Rumbling two by two down the ring road around Paris, disgruntled French farmers drove their tractors to the capital Wednesday to protest stagnant revenues and what they say is unfair global competition.
The protest snarled traffic in the Paris area from daybreak to nightfall, as farmers from across the country attempted to use 1,000 tractors to block off access to Paris. It was among several recent farmer protests around Europe driven by growing concerns about maintaining European agricultural traditions and standards.
The tractors will remain parked on the highway circling the city until French President Emmanuel Macron agrees to meet with protesters, regional farmers' union spokesperson Elisa Despiney told The Associated Press.
They could remain there for "hours, or maybe days," she added.
By mid-morning, blue and green tractors bearing signs reading "Respond, Macron!" had advanced toward the southwestern edge of the city, taking up two lanes of the highway as police escorted them on motorcycles. They then stalled on the Paris ring road, where some protesters pitched tents and lit fires.
Protesters on foot inside the city, meanwhile, blocked off the Champs-Elysees and scattered hay across the famous Paris avenue. Police surrounded a group of farmers beneath the Arc de Triomphe, but the actions were peaceful.
The French presidency said no meeting between Macron and a delegation of farmers was planned at this stage.
However, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume agreed to meet with a group of farmers Wednesday evening.
Farmers' grievances include free trade agreements they say put them at a disadvantage, a government reform that failed to increase their revenues, and regulations they say hinder the sector's performance.
Damien Greffin, president of the farmers' union for the Paris region, placed the blame for farmers' woes squarely on Macron, whom he called the "instrument of these divisions" in an interview with BFM TV. He called on Macron to rally French citizens to support agricultural workers.
Farmers have specifically criticized a law passed last year that intended to bolster French agriculture. They say they haven't seen the increased revenues the government promised.
They have also condemned "agri-bashing," or perceived public hostility toward farmers, particularly from those who criticize their use of pesticides and treatment of animals.
"We'd just like to work without people constantly pointing their finger at us about the plant protection products we use, about animal welfare," said Antoine Benoist, a 44-year-old farmer from the Essonne region. "We are the first to be careful with our future, to think about our health, the health of our children, about animal welfare."
The agriculture minister told Europe 1 radio Wednesday that he supports "their anger and their protest."
He added that "enough is enough" of "permanent denigration" and the gulf between city residents and farmers.
Guillaume defended last year's agriculture law, saying that a two-year experimentation phase is still under way and it will take time for farmers to see its benefits.
The main farmers' union has organized actions throughout the country, including a similar tractor protest in Lyon, where about 600 farmers with some 120 tractors blockaded three entrances to the city.
Paris and Lyon police advised car drivers to stay off the affected roads.
The demonstrations in France follow similar protests in Germany on Tuesday, when some 10,000 farmers drove 5,000 tractors into Berlin to protest the German government's agricultural policies. Farmers in the Netherlands clogged highways last month to decry what they said was unfair blame for nitrogen pollution in the country.
The new EU Commission president on Wednesday promised that farming would continue to be at the heart of the bloc.
Ursula von der Leyen told the EU parliament in Strasbourg, France, that agriculture, which long absorbed half the EU budget before slowly tapering off, "will remain a valued part of our culture and our future."
She promised help for young farmers to boost their income, and insisted she would act against unfair global competition that European farmers increasingly fear will undercut domestic prices. She said that EU trading partners "must comply with EU environmental standards" if they want to import farm products.
Kenya's president and top opposition leader on Wednesday launched a report that they call a road map for unifying the country and ending deadly violence around elections.
The country has seen post-election violence in 1992, 1997, 2007 and 2017, when the Supreme Court shocked the country by nullifying the presidential election over irregularities and ordered a fresh vote, which the opposition boycotted.
The long-awaited Building Bridges Initiative was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta and rival Raila Odinga after they shook hands last year to end a months-long political standoff in which at least 92 people were killed.
Among the report's recommendations is creating a prime minister post, replacing the electoral commission and nearly doubling county governments' share of the national budget from 18% to 35%.
It also takes aim at widespread corruption, saying government officials should not engage in business while in office.
The report was criticized by some observers, including those who had hoped for bolder recommendations against corruption.
Anti-corruption expert John Githongo called it "muddled."
