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European Court upholds French full veil ban

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a ban by France on wearing the Muslim full-face veil – the niqab.

A case was brought by a 24-year-old French woman, who argued that the ban on wearing the veil in public violated her freedom of religion and expression.

French law says nobody can wear in a public space clothing intended to conceal the face. The penalty for doing so can be a 150-euro fine (£120; $205).

The 2010 law came in under former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A breach of the ban can also mean a wearer having to undergo citizenship instruction.

France has about five million Muslims – the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe – but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear full veils.

PDF downloadECHR ruling[116KB]

The court ruled that the ban “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face”. The Strasbourg judges’ decision is final – there is no appeal against it.

A court statement said the ruling also “took into account the state’s submission that the face played a significant role in social interaction”.

“The Court was also able to understand the view that individuals might not wish to see, in places open to all, practices or attitudes which would fundamentally call into question the possibility of open interpersonal relationships, which, by virtue of an established consensus, formed an indispensable element of community life within the society in question.”

Some face coverings, including motorbike helmets, are exempted from the French ban.

The woman, identified only by the initials SAS, took her case to the European Court in 2011. She said she was under no family pressure to wear the niqab, but chose to do so as a matter of religious freedom, as a devout Muslim.

France sets precedent

France was the first European country in modern times to ban public wearing of the full-face veil. Belgium adopted a similar ban in 2011.

In Spain, the city of Barcelona and some other towns have brought in similar bans, as have some towns in Italy.

No such general ban applies in the UK, but institutions have discretion to impose their own dress codes.

The French government argues that the ban has wide public support. The authorities see the full-face veil not only as an affront to French secular values but also as a potential security risk, as it conceals a person’s identity.

In the past, the European Court has sided with French secularism – it also ruled in favour of the government’s ban on headscarves in schools.

But in 2010, the judges did find against Turkey, ruling that religious garments were not in themselves a threat to public order.

Source: BBC News

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Air traffic control strike disrupts European flights

British passengers are being disrupted by an air traffic controllers’ strike in France that has led to flight cancellations.

The first day of the industrial action, in a protest against budget cuts, has seen delays at major airports.

Services operated by British Airways, Ryanair, Easyjet and Flybe were among those affected.

Air traffic management firm Eurocontrol said there would be 14,000 hours of delays during the six-day strike.

Ryanair said it had been forced to cancel a total of 96 flights on Tuesday, including some services to and from London Stansted, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin and Bristol airports.


Paul Clifton, BBC South transport correspondent, said a similar walkout last year led to the cancellation of about 1,800 flights a day across Europe, including many services to and from the UK.

There were due to be 350 direct flights between the UK and France during the period of the strike, he added.

Passengers due to fly have been urged to check the status of their flight with their airlines.

A Ryanair spokeswoman said the disruptions were “more severe than predicted” with delays of up to four hours on flights operating to, from and over France.

Source: BBC News

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American Airlines cuts flights to Venezuela

American Airlines says it is cutting almost 80% of its flights to Venezuela from next month.

From July 2, American will operate only 10 flights per week instead of the current 48.

The move comes as part of a continuing dispute over the repatriation of revenue due to tight currency controls in the oil-rich country.

A number of airlines have already suspended or reduced the number of flights to Venezuela.

“Since we are owed a substantial outstanding amount ($750m, £442m to March 2014) and have been unable to reach resolution on the debt, we will significantly reduce our flights to the country after 1 July,” the airline said in a statement.

American said it would only fly to Venezuela from Miami, suspending its flights from New York, Dallas and Puerto Rico.

Tight foreign currency controls make it difficult for foreign airlines to repatriate money from ticket sales in Venezuela.

The authorities have restricted access to dollars and want to make them more expensive to purchase, which may lead to losses for companies that are still waiting for cash from as far back as 2012.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) estimates Venezuela is delaying payment of $4bn.

American Airlines is the largest foreign carrier serving Venezuela.

Air Canada has suspended service citing security concerns, while others like Lufthansa and Copa Airlines have reduced the number of tickets made available in local currency.

In January, Ecuadorean airline Tame also suspended flights to Venezuela, demanding $43m (£26m) in overdue payments for tickets.

President Nicolas Maduro said at the time that airlines that reduced their operations in Venezuela would face “severe measures”.

“The company that leaves the country will not return while we hold power,” said Mr Maduro.

Last month, the Venezuelan government announced a deal with six Latin American airlines that would allow them to repatriate revenue from sales in 2012 and 2013.

Strict controls over foreign exchange were first imposed in 2003, following a troubled year which saw a coup against then-President Hugo Chavez.

The government hoped to avoid capital flight, but the economic crisis of the past year has led to a shortage of foreign currency.

