Paris, Dec 16 (AP/UNB) — A protest movement that has brought the French into the streets for five Saturdays in a row in a major challenge to President Emmanuel Macron lost momentum in its latest nationwide outcry, but the smaller crowds pushed fervently for one of their expanding demands, a citizen's referendum to help define policy.
The most resonant call Saturday was a leap from the demand for relief from fuel tax hikes that gave birth to the protest in mid-November by rank-and-file French wearing yellow safety vests to slow vehicles at the traffic circles that dot France's countryside.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced in a tweet the death of an eighth person since the start of the protests, implying it occurred at a traffic circle, some of which have been manned day and night by protesters.
"Traffic circles must be freed and the security of all must again become the rule," he said, in a new effort to tamp down a movement that appears to be losing momentum.
The government put 69,000 security forces into the streets and called for calm after the last two Saturdays of major violence, including vandalization of the outside and inside of the Arc de Triomphe, which cradles the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"Protesting is a right. So let's know how to exercise it," the French government tweeted.
Some 8,000 police, with 14 armored vehicles and water cannons, were out anew in Paris to guard against property destruction and looting that marred the two previous protests.
They fired rounds of tear gas into crowds on the famed Champs-Elysees, where chic shops and restaurants were boarded up, and at dusk turned water on protesters bundled against frigid weather to disperse them.
Police said 115 people were taken into custody in Paris, most for banding together to commit acts of violence. Seven people were slightly injured. Police in riot gear were seen tackling one protester and dragging him off the Champs-Elysees.
Police estimate Paris protesters numbered 3,000 maximum — less than half the number a week ago — and the sharp downturn in violence was reflected in demonstrations across the country.
But the smaller crowds were fervent — and more demanding, with signs carried high or scrawled on the backs of vests calling for a referendum system that would let citizens directly impose national policies.
Among the yellow vests on the Champs-Elysees was Francis Queruel, a 70-year-old retiree from the small town of Goussainville, about 35 miles (60 kilometers) southwest of Paris, who said he was angered by "the violence of money," whereby the rich thrive and the rest are squeezed.
"There are 9 million poor in France and people who work but have no money at the end of the month to eat," said Queruel. While he said he has a good pension at 3,600 euros a month, he complained it's not indexed to the cost of living. Above all, Queruel worries for his grown children and the French who can't make ends meet.
"When you're hungry, it's terrible," said Queruel. "People were silent for a long time and now it's the eruption of a volcano," he said.
Pricillia Ludosky, one of several figures credited with helping trigger the movement, spoke to hundreds of people filling the square at the Paris Opera house and denounced "colossal fiscal oppression ... while a small elite constantly escapes paying taxes."
Without any clear leadership, the yellow vest movement has attracted a wide range of disgruntled people across France's political spectrum, including political parties trying to win new backers.
On Monday, Macron, whose popularity is plummeting, offered a package of measures in a bid to placate protesters, including a 100-euro monthly increase to the minimum wage. However, he refused to reinstate a wealth tax he slashed at the start of his presidency, a move that enforced a perception that he is the "president of the rich."
Lionel Fraisse, 63, a retired worker for the state agency that runs Metros and suburban trains, said the measures were simply "to put the people to sleep."
Fraisse, who arrived from the Essonne region south of Paris with former colleagues, said what he wants most is for Macron "to validate his legitimacy" with a referendum.
Until then, "the movement must lose neither its vigor nor its legitimacy," he said.
Brussels, Dec 14 (AP/UNB) - British Prime Minister Theresa May launched a rescue mission for her ailing Brexit deal Friday, after the European Union rebuffed her request to sweeten the divorce agreement so she can win over hostile lawmakers at home.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels showed little appetite to resolve May's Brexit impasse for her, saying the U.K. Parliament must make up its mind. The choice was either back the Brexit agreement or send Britain tumbling out of the bloc in March without a deal and into unknown economic chaos.
"There is one accord, the only one possible," French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the end of a two-day summit. He said it was "the British parliament's time" to decide whether to accept or reject it.
The Brexit gridlock has left Britain's future looking like a high-stakes gamble with a dizzyingly wide range of possible outcomes. There could be an orderly or a disorderly Brexit. May's Conservative government could fall and an early election be held. Britain could make a last-minute request to the EU to give it more time and not leave the bloc on March 29. Some people are even pressing for the U.K. to hold a second referendum on Britain's EU membership.
