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Crans-Montana: Rescuers hunt for skiers in Swiss avalanche”


At least four people have been injured, one seriously, in an avalanche in a popular ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

The avalanche was reported at a marked slope in Crans-Montana at about 14:20 local time (13:20 GMT).

Officials have said that 240 rescuers are continuing to search the scene overnight.

Police have said they cannot discount the possibility that others still may be affected, after local reports said up to 12 people may have been involved.

“Witnesses have said that other people may be buried, and the search continues with considerable resources,” local police commander Christian Varone said at a news conference on Tuesday evening.

The avalanche engulfed 400m (1300ft) of piste marked out for skiers, Mr Varone said.

Search dogs and rescue helicopters have been mobilised to search for victims at the site.

An initial search with dogs was unsuccessful, local newspaper Le Nouvelliste reports.

People dig through piles of snow

Thousands were on the resort’s slopes at the time

The snow is compacted and is 2m deep in places, a rescuer was quoted as telling the newspaper.

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Shock waves across the Alps

Analysis by Imogen Foulkes, BBC Geneva Correspondent

This was the avalanche that was never supposed to happen. Alpine villages, roads, railways and ski runs are all extensively risk mapped. Skiers caught up in avalanches tend to be off-piste, but this snow slide hit the lower stretch of a very popular slope.

It is too early to determine the cause, but serious questions will have to be answered about alpine safety.

It is half-term across much of Europe and the ski slopes are crowded with families. Eight thousand people were on Crans-Montana’s slopes when the avalanche struck.

An official investigation, involving rescue services, but also, significantly, weather experts, is already under way.

Just a few weeks ago there was heavy snow across the Alps, but the last few days have seen strong sunshine. Some are already asking whether this avalanche, unthinkable for many, might be connected to climate change.

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Valais Public Prosecutor Catherine Seppey has opened an investigation into the reasons behind the avalanche.

Ms Seppey said it was not clear if the incident was triggered by skiers or by weather conditions.

Map showing the resort and Bern

Temperatures in the area have reportedly warmed in recent days, causing some snow to melt.

However, the avalanche risk in the region was set at only two out of five on Tuesday.

Crans-Montana is set to host two women’s World Cup races this weekend.

An emergency telephone number has been set up for families who think their loved ones might be involved.

Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?


Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse

The French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, has said she won’t join other political parties in a march against anti-Semitism on Tuesday, accusing France’s leaders of doing nothing to tackle Islamist networks in France and saying she will mark the occasion separately.

It comes days after a prominent French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was verbally attacked for being Jewish as he walked past the weekly “gilets jaunes” (yellow-vest) protests in Paris.

A small group of protesters shouted a barrage of abuse at him as he passed by the demonstration on his way home from lunch on Saturday, calling him a “dirty Zionist” and telling him to “go back to Tel Aviv”.

“I felt an absolute hatred,” Mr Finkielkraut told one French newspaper later that night. “If the police hadn’t been there, I would have been frightened.”

A few days before that, official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.

Now, many here are questioning whether the gilets jaunes movement is providing a new kind of forum for these extremist views, and how central those attitudes are to the movement.

“It’s very serious,” says Vincent Duclert, a specialist in anti-Semitism in France at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences – one of France’s most prestigious colleges.

“The gilets jaunes are not an anti-Semitic movement, but alongside the demonstration each Saturday there’s a lot of anti-Semitic expression by groups of the extreme right or extreme left.”

‘Yellow-vests’ pelt police van with stones

“You can be on the streets demonstrating every Saturday, shouting your slogans against the Jews,” says Jean-Yves Camus, an expert in French political extremism.

“And as there’s no leadership in the movement and no stewarding of the demonstrations, you can be free to do it. I’m afraid there will be more attacks, because the self-proclaimed leaders simply do not seem to care that much.”

Jason Herbert, a spokesman for the movement, says the incident on Saturday is a scandal, but not representative of the gilets jaunes as a whole.