Economist David Ndii, who was Odinga's chief strategist during the election, called the report an "Uhuru-Raila self-preservation political project."
This isn't the first time Kenya has attempted to calm political violence. A truth and reconciliation commission report presented to Kenyatta in 2013 recommended prosecutions and reparations but has not been acted upon.
The commission was formed after the 2007 post-election violence in which more than 1,100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
The new report now likely goes to Parliament, though some Kenyans argue that some of its recommendations will require a referendum.
Odinga and Kenyatta said the report should spark national debate that will lead to reforms.
"These proposals ... are not the end but the beginning of a much-needed debate about the new Kenya," Odinga said.
More than a dozen people are dead in the latest rebel attack near the city of Beni, where outraged residents this week stormed a United Nations base to demand protection, a local official said Wednesday.
The attack in Oicha, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Beni, took place overnight, said Beni territory administrator Donat Kibwana. He blamed the Uganda-based Allied Democratic Forces rebels, who have killed more than 1,500 people in and around Beni in the past four years.
"We have reinforced the military presence in the territory of Beni, but also the army has pursued the rebels," he said. "We call on the population to remain calm."
This week's protests in Beni, after repeated rebel attacks, have turned deadly while disrupting crucial efforts to contain the yearlong Ebola virus outbreak in the region that has killed more than 2,100 people.
Three protesters have been killed by police and four others killed by U.N. peacekeepers trying to disperse the crowds, a civil society spokesman, Ghislain Muhiwa, asserted.
The U.N. mission in Congo "came to kill us or to protect us?" he said. "The choice is simple: Either they fight the enemy or they go home."
More than 5,000 people marched with the LUCHA civil society group Wednesday in Beni, honoring one member who was killed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross called for calm and restraint, saying health care workers should not be targeted. It said that since Nov. 19, facilities supported by ICRC teams have treated five people wounded in attacks in Beni and another 27 wounded in demonstrations.
The violence forced Ebola responders into lockdown in Beni, according to the World Health Organization, which evacuated 49 of its staffers but left 71 in place.
The U.N. mission, accused of inaction, has said it cannot carry out operations unilaterally in a region where Congo's military is already active, and that it cannot participate in Congolese military operations without being invited.
After an emergency meeting Monday, Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi decided to allow joint operations between Congolese and U.N. forces in Beni following the protests that also burned the town hall.
"We have people that manipulate the suffering of the people and use it against the government or against (the U.N. mission)," U.N. envoy Laila Zerrougui told reporters on Tuesday. "We are the scapegoat. We know that."
She said the U.N. was investigating the death of a protester on Tuesday who she said was armed with a petrol bomb and trying to enter the U.N. compound.
Some residents believe the U.N. mission has more resources than Congolese forces and should be doing more, Zerrougui said.
"But the reality is that a peacekeeping mission is not deployed in a country to wage war," she said. "We cannot afford to go and bombard and kill people and then the day after you have photos of children and women massacred in a bombardment by the U.N. ... A government can do that and say this is collateral damage. We cannot do that. We cannot afford to do that. And it is not acceptable that we do that."
Colombians unhappy with President Iván Duque's response to nearly a week of boisterous protests over everything from job losses to shark hunting took to the streets again Wednesday in a continuing tide of unrest.
The daily protests jolting the South American country proclaim a wide array of complaints but echo one refrain: an opposition to a government that many believe only looks after the most privileged citizens.
"We feel defenseless to everything," Lucy Rosales, 60, a pensioner in Bogota. "We don't feel like we have a voice that represents us. It's many things that they allowed to accumulate."
Several thousand people blowing whistles and waving Colombian flags began marching through streets in cities around the nation by midday.
The new demonstration came a day after Duque's attempt to quell the discontent by holding talks with a protest steering group hit a snag: Members of the National Strike Committee refused to join broader talks the president has called with all social sectors, fearing their demands would be diluted. That has created new uncertainty about how long the already costly protests might drag on.
"The government has not been able to learn from the Chilean and Ecuadorian experiences," said Jorge Restrepo, an economics professor, referring to recent mass demonstrations in both of those countries. "It has made very many mistakes."
The steering committee presented a 13-point list of demands Tuesday that asks Duque to withdraw or refrain from tax, labor and pension law changes that are either before the legislature or rumored to be in development. The labor and student leaders also want Duque to review free-trade agreements, eliminate a riot police unit accused in the death of an 18-year-old student protester and fully implement the nation's historic peace accord with leftist rebels.
