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.
Skopje, Jan 12 (AP/UNB) — Macedonia late Friday fulfilled its part of a historic deal that will pave its way to NATO membership and normalize relations with neighboring Greece, after lawmakers approved constitutional changes to rename the country North Macedonia.
The move was hailed by NATO and the European Union, which had lobbied heavily for Macedonia to back the agreement despite strong criticism from the country's main opposition party, and by Greece's prime minister who has invested heavily in the deal.
All 81 Macedonian lawmakers present for the parliamentary vote backed the constitutional amendments. The remaining 39 opposition lawmakers in the 120-seat house stayed away in protest.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told lawmakers the deal was a "tough" but necessary decision for his country.
The vote followed intense negotiations between Zaev's center-left coalition and some opposition lawmakers, who had initially agreed to back the agreement but raised last-minute objections.
"A better deal could not be reached, and without an agreement with Greece there will be no NATO and European Union (membership)," Zaev said.
The agreement on changing the name comes after a 27-year dispute with Greece, which complained that this small, landlocked country calling itself Macedonia implied claims on Greece's own territory and cultural heritage. Macedonian leaders denied that.
The deal encountered strong opposition on both sides of the border, with critics on each side saying it offered too many concessions to the other side.
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance strongly supports the full implementation of the agreement, under which Greece will lift its objections to Macedonia joining NATO and the EU.
Stoltenberg said in a tweet Friday that the agreement is "an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region."
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc strongly supports the deal and "remains firmly committed to continue to fully support and accompany (Macedonia) towards its common strategic goal of EU integration."
Western governments see Macedonia's NATO accession as a key step toward limiting Russian influence in the region.
For the agreement to come into effect, Greece's parliament must now convene in coming weeks to ratify it — a tricky task for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who faces strong opposition to the agreement from his junior coalition partner.
Tsipras spoke with Zaev on Friday to congratulate him after the vote, the Greek prime minister's office said.
Hundreds of Macedonian opposition supporters protested peacefully in front of parliament for a third day, demanding early elections and the dissolution of parliament. They greeted the vote result with cries of "traitors."
Conservative opposition leader Hristjan Mickoski accused Zaev's government of "blackmailing" lawmakers. Mickoski told reporters the constitutional changes were approved against the desires of the Macedonian people and described the vote as "an act of treason."
Tsipras has said he wants to bring the deal to Greece's parliament in coming weeks.
Caracas, Jan 12 (AP/UNB) — The head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress said Friday that he is prepared to step into the nation's presidency temporarily to replace Nicolas Maduro, whose inauguration has been rejected as illegitimate by most countries in the hemisphere.
National Assembly President Juan Guaido made the statement to an energized crowd blocking a busy Caracas street a day after Maduro's inauguration to a second term.
"Guaido for president!" the crowd chanted. "Out with Maduro!"
But Guaido said he would need support from the public, the armed forces and the international community before trying to form a transitional government to hold new elections to replace Maduro.
"The constitution gives me the legitimacy to carry out the charge of the presidency over the country to call elections," Guaido said. "But I need backing from the citizens to make it a reality."
The head of the Organization of American States, Secretary-General Luis Almagro, wasn't waiting. He sent out a tweet recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's interim president. "You have our support," Almagro said in a tweet.
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton later issued a statement praising Guaido, though he didn't echo Almagro's step of calling him the interim president.
Reiterating the U.S. position that the May election that gave Maduro a second term was "not free, fair or credible," Bolton said that "we support the courageous decision" of Guaido's declaration "that Maduro does not legitimately hold the country's presidency."
Guaido asked Venezuelans to mass in a nationwide demonstration on Jan. 23, a historically important date for Venezuelans — the day when a mass uprising overthrew dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.
The constitution assigns the presidency to the head of the National Assembly if Maduro is illegitimate.
But the overall military so far has remained firmly behind Maduro, despite some reports of small-scale attempts at revolt.
A once wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is gripped by growing crisis of relentless inflation, food shortages and mass migration.
The announcement is a daring challenge to the socialist leader, who has rejected criticism of his re-election and whose government has imprisoned many leading critics.
Maduro accuses the United States and local foes of plotting a coup.
Seventeen Latin American countries, the United States and Canada denounced Maduro's government as illegitimate in a measure adopted Thursday at the Organization of American States in Washington.
In May, Maduro declared victory following an election that his political opponents and many foreign nations consider illegitimate, in part because popular opponents were banned from running and the largest anti-government parties boycotted the race.
Friday's demonstration was the largest showing of anti-government supporters in more than a year, but fell far short of the thousands that took to the streets over four months in 2017, leading to clashes in which more than 120 died.
Guaido, 35, made the announcement less than a week after being selected to lead Venezuela's National Assembly, vowing to press for transition of power.
Guaido has won some international support, speaking by phone this week with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"We are not victims here. We are survivors and we are going to survive this," Guaido said. We are here to talk about the route, because there are no magical solutions."
Berlin, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Four young men have gone on trial over the brazen theft of a 100-kilogram (221-pound) Canadian gold coin from a Berlin museum.
The "Big Maple Leaf" coin, worth several million dollars, was stolen from the Bode Museum in March 2017.
Three men, identified only as Wissam R., Ahmed R. and Wayci R., are accused of stealing the coin during the night using a wheelbarrow to haul it away. The fourth suspect, Dennis W, worked as a guard at the museum for a private security firm and is accused of scouting out the scene.
German news agency dpa reported the four men, aged between 20 and 24 years, went on trial Thursday in Berlin district court.
Investigators believe that the suspects cut up the coin and sold the pieces.