Source: BBC News

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Deadly US tornadoes strike Nebraska

At least one person is dead and at least 19 are hurt after two massive tornadoes hit the US state of Nebraska.

The town of Pilger, about 100 miles (160km) north-west of Omaha, with a population of 350 people, was devastated by the twisters.

Jerry Weatherholt, county commissioner, said half the town is damaged.

The tornadoes were a mile apart, says the National Weather Service, and another massive tornado has been tracked near Burwell, central Nebraska.

“It was like God dragged two fingernails across the the land,” Gregg Moeller told the nearby Norfolk Daily News newspaper.

Pilger saw significant damage to a school, a bank and a church in town, and many homes in the southern portion of the town were destroyed or damaged.

“More than half of the town is gone – absolutely gone,” Mr Weatherholt said. “The co-op is gone, the grains bins are gone, and it looks like almost every house in town has some damage. It’s a complete mess.”

Faith Regional Health Services hospital spokeswoman Jodi Richey told the Associated Press news agency one person had died and 16 were being treated for injuries.

Providence Medical Center in nearby Wayne also treated three hurt by the tornado, two who have been already released, hospital spokeswoman Sandy Bartling said.

The governor of the state has declared an emergency, which will allow the use of Nebraska’s National Guard.

Stanton County emergency manager Sanford Goshorn told CNN his agency was still in response mode and said the number of those injured could rise.

“We’re still digging people out,” he said.

Source: BBC News

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Man is on a mission, to help other “left-behinders” recover their children

After Anselmo Llobera recovered his children — who twice had been abducted, first to the Dominican Republic and then to New York — it has been his mission, his business to help other “left-behinders.”

“Left-behinders” are the parents who are “left behind” when their spouse flees to another country with their children.

Dave Bernat, of Palos Heights, whose children were taken to Mexico, was one of the “left-behinders” Llobera was able to help recently.

Once Llobera successfully recovered his own kids in 1999, other parents begged for his help and inspired him to launch the International Expertise Center (IECC) in the Netherlands.

He estimated that “thousands” of children are abducted from the United States by a parent every year, and “thousands” more from Europe.

“We are, as far as we know, one of the very few organizations that can successfully recover internationally abducted children,” Llobera wrote in an email interview. He knows “exactly” how these parents feel, he wrote.

“Our success rate is more than 90 percent. Personally, I never give up because I see every case as if I am again recovering my kids,” he said.

He said he uses a variety of legal, safe and sometimes “strategically unorthodox” methods, but urges clients not to use the Hague Convention on Child Abduction or another convention or treaty because “you will end up spending years in court.

“Hague is a tool for an abducting parent to throw sand in the eyes of the foreign judges,” he said.

With his network of professional attorneys and mediators and “strong contacts” among police, judges and lawyers in various countries, Llobera’s team works within the local criminal justice system and never resorts to force or violence.

“The difference between us and other missing/abducted children organizations is that we physically travel to the abducted-to state to solve the problem from there, with our network,” he said. His team handles 15 to 25 cases each year and continuously monitors and pushes each one forward, he said.

It is more challenging when faced with few financial resources, “hard-headed, uncooperative authorities,” clients who are not completely honest, and “lazy uninvolved people,” he said. The more money his client can afford, the more contacts, resources and options he can use.

He tries to work with local judges and authorities to return the children or uses mediation to work out an agreement between both parents.

If the child is in danger, his team may negotiate with local police or other authorities, or plan and execute a fast rescue-recovery with assistance from local authorities. If the parent and children are illegally living in another county, he may enlist immigration authorities.

He has found no country is more difficult to recover from than another.

“The most important thing to remember is that every country is different, and every case is unique. No plan goes exactly according to the way it is envisioned. Time cannot be a factor. We never take anything for granted, and are very flexible,” he said.

“Achieving the safe and prompt return of any abducted child is a complex task that must never be undertaken lightly. There are many and varied issues that can and will arise at any given time. All parties concerned must have the knowledge and flexibility to adapt and deal with all eventualities,” Llobera said.

He follows up to make sure his families are safe and secure once they are home.

Throughout the recovery process it is difficult to keep parents “calm,” he said. Many clients wonder if the IECC is for real.

“Even after 15 years, it is a pity that we still need to convince people that we are operators and not otherwise,” he said.

“We receive hundreds of emails from people who usually have no budget at all. This is very sad,” Llobera said, wishing that someone would start a foundation to raise money to help these “left-behinders.”


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Nigeria bombings: ‘Death toll passes 100′

The bodies of at least 118 people have now been recovered from the sites of twin bombings in the central Nigerian city of Jos, the nation’s emergency management agency says.

