Category: Europe

news from Europe

Catholics in France Oppose Prayer Service Restrictions Imposed on Places of Worship

As French authorities ease some measures taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, Catholics in the country are challenging the size limit still imposed by the government on prayer services.The coronavirus pandemic places a heavy burden on France, where more than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19. Places of worship were still open during the lockdown, but regular prayer services were banned due to health concerns.Believers in France were relieved this week when French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that prayer services could resume Saturday in places of worship.During a press conference, Castex explained it would be progressive in places of worship, as they have become clusters during the pandemic, in France and all over the world. Only 30 people at a time will be allowed at prayer services inside places of worship and with stringent sanitary measures. That number might increase by December 15, when the lockdown ends, if the epidemic is under control, the French prime minister said.France’s Catholics Protest Lockdown MeasuresAs COVID infections rise, safe-distance restrictions include bans on public masses, prompting observant French Catholics to take to the streetsSince the announcement, the government has been heavily criticized for the arbitrary number. The 30-person limit for any building no matter the size – from tiny churches to gothic cathedrals – is not acceptable to a lot people, like Christiane, a Catholic from Paris.She says with this decision, authorities are making fun of them, as 30 people in a cathedral does not make sense to her. She said it shows disdain toward Catholics.Some Catholic clergy has vowed to fight the decision and said it hopes the government will shift its restriction on places of worship, according to Roman Catholic Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, a city near Paris.“Many Catholics and non-Catholics find the decision ridiculous, unfair and disrespectful of Catholics,” said Rougé. Thirty people in a very large church is ridiculous. Why such a repeated mistake? These are institutional failures. There is, also, I think, a lack of consideration for faith or believers.”Shops regarded as “non-essential” also reopened in the country Saturday. Bars and restaurants will not reopen until at least January 20. 

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Cluster Munitions Ban is Saving Lives and Livelihoods

A report by the Cluster Munition Coalition finds significant progress has been made in stigmatizing and eliminating these weapons since the global treaty banning cluster munitions came into force 10 years ago. Activists note that over the past decade, 1.5 million cluster bombs containing more than 178 million bomblets have been destroyed.  This represents 99% of all stocks declared by the 110 state parties to the treaty.The director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, Stephen Goose, says no state party to the convention has used or produced cluster munitions for the past 10 years.  However, during this period, he says the Cluster Munition Monitor has documented the sporadic use of these weapons by eight countries that have not signed the treaty.  He says Syria has used cluster munitions without stop since 2012.“We have documented more than 686 cluster munition attacks in Syria since July of 2012,” said Goosei. “This is the real black spot on the issue of cluster munitions around the world, with the degree to which Syria, with great assistance from Russia has been a regular user of cluster munitions.” The Monitor reports cluster bombs were used by Libya and Syria in 2019.  This year, it notes the use of these weapons by Syria and by Armenia and Azerbaijan in the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.The Monitor has identified at least 4,315 cluster munition casualties in 20 countries and other areas during the past decade, although the real total is probably higher.  Editor and research leader of the Monitor Loren Persi says more than 80% of the global casualties have been recorded in Syria, with children accounting for half of them.“One of the things to keep in mind is that the success of the convention is such that apart from this use in Syria, the number of casualties in most affected countries from the remnants of cluster munitions has actually been decreasing significantly over this period from hundreds of casualties recorded in some countries, particularly in Laos the most affected,” said Persi.Persi says Laos has reported just five casualties this year.  He calls this a milestone and a sign of the ban treaty’s great success in preventing casualties from cluster munitions globally.

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Hundreds of ‘Zombie Mink’ Resurfacing from Mass Graves

Denmark’s government said on Friday it wants to dig up mink that were culled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after hundreds resurfaced from mass graves.Denmark ordered all farmed mink to be culled early this month after finding that 12 people had been infected by a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, which passed from humans to mink and back to humans.The decision led to 17 million animals being destroyed and to the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen, after it was determined that the order was illegal.Dead mink were tipped into trenches at a military area in western Denmark and covered with 2 meters of soil. But hundreds have begun resurfacing, pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas from their decomposition. Newspapers have referred to them as the “zombie mink.”Jensen’s replacement, Rasmus Prehn, said on Friday he supported the idea of digging up the animals and incinerating them. He said he had asked the environmental protection agency to investigate whether it could be done, and parliament would be briefed on the issue on Monday.The macabre burial sites, guarded 24 hours a day to keep people and animals away, have drawn complaints from area residents about possible health risks.Authorities say there is no risk of the graves spreading the coronavirus, but locals worry about the risk of contaminating drinking water and a bathing lake less than 200 meters away.

