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December 03, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — A startup company in Berlin is trying to help integrate last year’s flood of migrants into the German workforce with a tailor-made online job market for new arrivals. The website was founded earlier this year by a mix of Germans and migrants, and operates with a staff of five volunteers out of a shared working space in a former industrial building in Berlin’s trendy Kreuzberg district.

More than 8,000 migrants have registered on the website — a fraction of the 890,000 asylum-seekers who arrived in Germany last year but good sign that some are serious about finding employment. The website helps migrants create resumes that match German standards, then connects the applicants to German companies. It’s free for the migrants and relies on donations and volunteers.

MigrantHire co-founder Hussein Shaker has channeled his own experience trying to find work as a migrant into helping others. Back in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he studied information technology, but when he came to Germany he couldn’t find any work in the IT sector. Instead he ended up working in a call center while learning German.

When he was approached with the idea of MigrantHire by Remi Mekki, a Norwegian entrepreneur living in Berlin, he immediately quit his job and threw himself into the project. On a normal workday he and others help migrants write resumes, answer questions about German employment law and help migrants apply for jobs that companies have posted on the website.

“It is not easy,” he says about the thousands of migrants looking for jobs. “The migrants had to leave everything behind but I think that, in the end, I think it will all work out.” For Syrian migrant Naji Negmah, it already has. After a year spent learning German, Negmah was put in contact by MigrantHire with a security company in Berlin. After an interview, the 24-year-old from Damascus who arrived in 2014 was given a 10-day training course, then started working as a security guard at an asylum-seekers home in Berlin.

Now he works fulltime on the same contract as all the other staff. Negmah is greeted by a group of children as he enters the four-story former office building that now houses around 200 asylum-seekers, mostly from Syria but also Afghanistan and Iraq. He speaks Arabic to the children, and they think of him as one of their own.

“When I came here, I knew I wanted get a job that let me help other migrants,” he said in fluent German. “This job lets me do that.” At the security company, recent migrants make up about 25 percent of the guards.

Owner Seyed Ali Khatoun Abadi, who came to Germany as a refugee from Iran in 1986, says the recent arrivals are the perfect fit since they can speak to most of the asylum-seekers in their own language and they understand the stress and issues facing them.

But not everyone’s had as much luck as Negmah. Even with Germany’s national employment rate at only 4.1 percent, the government says 400,000 asylum-seekers are currently looking for work. According to a study published by the Federal Department for Migration and Refugees, only 13 percent of asylum-seekers find work in the first two years after arriving in Germany — but that figure increases to 22 percent in the third year and 31 percent in the fourth year.

Negmah is grateful to the website. “I like this work,” he says. “I want to continue working as a security guard.”

December 01, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Germany has taken over the presidency of the Group of 20 world powers, with Chancellor Angela Merkel insisting protectionism isn’t the answer to fears about globalization. Germany’s yearlong presidency started Thursday and will culminate in a summit in Hamburg in July. Merkel said in a video message that the stability of the world economy and “responsible global climate policy” will be central issues.

Merkel said “there will be no return to a world before globalization” but it can be shaped in ways that put people at the forefront. She added: “Isolation, new nationalism and protectionism will not help us in this.”

The G-20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France, Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the U.S. and European Union.

December 08, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Under deceptively blue skies, the marvels of Paris beckoned. But art dealer Sophie Vigourous wore a face mask to appreciate them because of the pollution. The 38-year-old has lung cancer, putting her in the groups most at risk from the toxic, throat-tickling broth of tiny particles — far smaller than the width of a human hair — blanketing France’s capital and other cities. It has prompted vehicle bans and other extraordinary but only moderately effective anti-pollution measures.

When viewed from the 210-meter (690-feet) tall Montparnasse Tower, Paris’ tallest skyscraper, the city’s worst episode of winter pollution in a decade was clearly visible, a brown haze punctured by the Eiffel Tower.

But from street level, the fog of lung-penetrating pollutants was less obvious, making the danger more insidious than the gritty, almost chewy, smog of notoriously unhealthy cities like Beijing. Out on their morning jog, a group of heavy-breathing fire officers in shorts and T-shirts sucked in lungfuls, either oblivious or uncaring. Likewise, the jogger who bounded up the Champs-Elysees, a smug smile on her face.

Vigourous, however, knew better: hence the paper face mask. “A nice day like this makes you want to go out for a walk and get some fresh air,” she said. “You can’t really feel it, the pollution.” But by the end of the day, “it stings,” she noted.

Large red stains showing the pollution cloud have covered daily maps produced by Airparif since last week, broken up by a two-day window of cleaner air last weekend. The monitoring agency says a high-pressure weather system and a low-altitude blanket of warmer air over the city are acting like a saucepan lid, forcing Paris to breathe its own trapped emissions.

“An anti-cyclone with very little wind that prevents the dispersion of pollutants,” Airparif spokeswoman Amelie Fritz explained. The problematic pollutant this time is particulate matter — “very fine dust,” mostly from vehicle emissions and wood-burning heating, Fritz said. Able to penetrate the lungs and bloodstream, the tiny PM10 particles can cause heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and acute respiratory infections, according to the World Health Organization.