So many possibilities, so little time.
May came to the EU summit seeking legally binding changes to the agreement, which is opposed by a majority of British lawmakers.
But the 27 other EU leaders offered only reassurances. They said they would seek to move swiftly on forging a new trade deal after Britain leaves the bloc, and promised that a legally binding insurance policy to keep the Irish border open would only be used temporarily.
They rejected British pressure to put a fixed end date on the border guarantee, and refused to re-negotiate the Brexit agreement, a 585-page legal text settling issues including the size of Britain's divorce bill and the future rights of Europeans living in Britain and Britons living in the EU. It also includes a document laying out the two sides' hopes for future relations, which isn't legally binding.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker accused Britain of failing to give detailed proposals on Brexit, saying it was "up to the British government to tell us exactly what they want."
May was filmed speaking sternly to Juncker as leaders arrived at Friday morning's session of the summit. She said they had had a "robust" exchange.
Nonetheless, May told reporters in Brussels that she welcomed the EU's reassuring words — and that, as formal conclusions of an EU summit, they "have legal status."
"There is work still to do. And we will be holding talks in coming days about how to obtain the further assurances that the U.K. Parliament needs in order to be able to approve the deal," May said.
European Council President Donald Tusk, however, said no talks with Britain were scheduled.
"I have no mandate to organize any further negotiations," Tusk told reporters. "But of course, we will stay here in Brussels, and I am always at Prime Minister Theresa May's disposal."
But May's against-the-odds optimism contrasted with a pessimistic tone from many on the EU side. EU leaders expressed deep doubts that May could live up to her side of their Brexit agreement and vowed to step up preparations for a potentially-catastrophic "no-deal" scenario for Britain's departure.
"We are going to be sure to prepare for all hypotheses, including the hypothesis of a 'no deal," said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who expressed a "gigantic doubt" that May could get her Brexit deal passed by British lawmakers.
But there was also sympathy for a leader who has endured the toughest week of her career.
Juncker said May was "a good friend, and I am admiring her, because this is a woman of great courage doing her job in the best way possible."
May canceled a Brexit vote in the U.K. Parliament this week after it became clear that lawmakers would resoundingly reject the Brexit deal she concluded with the EU last month. Anger at that postponement helped trigger a no-confidence vote in May from members of her own Conservative Party. She won, but was left weakened after more than a third of her lawmakers rebelled.
Still, May insists she will secure enough changes to get Parliament's approval in a vote before Jan. 21. May says failure to support her deal could lead to a "no-deal" Brexit, which officials warn could bring economic recession, gridlock at U.K. ports and shortages of essential goods.
The problem is that May's deal is loathed both by pro-Brexit lawmakers, who think it keeps Britain bound too closely to the bloc, and pro-Europeans, who see it as inferior to staying in the EU.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the EU's refusal to renegotiate meant May's Brexit plan was "dead in the water." But Labour not yet triggered a no-confidence vote in May's government.
Many in the EU feel the problem lies with Britain's divided Parliament, which largely dislikes May's deal but doesn't agree on a better option. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said the problem was not Britain's leader.
"We know what Theresa May wants, and she wants to have the possible deal passing Westminster, but the problem is the MPs in London," he said.
Brussels, Dec. 14 (Xinhua/UNB) -- European Union (EU) leaders Thursday made it clear to British Prime Minister Theresa May that renegotiation on the Brexit agreement is a non-starter.
European leaders were gathering in Brussels for a customary two-day summit. High on the agenda were Brexit, multi-annual budget and migration.
"The (European) Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation," European Council President Donald Tusk said at a midnight press conference following marathon closed-door talks.
Standing by Tusk's side, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker echoed, saying: "We can add some clarifications, as Donald was explaining to what has been read upon, but (there) will be no renegotiations."
The summit came on the heels of May surviving a non-confidence vote among her own Conservative MPs, many of whom bristled at May's move to defer a vote on her Brexit deal in parliament.
The major hurdle against parliamentary approval is the issue of the so-called backstop, or the border on the Island of Ireland, which has been a sticking point in the painful Britain-EU negotiations on how Britain will leave the regional bloc in March next year.
The storm on the other side of the British Channel was under EU's radar. In an apparent move to assuage concerns of the British parliament, the EU leaders underlined that "the backstop is intended as an insurance policy to prevent hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the Single Market."
