Strasbourg gunman shot dead by French police: sources

Sources said Cherif Chekatt, wanted for killing three people at a Christmas market on Tuesday, has been shot dead.

    The suspected gunman, who killed three people at a Christmas market in Strasbourg on Tuesday, has been killed, police sources have said.

    Cherif Chekatt was killed in the Neudorf area of the city in northeast France after a police operation was launched around 20:00 GMT on Thursday, sources said.

    A French police official said security forces, including the elite Raid squad, acted following reports that the 29-year-old suspect was hiding in a building in the neighbourhood. 

    Authorities said a taxi driver dropped Chekatt off in the Neudorf neighborhood of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening after the shooting, which also wounded 13 people.

    Chekatt had a long criminal record and was flagged for extremism, government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux told CNews television.

    Prosecutors had opened a terror investigation into the attack. Police distributed a photo of Chekatt, with the warning: “Individual dangerous, above all do not intervene.”

    The death toll rose to three on Thursday with the death of a victim who was declared brain-dead earlier. Five of those wounded were in serious condition, authorities said.

    Massive manhunt

    France had raised its three-stage threat index to the highest level and deployed 1,800 additional soldiers across the country to help patrol streets and secure crowded events.

    French authorities said the suspect, born in Strasbourg, had run-ins with police starting at age 10 and his first conviction was at age 13.

    Chekatt was convicted 27 times, mostly in France but also in Switzerland and Germany, for crimes including armed robbery. He was flagged for extremism and was on a watch list.

    Authorities had also called on the “yellow vest” protesters who have demonstrated across France since last month not to take to the streets. Members of the movement have planned a fifth round of demonstrations on Saturday to demand tax relief.

    The usually busy streets of Strasbourg were eerily empty on Thursday, with a heavy police and military presence. The Christmas market was closed on Thursday, authorities said.

    Some lit candles and brought flowers to a makeshift memorial at the site of the attack.

    “You can feel a very heavy atmosphere due all these events,” said resident Lucille Romance. “People are in a state of shock and are avoiding getting out of their house.”

    The dead included a Thai tourist, 45-year-old Anupong Suebsamarn, according to the Thai foreign ministry.

    Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said an Italian among the wounded was in a critical condition. 

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    France opens probe into racist violence by far-right activists

    Prosecutor opens inquiry after Al Jazeera investigation exposes Generation Identity activists carrying out attacks.

      Authorities in northern France have launched an inquiry into allegations of violence and racism by members of a far-right group in the city of Lille, after an undercover Al Jazeera investigation exposed Generation Identity (GI) activists carrying out a racist attack on a teenage girl and admitting to a series of other assaults on Muslims and Arabs.

      Thierry Pouquet du Haut Jusse, Lille’s public prosecutor, announced the preliminary inquiry into the racist incidents shown in Al Jazeera’s documentary, Generation Hate, late on Wednesday, according to the Voix du Nord newspaper.

      The “people who appear in [Al Jazeera’s] report are going to have to explain themselves to police officers in order to ‘define the criminal offences which might lead to prosecutions’,” said Voix du Nord.

      The documentary, broadcast on Sunday, showed one GI activist punching a teenage girl in the head several times in Lille’s city centre in January.

      The assailant, identified as Remi Falize, in a secretly filmed conversation, afterwards said: “Girl, or no girl, I couldn’t give a f***. They are just Arabs.” 

      The 30-year-old supermarket worker was later caught on camera saying that if he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he would go to Lille’s Wazemmes market and “sow carnage” against Muslims.

      Falize made the remark at a private bar called the Citadelle, owned by Aurelien Verhassel, head of Lille’s branch of GI, one of Europe’s fastest growing and most prominent far-right movements.

      The anti-Muslim group advocates the defence of what it sees as the identity and culture of white Europeans from what it calls the threat of Islam and mass immigration.

      The group gained prominence when its activists occupied a mosque in western France in 2012 and attempted to block a snowy mountain pass on the French-Italian border last April.

      Secretly filmed footage from the Citadelle and other parts of Lille also show activists boasting about carrying out violent attacks and making Nazi salutes.

      Verhassel was also secretly filmed encouraging members of the Citadelle to violence.

      The opening of the inquiry on Wednesday came after letters of concern from Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille, and Miche Lalande, prefect of the Nord County.

      Voix du Nord quoted Lalande saying he denounced “racist remarks and violent actions, proved or planned” relayed in the documentary.

      In a statement on Tuesday, Aubry called the comments from GI activists “unacceptable”.

      “This is entirely reprehensible and is in breach of the law. I have called upon the local authorities so we can find the appropriate measures to put a stop to the activities of these individuals and to shut down the Citadelle, which should have never opened in Lille,” she said.