“It’s the inherent weakness of a movement that lets the people speak,” he explained. “Everyone can come and give his opinion – and some opinions are despicable and illegal. To think someone is inferior because of his or her origins is just not acceptable, and it’s completely unrelated to our demands. Amongst our demands, I’ve never heard ‘we want fewer Jews’.”

A protester holds up a sign that says 'Anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, racism is not us'
Some protesters have carried signs denouncing racism and discrimination

The gilets jaunes began life as a protest against fuel tax rises, but have broadened into a loose confederation of different interest groups with no official hierarchy or leadership. Over the past three months, as the movement has appeared more radical, its wider support has dipped.

Vincent Duclert believes that the movement does bear some responsibility for the extremist abuse in its midst, because the violence of the protests – towards the police, state institutions and public property – encourages anti-Semitism by encouraging “transgression”.

And, he says, it’s possible that the gilets jaunes are also offering “a new space for different kinds of anti-Semitism to come together: from the extreme right and extreme left, but also from radical Islamist or anti-Zionist groups, and some types of social conservatives”.

There are signs over the past year, he says, that levels of anti-Semitism have risen within these different groups, because of changes at home, across Europe and in the Middle East, and that French public opinion has been too tolerant.

Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?
Marine Le Pen is among those trying to court the support of the protesters

Politicians here have been quick to condemn Saturday’s attack on Alain Finkielkraut. President Macron tweeted that it was “the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation”.

Others tried to blame it on their political rivals.

A member of France’s centre-right opposition, Geoffrey Didier, told reporters that anti-Semitism was growing “because radical Islamism is growing in France”, while Marine Le Pen said it illustrated “how the anti-Semite far-left is trying to infiltrate the gilets jaunes movement”.

Both Ms Le Pen’s party and that of her far-left rival, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, have been trying to win the support of the gilets jaunes ahead of European elections in May.

Jean-Yves Camus believes last week’s attack will help turn public opinion against the movement, saying it has become “a hotbed of radical activity from both sides of the political spectrum and the French do not want that”.

Jewish graves desecrated near Strasbourg in eastern France


The graves were desecrated at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg

Some 80 graves have been desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, local officials say.

The damage was discovered on Tuesday, ahead of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

It occurred at a cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, on the night of Monday into Tuesday, town hall officials told the franceinfo website.

President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse after a prominent intellectual was targeted.

Police stepped in to protect the philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts by a group of “yellow vest” protesters in Paris at the weekend.

Mr Macron visited the cemetery to inspect the damage on Tuesday, before he heads to the Paris Holocaust memorial.

“It’s important for me to be here with you today,” he told local leaders and members of the Jewish community.

Several local officials denounced the desecration on social media.

Mr Castaner has warned that anti-Semitism is “spreading like poison” in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend.

These included post-boxes featuring a Holocaust survivor’s portrait being vandalised with swastikas.

Official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.

Jewish groups have also been warning that a rising far right across Europe has been promoting anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities.

Crime data from Germany released last week revealed that anti-Semitic offences had increased by 10% over the past year – including a 60% rise in physical attacks.

Attacks have been blamed on both the far right and Islamists.

Channel storm damaged Russian S-400 missiles bound for China


Since annexing Crimea in 2014 Russia has deployed S-400 missiles there

A storm in the English Channel damaged S-400 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia was shipping to China, but now they are being replaced, Russia says.

The ship with its damaged cargo returned to Russia last March, but two other Russian ships delivered S-400s to China successfully.

The deal was reported by the Russian government website Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

China is under US sanctions for buying S-400s and other Russian arms. India and Turkey are also buying S-400s.

A Russian arms industry chief, Dmitry Shugayev, said Russia would complete the delivery of the S-400s to China by the end of 2020.

China is getting two regimental units, which amounts to at least 128 missiles.

AFP

The S-400 missile system is deployed at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Syria

The S-400 “Triumf” is one of the most sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems in the world. It has a range of 400km (248 miles) and one S-400 integrated system can shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously.

Russia says it can hit aerial targets ranging from low-flying drones to aircraft flying at various altitudes and long-range missiles.

