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Airport shooting reignites security debate before French election

PARIS Police questioned and then released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators sought clues on why he attacked an army patrol in an incident that has pushed security to the forefront of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize a gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past twoyears at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State, making security a key issue in the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner, told France 2 television on Sunday it was “essential” to maintain the current state of emergency, in force since November 2015 . He reiterated that he would strengthen military operations and intelligence against Islamist militants.

Conservative Francois Fillon said France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against the idea of lifting the state of emergency, as floated by the justice minister last week.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an

anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, told a rally that the government was “overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights.”

IN AND OUT OF PRISON

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody, and did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol when he was stopped for a routine traffic check north of Paris, officials said . He then fled the scene.

He later entered a bar where he was a regular customer in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but released late on Saturday, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

An autopsy showed the presence of cannabis and cocaine in Belgacem’s body, as well as an alcohol blood level of 0.93 grams per litre, a judicial source said on Sunday.

The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 g/l.

An earlier search of Belgacem’s home had found several grams of cocaine, the prosecutor said.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor . French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)

Evidence shows Palestinian security forces violently suppressed peaceful protest in Ramallah

Photographic evidence and witness testimony gathered by Amnesty International at the scene suggest that Palestinian security forces used excessive force to violently suppress a peaceful protest outside of the Ramallah District Court in the West Bank on 12 March 2017. Ten minutes after the protest against the prosecution of six Palestinian men, including slain activist Basil al-Araj, began outside the courthouse in al-Bireh area, Amnesty International researchers witnessed heavily armed security forces arriving, carrying batons and shields . They immediately began to charge towards the protesters, violently striking them with the wooden batons, using pepper spray and firing tear gas into the crowd . At least 21 people (13 men and eight women) were injured, including four journalists covering the event . Seventeen were hospitalized.

There can be no justification for violently storming a peaceful protest . Video evidence obtained by Amnesty International shows Palestinian security forces resorting to brutal and alarming means to crush the protest in flagrant violation of their obligations to uphold and protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

There can be no justification for violently storming a peaceful protest

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In RamallahPalestinian security forces firing tear gas into the crowd to disperse the protesters outside courthouse in Ramallah Amnesty International

Following a public outcry, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah today announced the formation of a committee to investigate the actions of the police at the courthouse.

The Palestinian authorities must ensure that the investigation announced into this incident is independent, impartial and thorough and that all those found to be responsible are held accountable for their actions, said Magdalena Mughrabi. International human rights standards require that police and security forces avoid using force to disperse a peaceful assembly. Amnesty International staff present at the scene observed no violence from protesters prior to police attacking them with batons, tear gas and pepper spray . Those injured suffered bruises from heavy beatings with wooden batons or after being struck by tear gas canisters .

Four journalists from Wattan TV, Roya TV1, and Palestine Today were also beaten in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to prevent them from covering the protest . No injuries were reported among members of the security forces. Khader Adnan, a protester who was hospitalized for his injuries, told Amnesty International: I was standing peacefully when tens of baton-wielding soldiers attacked me and beat me to the ground . Once I fell down one of them stepped on my head while others continued to beat me, ripping my clothes . I have injuries on my back, my shoulders, and my leg.

I was standing peacefully when tens of baton-wielding soldiers attacked me and beat me to the ground

Khader Adnan, Palestinian protester

He was taken to the Criminal Investigations Department with six others where he says he was verbally abused before five of them were released . The other two remained in detention. Farid al-Atrash, a lawyer, human rights defender and the head of the Bethlehem office of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, who was present at the protest said he was beaten to the ground with wooden batons . He told Amnesty International he also witnessed police officers beating the father of Basil Al Araj, a Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli soldiers last week . I tried to protect him when I was attacked by the officers; they hit me to the ground and beat me on my legs, he said.

Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In RamallahFather of Basil Al Araj, a Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli soldiers last week, was among those beaten by Palestinian security forces during the protest Amnesty International

Bassem Tamimi, a well-known Palestinian activist from Nabi Saleh and former prisoner of conscience was also injured in the demonstration . I can t believe they did this to us . I was speaking to the head of the police unit there telling him we will disperse in 15 minutes . We were almost done when I saw a large crowd of police begin to swarm us and attack in a vicious manner . They used wooden clubs and started to hit people left and right, I walked back when they shot a tear-gas canister directly into my lower back, hitting my tailbone . I didn t expect them to behave like this. Bassem Tamimi s wife, Nariman, also an activist from Nabi Saleh, was beaten after she intervened to tell security forces to stop beating and dragging a young man .

What did we do ? We did nothing wrong ! My shoulder and arm are now injured . I didn t believe they would do something like this, she said. One eyewitness, Hafez Omar, said the protesters were standing peacefully when the police told them to leave the area . When they refused, the police started pushing them and beating them with batons . He witnessed two other men being beaten before the police dragged him and beat him with batons on his arms, back and legs.

Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In RamallahOne of the protesters who was beaten with a baton on his shoulder and back waits at Ramallah public hospital for treatment Amnesty International

Between 100 and 150 people had gathered outside the courthouse in al-Bireh to protest against the prosecution of six Palestinian men accused of possessing firearms . Four of the men Haitham Siyaj, Muhammad Harb, Muhammad al-Salameen and Saif Idrisi are currently held without charge or trial in administrative detention by Israeli authorities . The fifth man, Basil al-Araj, was killed by the Israeli military last week . The sixth man, Ali Dar al-Shaikh was not arrested by Israel and was present at the court yesterday. In a media interview on Monday, a spokesperson for the Palestinian authorities security forces, Adnan al-Dmeir, accused the protesters of being mercenaries and foreign agents who he said were seeking to spread chaos .