      Verhassel, leader of the Citadelle, told the Voix du Nord on Tuesday there was “nothing against me” in the Al Jazeera documentary.

      Reiterating comments made Al Jazeera through his lawyer, Verhassel said the attacks and Nazi salutes filmed in the documentary “do not concern the Citadelle”.

      Al Jazeera’s investigation also revealed close ties between GI and Marine Le Pen’s National Front, one of France’s largest political parties.

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      Protests as Hungarian parliament passes 'slave law' on overtime

      Controversial amendment to labour laws approved, trade unions and opponents call it a ‘slave law’.

        Budapest, Hungary – Thousands of Hungarians have taken to the streets of capital, Budapest, to protest several measures adopted by the parliament, including a controversial amendment to labour laws.

        The demonstrations on Wednesday, which began in front of the Hungarian parliament, spread through the city, stopping traffic in some of the city’s busiest areas and reaching the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz party.

        The demonstrators belonging to various trade unions held Hungarian and European Union flags and chanted “Free country” as they marched.

        The protest came in response to the parliament’s approval of amendment to the labour laws, proposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing party.

        Critics slammed the proposed legislation as a slave law” that benefits employers. They also protested the creation of a new administrative court system, allowing the justice minister to appoint judges who would hear matters relating to voting, corruption and the right to protest.

        Controversial amendment

        Earlier, during the voting on the amendment in parliament, members of Hungary’s opposition parties resorted to whistling and blocking the speaker’s podium in an attempt to prevent the controversial changes.

        However, the rare scenes of chaos in parliament could not prevent the amendment, which was passed by a 130-52 vote secured by the ruling, right-wing Fidesz party.

        The amendment, proposed last month, hikes the maximum annual overtime hours that employers can require from 250 to 400 hours. It also triples the time period for calculating overtime payments to three years.

        Fidesz, which in April won a two-thirds majority with 49 percent of the vote, often steamrolls bills through parliament. 

        Trade unions expressed concern over the changes to the labour law, which also allows employers to agree on overtime arrangements directly with workers and enter into negotiations or bargaining agreements without having to include the unions.

        The government says the measures are meant to help ease Hungary’s employment shortage. It  argues the changes will benefit both those wanting to work more hours and employers who need more manpower. 

        Hungary’s official unemployment rate is a low 3.7 percent as companies expand operations in the country, thanks in part to low taxes and wages.

        Workers, opposition groups protest 

        Opposition parties said the vote was invalid on procedural grounds and the far-right Jobbik party said it would hold a protest later on Wednesday asking Hungarian President Janos Ader to refrain from signing the amendments into law.

        Orban was seen smiling and laughing as the rare chaos unfolded in parliament. A Hungarian government spokesman later said the protest by the opposition was “shameful”.

        Gabor Guzslovan, a member of the Hungarian Steel Workers trade union, told Al Jazeera that he had “never seen” the kind of  “obstruction and complete chaos” that occurred in the parliament.

        Before the voting, protesters gathered at the Kossuth Lajos Square, the seat of the Hungarian parliament, to demonstrate against the changes to the labour law.

        Last weekend, trade unions and student groups angry over alleged lack of academic freedom in the country protested against the changes to the labour law in Budapest, raising slogans and blocking highways.

        Attila Vajnai, a left-wing activist and representative of the European Left party, told Al Jazeera that “trade unions and leftist parties have expressed their solidarity with Hungarian workers” over the amendments.

        The protests in Budapest appeared to be organic on Wednesday evening, with Hungarians demonstrators as they marched through the city. 

        Various trade unions protesting in Kossuth Lajos Square called on workers to go on strike on Thursday.

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        Trade war optimism lifts European shares

        LONDON (Reuters) – European shares rose on Tuesday as optimism over the China-U.S. trade dispute helped them recover from the two-year lows hit in the previous session on a burst of political risk and worries over slowing global growth.

        The pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark index rose 1.5 percent, while euro zone stocks .STOXXE added 1.3 percent and Germany’s DAX .GDAXI, the most sensitive to China due to its big exporters, rose 1.5 percent.

        Sentiment was lifted by reports that Chinese and U.S. trade officials spoke by phone, a sign that discussions between the world’s top two economies continued even after the arrest of a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.

        Further cementing expectations that trade talks had not been interrupted was a report that China was preparing to cut its tariffs on U.S. car imports.

        “That would tick off one of Trump’s post-G20 promises, while going someway to reassuring the markets that, despite the situation with Huawei’s (CFO) Meng Wanzhou, the nations are willing to adhere to what was agreed in Argentina,” said Connor Campbell, analyst at Spreadex.