The US sanctions are aimed at putting pressure on the Russian government over its annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

In October, India signed a $5bn (£3.9bn) deal to buy five S-400 regimental units. That amounts to at least 320 missiles. Each S-400 launch vehicle – a heavy lorry – carries four missiles.

Russia has deployed S-400s to protect its military airbase at Hmeimim in Syria.

Turkey, a Nato member, is buying S-400s despite US warnings. The US wants to sell Patriot missiles, made by Raytheon Co, to Turkey instead. The US argues that S-400s are incompatible with Nato systems.

“We made the S-400 deal with Russia, so it’s out of the question for us to turn back. That’s done,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Neither Turkey nor India are yet under US sanctions over the purchases.


How the S-400 system works

Diagram of how S-400 missile system works
  1. Long-range surveillance radar tracks objects and relays information to command vehicle, which assesses potential targets
  2. Target is identified and command vehicle orders missile launch
  3. Launch data are sent to the best placed launch vehicle and it releases surface-to-air missiles
  4. Engagement radar helps guide missiles towards target

Holocaust: Israel summit falls apart in Netanyahu ‘racism’ row


Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (L) met Mr Netanyahu in Warsaw this month

A summit of central European leaders in Israel has been cancelled because of an Israel-Poland row over the Holocaust.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said there would just be bilateral talks in Jerusalem and Poland is staying away.

Poland withdrew after a suggestion by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Poles had been complicit in the Holocaust.

Those comments were “racist and unacceptable”, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews, mostly in Poland.

Israel later clarified that Mr Netanyahu had been referring to “Poles” but not to the Polish nation.

He had been quoted in Israeli media as saying “Poles co-operated with the Germans” during the Holocaust.

The meeting hosted by Israel was meant to bring together the four-nation Visegrad Group: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

In Poland’s absence, the three remaining prime ministers will still visit Israel for talks, the Israeli foreign ministry said.

“It will not be called Visegrad, because this entails the presence of all four,” an Israeli spokesperson said. “It’s going to be a summit with Visegrad members.”

On Sunday Mr Morawiecki pulled out, saying Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz would go instead, but on Monday Poland pulled out of the summit completely.

The Polish government says cancellation of the visit is “an unequivocal signal to other governments and international opinion that historical truth is fundamental”.

About six million Polish citizens died in World War Two, of whom about three million were Jews.

The Nazis built many of their most notorious death camps in Poland after occupying the country at the beginning of the war in 1939.

Yellow-vest protests: Macron condemns anti-Semitic abuse”:


Tens of thousands took part in anti-government protests on Saturday

French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse directed at a prominent intellectual by a group of “yellow vest” protesters in Paris.

Police stepped in to protect the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts in the French capital.

President Macron said it was an “absolute negation” of what made France great and would not be tolerated.

Tens of thousands took part in anti-government protests on Saturday.

Prosecutors have now opened an investigation into the incident, and France’s interior minister said on Sunday that a suspect alleged to be the “main perpetrator” had been identified by the authorities.

Police used tear gas to control crowds as the so-called “yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) demonstrators took to the streets for the 14th consecutive weekend across the country. About 5,000 turned out in Paris, officials said.

What happened on Saturday?

Officers in Paris intervened to form a barrier after a group of individuals involved in the march confronted Mr Finkielkraut and started verbally insulting him.

The 69-year-old Jewish academic told Le Parisien newspaper that he heard people shouting “dirty Zionist” and “throw yourself in the canal”.

French writer and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut poses for a photograph at his home in Paris, 16 June 2015
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Alain Finkielkraut said he was relieved when the police intervened

He told newspaper Journal du Dimanche he felt an “absolute hate” directed at him, and would have been afraid for his safety if the police were not there, although he stressed that not all of the protesters were aggressive.

Mr Finkielkraut, the son of Polish immigrants, has previously expressed sympathy for the protesters, but also voiced criticism of the movement.

He said that President Macron had spoken with him by telephone on Saturday to offer his support.

The incident comes after Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned that anti-Semitism was “spreading like poison” in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend.

These included post boxes featuring a holocaust survivor’s portrait being vandalised with swastikas.

