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Thousands Across France Protest Macron’s ‘Brutal’ Policies

Thousands of protesters marched under tight security in eastern Paris on Saturday after French labor unions, left-wing political parties and civil rights groups called for “floods of people” to oppose the economic policies of President Emmanuel Macron.

Marches and rallies also were being held in dozens of other French cities as part of the joint action against Macron’s policies that organizers consider pro-business and “brutal.”

At the Paris event, Philippe Martinez, head of leading French union CGT, advised the president to “look out the window of his palace to see real life.”

More than 1,500 police officers were mobilized in the French capital to prevent activists not associated with the official protest from disrupting the march and causing damage, which has happened during previous recent demonstrations.

Police said they detained 35 people in Paris before and after the march started. Some of them were preemptively taken in for questioning after officers searched their bags and found “equipment” that could be used to cause damage or to hide their faces.

Others, mainly youths dressed in black with their faces covered, were detained on the sidelines of the main protest for breaking a window at a business or damaging bus shelters. Police used tear gas canisters to push them back. One officer was slightly injured by thrown debris.

Unions, opposition parties and other groups are particularly denouncing a Macron-led legal overhaul aimed at cutting worker protections and increasing police powers.

They allege that Macron supports tax reform that favors France’s wealthiest and is working to tear down public services, including by making it harder for students to attend the universities of their choice and easier for police to brutalize residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods.

In the southern port city of Marseille, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left Defiant France party, also addressed Macron while speaking to demonstrators.

“In the name of the poor, the humiliated, the homeless and the jobless, we are telling you, `Enough, enough of this world,”‘ Melenchon said.

Macron, a centrist former investment banker, says his economic changes are meant to increase France’s global competitiveness. In an interview with BFM TV on Friday, the French leader said that those who protest will not manage to “block the country.”

“No disorder will stop me, and calm will return,” Macron said.

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Jailed British-Iranian Aid Worker To Face Trial On Security Charges

A detained British-Iranian aid worker sentenced to five years in jail in Iran is to face a second trial on new security charges, the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday quoted Tehran Revolutionary Court’s head Musa Ghazanfarabadi as saying.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she was heading back to Britain with her two-year-old daughter after a family visit.

She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson discussed Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with Iranian officials after flying to Tehran in December to try to seek her release.

“Ghazanfarabadi said the charge against Zaghari in the new case is security-related but did not say whether it was espionage or another charge,” Tasnim reported.

“Zaghari is to present an attorney and then the court will convene,” Ghazanfarabadi said.

Reuters was unable to determine the identity of the lawyer.

Asked for comment by Reuters, Britain’s Foreign Office said on Saturday that it would not provide a commentary on “every twist and turn.”

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said it was not clear what the latest charges involved.

“To go back a week, she had met with the judge … who said there would be a charge of spreading propaganda against the regime, that’s a very mild form of security charge so hopefully it’s just that,” he told BBC TV.

In a statement on Monday, the Thomson Reuters Foundation said it totally rejected “the renewed accusations that Nazanin is guilty of spreading propaganda” and said it continued to assert her full innocence.

In response to an urgent question in parliament on Tuesday about her situation, British Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said Prime Minister Theresa May had raised all consular cases with President Hassan Rouhani in a call earlier this month. He did not provide further details.

He also said the British ambassador in Tehran had spoken to Zaghari-Ratcliffe last Sunday.

“We remain of the assessment that a private, rather than public approach is most likely to result in progress in Nazanin’s case and ultimately, her release, which is all any of us want,” he said.

Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, which limits the access foreign embassies have to their dual citizens held there.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrested at least 30 dual nationals during the past two years, mostly on spying charges, according to lawyers, diplomats and relatives, Reuters reported in November.

According to former prisoners, families of current ones and diplomats, in some cases the detainees are kept to be used for a prisoner exchange with Western countries. Iran denies the accusation.