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US Sanctions Chinese, Russian Firms Over Iran Dealings

The U.S. announced economic sanctions Friday on Chinese and Russian companies that Washington said had supported the development of Iran’s missile program.The four firms, accused of “transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program,” will be subject to restrictions on U.S. government aid and on their exports for two years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.The sanctions, imposed Wednesday, were against two China-based companies, Chengdu Best New Materials and Zibo Elim Trade, as well as Russia-based Nilco Group and Joint Stock Company Elecon.”We will continue to work to impede Iran’s missile development efforts and use our sanctions authorities to spotlight the foreign suppliers, such as these entities in the PRC (China) and Russia, that provide missile-related materials and technology to Iran,” Pompeo added.President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal established three years earlier under then-President Barack Obama.Trump has since reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic in what he calls a campaign of “maximum pressure.”The Trump administration has also since shown its determination to sanction any foreign country or company that does not comply with its Iran policies.

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Macron Calls Images of Police Beating Black Man Shameful for France 

President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that images showing Paris police beating up a Black music producer were shameful for France and that government would have to find a way to restore public confidence in the force.Prosecutors are investigating the violent arrest of Michel Zecler, who said he was also racially abused by the officers, after CCTV footage of the incident was released. The police watchdog is also investigating.Four police officers were being held for questioning as part of the investigation, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.The beating inside the entrance of a building was captured on closed circuit television and mobile phone footage, which has circulated widely online and has made headlines around Europe.”The images we have all seen of the aggression against Michel Zecler are unacceptable. They are shameful for all of us. France should never allow violence or brutality, no matter who it comes from. France should never let hate or racism prosper,” Macron said in a statement on his Facebook page.’Respect the law’He added that the police force should be exemplary.”Those whose job it is to apply the law should respect the law,” he said, adding that he has asked the government to urgently make proposals about how to restore confidence in the police.The beating of Zecler risks inflaming racial tension, with allegations of repeated police brutality against Black and ethnic communities at the forefront of many people’s minds after the death of Black American George Floyd in Minneapolis in May added fuel to  the “Black Lives Matter” movement.Dominique Sopo, president of anti-racism group SOS Racisme, told Reuters Zecler had been the target of a “racist attack.””For police officers to act that way, they must have a tremendous feeling of impunity. This situation is a symptom of an impunity that has been going on for too long,” he said.Paris police already faced criticism this week after social media photos and videos showed officers hitting protesters as they cleared out an illegal migrants’ campsite in a central Paris square.Incident at studioThe music producer told reporters he was set upon by police at his studio in Paris’s 17th arrondissement on Saturday.He said he had been walking in the street without a face mask — against French COVID-19 health protocols — and, upon seeing a police car, went into his nearby studio to avoid being fined. However, he said, the police followed him inside and began to assault and racially abuse him.Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France 2 television on Thursday that the officers would be punished if the alleged wrongdoing was confirmed.Zecler’s arrest came amid fierce debate in France over legislation that would limit journalists’ ability to document French police officers at work.Around 3,500 people marched against the bill in the western city of Nantes, where police used tear gas and made several arrests. Many in the march also protested against police violence, some with their faces bandaged in support of  Zecler. A similar demonstration is planned in Paris on Saturday.The outrage generated by Floyd’s death in the U.S. in May has resonated in France, particularly in deprived city suburbs where police often clash with youths from ethnic minority backgrounds.Protests in Paris in June focused on unsolved cases of people dying during police operations, such as Adama Traore, who died in police detention near Paris in 2016.

