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France beefs up sea rescue work, spars with UK over migrant deaths

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November 25, 2021

By Ardee Napolitano and Lucien Libert

CALAIS, France/ZAGREB (Reuters) -France said on Thursday it was mobilising reservists and beefing up sea rescue operations as London and Paris traded blame over the deaths of 27 migrants trying to reach Britain in an inflatable dinghy.

The migrants – including a child – drowned when their dinghy deflated in the Channel on Wednesday, one of many such risky journeys attempted each year in rickety, overloaded boats as people flee poverty and conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

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The deaths have created more animosity between countries already at odds over Brexit, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying France was at fault and French Interior Minister Gerald accusing Britain of “bad immigration management”.

President Emmanuel Macron defended Paris’s actions but said France was merely a transit country for many migrants and more European cooperation was needed to tackle illegal immigration.

“I will … say very clearly that our security forces are mobilised day and night,” Macron said during a visit to the Croatian capital Zagreb, promising “maximum mobilisation” of French forces, with reservists and drones watching the coast.

“But above all, we need to seriously strengthen cooperation … with Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and the European Commission.”

One smuggler arrested overnight had bought dinghies in Germany, and many cross via Belgium before reaching France’s northern shores on their way to Britain, French officials said.

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SENSITIVE POLITICAL ISSUE

Wednesday’s incident was the worst of its kind on record in the waterway separating Britain and France, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

With relations fraught over Brexit and immigration, much of the focus on Thursday was on who should bear responsibility, even if both sides vowed to seek joint solutions.

“We have had difficulty persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” Johnson said.

Britain repeated an offer to have joint British-French patrols off the French coast near Calais.

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“I’ve offered to work with France to put more officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats,” interior minister Priti Patel said.

Paris has resisted such calls and it is unclear whether it will change its mind five months before a presidential election in which migration and security are important topics.

They are also sensitive issues in Britain, where Brexit campaigners told voters that leaving the European Union would mean regaining control of the country’s borders.

London has in the past threatened to cut financial support for France’s border policing if Paris fails to stem the flow of migrants.

France will invite interior ministers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain, as well as the European Commission, to a meeting on Sunday in Calais, the prime minister’s office said.

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EU Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she would talk to Darmanin later on Thursday to offer financial help and assistance from the bloc’s border guard force Frontex.

‘A TRAGEDY THAT WE DREADED’

Rescue volunteers and rights groups said such drowning incidents were to be expected as smugglers and migrants take more risks to avoid a growing police presence.

“To accuse only the smugglers is to hide the responsibility of the French and British authorities,” the Auberge de Migrants NGO said.

It and other NGOs pointed to a lack of legal migration routes and heightened security at the Eurotunnel undersea rail link, which has pushed migrants to try to make the perilous sea crossing.

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“This a tragedy that we dreaded, that was expected, we had sounded the alarm,” said Bernard Barron, head of the Calais region SNSM, a volunteer group which rescues people at sea.

But Britain rejected one of the NGOs’ main demands.

Providing a safe route for migrants to claim asylum from France would only add to pull factors encouraging people to make dangerous journeys, Johnson’s spokesman said when asked about the possibility of a safe means of claiming asylum from France.

“We need to address illegal migration upstream and before people reach the French coast,” he said.

The number of migrants crossing the Channel has surged to 25,776 so far in 2021, up from 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to the BBC, citing government data.

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Before Wednesday’s disaster, 14 people had drowned this year trying to reach Britain, a French official said. In 2020, seven people died and two disappeared, while in 2019 four died.

(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano in Calais, Lucien Libert in Zagreb, Alistair Smout, Paul Sandle and Kylie MacLellan in London, Richard Lough and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Gabriel Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mike Collett-White, Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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