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Ireland Ends Abortion Ban as "Quiet Revolution" Transforms Country

Ireland has voted by a landslide to liberalize its highly restrictive abortion laws in a referendum that its prime minister called the culmination of a “quiet revolution” in what was one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries.

Voters in the once deeply Catholic nation backed the change by two-to-one, a far higher margin than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, and allows the government to bring in legislation by the end of the year.

“It’s incredible. For all the years and years and years we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything,” said Mary Higgins, obstetrician and Together For Yes campaigner.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, had called the vote a once-in-a-generation chance and voters responded by turning out in droves. A turnout of 64 percent was one of the highest for a referendum.

All but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes” and contributed to the 66 percent that carried the proposal, almost an exact reversal of the 1983 referendum result that inserted the ban into the constitution.

“What we see is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland over the last couple of decades,” Varadkar, who became Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister last year, told journalists in Dublin.

The outcome is the latest milestone on a path of change for a country which only legalized divorce by a razor thin majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

“For him (his son), it’s a different Ireland that we’re moving onto. It’s an Ireland that is more tolerant, more inclusive and where he can be whatever he wants without fear of recrimination,” said Colm O’Riain, a 44-year-old teacher with his son Ruarai, who was born 14 weeks premature in November.

Astonishing margin

Anti-abortion activists conceded defeat early on Saturday as their opponents expressed astonishment at the scale of their victory. Lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not seek to block the government’s legislation.

“What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions,” the Save The 8th group said. “However, a wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it.”

Voters were asked to scrap the constitutional amendment, which gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life.

The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

The largest newspaper, the Irish Independent described the result as “a massive moment in Ireland’s social history”.

Campaigners for change, wearing “Repeal” jumpers and “Yes” badges, gathered at count centers, many in tears and hugging each other. Others sang songs in the sunshine outside the main Dublin results center as they awaited the official result.

The large crowd cheered Varadkar as he took to the stage to thank them for “trusting women and respecting their choices”.

“Yes” campaigners had argued that with over 3,000 women travelling to Britain each year for terminations – a right enshrined in a 1992 referendum – and others ordering pills illegally online, abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Reform in Ireland also raised the prospect that women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, may start travelling south of the border.

The leaders of Sinn Fein, the province’s largest Irish nationalist party that also has a large presence in the Irish republic, held up a sign on stage saying “The North is next.”

Middle ground

No social issue has divided Ireland’s 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant from a septic miscarriage after she was refused a termination.

Campaigners left flowers and candles at a large mural of the woman, Savita Halappanavar, in central Dublin. Her parents in India were quoted by the Irish Times newspaper as thanking their “brothers and sisters” in Ireland and requesting the new law be called “Savita’s law”.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

The vote divided political parties, saw the once-mighty Catholic Church take a back seat, with the campaign defined by women on both sides publicly describing their personal experiences of terminations.

Although not on the ballot paper, the “No” camp sought to seize on government plans to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy if the referendum is carried, calling it a step too far for most voters.

Save The 8th spokesman McGuirk appealed for tolerance and respect from “those who find themselves in the majority now”.

Jim Wells, a member of Northern Ireland’s socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party, said that after the vote Northern Ireland and Malta were the only parts of Europe where the unborn child was properly protected.

“It is inevitable that the abortion industry based in Great Britain will set up clinics in border towns,” he said. “The outcome of the referendum is an extremely worrying development for the protection of the unborn child in Northern Ireland.”

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Khodorkovsky: Boycotting Russia World Cup a ‘Big Mistake’

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oil tycoon-turned-Kremlin foe who spent a decade in prison and now lives in exile, says fellow Kremlin critics should not boycott the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, slated to kick off June 14 in Russia.

Russian aggression abroad, along with domestic human rights violations, has “obviously caused a serious split, both inside Russian society and in the West,” Khodorkovsky said.