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Navalny Urges EU to Target Putin’s Oligarch Backers

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny urged the EU on Friday to put targeted economic sanctions on the oligarchs surrounding President Vladimir Putin.”There is no sense in sanctioning colonels or generals or some people who are definitely not travelling a lot,” Navalny told MEPs by videolink.Addressing the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Navalny, who is recovering in Germany after a poisoning allegedly ordered by the Kremlin, argued for a new strategy.He said the Russian officials and military officers who are traditionally targeted “definitely do not have a lot of estate or bank accounts in Europe”.Instead, he argued, Brussels should go after what he said was Putin’s true inner circle of wealthy moguls with yachts and investments in the EU.Western government have concluded that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok, a military-grade poison that would be hard for non-state assassins to procure.He is recovering after treatment in a Berlin hospital, but his case has increased tensions between Moscow and European capitals, especially Berlin.The EU has imposed entry bans and bank account freezes on six people suspected of being responsible, including the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency.But Navalny said it was a mistake to look for a political motive in Moscow’s actions, arguing that the Moscow elite is simply interested in money.”The Russian state must be treated like a bunch of criminals who have temporarily seized power,” he said, urging Europe to support the Russian people.He warned Brussels to reject the result of next year’s Russian parliamentary elections which he said would certainly be rigged.

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In Santa’s Mailbag, a Peek into Children’s Pandemic Worries

Jim, from Taiwan, slipped a face mask inside the greeting card he sent to Santa and marked “I (heart) u.” Alina, 5, asked in her Santa letter written with an adult’s help that he please use the front door when he drops in, because the back door is reserved for Grandma and Grandpa to minimize their risk of contamination.  And spilling out her heavy little heart to “Dear Father Christmas,” 10-year-old Lola wrote that she is wishing “that my aunt never has cancer again and that this virus no longer exists.”  “My mother is a care-giver and sometimes I am scared for her,” Lola explained, signing off her handwritten letter with, “Take care of yourself Father Christmas, and of the Elves.”  The emotional toll wrought by the pandemic is jumping off pages in the deluge of “Dear Santa” letters now pouring into a post office in southwest France that sorts and responds to his mail from around the world.  
 
Arriving by the tens of thousands, the letters, notes and cards — some mere scribbles, other elaborate labors of love in colored pens — are revealing windows into the tender minds of their young authors, and of adult Santa fans also asking for respite and happiness, at the tail end of a year of sickness and tumult.  Like this letter from young Zoe, who limited her requests to a music player and amusement park tickets because “this year has been very different from others because of COVID-19.”  “That’s why I am not asking you for many thing(s) to avoid infection,” Zoe wrote, signing off with “Merci!” and a heart.  In theory, and often in practice, any letter addressed “Pere Noel” — French for Father Christmas — and slipped into any post box around the world is likely to wend its way to the sorting office in France’s Bordeaux region that has been handling his mail since 1962. Toiling out of sight among vineyards, his secretariat of workers (who call themselves “elves”) spends the months of November and December slicing open envelopes decorated with hearts, stickers and colors, and spreading Santa magic by responding on his behalf.  From the first letters opened at the secretariat from Nov. 12, it quickly became apparent how the pandemic is weighing on children, says the chief elf, Jamila Hajji. Along with the usual pleas for toys and gadgets were also requests for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was. One letter in three mentions the pandemic in some way, Hajji says.  “The kids have been very affected by COVID, more than we think. They are very worried. And what they want most of all, apart from presents, is really to be able to have a normal life, the end of COVID, a vaccine,” she says.  “The letters to Father Christmas are a sort of release for them. All this year, they have been in lockdowns, they have been deprived of school, deprived of their grandpas and grandmas. Their parents have been occupied by the health crisis and whatnot. So we, of course, can tell that the children are putting into words everything they have felt during this period.”  “We are like elf therapists,” she adds.  Replying to 12,000 letters per day, the team of 60 elves sets aside some that move them or catch the eye. Lola’s is among those that have stood out so far, with its heartfelt confession to Santa that “this year more than the others, I need magic and to believe in you.” The elves say their sense is that children are confiding worries that they may not have shared with parents.  Emma Barron, a psychiatrist specializing in the mental health of children and adolescents at the Robert Debré pediatric hospital in Paris, says landmark dates, including birthdays and holidays like Christmas, provide structure in childhood. Amid the pandemic’s uncertainty, the Dec. 25 anchor of Christmas is particularly important to kids this year.  “Children are quite surprising in that they can adapt to many things,” Barron says. “But rhythms, rituals and things like that are an integral part of children’s mental stability.”  As the letters flood in, it’s also clear that this goes beyond childhood. Santa is proving a beacon to adults, too, with some writing to him for the first time since they were kids.  One asked for “a pandemic of love.” A 77-year-old lamented that “lockdown is no fun! I live alone.” A grandparent asked Santa to “say ‘Hi’ to my two grandkids that I won’t be able to see this year because of the health situation.”  “Your mission will be hard this year,” wrote Anne-Marie, another adult suppliant. “You will need to sprinkle stars across the entire world, to calm everyone and revive our childhood souls, so we can dream, at last, and let go.”

