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Archive for the ‘Land of the French Oppression’ Category

In France, study shows virus hit African immigrants hardest

July 07, 2020

LE PECQ, France (AP) — Death rates among immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa doubled in France and tripled in the Paris region at the height of France’s coronavirus outbreak, according to a study from the French government’s statistics agency released Tuesday.

The INSEE agency’s findings are the closest France has come yet to acknowledging with numbers the virus’s punishing and disproportionate impact on the country’s Black immigrants and the members of other systemically overlooked minority groups.

The study was the first in France to cross-reference deaths that occurred in March and April, when intensive care units were swamped with COVID-19 patients, with the regions of origin of the people who died. By highlighting dramatic increases in deaths among immigrants born in Africa and Asia, the research helps fill some of the gaps in France’s understanding of its minority communities.

The topic has become an increasingly hot-button issue for French administrators in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. French researchers hailed the study as an important step but also said it only begins to scratch the surface of how the pandemic is impacting France’s minorities, who often live in crowded, underprivileged neighborhoods,.

French Black rights activists have long pushed for more and better ethnic-specific data. Officially, the French republic is colorblind, refusing to categorize or count people by race or ethnicity. For critics, that guiding philosophy has made the state oblivious to discrimination and put minorities at additional risk during the pandemic.

“I’m delighted, and I know colleagues are delighted, because we have been waiting for this data,” Solene Brun, a sociologist specializing in issues of race and inequality, said. “But our enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that this concerns only countries of origin. It’s not looking at Black populations or North African and Asian populations in their entirety.”

Most glaringly, the study shed no light on how the French-born children of immigrants are faring in the pandemic. Still, its findings pointing to high death rates among their foreign-born parents suggest that minorities, especially Black people from Africa, may have disproportionately borne much of the brunt in France.

“They have very clearly been hard hit. That is undeniable,” said Sylvie le Minez, who heads INSEE’s department of demographic studies. Mounting evidence from the United States and Britain pointing to greater COVID-19 mortality risks for Black residents than whites has increased pressure for French studies. Researchers bemoaned that their hands were tied by French taboos against identifying people by race or ethnicity and by legislation that regulates the scope of research and data collection.

“France doesn’t do ethnic-racial statistics, but we have the country of birth,” Le Minez said. “That is already very, very illuminating.” INSEE researchers drilled down into data gleaned from France’s civil registry of births, deaths and marriages to look at the birth countries of people who died during the March-April peak of the country’s outbreak. France has reported about 30,000 virus-related deaths in all since the pandemic started.

The research findings were particularly alarming for the Paris region, especially in the densely populated and underprivileged northern reaches of the French capital. Compared to March-April of 2019, Paris-region deaths during the same two months this year shot up by 134% among North African immigrants and by 219% for people born elsewhere in Africa.

The region’s increased March-April mortality in 2020 was less marked among people born in France: 78%. Skewed death rates were even more pronounced in Seine-Saint-Denis, the northern outskirt of Paris long troubled by poverty and overcrowding. There, deaths increased by 95% among the French-born but by 191% among people born in North Africa and by 368% among those from sub-Saharan Africa.

The study suggested that African immigrants were more exposed to infection because they live in more crowded conditions, make greater use of public transportation to commute to work and are more likely to have been among the key workers who continued at their posts when white-collar workers stayed home during France’s two-month lockdown.

Sociologist Brun said the study, by exposing limits in France’s knowledge about minorities, offered compelling arguments for broader research. “Once you wedge a foot in the door, it becomes easier to open it,” she said. “What’s precious about this data is that, roughly put, it gives us a glimpse of what we could learn if we agreed to really look at racial inequalities in health. So not just immigrants, but also their descendants and even perhaps their grandkids, that’s to say all those people who are racialized as non-white in France and live with discrimination because of that.”

French government ministers investigated over virus crisis

July 03, 2020

PARIS (AP) — A special French court ordered an investigation Friday of three current or former government ministers over their handling of the coronavirus crisis. COVID-19 patients, doctors, prison personnel, police officers and others in France filed an unprecedented 90 complaints in the Court of Justice of the Republic over recent months, notably over shortages of masks and other equipment as as the virus sped across Europe. The court usually only sees a few complaints a year.