        China and the United States agreed this month to a ceasefire in their bitter trade war after high-stakes talks in Argentina between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.

        The export-oriented auto and tech sectors were among the biggest gainers, both up more than 2 percent, while materials stocks rose more than 3 percent as the trade hopes boosted metal prices. [MET/L]

        France’s CAC 40 .FCHI was up 1.4 percent after French president Emmanuel Macron pledged late on Monday to raise the minimum wage and cut taxes in a bid to prevent more violent protests that have rocked the euro zone’s number two economy.

        France’s Suez (SEVI.PA), however, fell 2.8 percent as a source said the board of French utility Engie (ENGIE.PA) decided to stick with its 32 percent stake in the utilities group.

        In Italy, Banco BPM (BAMI.MI) rose 2.5 percent after announcing it had agreed to sell up to 7.8 billion euros in bad loans along with a stake in its debt recovery business to Credito Fondiario and U.S. fund Elliott.

        WPP (WPP.L) rose 4.8 percent after the company said it would spend 300 million pounds and cut 2,500 jobs under a plan by new boss Mark Read to steer the world’s biggest advertising group back to growth.

        Shares in Ashtead (AHT.L) jumped 3.6 percent as the equipment rental firm said it expected full-year results ahead of expectations.

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        Theresa May looks to Europe to throw her a lifeline over her Brexit deal

        The embattled Prime Minister is meeting the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Hague before talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

        But back at Westminster, Labour is attempting to pile more embarrassment on the Government by staging a symbolic emergency debate condemning the vote u-turn.

        A frenetic day at Westminster ended with Jeremy Corbyn securing a three-hour debate, granted by Speaker John Bercow, on what should have been the fifth and final day of debate on the PM’s Brexit deal.

        Minutes before Mr Corbyn won his debate, there was Commons drama when a young Labour MP, 32-year-old Lloyd Russell-Moyle, grabbed the mace and was instantly ordered out of the chamber by Mr Bercow.

        Earlier, Mrs May had pulled the so-called meaningful vote on her Brexit deal in a conference call with cabinet ministers after her Chief Whip Julian Smith warned her she was facing a crushing defeat.

        Neither Downing Street nor the Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom would say when the delayed vote would now take place, but it will almost certainly be in January now.

        But although the Prime Minister has bought herself some time, MPs of all parties are not convinced she will be able to win significant concessions on her European travels.

        Despite pressure from some of its senior MPs and other Opposition parties, Labour said it would not move on a confidence motion until after Mrs May returns to the Commons with whatever assurances she secures from EU leaders.

        “We will put down a motion of no confidence when we judge it most likely to be successful,” said a Labour spokesman.

        “It is clear to us that Theresa May will not renegotiate the deal when she goes to Brussels, and will only be asking for reassurances from EU leaders.

        “When she brings the same deal back to the House of Commons without significant changes, others across the House will be faced with that reality.

        “At that point, she will have decisively and unquestionably lost the confidence of parliament on the most important issue facing the country, and parliament will be more likely to bring about the general election our country needs to end this damaging deadlock.”

        In Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk announced that Brexit has been added to the agenda of a two-day EU summit in Brussels taking place on Thursday and Friday.

        But he said: “We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification. As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario.”

        And a spokeswoman for European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker poured cold water on any prospect of a renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

        Speaking ahead of Mrs May’s statement, the spokeswoman said: “This deal is the best and only deal possible. We will not renegotiate.”

        And in a further blow to Mrs May, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar ruled out reopening talks around the backstop, saying it was not possible to reopen any aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement without reopening all of it.

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        Investors ditch European stocks, BASF slides on profit warning

        LONDON (Reuters) – Simmering U.S-Chinese trade tensions dented European shares on Monday as investors fled risk at the start of a highly uncertain week, with Britain’s parliamentary vote on Brexit also looming and chemicals stocks dented by a BASF profit warning.

        The pan-European STOXX 600 index fell 0.9 percent to hit a fresh two-year low, with Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE down 0.4 percent and Germany’s DAX .GDAXI down 0.8 percent at around 0930 GMT.

        Oil stocks .SXEP fell 1.1 percent, erasing their 2018 gains. Oil had been the last sector holding onto gains in Europe, and all the STOXX 600 sector indices are now in the red (with falls of 26 percent for autos and banks) or flat on the year.

        Shaunak Mazumder, a senior fund manager at Legal & General Investment Management, said a combination of worries about the U.S.-China trade row and the Brexit vote was weighing on the market.

        “The market is lacking proper conviction. If the U.S.-China issue blows over, that could give support to the market. But it’s difficult to call,” he added.