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Iranian Diplomat on Trial in Belgium, Charged with Plotting Attack

An Iranian diplomat and three other Iranian citizens went on trial in Belgium Friday for allegedly plotting to bomb a 2018 rally of the Paris-based National Council Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an opposition group in exile.Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based diplomat Assadolah Assadi and the other Iranians for the alleged plot against the gathering, where the keynote speaker was U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.Assadi was arrested in Germany while on holiday and handed over to Belgium.He refused to appear in court the first day of the trial in Antwerp, claiming diplomatic immunity through his lawyer.”My client asked me to represent him today, he let me know he has the fullest respect for these judges but as he considers that he should benefit from immunity, they are not allowed to judge him,” his lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, told reporters outside the court.Assadi was the third-highest ranking official at Iran’s embassy in Vienna and, according to French officials, he was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe.Tehran has repeatedly denied the charges, saying the allegations are a “false flag” stunt by the NCRI, which Iran considers a terrorist group.This is the first time a European Union country is adjudicating a case on terrorism charges involving an Iranian government official.

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Hundreds Sentenced to Life Terms in 2016 Turkey Coup Attempt

A Turkish court on Thursday handed down life sentences to more than 300 military and civilian personnel who had been on trial for three years for their roles in a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in July 2016.They were among 475 people who had gone on trial in August 2017 in connection with the failed coup. The takeover attempt left more than 250 people dead and 2,000 people injured.The incident led to a massive crackdown; 130,000 people were fired from their government jobs.Prosecutors accused the defendants in the mass trial, including some generals and fighter jet pilots, of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including a section of Turkey’s parliament. They were also accused of holding then-military chief Hulusi Akar, who now serves as defense minister, captive for several hours. Authorities say the defendants directed the plot from the Akinci base outside the capital, Ankara.A Turkish soldier patrols next to the entrance of the Sincan Penal Institution at the 4th Heavy Penal Court near Ankara, on Nov. 26, 2020.The defendants were also accused of working at the behest of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of masterminding the action. He has denied any wrongdoing. Turkey has sought his extradition.The court ruled that Gulen and four others wanted by the Turkish authorities should be tried separately.Seventy people were acquitted in the case, while some received prison sentences of between six and 16 years.The deputy chairman of Erdogan’s Justice and Development party, Leyla Sahin Usta, speaking to state-run Anadolu news agency, said the party is “experiencing the joy of seeing the defendants, who were already put on trial by the public’s conscience, receive their punishment.” The chairman also said the development Thursday marked “the end of the era of coups in Turkey.”Loved ones of some defendants said they were not happy with the outcome. Busra Taskiran, fiancee of a trainee F-16 pilot, told The Associated Press her boyfriend and other trainee pilots were “convicted today for life, despite not taking part in the coup attempt.” She said they fought against the coup “by locking themselves in a room.”The father of another convicted trainee pilot, Alper Kalin, said the court did not consider evidence that could have proved the innocence of some trainees.