The court, which deals with cases against top officials,said in a statement Friday that it threw out 44 of the 90 complaints, and is still studying 37 of them. The nine it deemed worth investigating target former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who resigned hours before the court’s announcement, Health Minister Olivier Veran or the former health minister, Agnes Buzyn.

They are accused of “failing to fight a disaster,” and could face up to two years in prison and fines, if tried and convicted. That was the only charge the court retained among multiple accusations in the 90 complaints, which included allegations of manslaughter and endangering lives. A conviction on those charges carries the potential for heavier prison terms.

Ten of the cases were closed because they didn’t provide enough justification for an investigation, according to a judicial official. The court said another 34 cases, targeting different government ministers, were thrown out for technical problems.

President Emmanuel Macron and his government have acknowledged mask shortages and other missteps in the virus crisis. France was also short of testing capacity and criticized for not imposing confinement measures earlier.

Macron himself cannot be targeted by lawsuits while in office because sitting presidents have immunity from prosecution. On Friday, the French leader named as the new prime minister a longtime civil servant who coordinated France’s strategy to reopen and recover economically from a two-month nationwide lockdown.

No mention was made of the investigation or legal troubles when Philippe resigned earlier in the day. Macron said he was reshuffling the government to focus on setting a “new path” for the remaining two years of his presidential term.

The Court of Justice of the Republic is the only French court where government ministers can be tried for their actions while in office, and was created in the wake of a major health scandal in the 1990s.

The new investigation is separate from dozens of lawsuits filed in other French courts against nursing homes or others accused of mismanaging the virus crisis. France has reported the fifth-highest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, for a total of 29,893 in the pandemic. About half took place in nursing homes.

France: Macron ousts security chief after police protests

July 06, 2020

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron ousted his top security official Monday following protests over police brutality, as part of a government shakeup aimed at focusing on France’s post-pandemic economic recovery for the remaining two years of Macron’s term.

The man named as France’s new interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, is facing a preliminary investigation into a rape accusation that he firmly denies. Macron’s office said the probe was “not an obstacle” to Darmanin’s appointment but wouldn’t further comment on the ongoing investigation.

In a surprise move, Macron also named a provocative lawyer who has defended WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and suspected terrorists as head of the Justice Ministry. And a former Green Party lawmaker was appointed to lead the powerful Ministry for Ecological Transition after Macron came under criticism for lagging on promises to cut emissions.

The 42-year-old centrist leader, whose presidency has been buffeted by protests and now the virus crisis, promised that the new government would be one of “purpose and unity.” Macron tweeted that his 2017 campaign promises to modernize France and free up its businesses remain central to his agenda, but he “must adapt to the international upheavals and crises we are experiencing. A new path must be forged.”

First among the priorities that Macron listed is helping the world’s sixth-largest economy recover from the battering delivered by the coronavirus pandemic. His new lineup includes some new faces but also leans heavily on loyalists as Macron seeks to steady the country.

One key change is at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police. Former budget minister Gerald Darmanin was named to replace Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who had come under fire amid widespread French protests against racial injustice and police violence spurred by the death of George Floyd in the United States.

In response, Castaner initially announced a ban on the use of chokeholds in policing, but he then backed down in the face of counter-demonstrations and pressure by police unions. He also launched an experiment with expanded Taser use.

Darmanin, 37, a member of Macron’s young guard, is a former conservative who joined Macron’s centrist party in 2017 and is seen as outspoken but effective. The rape investigation casts as a shadow over his appointment. An preliminary probe was opened in 2017 after a woman said he raped her when she sought legal help in 2009. Prosecutors ordered it dropped the following year for lack of evidence, but last month the Paris appeals court ordered it reopened. Darmanin, the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, says the encounter was consensual, and sued the woman for slander.

The new government reflects a balance of figures from the left and right and from outside politics altogether — like Eric Dupond-Moretti, arguably France’s most famous lawyer. Among his clients have been Assange; accomplices to Mohamed Merah, who killed Jewish children, a rabbi and paratroopers in a 2012 rampage around Toulouse; and former French government ministers accused of tax fraud or sexual harassment.

