Paris, Jan 14(AP/UNB) — Yellow vest protesters and political rivals say a sweeping "letter to the French" from President Emmanuel Macron doesn't go far enough to quell national anger at his policies.
Macron's letter explains how he's addressing the movement's concerns through a "grand debate" in local meetings around the country starting Tuesday. The debate will focus on taxes, public services, climate change and democracy.
Yellow vest representative Jeremy Clement told BFM television Monday that the letter "settles part of the problem" but doesn't go far enough to address sinking purchasing power.
Protester Jerome Rodrigues told CNews television that Macron failed to recognize "the urgency" of concerns of low-income workers and retirees.
Others criticized Macron for ruling out a restoration of France's wealth tax. Opposition lawmakers also criticized the letter.
London, Jan 14 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to win support for her European Union divorce deal by promising that her government won't try to water down environmental standards and workers' rights after Brexit.
The commitment is an attempt to gain backing from opposition Labour Party lawmakers, who suspect the government plans to reduce the protections after Britain leaves the EU.
May's deal has drawn opposition from both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers, and is facing likely defeat in Parliament on Tuesday.
The prime minister used a speech Monday to argue that the only alternatives to her deal were leaving the EU in March without an agreement, or reversing voters' decision to leave the bloc.
May said that a no-deal Brexit would hurt the British economy and "put the future of our Union at risk," while failing to leave the EU would be "a subversion of the democratic process."
A top European Parliament leader is urging British lawmakers to "behave responsibly" and approve the UK's divorce deal with the European Union.
Manfred Weber said Monday that "we ask, we invite our British colleagues to behave responsibly and vote for this agreement."
A vote in the U.K. Parliament is expected Tuesday. Many British lawmakers object to the agreement between Brussels and Prime Minister Theresa May, raising fears that Britain may leave the EU on March 29 without a deal in place.
Weber, a German conservative who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament, said lawmakers in London should accept the "extended hand" of their colleagues on the continent.
He said the European Parliament will approve the agreement.
Weber also slammed the far-right Alternative for Germany party's threat to quit the EU, saying this could cause "a situation like in London today: economic instability and political chaos."
The British government has published a letter from European Union leaders that it hopes will ease U.K. lawmakers' worries over the Brexit agreement between Britain and the bloc.
The letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offers an assurance that the most contentious part of the deal — the "backstop" insurance policy to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — is intended as a temporary measure and "would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary."
But the letter also reiterates the bloc's refusal to renegotiate the divorce deal. The two men say "we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement."
U.K. lawmakers are due to vote Tuesday on the Brexit deal, and it looks likely they will reject it.
British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to tell lawmakers she has received further assurances about her Brexit deal from the European Union, in a last-ditch attempt to win support for the unpopular agreement.
May is due to make a statement in the House of Commons Monday afternoon, a day before lawmakers are due to vote on her EU divorce deal.
May argues that defeating the deal could open the way for EU-backing legislators to block Brexit, with "catastrophic" results for Britons' faith in democracy.
A handful of previously opposed legislators got behind the agreement in the last few days, but they remain outnumbered by those determined to vote against it.
Defeat would throw Brexit plans into disarray, weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29.
Moscow, Jan 14 (AP/UNB) — Authorities in southern Russia say a suspected gas explosion has killed at least one person and injured two others.
The Emergency Situations Ministry said that the blast ripped through an apartment building in the city of Shakhty on Monday morning. Rostov region governor Vasily Golubev said on Russian state television that one person has died and two people have been hospitalized.
Rescue workers are searching through the debris. It wasn't immediately clear how many people would be trapped in the rubble, but officials said that more than 10 people were registered in the apartments adjacent to the one where the explosion happened.
The incident came less than two weeks after another suspected gas explosion killed 39 people in a Ural mountains city.
Paris, Jan 13 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of yellow vest protesters marched Saturday through Paris and other French cities for a ninth straight weekend to denounce President Emmanuel Macron's economic policies, and repeated tensions broke out with police.
Sporadic violence broke out during protests in Paris, Bourges, Bordeaux, Rouen, Marseille and Toulouse.
Protesters walked peacefully through central Paris from the Finance Ministry in the east of the French capital to the Arc de Triomphe in the west.
