On Paris’ Champs Elysees, shattered glass and smoking ruins

A man stand in front of a damaged shop on the Champs Elysees avenue during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, March 16, 2019. Picture taken March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Luke Baker

PARIS (Reuters) – It is meant to be one of the world’s most elegant streets: more than a kilometer of boutiques, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and fashion outlets vying for tourists’ attention. But on Monday, the Champs Elysees looked more like a construction site.

On their 18th Saturday of protests against President Emmanuel Macron and his policies, France’s Gilets Jaunes (‘yellow vest’) movement targeted the tree-lined avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe, smashing banks, ransacking restaurants, burning newspaper kiosks and looting luxury stores.

From GAP to leather goods maker Longchamp, from Levis to high-end bakery Laduree, a hard core of violent protesters threw cobble stones through pane-glass windows, scrawled graffiti on walls, set fire to half a dozen newspaper stands and torched famed restaurant Le Fouquet’s in an orgy of destruction.

Whether the Disney store or Samsung, Tissot, Zara or Dior, few major retailers were left untouched by the rampage, which also took in a cinema, Hugo Boss, a Renault branded cafe, an Iran Air office and banks from Societe Generale to HSBC.

Among those that did emerge unscathed, perhaps thanks to heavy boarding-up after previous bouts of vandalism, were Apple’s flagship store, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton.

Carpenters were cutting wood to board up shattered windows on Monday morning, and glass panes were being replaced in some bus-stops and storefronts, but stretches of the wide avenue remained a mess, with the smell of charred paper and metal hanging over the incinerated carcasses of newspaper kiosks.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” said Michael Bilaniuk, a tourist from Ontario, Canada who said he had come straight to the Champs Elysees to check out the scene after arriving in France, aware that the Gilets Jaunes had been on the rampage.

“It’s almost part of the tourist attraction — we’ve heard and seen so much about the protests, you kind of want to come and see for yourself what’s happened. It’s interesting.”

Nearby, protesters’ slogans were written across a storefront and the elegant entranceway to a gallery of shops.

“They have millions, we are the millions” read one. Another threatened: “We are a legion, you are pawns, be careful.”

“PROTEST TOO FAR”

Since the ‘yellow vest’ movement began in November, originally as a protest against fuel taxes before morphing into a general denunciation of Macron’s politics, the government has struggled to neutralize the threat.

While there has been a protest every Saturday in Paris and other cities since November, not all of them have been as violent and destructive as Saturday’s, which has made it hard for businesses to predict how to prepare.

While some retailers began boarding up their shops after rioting in early December, in recent weeks the numbers joining the protests declined sharply and many store owners may have thought it was safe to operate normally again.

France’s overall retail sales were affected at the end of 2018 because of nationwide disruption in the run-up to Christmas, and after Saturday’s vandalism, Paris’ Chamber of Commerce called for action from the government.

“Employers and their staff have been traumatized by the intensity and repetition of the violence,” the chamber said in a statement on Monday, pointing out that more than 90 businesses had been affected.

“Last Saturday’s demonstrations have taken things too far,” it said, demanding that the government take “firm measures that will allow retailers to go about their business normally”.

(Writing by Luke Baker, Editing by William Maclean)

North Carolina protesters pull down university’s Confederate statue

Students and protesters surround plinth where the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam once stood, on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Jonathan Drake

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Reuters) – Protesters toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier on the campus of University of North Carolina, the latest move to dismantle Civil War symbols amid debate about race and the legacy of slavery in the United States.

About 300 demonstrators gathered on Monday evening ahead of Tuesday’s first day of fall classes for a protest and march at the base of Silent Sam, a memorial erected in 1913 to the soldiers of the pro-slavery Confederacy killed during the Civil War. Protesters pulled the statue down with rope, cheering as it lay face down in the mud, its head and back covered in dirt.

University Chancellor Carol Folt acknowledged the protesters’ frustrations but criticized their conduct as vandalism.

Police and protesters surround the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Police and protesters surround the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

“The monument has been divisive for years,” she said in a statement. “However, last night’s actions were unlawful and dangerous and we are very fortunate that no one was injured.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, echoed the sentiment, saying in a statement he shared protesters “frustration” over statues but condemning the violent destruction of public property.

Campus police arrested at least one person at the protest for masking their face and resisting arrest, according to Audrey Smith, a university spokeswoman.

The efforts by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam gained momentum three years ago after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

Since then, more than 110 symbols of the Confederacy have been removed across the nation with more than 1,700 still standing, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group. Many of the monuments were erected in the early 20th century, decades after the Civil War’s end.