Two other important changes are at the Labor Ministry, whose new chief, Elisabeth Borne, will have to deal with a pending surge in unemployment, and the Ministry for Ecological Transition, to be led by former Green Party legislator Barbara Pompili.

Macron didn’t change the finance or health ministers, posts central to helping France through the virus crisis and recession, or the foreign and defense ministers. The new government will be led by Prime Minister Jean Castex. who was appointed Friday. Macron last week ditched Edouard Philippe, who as prime minister steered France through its coronavirus lockdown and the first three years of Macron’s presidency.

Castex is a career civil servant, and his low profile suggests that Macron doesn’t want to be overshadowed should he choose to seek reelection in 2022. Macron has not yet said if he’ll run for a second term.

John Leicester in Le Pecq, France contributed.

Paris marchers decry racism; far right rallies in London

June 13, 2020

PARIS (AP) — Paris riot police fired tear gas Saturday to disperse a largely peaceful but unauthorized protest against police brutality and entrenched racism, as France’s minorities increasingly push back against a national doctrine of colorblindness that has failed to eradicate discrimination.

In London, far-right activists and soccer rowdies scuffled with police while trying to “guard” historical monuments that have been targeted recently by anti-racism protesters for their links to slavery and British colonialism.

The events in the two European capitals reflected the global emotion unleashed by the death of George Floyd in the United States and the ensuing reckoning with racial injustice and historical wrongs. In both cities, protesters defied restrictions on public gatherings imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Myriam Boicoulin, 31, who was born in the French Caribbean island of Martinique, said she marched in Paris on Saturday because she “wants to be heard.” “The fact of being visible is enormous,” Boicoulin said. As a black woman living in mainland France, she said, “I’m constantly obliged to adapt, to make compromises, not make waves — to be almost white, in fact.”

“It’s the first time people see us,” she told The Associated Press. “Let us breathe.” At least 15,000 people rallied in Paris, led by supporters of Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody in 2016 in circumstances that remain unclear despite four years of back-and-forth autopsies. No one has been charged in the case.

“We are are all demanding the same thing – fair justice for everyone,” Traore’s sister Assa told the rally. Angry shouts rose from the racially diverse crowd as a small group of white extreme-right activists climbed a building overlooking the protest and unfurled a huge banner denouncing “anti-white racism.”

Building residents then reached out of their windows and tore part of the banner down, one raising his fist in victory. Officers prevented people attending the main rally from approaching the counter-demonstrators, but didn’t detain the far-right activists until two hours later, further angering the crowd below.

Riot police then fired tear gas and charged a few unruly members of the main protest, urging them to disperse. Hundreds of other protesters took a knee and stayed for hours despite the police pressure. The crowd had initially planned to march through the city, but police decided to block them from marching, citing coronavirus concerns.

Similar protests were also held Saturday in cities around France, from Rouen in Normandy in the northwest to Marseilles on the Mediterranean. Some demonstrators were encouraged that the French government responded to the past couple of weeks of Floyd-inspired protests by banning police chokeholds and launching investigations of racist comments in private Facebook and Whatsapp groups for police.

In London, a Black Lives Matter group called off a demonstration scheduled for Saturday, saying the presence of counter-protesters would make it unsafe. Some protesters still gathered at Hyde Park to denounce racism while hundreds of far-right activists demonstrated, despite strict police restrictions and warnings to stay home to contain the coronavirus.

Many from the far-right camp gathered around a statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Cenotaph war memorial, which were both boarded up to guard against vandalism. Officials put protective panels around the monuments amid fears that far-right activists would seek confrontations with anti-racism protesters under the guise of protecting statues.

Some activists threw bottles and cans at officers, while others tried to push through police barriers. Riot police on horses pushed the crowd back. The protesters, who appeared to be mostly white men, chanted “England” and sang the national anthem.

“I am extremely fed up with the way that the authorities have allowed two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments,” Paul Golding, leader of the far-right group Britain First, told the Press Association.