The response from Paris authorities involves both carrot and stick. To encourage car users to switch to public transport, the Metro, suburban trains and buses have been free since Tuesday, at a cost, Paris region authorities say, of about 4 million euros ($4.3 million) per day. Paris’ Velib bicycle-sharing service and Autolib electric cars are offering special deals.

On the punitive side, the Paris police chief has reduced speed limits, banned outdoor and indoor fires and even required homeowners to restrict their heating to no more than 18 C (64 F). The headline measure, an alternating ban on cars, depending on whether they have odd or even-numbered plates, has been extended into Friday. Drivers face fines of between 22 ($23) and 75 euros ($80) for ignoring the rule. A similar scheme will be implemented Friday in the city of Lyon, as pollution hits various regions, including the Rhone valley.

But the Paris ban doesn’t apply to small trucks, trucks delivering food and other essentials, to cars carrying at least three people and to certain professions. Undertakers and journalists, for example, aren’t affected. The boulevards still hum with vehicles.

“We’ve noticed that the measures haven’t been followed that much,” said Fritz at Airparif. “We’ve noticed only 5 to 10 percent less traffic.” Among those who abided by the rule on Thursday were Marion Le Mouroux, her mother and sister. Leaving their diesel-burning Renault at home, they rode together to work in an Autolib. The electric cars weren’t affected by the ban.

“It’s worrying for our future,” Marion Le Mouroux said after connecting the vehicle for a recharge. “If we are generating this much pollution, what’s going to become of us.”

December 06, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Paris has temporarily barred half of all cars from traveling on city streets and made public transportation free for the day as it battles a peak in pollution. Facing red-alert levels of pollution since Nov. 30, Paris City Hall said the situation poses a significant risk to residents’ health. Authorities say pollution is due to weather conditions and a heavy dependence on diesel fuel.

To tackle what City Hall describes as an “exceptionally serious” crisis, Paris’s Velib bike-share and Autolib electric cars were made free Tuesday, as well as the Paris metro and bus services. In addition, only cars with even-numbered plates were allowed to drive Tuesday in the French capital and its close suburbs.

City officials say it’s the ninth time this year that Paris is facing a pollution peak.

December 05, 2016

PARIS (AP) — French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced his candidacy Monday for next year’s presidential election, saying he will step down immediately from his current job to focus on his bid. Valls hopes to unite the Socialists under his banner and give the left a chance to stay at the Elysee Palace — the most ambitious challenge of his political life after his boss, the highly unpopular President Francois Hollande, decided not to run for a second term last week.

Valls will face other contenders in the Socialist primary next month ahead of France’s two-part presidential election in April and May. “I want to give everything for France,” the 54-year-old said in a speech in the Paris suburb of Evry, adding he would quit his job Tuesday.

Valls portrayed himself as a “lucid” politician, experienced enough to face authoritarian leaders in China, Russia, Turkey and “the America of Donald Trump.” “I want an independent France,” he insisted.

Valls said he wants to defeat the far-right, led by National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and the conservative candidate Francois Fillon — both of whom have already been chosen to represent their parties.

A center-leaning Socialist who backs a tough line on security and immigration, Valls is somewhat more popular than his boss, but their party is in deep disarray over the government’s handling of the economy.

As Hollande’s prime minister since 2014, Valls has promoted pro-business policies and implemented plans to cut over 40 million euros in government spending and to cut taxes. This strategy has prompted rebellion from some Socialists who think he is not left-leaning enough.

Former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and former Education Minister Benoit Hamon, among those Socialist rebels, have both announced their candidacies for the primary, alongside other lower-profile candidates.

Valls backed pro-European policies and pushed for reforms loosening France’s labor rules — the latter move prompting violent protests for months. He was forced to use a special power to pass the laws without a vote at parliament, an act that reinforced criticism from the left.

At critical times, Valls has overcome divisions, embodying France’s national unity in a speech at parliament following deadly attacks in January 2015 by Islamic extremists at the satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris.

“France is at war with terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism. France is not at war with a religion. France is not at war with Islam and Muslims,” he said, prompting unanimous applause. Still, his nervous, authoritarian style has drawn comparisons with former conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Like Sarkozy, Valls is known for his frank, sometimes shocking words — and he cherishes an image of “top cop” inherited from his time as Interior Minister from 2012 to 2014.

Valls at the time promoted policies to “assimilate” immigrants with the French population and favor their naturalization under strict rules. He expelled Roma residents from the country, saying their lifestyle is “in confrontation” with that of the French and they should return to Romania or Bulgaria.

As a prime minister, he denounced a “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid” that affects France’s troubled housing projects — admittedly a powerful term aimed at shaking up public opinion in favor of more inclusion.

Last summer, Valls supported local bans on burkinis on French beaches. He wrote on his Facebook page that denouncing the swimsuit, worn by a small minority of Muslim women, “in no way puts into question individual freedom” and is really about denouncing “fatal, retrograde Islamism.”