        Shares in BASF (BASFn.DE) fell 4.7 percent after the German chemicals firm slashed its forecast for 2018 profits on Friday.

        It said the decline was mainly due to its chemicals business, while low water levels on the Rhine and weak automotive demand especially in China were also to blame.

        BASF peer Symrise (SY1G.DE) also tumbled 3.1 percent, Sika (SIKA.S) fell 5.1 percent and Imerys (IMTP.PA) lost 5 percent, helping to drag the pan-European chemicals index .SX4P down 2.5 percent and making it the worst-performing sector.

        Construction and materials stocks .SXOP, also highly sensitive to economic growth, fell 1.5 percent, while autos stocks .SXAP declined 1.3 percent as trade tensions took their toll.

        Unless U.S.-China trade talks wrap up successfully by March 1, new tariffs will be imposed, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday, clarifying there is a “hard deadline”.

        Chipmakers AMS (AMS.S), Siltronic (WAFGn.DE) and STMicro (STM.PA) fell 2.9 to 5.1 percent as investors ditched the tech sector.

        Outside of trade, politics drove some of the biggest moves.

        French retail, hotel, and transport stocks tumbled anew after a fourth weekend of “yellow vest” protests which are disrupting the economy.

        LVMH (LVMH.PA) and Kering (PRTP.PA) were among the biggest drags on the STOXX. But France’s CAC 40 .FCHI overall did not underperform European peers, down just 0.6 percent.

        Shares in British energy utilities Centrica (CNA.L) and SSE (SSE.L) fell around 3 percent as investors held their breath ahead of a crucial vote on Brexit on Tuesday.

        Traders said a Sunday Telegraph report flagging a risk Centrica may struggle to pay its dividend was also hurting sentiment.

        British housebuilders Berkeley Group (BKGH.L), Persimmon (PSN.L), Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) and Barratt Development (BDEV.L) fell 1.5 to 2.5 percent as nerves built and Peel Hunt cut its ratings.

        Outside large-cap moves, shares in Interserve (IRV.L) plunged as much as 71 percent, last trading down 51 percent, after the embattled British outsourcer said it was in talks with debtholders and considering converting debt to equity.

        (For a graphic on ‘All European sectors 2018 gains’ click

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        European stocks tumble as investors shun risk, BASF hit by profit warning

        LONDON (Reuters) – Simmering tensions between the U.S. and China dented European shares on Monday as investors fled risk at the start of a highly uncertain week with Britain’s parliamentary vote on Brexit looming.

        The pan-European STOXX 600 index fell 0.8 percent to hit a two-year low once more by 0830 GMT, with Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE down 0.3 percent. Germany’s DAX .GDAXI, the most sensitive to China due to its big exporters, fell 0.9 percent.

        Shares in BASF (BASFn.DE) fell 4.3 percent after the German chemicals firm slashed its forecast for 2018 profits on Friday.

        It said the decline was mainly due to its chemicals segment while low water levels on the Rhine and weak automotive demand especially in China were also to blame.

        BASF peer Symrise (SY1G.DE) also tumbled 3.6 percent, helping drag the pan-European chemicals sector .SX4P down 2.3 percent, the worst-performing.

        Autos stocks .SXAP also fell 1.8 percent as trade tensions took their toll.

        Chipmakers AMS (AMS.S), Siltronic (WAFGn.DE), STMicro (STM.PA) also fell 2.9 to 5.1 percent as investors ditched the tech sector.

        Politics drove some of the biggest moves.

        French retail, hotel, and transport stocks tumbled anew after a fourth weekend of “yellow vest” protests which are disrupting the economy.

        British energy utilities Centrica (CNA.L) and SSE (SSE.L) both fell around 3 percent as investors held their breath ahead of a crucial vote on Brexit on Tuesday.

        Housebuilders Berkeley Group (BKGH.L), Persimmon (PSN.L), Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) and Barratt Development (BDEV.L) fell 1.5 to 2.5 percent as nerves built and Peel Hunt cut its ratings.

        Outside large-cap moves, shares in Interserve (IRV.L) plunged 71 percent after the embattled British outsourcer said it was in talks with its debt holders and considering converting debt to equity.

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        Ukrainian Navy commander dismisses Russia's provocation charge

        Talking to Al Jazeera, Admiral Ihor Voronchenko says Russia has no right to put captured sailors on trial.

          Ukrainian Navy commander Admiral Ihor Voronchenko says Russia has no right to put the 24 captured sailors on trial as they were “prisoners of war, not some criminals involved in contraband or illegal fishing”.

