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339,000 protesters ramp up pressure on French President Macron over pensions reform


Transportation services have been severely disrupted across the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters including teachers took to the streets across France for the sixth day straight to strike against pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Although the turnout is expected to be lower than the 800,000 strikers from last Thursday, strikers from a range of trade unions are expected to rally in major cities from Paris to Lille, Lyon, Bordeaux and Grenoble. The strikes are continuing to have a major impact on transportation across the country — in total 25% of domestic flights and 50% of bus routes have been cancelled.

Workers are striking against proposed changes to the country’s pension system by President Macron.

Macron promised in his election campaign to merge dozens of pensions’ schemes for different employment sectors into one universal system, which opponents say will see certain industries lose out. Under the current system, there is no fixed retirement age with pensions instead being collected after a minimum contribution period to a pension fund.

That could change under the proposed reforms, laid out in a report in June 2019 by the High Commissioner for Pensions Jean Paul Delevoye. The reforms have not yet been finalized, but a series of new proposals published at the end of November 2019 have sparked a wave of anger across the country.

In Paris, 10% of schools have been closed as the main teachers’ trade unions joined in with rail and airport unions to demonstrate on Tuesday. The interior minister reported that 339,000 protesters were across France including 31,000 in Paris on Tuesday.

Local police in Paris have prepared for the protests to turn violent, and have banned the “yellow vests” — anti-government protesters who have sometimes clashing violently with police since November 2018 — from attending protests in certain areas of the capital.

Yellow vest protesters joined the peaceful demonstrators at Denfert-Rochereau Square on Tuesday. Police said 22 people were arrested on Tuesday for various protest rule violations like bringing forbidden objects like a mask to cover the face, in their bags objects.

The strikers are expected to continue demonstrating over the coming days with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announcing the pension law in full Wednesday afternoon.

One demonstrator told ABC News that there is “real unity” where it comes to the strikers’ demands.

“The big question is how will we live after our working days,” Emmanuel Foucault, a teacher from suburban Paris said. “In France we pay quite a lot of taxes, and we pay taxes for social security but we also pay taxes for our pensions. This is completely unfair.”



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N. Korea conducts ‘important test’ at once-dismantled site


North Korea said Sunday that it carried out a “very important test” at its long-range rocket launch site that it reportedly rebuilt after having partially dismantled it at the start of denuclearization talks with the United States last year.

The announcement comes amid dimming prospects for a resumption of negotiations, with the North threatening to seek “a new way” if it fails to get major U.S. concessions by year’s end. North Korea has said its resumption of nuclear and long-range missile tests depends on the United States.

Saturday’s test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground will have “an important effect on changing the strategic position of (North Korea) once again in the near future,” an unidentified spokesman from the North’s Academy of National Defense Science said in a statement, carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea didn’t say what the test included. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said that North Korea likely tested for the first time a solid-fuel engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The use of solid fuel increases a weapon’s mobility and reduces the amount of launch preparation time. The long-range rockets that North Korea used in either ICBM launches or satellite liftoffs in recent years all used liquid propellants.

CNN reported Friday that a new satellite image indicated North Korea may be preparing to resume testing engines used to power satellite launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles at the site.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a brief statement later Sunday that South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring activities at the Sohae site and other key North Korean areas.

President Donald Trump reacted to the development by saying that North Korea “must denuclearize.”

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised,” he said.

On Saturday, Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in discussed developments related to North Korea, and the two leaders committed to continuing close communication, the White House said in a statement. Moon’s office also released a similar statement, saying the two leaders had a 30-minute phone conversation at Trump’s request.

The North Korean test “is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “With the activity at Sohae, Pyongyang is also trying to raise international concerns that it may intensify provocations and walk away from denuclearization talks next year.”

The Sohae launching center in Tongchang-ri, a seaside region in western North Korea, is where the North has carried out banned satellite launches in recent years, resulting in worldwide condemnation and U.N. sanctions over claims that they were disguised tests of long-range missile technology.

North Korea has said its satellite launches are part of its peaceful space development program. But many outside experts say ballistic missiles and rockets used in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology. None of North Korea’s three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017 was conducted at the Sohae site, but observers said the site was used to test engines for ICBMs.

After his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June last year, Trump said Kim told him that North Korea was “already destroying a major missile engine testing site” in addition to committing to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

Satellite imagery later showed the North dismantling a rocket engine-testing stand and other facilities at the Sohae site. Last March, South Korea’s spy agency and some U.S. experts said that North Korea was restoring the facilities, raising doubts about whether it was committed to denuclearization.

U.S.-North Korea diplomacy has largely remained deadlocked since the second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February due to disputes over how much sanctions relief the North must get in return for dismantling its key nuclear complex — a limited disarmament step.

North Korea has since warned that the U.S. must abandon hostile policies and come out with new acceptable proposals by the end of this year or it would take an unspecified new path. In recent months, North Korea has performed a slew of short-range missile and other weapons launches and hinted at lifting its moratorium on nuclear and long-range missiles.