Jewish groups have also been warning of a rise in the far-right promoting anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities across Europe.

Crime data from Germany released last week revealed that anti-Semitic offences had increased by 10% over the last year – including a 60% rise in physical attacks.

Who are the “yellow vest” protesters?

The protests began in mid-November over fuel taxes.

They have since broadened into a revolt against President Macron, and a political class seen as out of touch with common people.

Media captionFrance fuel protests: Who are the people in the yellow vests?

The protests have often turned violent, causing damage – including to some of Paris’ most famous monuments.

Critics have also accused the police of using disproportionate force.

The number of protesters taking to French streets has been gradually falling – but tens of thousands are still turning out weekly to demonstrate across France.

France’s interior ministry said a total of 41,500 people took part in protests across the country on Saturday, including some 5,000 people in Paris, although the organisers of the march said many more attended.

“We are 15,000 [in Paris], that means the movement is increasing,” demonstrator Jerome Rodrigues told AFP news agency.

Poland PM cancels Israel trip after Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment”:


Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (L) met Mr Netanyahu this month

PM Mateusz Morawiecki has cancelled a trip to Israel following comments on the Holocaust by Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu was quoted in Israeli media as saying “Poles co-operated with the Germans” during the Holocaust.

He later issued a clarification saying he was not referring to the Polish nation or all Polish people.

Poland summoned the Israeli ambassador and on Sunday said Mr Morawiecki would not attend a summit on Tuesday.

The meeting, hosted by Israel, is of the Visegrad Group that represents the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

Polish government spokesperson Joanna Kopcinska said: “Prime Minister Morawiecki told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a telephone call that Poland will be represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz.”

What were Mr Netanyahu’s comments?

Mr Netanyahu was on a state visit to Poland on Thursday when his comments were reported in Israeli media, including Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.

The Jerusalem Post said its version used the term “Polish nation”, which it said it quickly amended.

Mr Netanyahu’s office issued a clarification, saying: “In a briefing, PM Netanyahu spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.”

What has been the Polish reaction?

Mr Morawiecki took to Twitter to say there was “no Polish regime” during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Israel’s ambassador to Warsaw was summoned by the foreign ministry on Friday.

President Andrzej Duda said that if Mr Netanyahu had said what was first reported “Israel would not be a good place to meet”.

On Sunday, Mr Morawiecki announced his trip would be cancelled.

Israel offered to host the meeting of the Visegrad group to strengthen ties with members of the European Union.

Image of Auschwitz watchtower, barbed wire and fencing
GETTY IMAGES

Poland has long objected to phrases which suggest shared responsibility during Nazi occupation

What’s the historical context?

During World War Two, Poland suffered brutal occupation by the Nazi and Soviet regimes and more than five million Polish citizens, three million of them Jews, died.

In terms of the Holocaust, the country has for years objected to the term “Polish death camps”, saying it implies complicity in the Nazi camps built on its soil during occupation.

In February 2018, Poland introduced a controversial law making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.

Israel challenged the legislation, its president, Reuven Rivlin, last year saying that while many Poles had fought the Nazis, “Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination” of Jews during the Holocaust.

Poland agreed to change the law and it now no longer carries the threat of up to three years in jail.

Vatican envoy Luigi Ventura faces sexual assault claim”:


Archbishop Luigi Ventura is Italian by birth

The Vatican’s ambassador to France is under investigation for sexual assault.

Luigi Ventura, 74, allegedly molested a junior official at a mayoral address to diplomats at Paris town hall on 17 January.

The city mayor’s office filed a complaint on 24 January and a judicial investigation opened the next day.

Archbishop Ventura has served as ambassador for 10 years. The allegations come amid a wave of sexual abuse accusations in the clergy.

AFP

Luigi Ventura met President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace earlier in January

It is traditional for ambassadors to attend the Paris mayor’s New Year address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures

A City Hall official told Reuters that Archbishop Ventura “caressed in an insistent and repeated manner” the buttocks of the young man who welcomed him to the event.