Many Americans see such statues as symbols of racism and glorification of the southern states’ defense of slavery in the Civil War. Others view them as important symbols of American history.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Bill Trott)

Duke University removes contentious Confederate statue after vandalism

The empty plinth where a statue of Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee once stood is flanked by statues of Thomas Jefferson and the poet Sidney Lanier at the entrance to Duke University's Duke Chapel after officials removed the controversial statue early Saturday morning in Durham, North Carolina, U.S., August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Duke University removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus, officials said on Saturday, days after it was vandalized.

The decision to take down the statue followed discussions among students, faculty, staff and alumni about maintaining safety on campus, university President Vincent E. Price said in a statement.

“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” Price said.

The prestigious university will preserve the statue of Lee, who led Confederate forces in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and use it as an educational tool so that students can study “Duke’s complex past,” Price added.

The Confederacy, comprised of 11 Southern states, broke from the Union largely to preserve the institution of slavery.

Symbols of the Confederacy have come into focus since last weekend, when white nationalists, angered at the planned removal of a statue of Lee from a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, engaged in violent protests where a counter-protester was killed.

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of 10 outside Duke Chapel, was vandalized and defaced late on Wednesday night. Campus security discovered the damage early Thursday, according to university officials. The incident was under investigation.

“Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” Price said.

“We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination,” he said.

Duke will form a committee to advise the school on how to properly memorialize historical figures on campus, and to recommend teaching programs, exhibitions and forums to explore its past.

There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy, including 700 monuments and statues, in public spaces across the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War ended in 1865. Many went up early in the 20th century during a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.

More than a half-dozen have been taken down since last week.

 

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Lincoln Memorial in Washington defaced with expletive

Tourists walks past a papered-over column where a vandal scrawled obscene graffiti in spray paint on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S. August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Lincoln Memorial in the U.S. capital was spray painted with expletive graffiti that was discovered on Tuesday, days after violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, over an American Civil War-era monument.

The graffiti appeared to read “f*** law” spray painted in red on a column of the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, the American president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the United States.

The National Park Service said in a statement that it was removing the graffiti from the monument and a Smithsonian Institution directional sign blocks away that was also vandalized with spray paint.

The U.S. Park Police said in the statement that they were investigating.

The graffiti marks the second time this year that the Lincoln Memorial, one of Washington, D.C.’s major tourist attractions, was defaced. In February, the monument to Lincoln, the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial, were vandalized with a marker pen.

The Park Service said that a monument preservation crew was removing the graffiti at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday using a mild paint stripper.

A Park Service photo showed the graffiti on a column of the memorial, and Twitter erupted with opinions on whether it said “law” or “Islam.”

“Could the person who defaced the Lincoln Memorial please come back and write more clearly so we know who to be mad at,” comedy writer Chase Mitchell wrote on Twitter.

Lincoln was president during the 1861-65 Civil War, and the vandalism was found days after deadly weekend violence at a far-right rally at a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The unrest has intensified a national debate over whether monuments to the pro-slavery Confederacy are symbols of heritage or hate.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Marcy Nicholson)

Brazil cities paralyzed by nationwide strike against austerity

A demonstrators holds a placard in front of a burning barricade during a protest against President Michel Temer's proposal to reform Brazil's social security system in the early hours of general strike in Brasilia, Brazil, April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Brad Brooks and Pedro Fonseca

SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Nationwide strikes led by Brazilian unions to protest President Michel Temer’s austerity measures crippled public transport in several major cities early on Friday across this continent-sized nation, while factories, businesses and schools closed.

In the economic hub of Sao Paulo, the main tourist draw Rio de Janeiro and several other metropolitan areas, protesters used barricades of burning tires and other materials to block highways and access to major airports.

Police clashed with demonstrators in several cities, blocking protesters from entering airports and firing tear gas in efforts to free roadways.

Many workers were expected to heed the call to strike for 24 hours starting just after midnight Friday, due in part to anger about progression this week of congressional bills to weaken labor regulations and efforts to change social security that would force many Brazilians to work years longer before drawing a pension. In addition, the strike will extend a holiday weekend ahead of Labor Day on Monday.

This will be Brazil’s first general strike in more than two decades if it gets widespread participation.

Authorities boarded up windows of government buildings in national capital Brasilia on Thursday, fearing violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Demonstrations are expected in other major cities across the Latin American nation of more than 200 million people.

“It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil,” said Paulo Pereira da Silva, the president of trade union group Forca Sindical.

Violent protests have occurred repeatedly during the past four years amid political turmoil, Brazil’s worst recession on record, and corruption investigations that revealed stunning levels of graft among politicians.

Nearly a third of Temer’s cabinet and key congressional allies came under investigation in the scandal this month, and approval ratings for the president, who replaced Dilma Rousseff last year after her impeachment, have fallen even further.

Rousseff’s Workers Party grew out of the labor movement, and her allies have called her removal for breaking budget rules an illegitimate coup.

