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Macron reveals €1.5 billion plan to regenerate Marseille

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Macron’s aides said much of the money would be spent on improving transport in France’s second-biggest city, as well as investing in culture. The president had already outlined other measures, including boosting the number of police and surveillance cameras in crime-wracked neighbourhoods.

Crime levels in Marseille are lower than they have been in the recent past, but a recent surge in deadly shootings has moved the city’s long-standing social problems higher up the political agenda.

During his three-day visit to the city, Macron has called drug networks “parasites” and said traffickers would now be “harassed” by the authorities.

He said it was now “the duty of the nation” to help, and that improving conditions in the city of 900,000 people would be “good for the whole country”.

But Marseille has seen many grand plans in the past with little effect, and some locals were sceptical. “We see you today but we’ll never see you again, that’s why we’re asking you to do something for the housing estates of Marseille,” said Bilal, a 32-year-old bin collector.

Here are the key takeaways from the President’s announcements.

Fighting the drugs trade

Macron began by addressing the main reason Marseille has drawn national attention in recent weeks: crime. “Crime is becoming more and more violent, largely linked to drug trafficking,” he said.

While the southern port city is renowned for its spectacular Mediterranean setting, some neighbourhoods are notorious for their rundown streets and desolate housing estates.

Its northern districts are some of the most deprived urban areas in France and serve as the hub for the narcotics trade.

READ ALSO Why has a former French Prime Minister suggested flattening Marseille?

Police say 12 people have been killed over the last two months in what appears to be a drugs turf war.

Earlier this year Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced an extra 300 police officers for the city over the next three years. 100 of those are already in place, and the President announced that a further 200 would be brought forward, arriving “as early as 2022”.

Macron added that 500 additional surveillance cameras would be placed in the most dangerous neighbourhoods, and the temporary deployment of two anti-riot police contingents extended indefinitely.

“Living in peace is a right, including for the women, men and families living in these neighbourhoods,” he said.

An additional €8 million will be invested in equipment for police investigations, 222 new police cars and motorbikes will be delivered from next summer, and the city’s police will get a new €150 million headquarters.

Macron also promised more police cooperation at the EU level to hunt down the leaders of narcotics networks.

RER ‘à la Marseillaise

Macron also announced his ambition to ‘open up’ Marseille to the rest of the Mediterranean coast. He promised €1 billion of funding, of which €250 million will be grants, to improve local transportation networks. Much of this will go towards the automation of the metro, and the creation of four new tram lines and five bus routes.

Marseille, a city of 860,000 people, has just two metro lines which date back to the 1970s, as well as three tram lines.

The President also announced funding for the creation of Marseille’s answer to the RER train lines, which link Paris to its suburbs, the refurbishment of the Saint-Charles station, and a new Marseille – Nice train line.

Addressing social problems

In order to combat the city’s social ills, Macron said €17 million would be invested in creating meeting spaces, renovating social and cultural facilities, and recruiting 30 new educators and 30 mediators to help community relations.

READ ALSO Marseille: Why Hollywood can’t get enough of France’s ‘gritty city’

The President’s aides later added that funding would be provided to improve sub-standard housing. Poor quality housing has long been an issue in Marseille, something brought into stark focus by the building collapse in 2018.

‘Schools of the future’

Aides also said there would be funding to help renovate 174 of the city’s dilapidated schools. During his speech, Macron bemoaned the state of the city’s school buildings but said “we are not going to create a precedent” by taking over responsibility from local authorities. However, he added: “If I let Marseille go it alone, it’s simple, these children will live with schools that won’t be renovated at the right pace”.

The state of the buildings is not the only problem facing the city’s schools, however.

The President said he wanted to “invent here the school of the future”, announcing that 50 “laboratory” schools would be chosen to test new methods from September 2022. Notably, these include letting school heads choose their teaching staff. The idea is that only teachers who are fully motivated to teach in “difficult neighbourhoods” would be recruited in those areas.