          In an interview with Al Jazeera, Voronchenko said he had no doubt that Russia was behind the attack on three of his boats, saying, “I confirm with authority … we are sure the tactical decisions were not being taken by the commanders of the Russian ships.”

          Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reports from Ukraine’s main naval base in the Black Sea port of Odessa.

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          COP24: Protesters demand action to check global warming

          Even as activists are demanding urgent action to save the planet, delegates inside are at odds over a crucial report.

            Activists have marched through the Polish city of Katowice, where a two-week United Nations climate summit – Katowice Climate Change Conference (COP24) – is under way.

            The protesters are calling for more action from governments to tackle global warming.

            However, attempts to incorporate a key scientific study into climate talks failed, after it was blocked by countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia.


            Al Jazeera’s Victoria Gatenby reports.

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            Tommy Robinson to join pro-Brexit march, counter-protest planned

            Days before parliament vote on Brexit, far right and anti-fascists to hold opposing rallies as police warn of arrests.

              London, United Kingdom – Right-wing demonstrators are planning to converge in London on Sunday for a pro-Brexit march, joining far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

              The “Brexit Betrayal” protest has been advertised as a “peaceful and democratic” march against Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal to withdraw from the European Union, but Robinson – a former leader of the English Defence League and newly-minted adviser to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – has made veiled suggestions that it could resemble the “yellow vest” movement which has swept across France in recent weeks in opposition to President Emmanuel Macron and seen protesters clash with police.

              “Biggest riots in France in nearly 50 years due to anger at the corrupt political class,” Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, wrote on Facebook next to a video of burning cars and clouds of tear gas in Paris. “Revolution is coming, Prime Minster May should take note.”

              Robinson has become the figurehead of Britain’s far right, capitalising on attacks by Muslim suspects and rape trials involving Asian men to amass over one million followers on Facebook and YouTube. 

              He has long denied accusations of racism or Islamophobia, but has called British Muslims “enemy combatants” and said refugees are “raping their way through” the United Kingdom.

              A coalition of anti-racist and anti-fascist groups has organised a counterdemonstration. 

              Momentum, a left-wing movement which is supportive of Jeremy Corbyn, the main opposition Labour Party leader, is among the groups which has called on people to march against Robinson and the far-right protesters. 

              London’s Metropolitan Police have imposed conditions on protesters, such as staying in designated areas, and warned of “a robust arrest policy” on anyone intent on violence and disorder.

              The marches come days ahead of a crucial vote by parliament on Brexit, which could throw the UK into chaos. MPs from both ends of the political spectrum are expected to reject May’s proposed withdrawal agreement reached with European officials.

              Rising far right

              Recent months have seen resurgent levels of far-right street action in the UK not seen in over a decade. 

              Robinson supporters threw up Nazi salutes at a demonstration in London in July, where 12 people were arrested during clashes with police.

              The speaker’s list for Sunday’s rally is a who’s who of the British far right and includes UKIP leader Gerard Batten, who has called Islam a “death cult”, and Carl Benjamin, an anti-feminist and Islamophobic commentator on YouTube, where he uses the alias Sargon of Akkad.

              Activist Avi Yemini is being flown in from Australia with funds raised by Canadian far-right news organisation Rebel Media, which has in the past employed Robinson. 

              Yemini has previously tweeted that Islam is “a barbaric ideology that has no place in western civilisation.”

              Anti-racism group Hope not Hate also expects fascist groups Generation Identity, National Front and the British National Party to attend.

              It will be Robinson’s first major demonstration since his recent release from prison. 

              The 35-year-old was jailed in May for contempt of court, after he was found to have breached reporting restrictions on a rape trial, but was freed on appeal in August. His case is currently being considered for retrial. Robinson has a serial criminal history, having previously been jailed for assault and attempting to enter the United States on a false passport.

              During his imprisonment, far-right activists, some from across the world, rallied to his cause, insisting he was an innocent victim of a plot by the British government to silence him.

              The right-wing US think-tank Middle East Forum spent $60,000 on Robinson’s legal defence and a series of demonstrations in London this summer, part of a growing international network, as documented by The Guardian newspaper, that provides him with financial and political support.

              Robinson was appointed by Batten as UKIP’s official adviser on grooming gangs and prisons last month, circumventing the party’s rules which bar former EDL members and pushing the extreme right-wing party further towards open Islamophobia. 

              The decision prompted a slew of resignations from the party, including long-time leader Nigel Farage. 

              “The very idea of Tommy Robinson being at the centre of the Brexit debate is too awful to contemplate,” Farage wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

              Farage is credited with having had significant influence over pushing Britons towards choosing to leave the EU and has himself been accused of Islamophobia.

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