Scotland Yard said five people were arrested for violent disorder, assault on police and possession of weapons or drugs. Six police officers suffered minor injuries. Monuments around the world have become flash points in demonstrations against racism and police violence after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck.

In Britain, the protests have triggered a national debate about the legacy of empire and its role in the slave trade. A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled from its plinth by protesters in the city of Bristol on Sunday and dumped in the harbor. In London, Churchill’s statue was daubed with the words “was a racist.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted Friday that while Churchill “sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today,” he was a hero and “we cannot now try to edit or censor our past.” Churchill, whose first term spanned 1940-45, has long been revered for his leadership during World War II.

Protests denouncing racism also took place elsewhere in the U.K. In southern England’s coastal city Brighton, police said some 10,000 people turned up for a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Hui reported from London. Angela Charlton and Boubkar Benzabat in Paris contributed.

French chef Ducasse unveils anti-virus air system

June 11, 2020

PARIS (AP) — French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse on Thursday unveiled a novel air ventilation system in one of his smallest Parisian restaurants to try to overcome the distancing restrictions related to the coronavirus.

The system, which has cost 50,000 euros to install at the Allard, on Paris’ chic left bank, aims to dramatically reduce the risk of airborne virus transmission using technology from hospitals — with a touch of Parisian style.

Ducasse unveiled the system ahead of a French government announcement later this week on the opening of restaurant interiors to diners, “It’s one of the smallest restaurants in Paris and that’s why we decided to create this system here, as social distancing would make capacity here almost impossible,” Ducasse told The Associated Press.

Using high-tech air filtration devices used in hospitals, a group of inventors conceived of a system of metal pipes, filters and diffusers to slow down the speed of air particles 20 times. That gives time for them to sucked away before they can spread to the next table.

“With this new system, the air in each table is as contained as in an operating theater,” Ducasse said. The system means that the restaurant can keep a capacity of 80%, with the aim of making it economically viable to reopen.

“If you’re a virus carrier, the people just beside you will be safe,” said one of the air filtration designers, Arnaud Delloye. The system was tested in a 12-hour experiment to show that air molecules did not pass between tables, as particles were slowed down and whisked away by a suction device from “ventilation mouths” above each diner.

Social distancing measures were seen as a death knell for many smaller restaurants over fears that capacity would be reduced by 50 or 60%. Ducasse’s Allard in the chic Left Bank has been closed since March, and like many eateries in Paris’ narrow cobbled streets there is no outside seating area. Outside areas have been permitted to open since last week in Paris.

The technology is infused with art. Images of air divinities, as well as pigeons and clouds — emblematic of Paris — decorate the filters to prevent a sanitized feel. France’s state health agency INRS has validated the system, saying it “allows a significant reduction in the risk of virus transmission in a restaurant,” and France’s Ecology Minister Brune Poirson attended the launch.

However, Julian W. Tang, of Leicester University Respiratory Sciences department, expressed some skepticism about such systems, saying they still wouldn’t prevent transmission between people sitting at the same table.

“Generally, ceiling height indoor ventilation systems will not really affect the air flows between two people sitting at a table talking,” he said. Ducasse said he will wait to see the popularity of the system before he applies it to any other of his 40 restaurants worldwide.

Maria Cheng in London contributed.

French forces kill al-Qaida’s North African commander

June 06, 2020

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — French forces have killed Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of al-Qaida’s North Africa affiliate, the France’s defense minister announced late Friday, in what would be a major victory for France after years of battling jihadists in the Sahel.

There was no immediate confirmation of his death from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, which has made millions of dollars abducting foreigners for ransom over the years and made large swaths of West Africa too dangerous for aid groups to access.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted that Droukdel and several of his allies were killed Wednesday in northern Mali by French forces and their partners. It was not immediately clear how his identity was confirmed by the French.

Droukdel’s reported death comes after French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel group — Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — launched a new plan in January to fight jihadists in the area. France deployed 600 additional soldiers to its Barkhane force, raising the number of troops there to 5,100.