Healthcare

Another key focus of the speech was healthcare, with Macron announcing €169 million for the refurbishment of the Timone and Nord hospitals, and the construction of a building for paramedics.

He added that doctors will be given grants in the coming months to set up practices in Marseille. “In the heart of the second city in France, there are medical deserts,” he said.



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The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture

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Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.

Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.

Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”

The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.

The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.

But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.

This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.

View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.
View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.José Francisco Yusta

Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”

Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.

According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”

Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”

Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.

Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.

“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Ex-Ireland rugby player charged with stealing almost €600,000 from BOI

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Former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin is to face trial accused of deception, false accounting and theft of close to €600,000 from Bank of Ireland where he held a senior executive position.

Mullin (57) appeared at Dublin District Court on Tuesday following an investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) into bank fraud allegations going back a decade.

The former rugby star won 55 Irish caps between 1984 and 1995 before he went into financial services and became managing director at Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd.

He was arrested at 9.08am on Tuesday when he met gardaí in Dublin city-centre. He was brought to the Bridewell Garda station where he was charged with 15 offences which allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.

He is accused of stealing €500,000 on December 16th 2011, at Bank of Ireland Private Bank at Burlington Plaza, Burlington Road, Dublin 4.

Mr Mullin, of Albert Lodge, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is charged with eight further thefts of amounts totalling €73,000 from the bank.

Five counts of false accounting were also put to him.

He was also charged with deception by inducing a named man and woman to sign a payment instruction with the intention of making gain for himself or another on July 27th, 2011.

Dressed in a grey suit and light blue shirt, he sat silently during his hearing before Judge Michael Walsh.

GNECB Detective Sean O’Riordan told the court Mr Mullin made no comment when charged.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has directed trial on indictment meaning his case will go before a judge and jury in the circuit court.

The DPP has also stated that he can be sent forward for sentencing on a signed plea, should that arise, but defence solicitor Robert Purcell told Judge Walsh a book of evidence will be required.

Bail terms had been agreed, Judge Walsh noted, and it was set in Mr Mullin’s own bond of €10,000.

He was ordered to surrender his passport but this was not made a precondition of release; Judge Walsh warned him that it must be handed over to gardai within 48 hours of taking up bail.

Mr Mullin needed to travel for work purposes and that could be done once the GNECB detective is notified in advance, the judge said.

He must appear again at the District Court on November 11th next to be served with the book of evidence by the prosecution.

A trial order can then be granted.

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Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

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The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, is believed to be the first in Germany linked to the government’s coronavirus rules.

The row started when the cashier, a student, told the customer to put on a face mask, as required in all German shops. After a brief argument, the man left.

The suspect then returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he brought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off the mask and another discussion ensued.

“The perpetrator then pulled out a revolver and shot him straight in the head,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters on Monday.

The suspect, a 49-year-old German man, walked to a police station the following day to turn himself in. He was arrested and has confessed to the murder.

He told police he felt “cornered” by the coronavirus measures, which he perceived as an “ever-growing infringement on his rights” and he had seen “no other way out”, Fuhrmann said.

Idar-Oberstein mayor Frank Fruehauf called it “an unfathomable, terrible act”, and residents have laid flowers and candles outside the petrol station.

The murder comes just days before Germans head to the polls for a general election on September 26 that will see Chancellor Angela Merkel bow out of politics after 16 years.

Katrin Goering-Eckardt, the parliamentary leader of the Green party, tweeted that she was “deeply shaken” by the killing, which she said was “the cruel result of hatred”.

Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner from Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, who hails from the region, said the murder was “shocking”.

The Tagesspiegel newspaper said far-right chat groups on Telegram were applauding the murder, with one user writing “Here we go!!!” while others posted thumbs-up emojis.

Germany has seen repeated protests from anti-mask demonstrators throughout the pandemic, some of them attracting tens of thousands of people.

The Querdenker (Lateral Thinkers) movement has emerged as the loudest voice against the government’s coronavirus curbs and regulations. Its marches have drawn a wide mix of people, including vaccine sceptics, neo-Nazis and members of Germany’s far-right AfD party.



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