Last week, Pope Francis acknowledged sexual abuse of nuns by priests and in December two cardinals were demoted following abuse allegations.

Mr Ventura’s representatives have declined to comment on the allegations.

Spain PM Sánchez sets snap election for April”:


The PM has been governing in a very fragmented political landscape

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called a snap general election for 28 April, after Catalan nationalist MPs withdrew support for the Socialist government’s budget.

It is just eight months since Mr Sánchez took office, heading a minority government reliant on Catalan support.

Opinion polls suggest that no single party would win a clear majority. But conservatives and the far-right Vox party are expected to do well.

The Catalan crisis is still simmering.

Catalan separatist MPs rejected Mr Sánchez’s budget bill after the government refused to discuss the region’s right to self-determination.

Divisions were highlighted on Tuesday, when 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists went on trial accused of rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.

The Socialists (PSOE) have 84 seats in the 350-seat lower house (Congress of Deputies), and their main allies, anti-austerity Podemos, have 67. But the biggest party is the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), with 134.

In his announcement, Mr Sánchez complained that the right-wing parties – the PP and Ciudadanos – had blocked numerous bills in parliament, including important measures to reduce inequality.

Is this snap election unusual for Spain?

Yes. Since the return of Spanish democracy, with the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, it is only the second time that a government’s budget bill has been defeated in parliament.

The previous occasion was in 1995, when the Socialists under Felipe González were forced to call an election.

Turbulence and shifting alliances

By the BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid

While the end of Pedro Sánchez’s tenure looked inevitable, following his parliamentary budget defeat, this adds further uncertainty to a fragmented Spanish political landscape.

His PSOE is leading many polls and could win this election, but might find it hard to form a majority and govern.

The leftist Podemos, the PSOE’s natural ally, is riven by infighting and struggling in polls.

With the Catalonia issue likely to dominate the upcoming campaign, the hardline pro-unity stance of parties on the right – the PP and Ciudadanos – could see them benefit. If the numbers add up, they could try and form a majority, possibly with the support of far-right Vox, which has enjoyed a surge in polls, due mainly to its uncompromising policy on Catalan independence.

French cash delivery man arrested after a van with €3m vanishes”:


File photo: The Loomis security van driver vanished during a delivery, along with the cash

Two cash delivery workers in France got a shock when they found their money-filled van had vanished – along with the third member of their team.

The van was soon found nearby but there was no sign of the 28-year-old driver or €3.4m (£3m) in cash.

He was eventually tracked down to a flat in Amiens, along with some of the missing money.

The suspect, named as Adrien Derbez, was arrested in the city on Tuesday evening.

According to news agency AFP, an estimated €1.5m is still missing.

The sudden vanishing act happened early on Monday morning. At about 06:00 (05:00 GMT), the team of three were making a routine cash delivery in their security van to a Western Union branch in Aubervilliers, on the outskirts of Paris.

Two of them took the ordered amount of cash inside, leaving the third man to watch the vehicle.

“When they came back out, the van and the driver were gone,” a police source told AFP.

A few blocks away, the white van from the Loomis cash transit company was discovered with its doors open and contents emptied – and no sign of the driver.

On Tuesday, police appealed for witnesses and released a photograph and description of Mr Derbez.

A police handout photo of Adrien Derbez
AFP / POLICE

Mr Derbez had vanished, but was found in Amiens late the following day

Following a tip-off, police raided an apartment in Amiens that evening, French media report.

At around 17:00, officers allegedly found Mr Derbez trying to escape through a window carrying several bags filled with banknotes, French broadcaster BFMTV said.

Three other people have been arrested since as part of the investigation. A large sum of money was also recovered – and was being counted to see how much, if any, was missing, the local prosecutor said.

The theft has similarities to the famous case of Toni Musulin, a Frenchman who stole some €11.6m (£10.2m) from the security van he was driving in 2009.

He vanished, along with the cash, in November that year, briefly becoming an internet superstar in France for his meticulously planned and bloodless heist.

However, most of the cash was found in a garage, and Musulin handed himself in to police in Monaco days later.

He spent four years in prison.