UK prime minister vows no return to hard border with Ireland
By GREGORY KATZ and JILL LAWLESS
Tuesday, February 5
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May told business leaders in Northern Ireland on Tuesday that she is seeking changes to the U.K.’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union, but not the total removal of the Irish border provision that is the most contentious part of the deal.
Seeking to ease fears about the return of customs posts and vehicle checks, May said during a visit to Belfast that the British government is committed to preventing the construction of a physical border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the European Union.
The prime minister said she was in Belfast “to affirm my commitment to delivering a Brexit that ensures no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — which is unshakable.”
She also emphasized the government’s support for the Good Friday agreement, the 1998 treaty that largely ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles.”
May’s words of reassurance did little to solve her Brexit border dilemma.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but no withdrawal agreement has been approved because Britain’s Parliament voted down May’s plan last month, in part because of concerns about the border plan, known as the backstop. It is a safeguard mechanism that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks along the border until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.
The border area was a flashpoint during the decades of conflict that cost 3,700 lives. The free flow of people and goods across the near-invisible border today underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.
But many pro-Brexit British lawmakers fear the backstop will trap Britain in regulatory lockstep with the EU, and say they won’t vote for the EU divorce deal unless it is removed.
EU leaders, however, insist the withdrawal agreement the bloc struck with May’s government late last year can’t be reopened.
“The withdrawal agreement is the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal by the U.K,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Tuesday. “We want the future relationship between the EU and the U.K. to be as close, comprehensive and ambitious as possible, so that the backstop will never be needed.”
Still, May plans to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday seeking changes to the backstop, and will return to Parliament next week with — she hopes — a modified plan.
May said Tuesday she is seeking changes to the backstop, rather than its removal from the agreement, as some pro-Brexit British lawmakers want.
“I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future,” she said.
“What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop.”
Apartment inferno kills 10; deadliest Paris fire since 2005
By THOMAS ADAMSON and LORI HINNANT
Tuesday, February 5
PARIS (AP) — Paris’ deadliest fire in over a decade killed at least 10 people Tuesday as flames engulfed a nine-story apartment building, sending residents to the roof and clambering across balconies to escape.
A 40-year-old woman who lived in the building, said to have a history of psychiatric problems, was arrested nearby and held on suspicion of having set the fire not long before. French police opened a criminal investigation for voluntary arson resulting in death.
Multiple neighbors said they heard the suspect and her neighbor, an off-duty firefighter, arguing over the woman’s music before the fire broke out.
Police responding to the dispute stopped by the woman’s apartment. The firefighter and his girlfriend told officers they were leaving to sleep elsewhere in peace and thought the neighbor had lost her mind and one day there would be an accident because of her, according to a police report seen by The Associated Press.
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, the 22-year-old firefighter said he returned to the building a few minutes later, shortly after midnight, hoping the woman had gone. Instead, he ran into her in the stairwell, which was already beginning to smell of smoke.
“She wished me good luck, telling me that I loved flames,” he recalled in the interview.
Another resident later told him the woman put paper and wood in front of his apartment door, the firefighter told Le Parisien, which did not give his name.
Survivors described a chaos of smoke and flames, and the young firefighter said he ran upstairs to try and evacuate the building. One neighbor recalled clambering out of her eighth-floor apartment and over balconies to reach safety.
“I climbed across several balconies, with nothing beneath, and then was backed into a corner. There were people climbing hand-over-hand to get to where I was and escape the flames,” said a resident identified only as Claire, her eyes wide with shock soon after her rescue.
Another resident, an off-duty police officer, threw on clothes and rang doorbell after doorbell, trying desperately to alert his neighbors.
“I couldn’t save everyone. I can’t forgive myself,” the man identified as Fabrice told France Info radio, adding that smoke and flames prevented him from climbing higher than the fourth floor.
Jacqueline Ravier, who lives on the same street as the apartment building, described seeing a young man blackened by smoke and a woman motionless on the ground.