In a March video released by the extremist monitoring group SITE, Droukdel urged governments of the Sahel region to try to end the French military presence, calling the troops “armies of occupation.” It was not clear how long Droukdel had been in Mali, Algeria’s southern neighbor. For years he was thought to be holed up in the Kabyle region east of the capital of his native Algeria, and many people had questioned why he was never captured by Algerian security forces, which had honed their counter-terrorism skills over the decades.

He was widely seen as the symbolic leader of al Qaida’s North African branch, whose operational center for attacks shifted to northern Mali over the past decade. That led to the French military invasion of the region in 2013 seeking to counter Islamist extremist designs on southern Mali and the capital, Bamako.

Droukdel made his reputation as a feared extremist leader in Algeria, which beginning in the early 1990s was convulsed by violence in what the nation now calls the “black decade.” Droukdel’s al Qaida affiliate had claimed responsibility for numerous deadly suicide bombings in Algeria, including targeting a United Nations building in Algiers in 2007, shattered by a vehicle packed with explosives.

Droukdel, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, transformed the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known as the GSPC, into al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, spreading the movement across Africa’s Sahel region under the umbrella of the global terror network.

More recently he had been commanding all the al-Qaida groups in North Africa and the Sahel, including the JNIM, which has claimed responsibility for devastating attacks on the Malian military and U.N. peacekeepers trying to stabilize the volatile country.

Parly identified him as a member of al-Qaida’s “management committee.” Related anti-terrorist operations in the region also led to the arrest May 19 of a major figure in the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Mohamed el Mrabat, she said.

She said the operations dealt a “severe blow” to terrorist groups in the region that have been operating for years despite the presence of thousands of French, U.N. and other African troops.

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

One man lays wreaths in Normandy on this unusual D-Day

June 06, 2020

BENOUVILLE, France (AP) — The essence of war remembrance is to make sure the fallen are never forgotten. All it takes is a wreath, a tiny wooden cross, a little token on a faraway grave to show that people still care about their fallen hero, parent or grandparent.

This year, though, the pandemic stepped in, barring all travel for families to visit the World War II graves in France’s Normandy, where Saturday marks the 76th anniversary of the epic D-Day battle, when allied troops successfully stormed the beaches and turned the war against the Nazis.

So anguished families turned to the next best thing — an Englishman living on D-day territory, a pensioner with a big heart and a small hole in his agenda. For years, Steven Oldrid, 66, had helping out with D-Day events around the beaches where British soldiers had landed — and often left their lives behind — be it organizing parking, getting pipers to show or getting sponsors for veterans’ dinners.

Laying wreaths though, seemed something special, reserved for families and close friends only. But in pandemic times, pandemic rules apply. Oldrid was first contacted in March. “I was actually choked up when I got the first request,” Oldrid said. “I’m always on the other side. Always in the background,” he said.

“They asked ‘ Steven, can you lay our wreath? Well, they sent me five, and then another one said, ‘Can you lay one for my granddad?’ ‘Can you lay one for my dad’?” Before he knew, it in this extraordinary year, he had become the extraordinary wreathlayer — proof that kindness cannot be counted in pounds, euros or dollars, but in time and effort to organize a day around the wishes of others.

As June 6 approached, the boxes of wreaths and grave markers piled up in his garage. And to soothe the nerves of families, he has also been filming live for Facebook several ceremonies and wreathlayings.

Among those struggling with not being able to go to Normandy this year was Jane Barkway-Harney of the British veteran Glider Pilot Regiment Society, whose father participated in the D-day landings. “It makes me feel physically sick because you feel as though you’re letting everybody down,” she said. “I feel so strongly that it is our right and our duty to go.”

Still, whatever Oldrid is asked “I know he’ll say ‘yes’ because he actually doesn’t know the word ‘no.’ It is not in his vocabulary,” said Barkway-Harney. Through it all, he keeps a smile. “It’s not ever, never will be a burden, he said “It’s a pleasure and an honor.”

What does he get in return? On the internet it is “Thank you, Steve. A big hearts and thumbs up,” he said. And from his previous work helping out families and friends of veterans, he knows something else is coming too.

“They do actually bring me some English products like teabags and salad cream, baked beans and crisps for the kids.”

While nonstop news about the effects of the coronavirus has become commonplace, so, too, have tales of kindness.