Valls was born in Barcelona in 1962 and became naturalized as French 20 years later. He has four children from a first marriage that ended in divorce, and since 2010 has been married to his second wife, the violinist Anne Gravoin.

His first bid for the presidency failed in 2011, when he got less than six percent of the votes at the Socialist primary. He then joined Hollande’s successful presidential campaign in 2012.

December 01, 2016

PARIS (AP) — France’s President Francois Hollande announced in a surprise televised address Thursday that he would not seek a second term in next year’s presidential election, acknowledging that his personal unpopularity might cost his Socialist party the Elysee.

“I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” Hollande said in the prime time slot, adding that he hoped by stepping aside to give the Socialists a chance to win “against conservatism and, worse still, extremism.”

The 62-year-old president — the country’s least popular leader since World War II — said he was “conscious of the risks” his lack of support posed to a successful candidacy. “What’s at stake is not a person, it’s the country’s future,” he said.

The announcement Thursday came just a few days after Hollande’s No. 2, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said he was “ready” to compete in next month’s Socialist primary. In a written statement on Thursday night, Valls praised Hollande’s “tough, mature, serious choice.”

“That’s the choice of a statesman,” he said, without confirming if he plans to seek the presidency himself. In his address Hollande avoided saying if he would support Valls — or any other candidate. Hollande’s popularity plunged soon after he took power in 2012, and polls show most voters don’t want to see him stay in office.

Voters expressed disappointment over the lagging economy, higher taxes and the pro-business shift Hollande adopted midterm after first claiming as a candidate his “real adversary” would be the “world of finance”.

His image also suffered from personal scandals. He broke up with ex-partner Valerie Trierweiler amid reports that he was having an affair with French actress Julie Gayet, an episode later exposed in a stinging book by the former first lady.

Not only did Trierweiler reveal intimate details of Hollande’s infidelities, but she also depicted the Socialist leader as someone who dislikes the poor — a grave political sin for a left-wing leader.

The Socialist party has also been deeply divided over Hollande’s leadership from within, with rebels within the party openly criticizing his pro-business strategy and calling for more left-leaning policies.

Two of his ex-colleagues, former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and former Education Minister Benoit Hamon, have already announced they will run next month. Hollande faced the Dec. 15 party deadline for entering the primary contest — and was expected to say in the coming weeks whether he would run again.

His announcement nevertheless came as a shock to political commentators, many of whom had thought the one-term Socialist leader was posturing to seek re-election despite being low in the polls. French network TF1 only said late in the day that the embattled leader would be speaking on its popular 8 p.m. news broadcast, throwing French media into a frenzy of second-guessing as to what he might have to say.

In a September speech, he repeatedly suggested he was eyeing a re-election bid. “I will not let the image of France be spoiled … in the coming months or the coming years,” Hollande said at the time.

Hollande said he would seek re-election if he were able to curb the unemployment rate in France, which for years has hovered around 10 percent. The latest figures showed a slight decrease in the jobless numbers, but this didn’t seem to quell the criticism.

Valls may launch his bid on Saturday, when he expected to speak at a political rally in Paris hosted by a group linked to the Socialist party. Whichever candidate Socialist voters choose in January will face former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, among other rivals, in the two-round presidential election in April and May.

Fillon, 62, who won France’s conservative presidential primary on Sunday, has promised drastic free-market reforms, along with a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism. Polls suggest the sober, authoritative Fillon would have a strong chance of winning the general election amid the widespread frustration with France’s current leadership.

He did not waste time in hammering Hollande and the Socialists in a statement sent out minutes after Thursday’s televised address. “Tonight, the president of the republic is admitting, with lucidity, that his patent failure is stopping him carrying on,” Fillon said.

“This term ends in political mess and in the decay of power,” Fillon added, promising “action” and “results.” Fillon, who was prime minister from 2007-2012 under ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, enjoyed a surprise surge in popularity in recent weeks. A rise in nationalist sentiment across Europe may have favored his strict conservative positions.

However, it’s expected he’ll face a strong challenge from Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, Le Pen is running an anti-establishment campaign that particularly targets immigrants, France’s Muslim minority, and the European Union.

The series of terror attacks on French soil by Islamic extremists that have left hundreds dead over the last two years has energized the country’s political right, which has vowed to take a tougher stance against immigration.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister under Hollande, also is seeking the presidency in the general election scheduled for April-May, but has decided not to take part into the Socialist primary.

December 01, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Former French economy minister Arnaud Montebourg has formally entered the country’s presidential race. Montebourg announced his candidacy Thursday in the presidential primary France’s Socialist party has scheduled for January.

The 54-year-old Montebourg’s politics are firmly left-leaning. He lost his cabinet position in 2014 because he denounced president Francois Hollande’s pro-business shift. During a speech in Paris, Montebourg says he favors a strong state to protect France’s industry from “foreign interests.”

Another former economy minister of Hollande’s, centrist Emmanuel Macron also is seeing the presidency but without taking part into a primary. Macron advocates free market policies. Hollande must say whether he will stand for re-election before a Dec. 15 deadline.

The French conservatives have chosen former prime minister Francois Fillon as their nominee for the April-May presidential election.

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