Scuffles between police and activists then broke out near the monument at the end of the march. Police used tear gas, water cannon and flash-balls to push back some people throwing rocks and other objects at them.
French security forces equipped with armored vehicles blocked protesters from going onto nearby Champs-Elysees Avenue. The neighborhood was reopened to car traffic later Saturday evening.
The Interior Ministry said more than 100 people had been arrested in Paris and other French cities, including 82 who were kept in police custody, primarily for carrying potential weapons or taking part in violence.
The movement demanding wider changes to France's economy to help struggling workers appeared to gain new momentum this weekend. The French Interior Ministry said about 32,000 people turned out for yellow vest demonstrations across France at midday.
Several thousand protesters marched in the central city of Bourges, a provincial capital with a renowned Gothic cathedral and picturesque wood-framed houses.
French authorities deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide for the anti-government protests and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner threatened tough retaliation against any who rioted.
Paris police deployed armored vehicles, horses and attack dogs around the city on Saturday. Subway stations and some shops closed, notably around government buildings and the Champs-Elysees, the sparkling avenue whose luxury boutiques have been hit by repeated rioting in past protests.
The movement for greater economic equality waned over the holidays but appears to be resurging, despite Macron's promises of billions of euros in tax relief and an upcoming "national debate" to address demonstrators' concerns that Macron is expected to launch with a "letter to the French" on Monday.
The protests started in November with drivers who opposed fuel tax increases, which is why participants wear the fluorescent vests that French motorists must keep in their vehicles. But it has mushroomed into a broad-based revolt against years of shrinking purchasing power and Macron's pro-business policies.
Some yellow vest groups hope to translate that anger into votes in the European Parliament elections in May.
Paris, Jan 12 (AP/UNB) — France's interior minister says that four people have been killed, including two firefighters, and 47 have been injured in the blast at a bakery that was apparently caused by a gas leak in central Paris.
Christophe Castaner told reporters at the scene "unfortunately the human toll is particularly serious."
He said 10 people are in critical condition and 37 others less seriously injured.
He paid homage to the courage of rescuers who saved the life of one firefighter who was buried under the rubble for two and a half hours.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was also at the scene, extended a "message of affection and solidarity" to the victims.
A Paris fire department spokesman says that 36 people, including 12 in critical condition, have been injured in the blast at a bakery that was apparently caused by a gas leak.
Paris fire department spokesman Eric Moulin told reporters at the scene that five people were in life-threatening condition, including two firefighters.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said "at this stage we can say it seems from accidental origin, this would be a gas leak." He said that Paris firefighters were already at the scene for a suspected gas leak on Saturday morning when the explosion happened. Investigations are ongoing to determine the exact cause of the blast.
Witnesses described the overwhelming sound of the blast. Charred debris and broken glass covered the pavement around the apartment building housing the bakery, which resembled a blackened carcass.
A witness says he saw Paris firefighters enter a bakery in the morning but he and his co-workers "thought maybe it's a joke, a false alarm" and they went back to work.
Pedro Goncalves, an employee at the Hotel Mercure opposite the bakery, said that about an hour later a blast rocked the surrounding streets.
"In the middle of nothing, I heard one big explosion and then a lot of pressure came at me (and) a lot of black smoke and glass," he said. "And I had just enough time to get down and cover myself and protect my head."
Goncalves said he "felt a lot of things fall on me" and that he was struck by shattered glass. He had a few cuts on his head, and spots of blood on his sweater and undershirt.
"Thank god I'm OK," he said, saying that the blast was so powerful that he heard whistling in his ears in the aftermath. Goncalves said that he ran for the exit and then went to check on the hotel's clients, adding that some of them had head injuries and were bleeding. He said that the hotel was "destroyed" in the blast.
Paris police say several people have been injured in an explosion and fire at a bakery believed caused by a gas leak.
A Paris police spokeswoman said firefighters are currently at the scene of the blast Saturday morning at the bakery on Rue Trevise in the 9th arrondissement of north-central Paris. She said several injuries have been reported to police but no deaths. The spokeswoman, who wasn't authorized to be publicly named, provided no further details.
French television showed emergency vehicles surrounding the area.
The explosion came amid heavy security in Paris and around France for yellow vest protests expected later Saturday.