The loneliest of D-Day remembrances is hit by pandemic

June 06, 2020

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — At daybreak on Saturday, Charles Shay stood lonesome without any fellow veteran on the very same beach where he waded ashore 76 years ago, part of one of the most epic battles in military historic that came to be known as D-Day and turned the tide of World War II.

Compared to last year, when many tens of thousands came to the northern French beaches of Normandy to cheer the dwindling number of veterans and celebrate three quarters of a century of liberation from Nazi oppression, the coronavirus lockdown turned this year’s remembrance into one of the eeriest ever.

“I am very sad now,” said Shay, who was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach under horrific machine-gun fire and shells. “Because of the virus, nobody can be here. I would like to see more of us here,” he told the Associated Press.

Normally, 95-year-old Shay would be meeting other survivors of the 1944 battle and celebrating with locals and dignitaries alike, all not far from his home close to the beaches that defined his life.

“This year, I am one of the very few that is probably here,” he said, adding that other U.S. veterans could not fly in because of the pandemic. When a full moon disappeared over land and the sun rose the other side over the English Channel, there was no customary rumble of columns of vintage jeep and trucks to be heard, roads still so deserted hare sat alongside them.

Still the French would not let this day slip by unnoticed, such is their attachment to some 160,000 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and others who spilled their blood to free foreign beaches and fight on to finally defeat Nazism almost one year later.

“It’s a June 6th unlike any other,” said Philippe Laillier, the mayor of Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, where he staged a small remembrance around the Omaha Beach monument. “But still we had to do something. We had to mark it.”

The moment the sun broke over the ocean, the Omaha Beach theme from Saving Private Ryan blared across the sand for a few dozen locals and visitors dressed in vintage clothing. The lack of a big international crowd was palpable though.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world, infecting 6.6 million people, killing over 391,000 and devastating economies. It poses a particular threat to the elderly — like the surviving D-Day veterans who are in their late nineties or older.

It has also affected the younger generations who turn out every year to mark the occasion. Most have been barred from traveling to the windswept coasts of Normandy. It did not affect Ivan Thierry, 62, a local fisherman who catches seabass around the wrecks that still litter the seabed nearby. He was holding an American flag in tribute even before dawn.

“There is not nobody here. Even if we are only a dozen, we are here to commemorate,” he said.

On sad anniversary, few to mourn the D-Day dead in Normandy

June 05, 2020

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — At least the dead will always be there. All too many have been, for 76 years since that fateful June 6 on France’s Normandy beaches, when allied troops in 1944 turned the course of World War II and went on to defeat fascism in Europe in one of the most remarkable feats in military history.

Forgotten they will never be. Revered, yes. But Saturday’s anniversary will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away — from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

Rain and wind are also forecast, after weeks of warm, sunny weather. “The sadness is almost too much, because there is no one,” said local guide Adeline James. “Plus you have their stories. The history is sad and it’s even more overwhelming now between the weather, the (virus) situation and, and, and.”

The locals in this northwestern part of France have come out year after year to show their gratitude for the soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries who liberated them from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces.

Despite the lack of international crowds, David Pottier still went out to raise American flags in the Calvados village of Mosles, population 356, which was liberated by allied troops the day after the landing on five Normandy beachheads.

In a forlorn scene, a gardener tended to the parched grass around the small monument for the war dead, while Pottier, the local mayor, was getting the French tricolor to flutter next to the Stars and Stripes.

“We have to recognize that they came to die in a foreign land,” Pottier said. “We miss the GIs,” he said of the U.S. soldiers. The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world, infecting 6.6 million people, killing over 391,000 and devastating economies. It poses a particular threat to the elderly — like the surviving D-Day veterans who are in their late nineties or older.

It has also affected the younger generations who turn out every year to mark the occasion. Most have been barred from traveling to the windswept coasts of Normandy. Some 160,000 soldiers made the perilous crossing from England that day in atrocious conditions, storming dunes which they knew were heavily defended by German troops determined to hold their positions.