For hours, she said, flames shot out from the top of the building as smoke-covered victims fled. Shaken residents were brought to her building and the one next door.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner spoke to reporters at the scene Tuesday morning, as plumes of smoke speckled the sky.
“I want to salute the huge mobilization of the Paris firefighters,” he said. “More than 250 people arrived immediately and, throughout the night, saved over 50 people in truly exceptional conditions.”
It was the deadliest fire in Paris since the April 2005 hotel fire near the capital’s famed Opera that killed 24 people. Over 30 people were being treated for “relatively” light injuries, Castaner said. Among the injured were at least eight firefighters.
Authorities suspect the fire resulted from a criminal act, he said.
Officials said suspect had “a history of psychiatric problems.”
A judicial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation was ongoing, told the AP the woman was drunk when officers detained her.
A police patrol responding to a trash can fire around the same time spotted the woman with her hand in another trash can, according to a second police report obtained by The Associated Press. She was staring at the firetrucks streaming toward the building, the document states. The young firefighter said he saw her as well.
“She was waiting to see what would happen,” he said in the newspaper interview.
The document says the officers put the woman under brief surveillance and detained her at 12:45 a.m. after she allegedly tied a scarf around a car’s rear-view mirror and raised a cigarette lighter to it.
She was undergoing medical tests Tuesday evening.
City fire service spokesman Clement Cognon told the AP that firefighters were going door-to-door to ensure there are no more victims, and to prevent residual fires.
“The situation was already dramatic when the firefighters arrived,” Cognon said.
Firefighters plucked some people from the roof and balconies, at one point pleading with a man to stay where he was. The fire was extinguished by midmorning.
Emergency workers also sought to shore up the building, which was badly damaged. Images released of the operation released by the fire service showed flames shooting out of windows and stretching across the upper floors.
The building is on rue Erlanger in the 16th arrondissement, one of the calmest and priciest districts of Paris. It is close to the popular Bois de Boulogne park and about a kilometer (less than a mile) from the Roland Garros stadium that hosts the French Open tennis tournament and near the Parc des Princes stadium that’s home to Paris Saint-Germain, the country’s top soccer team.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter: “France wakes up with emotion after the fire in rue Erlanger in Paris last night.”
The fire comes a month after a deadly explosion and blaze linked to a gas leak in a Paris bakery.
In September 2015, there was a fire in a northern Parisian neighborhood that left eight dead.
Samuel Petrequin, Nicolas Garriga, Angela Charlton and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.
Uruguay bets on exports of medical marijuana
By LEONARDO HABERKORN
Tuesday, February 5
NUEVA HELVECIA, Uruguay (AP) — When he was younger, the only thing that Enrique Morales knew about marijuana was that you smoked it to get high.
Today, the former driver is a horticulturist on a cannabis plantation about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo and he says drops of marijuana oil have been key to treating his mother’s osteoarthritis.
“My perception has now changed. It is a plant that has a lot of properties!” he said.
The company that owns the plantation, Fotmer SA, is now part of a flourishing and growing medical cannabis industry in Uruguay.
The country got a head start on competitors in December 2013 when it became the first in the world to regulate the cannabis market from growing to purchase, a move which has brought a wave of investment.
For Uruguayan citizens or legal residents over 18 years old, the law allows the recreational use, personal cultivation, and sale in pharmacies of marijuana through a government-run permit system, and officials later legalized the use and export of medical marijuana to countries where it is legal.
No company has yet to begin large-scale export operations, but many say that selling medical cannabis oil beyond the country’s local market of 3.3 million inhabitants is key to staying ahead of the tide and transforming Uruguay into a medical cannabis leader along with the Netherlands, Canada and Israel.
“The Latin American market is poorly supplied and is growing,” said Chuck Smith, chief operating officer of Denver, Colorado-based Dixie Brands, which recently formed a partnership with Khiron Life Sciences, a Toronto company that has agreed to acquire Dormul SA, which owns the first license issued in Uruguay to produce medical cannabis.