Poland, Dec 14 (AP/UNB) — Agreement on the fine print of the Paris climate accord drew closer Thursday, three years after countries sealed the landmark deal on curbing global warming, but negotiators remained divided on some of the thorniest issues and appeared set for overtime.
The Polish diplomat chairing U.N. climate talks in the country's southern city of Katowice issued a series of fresh drafts as the two-week meeting neared its scheduled end on Friday.
Diplomats and ministers had huddled behind closed doors, some through the night, weighing every word of the texts covering issues such as how countries will count both their greenhouse gas emissions and their efforts to reduce them.
Along with the Paris accord rulebook, the other main issues at the talks are how much financial support poor countries will get to combat and adapt to climate change, and what kind of message to send about future work to curb climate change.
Last week, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked the endorsement of a scientific report on a key element of the Paris climate agreement: capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), if possible. That angered other countries and environmentalists, who accused the four oil-exporting nations of stalling progress toward the accord's most ambitious emissions-cutting target.
Mohamed Adow, a climate expert at Christian Aid, said the discussions on financial support seemed to be moving in the right direction, though the overall outcome of the talks was uncertain.
Developing countries have been promised billions of dollars in aid, loans and other financial support to help them reduce their emissions and adapt to inevitable changes in the world's climate.
But the latest drafts offer little comfort to those countries that also want rich industrial nations to pay for damage already caused by global warming, arguing that they're to blame for most of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases humans have pumped into the atmosphere.
"Real action requires real money for real solutions," said Adow. "The European Union needs to separate itself from the laggards like Australia, Japan and the United States."
While U.S. President Donald Trump has announced he's pulling out of the Paris accord, American officials dangled the possibility that the U.S. might consider rejoining if it gets more favorable terms.
But China, a key broker of the 2015 Paris accord, dismissed the idea of revising core parts of the pact.
"China and the U.S. have worked together with all other countries to complete the negotiation and thus make the Paris Agreement a milestone achievement in global climate governance," Beijing's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, told reporters. "We will not reopen negotiations on issues where we have already reached agreement."
Xie also pushed back on demands from rich nations for China — the world's largest polluter — to accept the accounting and reporting rules that developed countries must follow, but indicated it might decide to adopt uniform standards further down the line.
He noted that while China is the largest single emitter of polluting gases, its gross domestic product per capita remains below the world average.
The drafts presented late Thursday by Poland's deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, were still likely to face opposition when talks resume in the morning.
One issue certain to draw fire concerned how to reconcile a vestige of the 1992 Kyoto Protocol with efforts to establish a functioning international market in carbon credits, with Brazil and India among those that have been fiercely resisting proposed changes.
Some observers predicted the talks would likely continue into Saturday in an effort to secure a deal this year and maintain confidence in the multi-step global process.
"It was determined in Paris this was the deadline for agreeing on the implementation rules," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "If it slips because countries can't agree or there's major splits among countries, I think that undermines confidence that this process is going to move forward in the way that it needs to."
Others questioned whether the elaborate annual summit, now being staged for the 24th time with over 30,000 participants, is still the best way to fight climate change.
"There is a view among many of us that this is failing," said former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.
Honolulu, Dec 13 (AP/UNB) — A Hawaii Air National Guard civilian contractor was in serious condition Wednesday after his plane crashed off the coast of Honolulu during a military exercise, authorities said.
The pilot of the Hawker Hunter jet ejected safely from the plane, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam said in a statement. He was initially rescued by a private sailboat and then transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Honolulu Emergency Services spokesman Dustin Malama said the 47-year-old appeared to have traumatic injuries and was taken to a hospital.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said a Hawker Hunter jet went down in the ocean around 2:25 p.m. after taking off from Honolulu's airport.
The pilot was rescued about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south of Oahu near Honolulu's Sand Island, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The pilot had been participating in a military exercise called Sentry Aloha, which was temporarily suspended after the crash. The Hawaii Air National Guard was hosting the exercise, which involved about 800 personnel and 30 aircraft from nine states.
The cause of the crash was under investigation, the military said.
Departing flights from the Honolulu airport were held as a precaution for about 20 minutes, said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
The Hawker Hunter is a British jet developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, said the website of defense contractor BAE Systems.
Initially, a single-seat version was used as a maneuverable fighter aircraft. It was later used as both a fighter and bomber and for reconnaissance missions.
The British navy and air force continued to use a two-seat version into the early 1990s.
Britain exported the plane, and it was also used by the air forces of 21 other nations.