, just 24 hours after a temporarily six-month suspension, Paris confirmed the first major policy reversal of Macron’s presidency.

The win against climate change-based tax hikes was lauded by U.S. President Donald Trump, considered the only international actor that has not signed on to the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

France will not be the last developed country to experience backlash against climate change reforms, and it will be critical to examine the framework Poland’s COP24 summit puts forward for the future of tackling the issue internationally, both legally and socially.


Image of Katowice from COP24 Twitter. ■

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