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Turnout falls to lowest yet in French ‘yellow vest’ protests

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PARIS (Reuters) – Turnout at “yellow vest” protests across France, a backlash against high living costs that has lasted nearly four months, fell on Saturday to its lowest level yet.

People wearing the neon high-visibility vests that have come to symbolize the movement were joined in Paris by others donning pink tops, as child-care workers turned out against a reform of their unemployment subsidies.

Demonstrators on the Champs-Elysees avenue were pushed back at one point by water cannon, and sporadic clashes with police erupted in other cities including Lyon, Bordeaux and Toulouse, though the protests largely passed off peacefully.

Some protesters staged a “flashmob” at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, waving French flags and dancing in one of the terminals, television footage on BFM TV showed.

Some 28,600 people turned out overall, according to the interior ministry, with 3,000 of those in Paris – down from 39,300 across France the previous Saturday, and a far cry from the nearly 300,000 who blocked roads and marched in cities in mid-November.

Some campaigners are calling for a bigger show of force next weekend, when a series of town hall-style debates launched by President Emmanuel Macron to try to quell anger is due to end.

What started out last November as an outcry against Macron’s plan to hike fuel taxes — part of his bid to push a cleaner energy model — has morphed into a broader, leaderless movement decrying the government as out of touch with the hardships faced by some households and low-income workers.

Macron dropped the fuel tax increase and budgeted an extra 10 billion euros ($11 billion) to help the poorest workers.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Since riots in December, recent demonstrations have been largely peaceful. On Saturday in Paris, 19 people had been arrested by 6:35 p.m., police said.

In an Ifop poll taken on March 7 and 8 for the online news site Atlantico, 54 percent expressed sympathy with the ‘yellow vests’ — up from 50 percent in mid-February, but down from a peak of 72 percent.

Macron’s popularity has also improved in recent weeks. An Ipsos poll released on March 6 gave him an approval rating of 28 percent, up 8 points since December.

Reporting by Sarah White, Danielle Rouquie and Reuters TV; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Thousands attend NZ vigil, rally to fight racism, remember Christchurch victims

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CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in New Zealand’s cities on Sunday to protest racism and remember the 50 Muslims killed by a gunman in Christchurch and as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a national remembrance service to be held later this week.

People attend a vigil for victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

About 15,000 turned out for an evening vigil in Christchurch in a park near the Al Noor mosque, where a suspected white supremacist killed more than 40 of the victims. Several more people were killed at the nearby Linwood mosque.

Many non-Muslim women wore headscarves at the vigil, some made by members of Christchurch’s Muslim community, to show their support for those of Islamic faith as they had at similar events last week.

Ardern said on Sunday that a national remembrance service would be held on March 29 to honor the victims, most of whom were migrants or refugees.

“The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values,” Ardern said in a statement.

The prime minister has been praised for her leadership following the attack. She swiftly moved to denounce the incident as terrorism, toughen gun laws and express national solidarity with the victims and their families.

The vigil started with an Islamic prayer, followed by a reading of the names of the victims, which included students from the nearby Cashmere High School.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can,” Okirano Tilaia, one of the school’s pupils, told the crowd. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can.”

Earlier in the day more than 1,000 people marched in a rally against racism in central Auckland, carrying “Migrant lives matters” and “Refugees welcome here,” placards.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.

As New Zealand continued to mourn and ask questions about how such an attack could have happened in the peaceful Pacific nation, the victims’ families spoke about their losses.

Shahadat Hossain, whose brother Mojammel Haque was killed in the attack, arrived in New Zealand on Saturday to bring his brother’s body back to Bangladesh.

“I can’t describe how I felt when I saw my brother’s lifeless body,” he told Reuters. “I was devastated.”

Farid Ahmed, who was at the Al Noor mosque when the shooting took place, escaped but his wife, Husna, was killed. On Sunday, he went door-to-door, thanking his neighbors for their support.

    “They came running… they were crying, they were in tears,” he said of his neighbors when they found out that Husna had died.

“That was a wonderful support and expression of love, and I am feeling that I should also take the opportunity to say to them that I also love them.”

Reporting by Jill Gralow Natasha Howitt, Charlotte Greenfield in Christchurch, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, James Redmayne and Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Sam Holmes

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Almost 400 people winched from stricken cruise liner off Norway

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OSLO (Reuters) – Rescue services had airlifted 397 people to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway by Sunday morning and were preparing to tow the vessel to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom “a large number” were from the United States and Britain, according to the rescue services.

Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, a local rescue coordinator told a news conference early on Sunday, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises.

One was taken to St. Olav’s Hospital in the town of Trondheim, which is central Norway’s most advanced medical facility. Others were taken to local hospitals in the region.

“Many have also been traumatized by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore,” the Norwegian Red Cross said in a statement.

The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines on Sunday morning but still needed assistance.

“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.

Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

BROKEN WINDOWS

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.

Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight meters (26 feet), and passengers earlier described the ordeal.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun,” American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK on Saturday.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Jane Merriman/Keith Weir

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Rescue services prepare to tow stricken cruise ship off Norway to port

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OSLO (Reuters) – Evacuation from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway continued for a second day on Sunday, with 397 people airlifted off the vessel, while rescue services prepared to tow the ship to a nearby port, rescue workers said.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.

Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines but was still requesting assistance.

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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