In the rare cases where Palestinian authorities have taken steps to ensure accountability in the past, they have resorted to disciplinary measures2 rather than criminal prosecutions to hold police or security forces to account even in cases where the use of force was abusive or arbitrary.

The Palestinian authorities must ensure that the security forces use of force is not excessive, abusive, arbitrary or otherwise unlawful . Anyone suspected of responsibility for arbitrary or abusive use of force must be prosecuted in a fair trial, said Magdalena Mughrabi. Anyone suspected of responsibility for arbitrary or abusive use of force must be prosecuted in a fair trial

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

Given the Palestinian authorities poor record of bringing security forces to justice after violent crackdowns on protests, it is even more crucial for the authorities to send a clear message that use of excessive force will not be tolerated and that violations will not go unpunished.

Background

Palestinian security forces police have used unnecessary or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, including men and women, repeatedly in recent years. In a recent incident documented by Amnesty International, human rights lawyer, Mohannad Karajah, described how 10 members of the Palestinian security forces in plainclothes punched and kicked him and beat him all over his body with sticks at a demonstration on 4 October 2016 . At least five others were also assaulted .

No one has been prosecuted over the incident. In February 2016, mass strikes and protests over low wages for teachers were met with a heavy-handed response from Palestinian security forces who arrested 22 teachers and set up roadblocks around Ramallah to prevent teachers joining demonstrations. Palestinian security forces also used excessive force to disperse protests in previous years3.

References

  1. ^ Roya TV (www.youtube.com)
  2. ^ disciplinary measures (www.amnesty.org)
  3. ^ previous years (www.amnesty.org)

US chicken, egg companies heighten security after bird flu case

By Tom Polansek1 | CHICAGO

CHICAGO Top U.S . chicken and egg companies ramped up procedures to protect birds from avian flu on Monday, a day after the federal government confirmed the nation’s first case of the virus at a commercial operation in more than a year.

The U.S . Department of Agriculture said on Sunday that a farm in southern Tennessee that is a supplier to Tyson Foods Inc had been infected with the virus . All 73,500 birds there were killed by the disease, known as avian influenza (AI), or have since been suffocated with foam to prevent its spread.

The outbreak raised concerns among chicken companies because the infected farm is located near biggest-producing states for chicken meat, including Georgia and Alabama.

The spread of bird flu would represent a financial blow for operators because it would kill birds or require flocks to be culled, and it would trigger more import bans from other countries . Health officials said the risk of avian influenza spreading to people or making food unsafe was extremely remote.

The worst-ever U.S . outbreak of avian flu in 2014 and 2015 killed about 50 million birds, most of which were egg-laying hens in Iowa, but left the southeastern United States largely unscathed.

Already, U.S . trading partners, including South Korea and Japan, have restricted shipments of U.S . poultry because of the infection in Tennessee.

Pilgrim’s Pride Corp, the world’s second-largest chicken producer, said it “immediately activated AI response plans and heightened on-farm biosecurity programs at all Pilgrim’s facilities” in response to the case.

Sanderson Farms Inc, the third-largest U.S . poultry producer, cracked down on the movement of people and vehicles into its facilities, said Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer.

“Our whole industry from coast to coast has been put on a heightened biosecurity alert,” said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

Tyson shares on Monday closed down 2.5 percent, while Sanderson Farms shares lost 2 percent and Pilgrim’s Pride shares dropped 1.2 percent.

‘BROILER BELT’ CONCERNS

The infected farm housed roosters and hens that produced fertilized eggs, which hatch into the “broiler” chickens raised for meat . Often, such facilities have even higher security measures than farms raising birds for slaughter because the breeding animals are more valuable.

“The thing that’s worrisome is that it’s in the broiler belt,” said John Glisson, vice president of research for the U.S . Poultry and Egg Association. “There are so many birds in this part of the world.”

Just in Alabama, across the border from the infected farm, producers raised more than 1 billion broiler chickens in 2015.

Portions of Alabama are within a zone surrounding the infected farm in which chickens are being tested for avian flu . Tyson collected samples from an Alabama farm in the zone, and they tested negative for the virus, according to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

Tyson asked government officials to expand the zone around the farm to 10 miles from 6.2 miles “to ensure all their commercial operations in the region were disease free,” said Donna Karlsons, U.S . Department of Agriculture spokeswoman . The company manages all the commercial facilities in the region, she said.

Tyson had no immediate comment . On Sunday, the company said it was working with state and federal officials to contain the virus.

Of eight chicken houses on the farm in Tennessee, one became infected, said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, an industry group . That indicates “the farmer obviously was practicing pretty good biosecurity,” he said.

The farmer will bury the remains of the dead chickens on his property, said Glisson.

Wild birds, such as ducks, can carry avian flu without showing symptoms of it and spread it to commercial farms through feces or feathers.

In recent months, different strains of the virus have been confirmed in birds across the northern hemisphere, leading authorities worldwide to cull millions of animals . Several people have died in an outbreak of avian flu in China.

The strain that struck the Tennessee had a North American wild bird lineage, according to the USDA.

The USDA said it did not know how the farm in Tennessee became infected or the strain involved.

“We have been reading of the spread of bird flu in Asia and Europe, and now to be confirmed here in the U.S . is of serious concern,” said Ken Klippen, president of the National Association of Egg Farmers.

Rose Acre Farms, the second-largest U.S . egg producer, raised its risk level to “tightest you can get” after the Tennessee case was detected, Chief Executive Marcus Rust said .

Trucks must wait 72 hours to enter the company’s property if they come from an area with avian flu, up from 24 hours, he said.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)


References

  1. ^ Tom Polansek (uk.reuters.com)