Organizers dismissed Duque's calls to join his "National Conversation" that would run through March — an initiative that appears to take a page from French President Emmanuel Macron, who opened a "Great National Debate" to involve citizens in drafting reforms after months of angry protests in that country.
"It's a monologue between the government and its allies," said Diógenes Orjuela, president of the Central Workers Union, one of the main forces behind the National Strike Committee.
Several protesters said they agreed with the Strike Committee's decision to shun Duque's dialogue.
"Colombia is used to being lied to," said Ana Maria Moya, a student. "One learns not to trust in words."
It remains unclear to what extent the Strike Committee represents protesters in what has become a largely citizen-driven outpouring of discontent. An invitation to gather in a park or bang pots and pans quickly goes viral on WhatsApp and soon hundreds fill neighborhoods with the angry sound of clanging metal and chants like "Get out Duque!"
"We're tired," Moya said. "We're saying, 'No more.'"
Various leaders have tried to capitalize on the momentum, but none yet has emerged as the unequivocal voice of the protesters.
"There is a contest over the ownership of the protesters," Restrepo said. "I see students get out in the streets because they need more social mobility, higher levels of income, more opportunities at least in employment. But then the ones that claim they represent those students in the streets are the unions."
Colombia is widely considered in need of labor and pension reform. Few retirees currently have access to pensions, with the lowest-income earners the least likely to get one. Labor laws make it difficult to hire new employees. Even as the nation's economy grows at a healthy 3.3%, unemployment has risen to nearly 11%.
"I would characterize the demands of the National Strike Committee as highly conservative, regressive and counter-reformist demands," Restrepo said.
Orjuela, a former schoolteacher who participated in Colombia's last major strike, in 1977, said protest organizers would be willing to support a pension reform as long as it involves a state and not a private-run system.
Even as they parse out the details, the committee's general message decrying Duque has resonated widely, tapping into the myriad frustrations of Colombians.
An estimated 250,000 Colombians marched last Thursday in one of the nation's biggest demonstrations in recent decades. The protests have been smaller in the days since, but are still drawing thousands each day.
For some it is big-picture issues like not fully implementing peace accords, endemic corruption and persistent economic inequality. For others it is small indignities, like relatively pricey public transportation that is also slow and overcrowded.
One unusual sight in the protests has been that of giant plastic sharks hoisted by at least one protester denouncing a government decision allowing a certain amount of shark fishing.
"It's like all the groups are feeding off each other," said Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, a human rights advocate with the Washington Office on Latin America.
Few expected that such a mixed bag of motivations could generate a prolonged protest, though many now think it could continue, exacting both an economic and human toll. Thus far, four people have died, hundreds have been injured and millions of dollars have been lost from businesses shuttering during demonstrations.
The patience of some Colombians is beginning to wear thin.
Julio Contreras, a deliveryman who was tear gassed while trying to get 20 kilos (44 pounds) of chicken to restaurants, said he is ready for the protests to be done.
"They're not letting us work," he said. "The students should be in the universities and not affecting us."
An Egyptian military court sentenced on Wednesday a former military officer to death over plotting and carrying out terrorist operations in Egypt, the Egyptian military spokesman said in a statement.
Hisham al-Ashmawy, one of Egypt's most wanted terrorists, was extradited in late May to Egypt from Libya where he was detained by the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army.
He belonged to a Sinai-based terrorist group loyal to the Islamic State regional group, which claimed responsibility for most of the terrorist attacks in Egypt over the past few years.
Ashmawy was charged with being involved in the 2014 New Valley massacre that left 22 Egyptian border guards dead, a 2013 car-bomb assassination attempt of a former Egyptian interior minister, as well as other attacks targeting army personnel, checkpoints, facilities and vehicles.
Ashmawy, 41, fled to Libya after orchestrating a 2017 terrorist operation in a desert area in Egypt that killed 16 policemen.
He is believed to have established an al-Qaida-oriented terrorist group in Libya before his detention.
Earlier in November, an Egyptian military court sentenced a Libyan defendant, Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Abdullah al-Mismary, to death over his involvement in the 2017 deadly ambush orchestrated by Ashmawy.