“Temer does not even want to negotiate,” said Vagner Freitas, national president of the Central Workers Union (CUT), Brazil’s biggest labor confederation, said in a statement. “He just wants to meet the demands of the businessmen who financed the coup precisely to end social security and legalize the exploitation of workers.”

Marcio de Freitas, a spokesman for Temer, rejected the union’s criticism, saying the government was working to undo the economic damage wrought under the Workers Party government, which had the backing of the CUT.

“The inheritance of that was 13 million unemployed,” he said. “The government is carrying out reforms to change this situation, to create jobs and economic growth.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janiero; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Von Ahn)

Hooded youths in Venezuela mar opposition efforts at peaceful protest

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrator sits next to a fire barricade on a street during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron/File Photo

By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Protesters blocked a highway in Venezuela’s capital Caracas for nearly eight hours this week in an effort to show the opposition’s dedication to civil disobedience as their main tool to resist President Nicolas Maduro.

But by the end of the afternoon, hooded youths had filled the highway with burning debris, looted a government storage site, torched two trucks and stolen medical equipment from an ambulance.

“This is no peaceful protest, they’re damaging something that belongs to the state and could be used to help one of their own family members,” said Wilbani Leon, head of a paramedic team that services Caracas highways, showing the damage to the ambulance.

Anti-government demonstrations entering their fourth week are being marred by street violence despite condemnation by opposition leaders and clear instructions that the protests should be peaceful.

Such daytime violence also increasingly presages late-night looting of businesses in working-class areas of Caracas, a sign that political protests could extend into broad disruptions of public order driven by growing hunger.

The opposition’s so-far unsuccessful struggle to contain its violent factions has helped Maduro depict it as a group of thugs plotting to overthrow him the way opposition leaders briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2002.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, VIOLENT PROTEST

The unrest has killed at least 29 people so far and was triggered by a Supreme Court decision in March to briefly assume powers of the opposition Congress. Maduro’s opponents say the former bus driver and union leader who took office four years ago has turned into a dictator.

The vast majority of demonstrators shun the violence that usually starts when marches are winding down or after security forces break up protests.

That gives way to small groups of protesters, many with faces covered, who set fire to trash and rip gates off private establishments or drag sheet metal from construction sites to build barricades.

They clash with security forces in confused melees. Police and troops break up the demonstrations by firing copious amounts of tear gas that often floods nearby apartment buildings and in some cases health clinics.

The opposition has blamed the disturbances on infiltrators planted by the ruling Socialist Party to delegitimize protests, which demand Maduro hold delayed elections and respect the autonomy of the opposition-run Congress.

But even before rallies devolve into street violence, tensions frequently surface between demonstrators seeking peaceful civil disobedience and those looking for confrontation – some of whom are ordinary Venezuelans angry over chronic product shortages and triple-digit inflation.

“If we just ask him ‘Mr. President, would you be so kind as to leave?’ he’s not going to leave,” said Hugo Nino, 38, who use to work at a bakery but lost his job after Maduro passed a resolution boosting state control over bread production.

“Resistance, protesting with anger, that’s how we have to do it,” he said.

He and some others at the Caracas highway sit-in on Monday morning bristled at opposition leaders’ calls for non-violence.

An unrelated group of people collected tree trunks and metal debris to barricade the road. They covered one section with oil, making it dangerous for police motorcycles to cross it.

TRUCKS ON FIRE

By 4 p.m., opposition legislators had started walking through the crowd with megaphones, asking that people leave the protest as had been planned.

The thinning crowd remained calm until a tear gas canister was heard being fired in the distance. Demonstrators reacted by banging on a metal highway barrier with pipes and rocks.

A small group then broke into a government compound that houses cargo trucks and highway-repair materials, and made off with cables, pipes and wooden pallets and other materials for barricades.

The team of paramedics that works in the unguarded compound did nothing to stop them, out of what they said was concern for their personal safety. They did halt two youths trying to steal a car with an eye toward setting it alight.

The demonstrators later set fire to two cargo trucks.

One teenager, stripped from the waist up and with a t-shirt covering his face, urged nearby reporters to take pictures of the blaze but drew the line at appearing himself.

“Delete that video,” he said, pointing to a Reuters reporter filming him.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer; Christian Plumb and Andrew Hay)

Jewish cemetery vandalized in New York, third case in two weeks

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The vandalism of more than a dozen headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester is being investigated by a New York hate crime task force, the third known case of a Jewish cemetery desecration in the country in the last two weeks.

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he ordered the investigation at Waad Hakolel Cemetery given the wave of bomb threats that later proved hoaxes targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has condemned the threats and attacks, although he has at times also questioned whether some perpetrators might be opponents of his seeking to link his new presidency with a rise in anti-Semitism.

