Canada wildfire: Oil workers urged to leave Fort McMurray camps

Around 12,000 people have been urged to leave Canada’s oil sands camps near the fire-hit town of Fort McMurray as a resurgent wildfire heads towards them.

A regional official told the BBC that 8,000 people were given precautionary evacuation orders late on Monday, in addition to some 4,000 who had already been advised to leave.

More than 80,000 people fled the fire that hit Fort McMurray two weeks ago.

Air pollution in the Alberta city is still at dangerously high levels.

A reading on Monday found the level to be 38 – far exceeding the provincial index’s most dangerous level of 10.

The vast fire had moved away from Fort McMurray but in recent days it has started to threaten the area again.

A number of oil workers had begun in recent days to return to the oil facilities north and south of Fort McMurray to restart production.

But on Monday, they were warned that the wildfire was travelling at 30-40 metres per minute north of Fort McMurray.


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French female ministers decry sexual harassment

Seventeen women who have served as ministers in France say they will no longer be silent about sexual harassment in politics.

All 17 signatories to the declaration are current or former ministers.

Among them is Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund and France’s former finance minister.

On Monday, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Denis Baupin, resigned over sexual harassment claims, which he denies.

In the declaration, the women call for a toughening of the law against sexual harassment, as well as specialist desks set up in police stations to deal with such complaints.

Examples of some of the sexual harassment suffered by the women are also given in the article.

It explains that Fleur Pellerin, who was culture minister in Francois Hollande’s Socialist government from 2014 until this February this year, rarely suffered harassment until she was appointed to office.

After her first appointment in government, she was asked by a male journalist if she was given the job “because you are a beautiful woman”.

“They feel entitled to have a laugh and to make unwelcome gestures such as patting a woman on the buttocks,” another signatory, former Women’s Rights Minister Yvette Roudy, told French news channel La Chaine Info on Sunday.

“Some women aren’t so offended but others are very offended and are now speaking out. It’s time women talk about it and make it known that they are not being complimented but are effectively being treated as whores.”

Denis Baupin groped one female Green Party member and sent explicit messages to others, female former Green Party colleagues said in interviews in French media last week.

France Inter said the women chose to come forward after Mr Baupin gave his support in March to a high-profile campaign criticising violence against women.

One of his accusers, Green Party spokeswoman Sandrine Rousseau, said Mr Baupin had groped her breast in a corridor and tried to kiss her.

His lawyer said Mr Baupin could sue the women who made the allegations.

Mr Baupin’s wife, Emmanuelle Cosse, who is the housing minister in Mr Hollande’s government, was not among the signatories.

Attitudes to privacy, sex and sexual harassment in France were also brought into the spotlight in May 2011, when former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York over the alleged rape of a hotel maid. The charges were eventually dismissed.

In March 2012 he faced another serious scandal, when French police launched an investigation over his alleged involvement with a gang suspected of hiring prostitutes. He was later cleared of the charge of “aggravated pimping”.

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US activates $800m missile shield base in Romania

The US has activated a land-based missile defence station in Romania, which will form part of a larger and controversial European shield.

Senior US and Nato officials attended the ceremony in Deveselu, southern Romania.

The US says the Aegis system is a shield to protect Nato countries from short and medium-range missiles, particularly from the Middle East.

But Russia sees it as a security threat – a claim denied by Nato.

Relations between the West and Russia have deteriorated since Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other senior officials from the military alliance attended the opening ceremony at an old Romanian air base in Deveselu., 180km (110 miles) south-west of Bucharest.

The site hosts radar and SM-2 missile interceptors, and will be integrated into Nato’s missile shield when the bloc meets this summer.

Both Nato and US officials have attempted to reassure Russia that the shield in Romania, and a similar one in Poland, does not undermine Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

“The interceptors are too few and located too far south or too close to Russia to be able to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

He said the interceptors were designed “instead to tackle the potential threat posed by short and medium- range attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area”.

But Russia says installing such shields in countries on its doorstep is a threat to its security.

“Who will this system be against?” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, questioned. “To begin with the explanation we were given was a potential rocket attack from Iran… Now we know the situation has changed dramatically.”


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Belgium prison strike: Army mobilised to help

Belgium has sent in 180 soldiers to help with staff shortages in prisons affected by a strike for the last two weeks.

The army are to assist the police and the Red Cross who have been working in jails since the strike began.

Soldiers have already been deployed to three of the largest prisons affected, Lantin, Saint-Gilles and Forest.

Prison employees in Brussels and French-speaking Wallonia are on strike over staffing levels.

Ministers decided on Sunday to requisition the army “to provide additional humanitarian support” in the Brussels and Wallonia prisons, Le Soir reports.

Some inmates were not being given basic rights such as three meals a day, showers and family visits, it said.

‘No money’

Belgian Human Rights League President Alexis Deswaef said it was the first time the army had been used in a social conflict in Belgium.

Flaws in the prison system, caused by underinvestment, were at least partly to blame for increased radicalisation in Belgian jails, he said.

“There is no money for any social guidance, any psychological guidance, any religious guidance,” he told the BBC.


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Austria election: Far-right tops first round of presidential vote

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party candidate has come top in the first round of presidential elections, preliminary results show.
Norbert Hofer has about 36% of the votes for the mostly ceremonial role – not enough to avoid a run-off in May.
He is likely to face Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent contender backed by the Greens, who is polling 20%.
For the first time since World War Two, the candidates from Austria’s two main parties did not make it to the run-off.
Rudolf Hundstorfer from the Social Democrats and the centre-right People’s Party Andreas Kohl are each thought to have taken about 11% of the vote.
Both parties have governed Austria for decades – either alone or in coalition.
This is a big shake-up in Austrian politics, the BBC’s Bethany Bell in Vienna reports, as the country has had a president from the centre-left or centre-right since 1945.
The clear victory of the far-right candidate reflects widespread discontent with the status quo, as well as concerns about immigration and the economy, our correspondent says.
Support for the Social Democrats and the People’s Party has been falling in recent years.
In the last general elections in 2013, the two parties won just enough votes to govern in a “grand coalition”
If no candidate secures a majority of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections, the run-off will be held on 22 May.
Incumbent President Heinz Fischer, 77, cannot run again after two terms in office.


Schengen: Controversial EU free movement

The Schengen Agreement abolished the EU’s internal borders, enabling passport-free movement across most of the bloc.

But the 13 November attacks by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Paris, which killed 130 people, prompted an urgent rethink.

There was alarm that killers had so easily slipped into Paris from Belgium, and that some had entered the EU with crowds of migrants via Greece.

And in 2015 the influx of more than a million migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – greatly increased the pressure on Schengen.

One after another, EU states reimposed temporary border controls.

In December the European Commission proposed a major amendment to Schengen, expected to become law soon.

Most non-EU travellers have their details checked against police databases at the EU’s external borders. The main change is that the rule will apply to EU citizens as well, who until now had been exempt.

Non-EU nationals who have a Schengen visa generally do not have ID checks once they are travelling inside the zone. But since the Paris atrocity those checks have become more common.




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