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Paris Police Suspended Over Beating of Black Man

A Black man beaten by several French police officers said he is seeking justice after the publication of videos showing officers repeatedly punching him, using a truncheon and tear gas against him for no apparent reason.French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the officers involved in the case suspended.The incident came as President Emmanuel Macron’s government is pushing a new bill that restricts the ability to film police, which has prompted protests from civil liberties groups and journalists concerned that it would allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.Demonstrators gather during a protest against a bill on police images, in Paris, Nov. 21, 2020.Videos first published on Thursday by French news website Loopsider show the violent arrest of a music producer, Michel Zecler, in the 17th arrondissement or district of the French capital on Saturday.The video images obtained by The Associated Press, both from a security camera inside the studio and filmed by neighbors outside, show three officers following Zecler inside his music studio, where they can be seen repeatedly punching him and beating him with a truncheon.Zecler told AP he feels good now that “the truth is out.””I want to understand why I have been assaulted by people who were wearing a police uniform. I want justice actually, because I believe in the justice of my country,” he said.Zecler said that the officers hurled repeated insults at him, including a very strong racist epithet.He added that he still does not understand why officers decided to arrest him. He suffered injuries to his head, forearms and legs.His lawyer, Hafida El Ali, said: “He asked them what they wanted, if they wanted to check his identity. … They didn’t stop beating him, the video of the violence (inside the studio) lasts for 12 minutes.”At some point the officers called in reinforcements and went outside. They then threw a tear gas grenade into the studio to get those inside to come out, according El Ali.El Ali said that nine others who were recording music in the studio basement were also beaten.”Outside they are still beaten up and thrown to the ground and that’s the moment when a police officer sees they are being filmed,” she said. Then the violence stops.Zecler was taken into custody.Zecler’s lawyer stressed the value of the videos in her client’s case.”These videos are essential because initially my client was being detained … for violence against people with public authority,” El Ali said. “This is very serious. The reality is that if we didn’t have these videos maybe my client would be in prison.”Darmanin tweeted that the body that investigates allegations of police misconduct, the Inspectorate General of the National Police, known by its French acronym IGPN, is looking into the case, saying, “I want disciplinary proceedings as soon as possible.”The Paris prosecutor’s office is also investigating the police actions. The prosecutor’s office said Thursday it has dropped the proceedings against Zecler that were opened the day of his arrest.It’s the second such police brutality investigation in Paris this week prompted by video footage. The government ordered an internal police investigation on Tuesday after police officers were filmed tossing migrants out of tents and intentionally tripping one while evacuating a protest camp.That same day, France’s lower house of Parliament approved a draft law meant to strengthen local police and provide greater protection to all officers. It notably makes it a crime to publish images of officers with intent to cause them harm. The bill, which enjoys public support after recent terrorist attacks, will now go to the Senate. 

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Former French President Sarkozy Faces Corruption Charges

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy went on trial Thursday to face corruption charges.  Sarkozy is accused of trying to bribe a judge to obtain information about an investigation into his 2007 presidential campaign.  The former head of state insists he is innocent.It is not every day that you see a former president walking into a courtroom with his lawyers to stand trial. This unusual scene is going on in Paris where Nicolas Sarkozy is facing charges of bribery and influence peddling.Jean-Claude Beaujour is a lawyer of the France-Ameriques association. He details the case for VOA.“It is very unusual for a former head of state in France to be prosecuted for corruption,” Beaujour said. “Former president Sarkozy is suspected for having attempted to bribe a high ranking judge in exchange for information in an ongoing judicial case concerning Nicolas Sarkozy itself.”Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised a plush job in Monaco to a judge, in exchange for inside information on a separate inquiry into claims he accepted illicit payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign. Sarkozy has always denied the accusations.Judges are basing their case on evidence recorded from wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer. They are part of another probe into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.The former one-term French president contests the legality of the wiretapping.  He defended himself earlier this month in an interview with French channel BFMTV.Sarkozy regrets that all his private life was wiretapped. According to him, it is scandalous that attorney-client privilege was not respected as phone conversations are protected per the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence. “I am not a crook and I am going through is a scandal,” Sarkozy insisted.The trial is expected to last three weeks.  If found guilty, Sarkozy could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of $1.2 million.