Uruguay is taking a leadership position in growing high CBD, high value hemp products. So we see that as a great opportunity from a supply chain perspective,” he said, referring to the non-psychoactive cannabidiols that are used in medical products.
Khiron has said it should be able to export medical marijuana from Uruguay to southern Brazil under regulations of the Mercosur trade bloc, marking a milestone for Uruguayan marijuana companies focused on exports.
Fotmer, based in the small town of Nueva Helvecia, also currently employs 80 people and is investing $7 million in laboratories and 10 tons of crops that it hopes to ship to countries including Germany and Canada, which is struggling to overcome supply shortages in its cannabis market.
Fotmer’s 35,000 marijuana plants are sheltered in 18 large greenhouses measuring 12.5 meters by 100 meters (41 feet by 328 feet), where workers such as Morales change into special clothing, wash their hands with alcohol and wear gloves and surgical masks to avoid any contamination.
Helena Gonzalez, head of quality control, research and development for Fotmer, said the precautions are important in producing a quality product that can be used in medical research into the effects of cannabis products.
“Aiding that research is another of our objectives,” she said.
The first crop of prized flowers will be harvested for their cannabis oil in March.
The oil containing THC and CBD will be extracted in its labs to eventually manufacture pills, creams, ointments, patches and other treatments for cases of epilepsy and chronic pain, among other ills.
Competition is arriving as well. In December, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez inaugurated a $12 million laboratory owned by Canada’s International Cannabis Corporation, which aims to produce and export medicine from hemp, a variety of cannabis that contains CBDs but has no psychoactive effects.
Despite the momentum, experts say there is one key problem: Countries including Ecuador, Cuba, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala continue to prohibit both the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana and exports of cannabis products are subject to a complex web of international regulations that is still being developed.
Marcos Baudean, a member of Monitor Cannabis at the University of the Republic of Uruguay, says another difficulty is that the South American country is competing for market share. He said cannabis exports give the country a chance to expand beyond its traditional exports of raw materials into more sophisticated products involving science and biology.
Diego Olivera, head of Uruguay’s National Drug Secretariat, said Uruguay’s comprehensive cannabis law, along with its strong rule of law and transparent institutions, gives it an head start.
“Uruguay today has a dynamism in the cannabis industry that is very difficult to find in other sectors,” he said.
Associated Press writers Luis Andres Henao in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s complete marijuana coverage: https://apnews.com/Marijuana
Yellow vest protests erupt in Iraq, Bulgaria and beyond – but don’t expect a ‘yellow wave’
February 5, 2019
Authors: Dawn Brancati, Visiting Scholar, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University. Adrian Lucardi, Assistant Professor of Political Science, ITAM (Mexico)
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Protesters wearing reflective safety vests have unsettled France for months, halting traffic, chanting slogans and at times clashing violently with police.
Promises by President Emmanuel Macron to raise worker pay and cut taxes have not quelled the French demonstrators’ anger, which was originally triggered in December by a proposed fuel tax hike. Nor has the cold of Paris in winter chilled their outrage.
Beyond voicing the economic concerns of the French working class, their demands now include everything from Macron’s ouster to the abolition of the French Senate.
This powerful movement appears to be spreading. Protesters in Iraq, Bulgaria, Israel, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and other countries have taken to the streets in reflective yellow vests, too.
Activists in these countries say that they sympathize with the French protesters and are inspired by their powerful grassroots movement.
But appearances can be deceiving. France’s signature yellow vests may have been adopted by protesters elsewhere – but that’s where the similarities stop.
Our academic research on protests indicates that France’s yellow vest demonstrations have probably not inspired the recent unrest abroad.
For one, many of the so-called yellow vests protests abroad are not actually new. Bulgaria’s gas protests began on Nov. 11, a week prior to the yellow vest protests in France. Activists only donned yellow vests in December, after French protesters shut down Paris with their marches.