“There are thoughts about boycotting it, and thoughts about just turning a blind eye to everything happening in Russia during the event. But I think that boycotting the championship would be a big mistake if you think about teams going to Russia, and people and fans visiting the country,” he said. “The championship is a way to show everyday Russians that Russia is not surrounded by enemies, and that the Kremlin has largely invented them.”

On the other hand, Khodorkovsky added, “I do believe Western leaders would be making a mistake if they were to visit the man who has created a fully authoritarian regime and has surrounded himself with a criminal clique.”

“This would be a mistake, because it would be seen as encouragement, and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin should not be encouraged,” he said. “Therefore, there should be a very clear stance: ‘Yes, we are visiting the Russian society, but we are not visiting the Kremlin criminal clique.’ ”

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch recently called on world leaders to boycott the tournament’s opening ceremony unless Putin takes steps to protect Syrian civilians.

Russia, which hosts the World Cup for the first time this year, is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s seven-year war, and the New York-based watchdog argued that Moscow’s responsibility in the suffering of Syrian civilians should not be overlooked.

The organization also said the monthlong World Cup tournament, which would be viewed by billions worldwide, will take place amid the worst domestic “human rights crisis in Russia since the Soviet era.”

Its statement followed a call in April by dozens of European parliamentarians who signed an open letter pleading with EU governments to boycott the tournament, calling the March 4 poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain “just the latest chapter in Putin’s mockery of our European values.”

On Thursday, a letter signed by families of the 40 Australians who were killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 said recent revelations that a Russia-based military unit almost certainly fired on the commercial airliner cast a “dark shadow” over the tournament, and that Australians should boycott this year’s event out of respect for the dead.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian service.

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Irish Voters Set to Liberalize Abortion Laws, Survey Finds

The people of Ireland appear set to liberalize some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws by a landslide, an exit poll showed Friday, as voters demanded change in what two decades ago was one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries.

The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI exit poll suggested that voters in the once deeply Catholic nation had backed a ballot proposal by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent. A second exit poll was due to be published by 2230 GMT (11:30 p.m. in Dublin).

Turnout could be one of the highest for a referendum, national broadcaster RTE reported, potentially topping the 61 percent who backed gay marriage by a large margin in 2015, as voters queued outside polling stations throughout the day in the blistering sunshine.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who was in favor of change and called the referendum a once-in-a-generation chance, said earlier Friday that he was “quietly confident” that the high turnout was a good sign.

Vote counting begins at 0800 GMT on Saturday (9 a.m. in Dublin), with the first indication of results expected at midmorning.

Voters were asked if they wished to scrap a 1983 amendment to the constitution that gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life is in danger.

Ireland legalized divorce by a razor-thin majority only in 1995, but became the first country to adopt gay marriage by popular vote in a 2015 referendum.

But no social issue has divided its 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant from a septic miscarriage after she was refused a termination.

“I think this issue is important because it’s been 35 years since any person has had a choice to vote,” said Sophie O’Gara, 28, who was voting “Yes” near Dublin’s bustling Silicon Docks, home to some of the world’s biggest technology firms.

“So many women have traveled across to England to take care of their family and health care needs, and I think it’s a disgrace and it needs to change,” she said, referring to women who travel to Britain for abortions.

Fierce campaign

The fiercely contested vote has divided political parties, seen the once-mighty church take a back seat, and become a test case for how global internet giants deal with social media advertising in political campaigns.

Unlike in 1983, when religion was front and center and abortion was a taboo subject for most, the campaign was defined by women on both sides publicly describing their personal experiences of terminations.

“Yes” campaigners have argued that with over 3,000 women traveling to Britain each year for terminations — a right enshrined in a 1992 referendum — and others ordering pills illegally online, abortion is already a reality in Ireland.

Although not on the ballot paper, the “No” camp has seized on government plans to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy if the ballot proposal is approved, calling it a human rights issue and a step too far for most voters.

“I think it’s important that we protect the unborn babies. People don’t care anymore about the dignity of human life. I’ve a family myself and I think it’s really important,” said John Devlin, a marketing worker in his 50s voting “No” near Dublin’s city center.