North Korea said the results of Saturday’s test were submitted to the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. The North said last week that the Central Committee will hold a meeting in late December to discuss unspecified “crucial issues” in line with “the changed situation at home and abroad.”

At the United Nations, a statement released by North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, said Saturday that denuclearization had “already gone out of the negotiation table.”

The statement accused the Trump administration of persistently pursuing a “hostile policy” toward the country “in its attempt to stifle it.” The statement was a response to Wednesday’s condemnation by six European countries of North Korea’s 13 ballistic missile launches since May.

The North Korean diplomat accused the Europeans — France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Poland and Estonia — of playing “the role of pet dog of the United States in recent months.”

“We regard their behavior as nothing more than a despicable act of intentionally flattering the United States,” the ambassador said.

———

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.



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North Korea may deploy ‘super-large’ rocket launcher soon


North Korea says the latest test-firing of its “super-large” multiple rocket launcher was a final review of its combat application

North Korea said Friday the latest test-firing of its “super-large” multiple rocket launcher was a final review of the weapon’s combat application, a suggestion that the country is preparing to deploy the new weapons system soon.

South Korea’s military earlier said North Korea fired two projectiles, likely from the same “super-large” rocket launcher, on Thursday. It expressed “strong regret” over the launches and urged North Korea to stop escalating tensions.

On Friday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency confirmed the launches were made with the presence of leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials.

“The volley test-fire aimed to finally examine the combat application of the super-large multiple launch rocket system proved the military and technical superiority of the weapon system and its firm reliability,” KCNA said.

It said Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over the results of the test-firing.

Analyst Kim Dong-yub at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies said North Korea appears to be entering the stage of mass-producing and deploying the rocket launcher. He wrote on Facebook that the weapons system may already have been deployed.

Thursday’s firing was the fourth test-launch of the rocket launcher since August.

Some experts say the flight distance and trajectory of projectiles fired from the launcher show they are virtually missiles or missile-classed weapons. The projectiles fired Thursday flew about 380 kilometers (235 miles) at a maximum altitude of 97 kilometers (60 miles), according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday called the projectiles ballistic missiles.

North Korea has fired other new weapons in recent months in what some experts say is an attempt to wrest concessions from the United States in stalled nuclear diplomacy while upgrading its military capabilities.

A U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at persuading North Korea to scrap its nuclear program in return for political and economic benefits remains largely stalemated since the February collapse of a summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Vietnam.

Most of the North Korean weapons tested since the Vietnam summit were short-range. Attention is now on whether North Korea resumes nuclear and long-range missile tests if Trump fails to meet a year-end deadline set by Kim for Washington to offer new proposals to salvage the negotiations.

Trump considers North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests a major foreign policy win.



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The Cipher Brief’s OSINT Trend Line Report


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Mexico’s Strategic Security Problem


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Brawl involving up to 100 youths, machetes and knives erupts at UK movie theater


A brawl involving machetes, knives and up to 100 youths erupted at a movie theater in the United Kingdom and left 7 police officers who tried to stop the fight with injuries.

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Dozens of police officers were called to Star City, a family entertainment and leisure center in Birmingham, just after 5:30 p.m. to reports of a group of youths wielding machetes inside, according to a statement from the West Midlands Police.

When officers arrived on the scene they were greeted by massive unrest and a group of up to 100 teenagers fighting in around the cinema while families who were there trying to enjoy their Saturday afternoon fled the scene.

“This was a major outbreak of trouble which left families who were just trying to enjoy a night out at the cinema understandably frightened,” said Superintendent Ian Green of the Birmingham police. “We worked quickly to move the crowds on, but were met with a very hostile response and officers had to draw Tasers to restore order.”

Five teenagers were arrested on site including a 13 and 14-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy, and a 19-year-old male on suspicion of assaulting police. Another 14-year-old boy was held on suspicion of obstructing police.

A dispersal order granted authorities the power to move crowds on and to arrest those who refused to leave. Police say that the area was mostly clear by 9 p.m. The movie theatre made the independent decision to close for the evening after the melee.

Two machetes were seized at the scene of the crime as well as knife that was found in a traffic circle near Star City, but police are looking for more people involved in the fight who managed to escape the area.

“We’re aware of a number of images and videos circulating on social media which appear to show those involved in last night’s violence. We are assessing those and have already had a number of phone calls from members of the public giving us the names of people they believe were involved last night,” the West Midlands Police statement said. “I’d ask anyone with images or video who has not yet got in touch already to do so that we can make further arrests.”

Seven police officers suffered minor facial injuries while they attempted to get control of the situation in Birmingham.

“Thankfully, the injuries to our officers were very minor. We’ve also recovered two machetes and a knife, and it’s clear that some of those who went to Star City last night were intent on causing trouble,” the West Midlands Police confirmed. “We’ve had a great response from the public who have been very supportive of our officers. We understand that families with young children will have been left upset by what they saw last night, but we urge people to appreciate that our aim last night was to protect the public and restore order, and that’s what we achieved.”





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