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French Minister Holds Covid Talks With Unions on Troubled Caribbean Island

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France’s minister for overseas territories will hold talks on Monday with union leaders on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on ways to end more than a week of violent protests sparked by Covid-19 restrictions.

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The riots began over compulsory Covid vaccinations for health workers and first responders but quickly ballooned into a broader revolt over living conditions.

The unrest, which spread to France‘s other Caribbean island of Martinique, has put the fate of overseas territories on the agenda of the campaign heading into 2022 elections, with President Emmanuel Macron’s opponents accusing him of neglecting the former colonial outposts.

Guadeloupe and Martinique, each of which has close to 400,000 inhabitants, are fully part of France, but residents complain of greater poverty, higher costs for basic goods and poorer public services than on the mainland.

Ahead of his visit, Minister for Overseas Territories Sebastien Lecornu floated the possibility of giving Guadeloupe, the more troubled of the two territories, more autonomy.

His proposal drew fire from the opposition, with centre-right presidential hopeful Xavier Bertrand accusing the government of being ready to let France “be broken up” and far-right leader Marine Le Pen accusing Lecornu of trying to “buy off” hardline pro-independence groups.

Lecornu’s remarks also received a lukewarm response from MPs in Guadeloupe, who said the immediate priority was tackling high levels of youth unemployment and other social problems.

French minister heads to Caribbean territories to defuse tensions

On his arrival in Guadeloupe on Sunday, Lecornu vowed to stand firm on the obligation for health workers and first responders on the island to be vaccinated against Covid by December 31 or face suspension without pay. But he insisted he was open to dialogue on other issues.

The vaccine mandate for health workers, which was enforced in September on the mainland, has met with greater resistance in Guadeloupe and Martinique, where vaccine hesitancy is high.

Protesters barricaded roads with burning tyres or taxis and hurled petrol bombs at the security forces in some of the worst unrest in the islands in years.

In Martinique, several businesses were looted and five police officers were injured by gunfire.

Calm had been largely restored by the weekend, however, with only minor skirmishes reported.

France lost most of its overseas possessions around 60 years ago, when its African colonies declared independence, a few years after French territories in south-east Asia.

But Paris still retains control over 12 territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well as in the Caribbean that are home to a total of 2.6 million people.

While some, like Guadeloupe and Martinique, have the same status as regions on the mainland, others, such as French Polynesia, have already been granted autonomy.

The Pacific islands of New Caledonia are to vote next month in the third of three independence referendums.

(AFP)

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Source: france24.com

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit

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Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.

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Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Original Source: france24.com

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant

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Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More

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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport

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French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

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