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British Journalists Say Abuse and Assault Becoming ‘Normalized’

Journalists in Britain say they are facing an increasingly hostile atmosphere, with intimidation, physical assault and online abuse now seen as routine and ‘part of the job’. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Camera: Henry Ridgwell

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World Shares Hold Close to Record Highs; U.S. Markets Close for Thanksgiving

Global stocks held near record highs on Thursday, while the rally in European stocks paused, as recent vaccine progress, Joe Biden’s U.S. presidential election win and hopes for further stimulus kept markets bullish.
World equities are having their best month on record in November, boosted by a slew of positive vaccine announcements and hopes that Biden’s administration will deliver more economic stimulus and political stability.
The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, rose to a record high on Wednesday and held close to it on Thursday, up 0.1% on the day at 1142 GMT, as markets shrugged off the latest rise in U.S. jobless claims.
Europe’s STOXX 600, which is also having its best month on record, up 14.4% in November, was down 0.1% on the day.
“The market’s very much looking forward to 2021 and the time when vaccines will be rolled out and economic activity can get back to normal,” said Kiran Ganesh, a multi-asset strategist at UBS.
Ganesh said that the equities rally is “particularly driven by the rotation trade away from large caps and towards small caps, away from the U.S. and towards Europe, and away from technology and towards some of the cyclicals.”
Markets also took a boost from minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Nov. 4-5 meeting, which showed that officials discussed how the central bank’s asset purchases could be adjusted to provide additional support to the economy.
The minutes said policymakers may give new guidance about its bond-buying “fairly soon”.
“2021 is going to be a year of economic catch-up,” said Samy Chaar, chief economist at Lombard Odier. “When you keep the pandemic contained and under control, economic activity catches up very quick.”
The U.S. dollar slipped overnight, then recovered during the European session. Versus a basket of currencies, it was flat on the day at 92.056 at 1153 GMT, having touched its lowest in nearly three months in early London trading.
It also lost out versus the safe-haven Japanese yen, down 0.2% on the day at 104.24 at 1154 GMT.
U.S. markets were closed for Thanksgiving on Thursday. Biden urged Americans to avoid big family gatherings and to wear protective masks and maintain social distancing as COVID-19 cases soar.
In France and Germany, consumer confidence plunged in November under new lockdown restrictions, challenging the idea of a quick return to normal in the euro zone’s two biggest economies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament that lockdown measures will be in place until at least the end of December and possibly longer.
The euro was down 0.1% against the dollar, at $1.1902 at 1159 GMT. Euro-sterling was up 0.2% at 89.12 .
UK investors were watching trade talks between Britain and the European Union, with little more than a month until the status-quo transition period ends on Dec. 31.
Britain’s finance minister said on Thursday that “it’s clear what the shape of the deal looks like” but that the United Kingdom would not sign a deal at any cost.
The UK announced this week new restrictions on activity that will apply after the month-long lockdown ends on Dec. 2. London’s FTSE 100 was down 0.5%.
Euro zone government bonds were little changed, with Germany’s benchmark Bund yield at -0.576% .
Oil prices slipped, stalling a rally which saw futures hit their highest in nearly eight months on Wednesday.
Gold prices picked up as investors bet that the grim U.S. economic data would lead to further stimulus.

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Bulgaria: Parliament Rejects Draft New Constitution

The Bulgarian parliament on Wednesday rejected a controversial plan by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to rewrite the constitution, which he submitted in August in an attempt to defuse the political crisis.   This proposal, recently criticized by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s consultative body on constitutional matters, received only 110 votes in favor, while a qualified majority of 160 out of 240 deputies was needed to continue the procedure. The Conservative government had launched such an initiative to try to weaken the protest movement, which vehemently denounces its alleged links with the oligarchy. But this decision, seen as a maneuver to buy time and stay in power until the general elections were held in March 2021, provoked a strong reaction from the demonstrators. Clashes with the police left more than 45 injured in Sofia in early September.   The project brought for its detractors no limitation of the power of the Attorney General Ivan Geshev, today untouchable, whose resignation is demanded by the protesters.   Deploring “a missed opportunity,” the Venice Commission regretted, in a press release, “that the launch of the constitutional reform was not preceded by an appropriate public debate, that the project was drawn up within the majority Parliament, apparently without any external input, and that the reasons for certain amendments were not well explained.”    The demonstrations brought together thousands of people for more than 100 days, before becoming scarce in recent weeks, in particular because of the health situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Train Gunman Tells French Court His Target Was Only US Soldiers