Somehow, they succeeded. Yet they left a trail of thousands of casualties who have been mourned for generations since. Last year stood out, with U.S. President Donald Trump joining his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. A smattering of veterans were honored with the highest accolades. All across the beaches of Normandy tens of thousands came from across the globe to pay their respects to the dead and laud the surviving soldiers.

The acrid smell of wartime-era jeep exhaust fumes and the rumble of old tanks filled the air as parades of vintages vehicles went from village to village. The tiny roads between the dunes, hedges and apple orchards were clogged for hours, if not days.

Heading into the D-Day remembrance weekend this year, only the salty brine coming off the ocean on Omaha Beach hits the nostrils, the shrieks of seagulls pierce the ears and a sense of desolation hangs across the region’s country roads.

“Last year this place was full with jeeps, trucks, people dressed up as soldiers,” said Eric Angely, who sat on a seawall, dressed in a World War II uniform after taking his restored U.S. Army jeep out for a ride.

“This year, there is nothing. It’s just me now, my dog and my jeep,” the local Frenchman said. Three quarters of a century and the horrific wartime slaughter of D-Day help put things in perspective. Someday the COVID-19 pandemic, too, will pass, and people will turn out to remember both events that shook the world.

“We don’t have a short memory around here,” Pottier said with a wistful smile.

Virginia Mayo contributed.

France to abandon police chokeholds amid Floyd death anger

June 08, 2020

PARIS (AP) — French police will no longer be allowed to use chokeholds during arrests, the interior minister said Monday, banning the immobilization technique after it came under renewed criticism following George Floyd’s death in the United States.

With the French government under increasing pressure to address accusations of brutality and racism within the police force, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced Monday that “the method of seizing the neck via strangling will be abandoned and will no longer be taught in police schools.”

He said that during an arrest, “it will be now forbidden to push on the back of the neck or the neck.” “No arrest should put lives at risk,” he said. Yet Castaner stopped short of banning another technique — pressing on a prone suspect’s chest, which also has been blamed for leading to asphyxiation and possible death.

Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped responding. Three days later, another black man writhed on the street in Paris as a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck during an arrest.

French lawmakers have called for such practices to be banned, and they have raised criticism in other countries too. France has seen several protests over the past week sparked by Floyd’s death, which is stirring up anger around the world.

President Emmanuel Macron has stayed unusually silent so far both about Floyd’s death and what’s happening in France. Macron’s office said he spoke to the prime minister and other top officials over the weekend, and asked Castaner to “accelerate” plans to improve police ethics that were initially promised in January.

Castaner acknowledged that there are racist police officers and promised “zero tolerance” for racism within the force going forward. He ordered police officers to be systematically suspended when they are suspected of racist acts and comments, in addition to criminal proceedings.

“Racism has no place in our society and even less” so among police, he said. In addition, Castaner said that more police officers will be equipped with body cameras to help ensure that identity checks don’t lead to discrimination against minority groups, as human rights groups accuse French police of ethnic profiling.

Last week, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into racist insults and instigating racial hatred based on comments allegedly published by police in a private Facebook group.

Website Streetpress published a string of offensive messages that it said were published within the group, though acknowledged that it is unclear whether the authors were actual police officers or people pretending to be police. Some of the reported comments mocked young men of color who have died fleeing police.

Separately, six police officers in the Normandy city of Rouen are under internal investigation over racist comments in a private WhatsApp group. Both incidents have prompted public concerns about extreme views among French police.

French activists say tensions in low-income neighborhoods with large minority populations grew worse amid coronavirus confinement measures, because they further empowered the police. At least 23,000 people protested in cities around France on Saturday against racial injustice and police brutality, even defying a police ban on such protests in Paris due to fears about spreading coronavirus.

Thousands of activists marched Monday in the western city of Nantes, and more demonstrations are planned in France on Tuesday, when Floyd is being buried. The body that investigates allegations of police misconduct, the Inspectorate General of the National Police, known by its French acronym IGPN, said that 19 people have died and 117 others have been injured during police operations in France last year, according to a report released Monday.

The IGPN has investigated 1,460 complaints against officers last year, about half of them for alleged violence against civilians. Many incidents were related to often violent anti-government yellow vest protests, the report said.

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