The first blast was in a busy market, the second outside a nearby hospital.

No group has said it was behind the attack but Boko Haram militants have carried out a spate of recent bombings.

Jos has also seen deadly clashes between Christian and Muslim groups in recent years.

A spokesperson for the regional governor told AFP news agency that most of the victims were women. The market and bus terminal are part of the commercial centre of Jos.

The second blast was some 30 minutes after the first and killed some rescue workers.

Journalist Hassan Ibrahim told the BBC that tension was rising in the area, with youths blocking some roads. Religious leaders are appealing for calm.

National Emergency Management Agency coordinator Mohammed Abdulsalam said: “We’ve now recovered 118 bodies from the rubble. This could rise by morning, as there is still some rubble we haven’t shifted.” He said 56 people were injured.

Read full story on  BBC News

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Russian law bans swearing in arts and media

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law banning all swearing in films, television broadcasts, theatres and the media.

Offenders will face fines – as much as 50,000 roubles (£829; $1,400) for organisations, or up to 2,500 roubles (£41; $70) for individuals.

Where disputes arise a panel of experts will decide exactly what counts as a swear word.

Books containing swear words will have to carry warnings on the cover.

Russia’s Vesti news website says that, according to sociologists’ research, swearing is common in two-thirds of Russian companies.

The law will take effect from 1 July and will not apply to cases of swearing at performances before that date.

A leading pro-Putin film director and now MP, Stanislav Govorukhin, was one of the new law’s architects.

The law harks back to the conservatism of the Soviet period, when the Communist Party required artists and writers to avoid “decadent” Western fashions and to stick to traditional values.

Traders who fail to give consumers warnings about swearing in videos or other audiovisual products will risk having their licences withdrawn.

It is not clear whether the ban on swearing in the media will also extend to Russian users of international social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Source: BBC News

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US Supreme Court hears arguments in mobile search case

The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments over whether police may search a suspect’s mobile phone without a warrant during an arrest.

The high court is weighing appeals by two people convicted based on evidence found on their phones.

The defendants argue their constitutional protections against unreasonable searches were violated.

But the government argues phones are no more shielded from searches than other articles police find during an arrest.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that during an arrest, police do not need a warrant to empty a suspect’s pockets and examine whatever they find in order to ensure officers’ safety and prevent the destruction of evidence.

12 million arrested

In one case before the court on Tuesday, prosecutors used video and photographs found on David Riley’s smartphone to persuade a jury to convict him of attempted murder and other charges.

Riley had been driving on a suspended licence, and police found guns in his car and charged him with carrying a concealed weapon, then searched his phone.

In the second case, Brima Wurie was arrested on suspicion of selling crack cocaine. On the “officer safety” grounds police examined the call log on his mobile phone and used that information to determine where he lived.

When they searched that residence, with a warrant, they found crack cocaine, marijuana, a gun and ammunition.

Under the fourth amendment to the US constitution, police and other government officials generally need to obtain a warrant from a judge before they can conduct a search. A warrant requires evidence that a crime has been committed by the suspect.

Lawyers for Riley and Wurie argue that allowing police to search mobile phones during the initial arrest would radically broaden police powers, because many arrests occur for minor violations and never end in conviction.

Read more on BBC News

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South Korea school reopens after ferry disaster

The South Korean school devastated by the loss of many of its students in a ferry disaster last week has started to hold classes again.

More than 300 students from Danwon high school, located south of Seoul, were on the Sewol ferry when it capsized.

Most of the students are dead, or missing inside the sunken hull.

The ferry sank last week as it sailed from Incheon to Jeju Island. More than 160 people have been confirmed dead, as search teams work to recover bodies.

There were 476 people on board, with many trapped inside as the ferry listed and sank within two hours of distress signals being sent. A total of 174 passengers were rescued.

Almost 250 students and teachers from Danwon have been confirmed dead or are presumed to have died, Reuters news agency says.

Most of the students who survived the disaster remain in hospital and it is not clear when they will return to school.

Final year students returned to Danwon school on Thursday, however. Dozens of counsellors have been brought in to help with the trauma that many of the students are expected to face.

Keep reading on BBC News

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Putin warns Europe of gas shortages over Ukraine debts

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned European leaders that Ukraine’s delays in paying for Russian gas have created a “critical situation”.

Pipelines transiting Ukraine deliver Russian gas to several EU countries and there are fears that the current tensions could trigger gas shortages.

Mr Putin warned that Moscow could “completely or partially cease deliveries” if Ukraine does not settle its energy bill.

Daniel Sandford reports.

Source: BBC News

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Last updated March 29, 2017 at 11:04 PM
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