The gunman charged over a foiled 2015 train attack told a French court Wednesday that he had targeted only American soldiers, after refusing instructions from an Islamic State ringleader to kill members of the European Commission he was falsely told were in the train car.Ayoub El Khazzani, who had been armed with an arsenal of weapons including a Kalashnikov assault rifle, said the attack on the fast train from Amsterdam to Paris was planned as an act of vengeance for bombings of civilians in Syria, which he saw during a brief stay there.The monthlong trial for attempted terrorist murder opened Nov. 16. El Khazzani risks life in prison if convicted. Three accomplices, who were not on the train, sat beside him in the heavily guarded Paris courtroom.El Khazzani, a Moroccan, wounded a French-American who managed to briefly yank the Kalashnikov from his hands before the three vacationing Americans — who were long-time friends — took him down. Two of the three men were in the military but wearing civilian clothes.The Aug. 21, 2015, attack was allegedly planned by terrorist mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud with whom he traveled back to Europe. Abaaoud was killed by French special forces shortly after the Nov. 13 Paris massacre at a music hall and restaurants that left 130 people dead, just months after the foiled train attack.Abaaoud was thought to be the coordinator of the November attacks and was portrayed in court as the man behind the plot to carry out an attack on the train. One passenger, Mark Moogalian, who wrenched the Kalashnikov from the attacker as he emerged from a toilet, was injured in the back. El Khazzani told the court he had only meant to shoot him in the hand.The drama on the train is portrayed by investigators as one of a series of IS-linked attacks in Europe.”He put hate in my heart,” El Khazzani said of Abaaoud.He said Abaaoud told him there were to be members of the European Commission in car 12 and three to five American soldiers.The defendant could not explain how he was expected to recognize them or other targets. There were no known European officials in the first-class car. He said that in any event “I changed my mind” about killing anyone else on his mission. Asked whether he had repented, he said yes.

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Train Gunman Tells French Court His Target Was Only US Soldiers

The gunman charged over a foiled 2015 train attack told a French court Wednesday that he had targeted only American soldiers, after refusing instructions from an Islamic State ringleader to kill members of the European Commission he was falsely told were in the train car.Ayoub El Khazzani, who had been armed with an arsenal of weapons including a Kalashnikov assault rifle, said the attack on the fast train from Amsterdam to Paris was planned as an act of vengeance for bombings of civilians in Syria, which he saw during a brief stay there.The monthlong trial for attempted terrorist murder opened Nov. 16. El Khazzani risks life in prison if convicted. Three accomplices, who were not on the train, sat beside him in the heavily guarded Paris courtroom.El Khazzani, a Moroccan, wounded a French-American who managed to briefly yank the Kalashnikov from his hands before the three vacationing Americans — who were long-time friends — took him down. Two of the three men were in the military but wearing civilian clothes.The Aug. 21, 2015, attack was allegedly planned by terrorist mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud with whom he traveled back to Europe. Abaaoud was killed by French special forces shortly after the Nov. 13 Paris massacre at a music hall and restaurants that left 130 people dead, just months after the foiled train attack.Abaaoud was thought to be the coordinator of the November attacks and was portrayed in court as the man behind the plot to carry out an attack on the train. One passenger, Mark Moogalian, who wrenched the Kalashnikov from the attacker as he emerged from a toilet, was injured in the back. El Khazzani told the court he had only meant to shoot him in the hand.The drama on the train is portrayed by investigators as one of a series of IS-linked attacks in Europe.”He put hate in my heart,” El Khazzani said of Abaaoud.He said Abaaoud told him there were to be members of the European Commission in car 12 and three to five American soldiers.The defendant could not explain how he was expected to recognize them or other targets. There were no known European officials in the first-class car. He said that in any event “I changed my mind” about killing anyone else on his mission. Asked whether he had repented, he said yes.

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