Trump’s election campaign last year drew support from some white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

Besides the toppling of headstones at the Rochester cemetery, images of the deceased embedded on at least half a dozen headstones had been scratched away, although it was not clear how long ago, said Karen Elam, the director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

“It’s clear vandalism,” she said in a telephone interview after touring the cemetery on Thursday afternoon to photograph the damage. “Any vandalism of a Jewish cemetery is de facto anti-Semitism.”

Michael Phillips, president of the non-profit organization that oversees the cemetery, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper that there was no proof the vandalization was a case of anti-Semitism, citing the smaller scale of the damage in Rochester.

About 100 headstones were knocked over at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia last weekend, and about 170 headstones were knocked over in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

Officials at the cemetery in Rochester did not return calls seeking comment. In 2014, vandals toppled more than 40 headstones at another Jewish cemetery near Rochester, but local police concluded the vandalism was not motivated by anti-Semitism, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)

Muslims raise $78,000-plus for vandalized Jewish cemetery in Missouri

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Muslim Americans have helped raise more than $78,000 to repair vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, according to an online fundraising page, amid attacks and threats against Jewish institutions.

About 170 headstones were toppled or damaged at the century-old Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery over the weekend, according to cemetery staff.

Some Jewish groups described the vandalism and threats as the latest evidence that anti-Semitic groups have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. His campaign last year drew the support of white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

“Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration,” the fundraisers said on their website. More than 2,700 people had donated $78,546 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Jewish community centers across the United States have reported a surge in bomb threats, all of which have so far proved to be hoaxes. On Wednesday afternoon, the Anti-Defamation League, one of the country’s most prominent Jewish advocacy groups, said its national headquarters in New York City received an anonymous bomb threat but was later given the all clear.

Trump condemned the threats as anti-Semitism for the first time on Tuesday after repeatedly declining to do so when asked by journalists last week. Some Jewish organizations have criticized his approach, saying they fear that the groups that supported Trump had become more active.

The fundraising effort was launched by Linda Sarsour, a liberal political activist, and Tarek El-Messidi, the founding director of Celebrate Mercy, a non-profit organization that teaches the public about Mohammad, the founder of Islam.

On Tuesday night, Sarsour posted on Twitter that she was raising the funds “in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers.”

Sarsour was a supporter of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in his bid to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and went on to become one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, which drew record crowds to the capital on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration.

Cemetery staff, who did not respond to a request for comment, were still calculating the cost of repairing the damaged tombstones as of Tuesday. The organizers of the fundraising campaign said they would donate any excess funds to repair “any other vandalized Jewish centers.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Grant McCool)

Chicago man faces hate crime charge in synagogue vandalism

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A Chicago man has been arrested and charged with a felony hate crime for allegedly smashing the window of a city synagogue and putting swastika stickers on its front door, police said on Wednesday.

Stuart Wright, 31, was arrested by the Chicago Police Department on Tuesday. He has been charged with one felony count of hate crime to a church or synagogue and one felony count of criminal damage.

Wright is scheduled to appear in a Chicago bond court on Thursday, police said in a statement.

Police said Wright smashed the large front window of the Chicago Loop Synagogue early on Saturday and affixed swastika stickers to the building’s front doors.

The attack, which was captured on surveillance video, was condemned by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.

There have been a number of hate and bias incidents reported recently in the United States. In January, a fire gutted a Texas mosque, with federal law enforcement officials ruling it arson.

On Sunday, a story about subway riders in New York working together to clean up neo-Nazi graffiti went viral on social media.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney#)

Mexico gas price hike spurs looting, blockades as unrest spreads

Demonstrators march after gas prices are raised in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans angry over a double-digit hike in gasoline prices looted stores and blockaded roads on Wednesday, prompting over 250 arrests amid escalating unrest over the rising cost of living in Latin America’s second biggest economy.

Twenty-three stores were sacked and 27 blockades put up in Mexico City, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said, days after the government raised gasoline costs by 14 to 20 percent, outraging Mexicans already battling rising inflation and a weak currency.

Mexican retailers’ association ANTAD urged federal and state authorities to intervene quickly, saying 79 stores had been sacked and 170 forcibly closed due to blockades.

Deputy interior Minister Rene Juarez said over 250 people had been arrested for vandalism and that federal authorities were working with security officials in Mexico City and the nearby states of Mexico and Hidalgo to address the unrest.

“These acts are outside the law and have nothing to do with peaceful protest nor freedom of expression,” Juarez said in a press conference late on Wednesday.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said earlier on Wednesday that the price spike that took effect on Jan. 1 was a “responsible” measure that the government took in line with international oil prices.

The hike is part of a gradual, year-long price liberalization the Pena Nieto administration has promised to implement this year.

State oil company Pemex said on Tuesday that blockades of fuel storage terminals by protesters had led to a “critical situation” in at least three Mexican states.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)