The Irish government’s push to liberalize the laws is in contrast to the United States, where abortion has long been legal, but President Donald Trump backs stripping federal funding from women’s health care clinics that offer abortions.

​Home to vote

Videos shared on social media showed scores of voters arriving home at Irish airports from abroad. Ireland does not allow expatriates to vote via mail or in embassies, but those away for less than 18 months remain on the electoral roll.

As with the gay marriage referendum, those using the #hometovote hashtag on Twitter appeared overwhelmingly to back change. Many posted photos of themselves wearing sweatshirts bearing the “Repeal” slogan.

“Women and girls should not be made into health care refugees when they are in a time of crisis,” said Niamh Kelly, 27, who paid 800 euros and traveled 20 hours to return home from Hanoi where she works as an English teacher. She called the vote a once-in-a-lifetime chance “to lift the culture of shame that surrounds this issue, so it was really important to me to be part of that.”

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Russia Rejects Report Blaming Russia for Downing of Civilian Airliner

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed an international investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airliner MH17 over east Ukraine in 2014 as deeply flawed, after investigators concluded Russia’s military provided the missile used in the attack that killed all 298 people aboard.

Asked about the Joint Investigative Team (JIT) report during a press briefing with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Putin said that, while he had been too busy to read the report, “I can say right away, even not knowing what’s in it.”

“From the very beginning, we offered to work together on the investigation into the tragedy. To our surprise, they didn’t allow us to participate,” said the Russian leader. 

Putin complained that, while Russia had been excluded from the investigation, neighboring Ukraine was invited to take part.

“The Ukrainian side is there, despite the fact that Ukraine violated international law and failed to close its airspace over territory where a military conflict was happening.”

Putin’s comments follow a report by prosecutors from six nations that identified a Russian military unit — the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade in the Russian city of Kursk — as the source of the “Buk” missile that brought down the passenger plane.

It also comes amid mounting international pressure for Russia to acknowledge the veracity of the JIT findings. 

The Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens in the attack, informed Moscow on Friday that it held the Russian state legally responsible and would pursue compensation. Dutch authorities say Australia would pursue similar legal action. 

The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and NATO have also called on Russia to accept responsibility and fully cooperate with all efforts to establish accountability. 

Theories debunked

Malaysian Airliner MH17 was shot down over territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine in July, 2014 en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. At the time, intense fighting raged between the Ukrainian army and the Moscow-backed separatists.

Russia has always denied any involvement in the tragedy and provided a range of theories — since debunked — arguing Ukraine was behind the attack.

On Friday, Russia’s defense ministry again issued a denial, saying “not a single anti-aircraft missile system” from the Russian Federation had ever crossed the border into Ukraine, despite photographic evidence presented by the JIT investigation to the contrary.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also dismissed Russian culpability, saying the case resembled accusations against Moscow following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK.

“It looks much like the Skripal affair when they said it was highly likely done by Russians,” said Lavrov. The foreign minister then accused western powers of using the tragedy to pursue political goals.

Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin suggested Russia was already preparing for additional sanctions.

While the JIT report places blame squarely on Russia for providing the missile, investigators say they have yet to determine individuals behind the attack.

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‘No Illusions’ as Iran Nuclear Deal Countries Set to Meet Friday

Nations that remain in the Iran nuclear deal meet on Friday for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump left the pact, but diplomats see limited scope to salvage it after Washington vowed to be tougher than ever on Tehran.

British, Chinese, French, German and Russian officials will try to flesh out with Iran’s deputy foreign minister a strategy to save the deal by keeping oil and investment flowing, while circumventing U.S. sanctions that risk hurting the economy.

The 2015 accord rests on lifting sanctions and allowing business with Iran in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program. The deal’s proponents say it is crucial to forestalling a nuclear Iran and preventing wider war in the Middle East.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday threatened the Islamic Republic with “the strongest sanctions in history” if it did not change its behavior in the Middle East.

