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France’s ex-President Hollande relives night of Paris attack during trial

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November 10, 2021

By Tangi Salaün

PARIS (Reuters) – Former French president Francois Hollande on Wednesday told a court there had been intelligence failures ahead of an Islamic State attack against Paris in 2015, and took a swipe at Belgium for hindering efforts to shut their shared border.

Hollande was watching a France-Germany soccer match at the Stade de France on the evening of Nov. 13, 2015, when the first blast outside the stadium detonated. The militants went on to attack bars, restaurants and a concert hall, killing 130 people.

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Even before the assault was over, with the death toll rising and the horror of the violence sinking in, Hollande declared a state of emergency and ordered the frontiers closed. Hours later, Salah Abdeslam, today the sole surviving attacker, fled to Belgium.

“It wasn’t France’s fault, but that of another country,” Hollande told the court of Abdeslam’s escape from France.

Abdeslam proclaimed himself to be an Islamic State “soldier” on the first day of his trial. He has previously told investigators he planned to blow himself up but backed out.

French police on Nov. 14 stopped the car carrying Abdeslam and asked the Belgian police if they had him on a watchlist, but did not get an answer and let him go. He was only arrested in a raid by armed police in the Molenbeek area of Brussels four months later.

The Belgian interior ministry was not immediately available for comment. The Belgian government has accepted some blame in the past, with the interior and justice ministers offering to resign in 2016 in response to security lapses linked to the 2015 Paris attack and another in Brussels in March 2016.

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HIGH ALERT

At the time of the Paris attack, France had been on high alert following militant attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket in the capital in January of the same year.

Several of the 10 attackers slipped into Europe from Islamic State strongholds in Syria, using fake passports and mixing with migrants fleeing war and poverty.

Hollande told the court there had been gaps in the French intelligence.

“There is clearly a failure when an attack takes place,” he said.

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Abdeslam previously told the court the attack had been to avenge French military action in Syria, ordered by Hollande.

The court has heard recordings from inside the Bataclan concert hall – where 90 of the victims were killed – during which the jihadists can be heard citing Hollande’s name.

Hollande said the attackers’ objective had been to divide France and compel him to cease France’s military interventions in Iraq and Syria.

“My goal was to safeguard national unity,” Hollande added.

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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