In Iraq, protests against unemployment, corruption and poor public services date back many months. Iraqi protesters, too, began wearing yellow vests in December after the French protests became iconic.
The same is true of the yellow vest protests in Taiwan.
Furthermore, many of these yellow vest protests make demands that are very different from that of their French counterparts.
In the United Kingdom, everyone from pro-Brexit groups to anti-austerity organizations have sported yellow vests at their protests. So have far-right, anti-Muslim protesters in Germany.
What has spread beyond France aren’t its working-class protests, exactly, but the props of those marches: Those iconic traffic vests have become a symbol of discontent.
Their original meaning, however, has largely been lost. In France, all vehicles must carry yellow vests in case of traffic emergency. That’s why workers angry about fuel hikes decided to wear them to marches.
Protests don’t spread
We found that it is exceedingly rare for protests in one country to actually trigger unrest in another country.
When we analyzed 282 pro-democracy protests in 87 countries between 1989 and 2011, we found that 236 protests occurred in isolation, with no unrest in contiguous countries in the following days, weeks or months. That means 84 percent of protests did not spread.
Protests – especially in the era of social media – might inspire activists in other countries. But they do not fundamentally change the domestic conditions that, history shows, generate protests: domestic discontent over economic problems, fraudulent elections, food prices or other triggers.
But the eruption of pro-democracy protests in one country does not make it more likely that pro-democracy protests will occur in a nearby country, according to our research. Between 1989 and 2011, just 24 of 282 protests in countries with contiguous neighbors saw similar demonstrations breaking out nearby within 45 days.
This conclusion remains even when we tested various scenarios, such as whether protests were more likely to spread they occur in large countries, or in militarily and economically powerful ones, or when countries were well connected to the internet. Nor were demonstrations more likely to spread if they were larger or more peaceful, or better able to wrestle concessions from the government.
We tested our models using other kinds of protests, too, including anti-government protests like the yellow vests. They just don’t spread, either.
Historic protest clusters
Our findings contradict the common wisdom that protests are contagious.
This view is based primarily on four historical periods where numerous anti-regime protests occurred in short succession.
The Arab Spring is the most recent example. After an uprising in Tunisia in 2010, governments across the Middle East and North Africa soon saw mass protests. Several authoritarian leaders were ousted.
Similar outbreaks of protest have occurred over the past 150 years.
In 1848, anti-monarchy uprisings that started in Sicily occurred across continental Europe. In 1989, protests helped topple communist regimes throughout East Central Europe. In the early 2000s, the so-called “Color Revolutions” gripped the region again, this time in response to fraudulent elections.
When protests occur in quick succession in a number of countries like this, it gives the appearance that they are spreading. In fact, protests may break out in clusters because countries are similarly affected by common world events, such as increases in fuel prices, the collapse of international banks or the end of the Cold War.
In other words, activists in one country are not emulating one another – they are reacting to the same societal problems.
In recent months, for example, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Zimbabwe have all seen demonstrations against fuel hikes, high food prices and generalized economic insecurity – the same issue that first angered French workers. But none of these marches include yellow vests.
Why the yellow vest?
So why have activists everywhere from Iraq to Israel adopted the yellow vest motif?
Shared symbolism has power. When demonstrators in one place don French-style yellow vests, it makes their protests appear to be part of a larger movement. This attracts more attention from the media, which, in turn, fuels the perception that protests are spreading.
Explaining why the Iraqi yellow vest protests appropriated the French symbol, one organizer told NBC News simply, “We thought that we would be more organized if we wear these vests.”
Egypt even banned the sale of yellow vests prior to the anniversary of its Jan. 28, 2011, Tahrir Square uprising.
Meanwhile, some yellow vest protesters in France who reject the movement’s increasing radicalism are organizing their own anti-government protests. Their new movement has a symbol, too: red scarves.