“Pompeo was like taking a cold shower,” said a European diplomat. “We’ll try to cling to the deal hoping that there is a possibility of a transaction, but we’re under no illusions.”

At the heart of Friday’s talks, chaired by the European Union, Iranian officials will seek guarantees from the Europeans that they can protect trade. They will also want assurances that all parties will continue to buy Iranian oil.

Iran’s supreme leader set out a series of conditions on Wednesday for Iran to stay in the deal.

“This is a very important meeting that will show whether the other parties are serious about the deal or not,” an Iranian official told Reuters. “We will understand whether, as our leader, said, the European can give us reliable guarantees or not.”

Highlighting how difficult it will be, the U.S. Treasury announced Thursday more sanctions on several Iranian and Turkish companies and a number of aircraft in a move targeting four Iranian airlines.

Some Western companies have already quit Iran or said they may have to leave because of U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said he expected the other signatories to present “a new package” that would be within the boundaries of the agreement, but did not include “any other issues.”

Trump denounced the accord, completed under his predecessor Barack Obama, because it did not cover Iran’s ballistic missile program, its role in Middle East conflicts or what happens after the deal begins to expire in 2025.

While European nations share those concerns, they have said that as long as Tehran meets its commitments, they would remain in the deal.

The U.N. atomic watchdog policing the pact said on Thursday Iran continued to comply with the terms of the deal, but could be faster and more proactive in allowing snap inspections.

“The European desire to remain in the agreement does not, however, detract from the concerns we have with regard to Iran,” France’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday.

“That is why we proposed to establish a comprehensive negotiating framework with Iran. We want Iran to understand the value of a cooperative approach.”

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US Bill Would Force Tech Companies to Disclose Foreign Software Probes

U.S. tech companies would be forced to disclose if they allowed American adversaries, like Russia and China, to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military under proposed legislation, Senate staff told Reuters on Thursday.

The bill, approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, comes after a year-long Reuters investigation found software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software that was already deeply embedded in some of the most sensitive parts of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence agencies.

Security experts say allowing Russian authorities to conduct the reviews of internal software instructions — known as source code — could help Russia find vulnerabilities and more easily attack key systems that protect the United States. 

The new source code disclosure rules were included in Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon’s spending bill, according to staffers of Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

​Details of bill, which passed the committee 25-2, are not yet public. And the legislation still needs to be voted on by the full Senate and reconciled with a House version of the legislation before it can be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

If passed into law, the legislation would require companies that do business with the U.S. military to disclose any source code review of the software done by adversaries, staffers for Shaheen told Reuters. If the Pentagon deems a source code review a risk, military officials and the software company would need to agree on how to contain the threat. It could, for example, involve limiting the software’s use to non-classified settings.

The details of the foreign source code reviews, and any steps the company agreed to take to reduce the risks, would be stored in a database accessible to military officials, Shaheen’s staffers said. For most products, the military notification will only apply to countries determined to be cybersecurity threats, such as Russia and China.

Shaheen has been a key voice on cybersecurity in Congress. The New Hampshire senator last year led successful efforts in Congress to ban all government use of software provided by Moscow-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab, amid allegations the company is linked to Russian intelligence. Kaspersky denies such links.

In order to sell in the Russian market, tech companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co, SAP and McAfee have allowed a Russian defense agency to scour software source code for vulnerabilities, Reuters found. In many cases, Reuters found that the software companies had not previously informed U.S. agencies that Russian authorities had been allowed to conduct the source code reviews. In most cases, the U.S. military does not require comparable source code reviews before it buys software, procurement experts have told Reuters. 

The companies have said the source code reviews were conducted by the Russians in company-controlled facilities, where the reviewer could not copy or alter the software. McAfee announced last year that it no longer allows government source code reviews. Hewlett Packard Enterprise has said none of its current software offerings have gone through the process.

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