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Ukraine accuses Belarus of stoking tensions over Jewish pilgrims

Ukraine has accused Belarus of encouraging more Jewish pilgrims to go to their shared border even as..

Ukraine has accused Belarus of encouraging more Jewish pilgrims to go to their shared border even as up to 2,000 of them remain stranded there.

In a statement, Ukraine said that Belarus was “exacerbating tensions” by claiming that the pilgrims, devout Hasidic Jews who want to visit the tomb of a famous rabbi, will be able to cross the border.

On the contrary, both Ukraine and Israel have urged members of the Hasidic community not to visit Uman, the central Ukrainian town where the grave of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, is located.

“We call on the Belarusian authorities to stop [peddling] false statements that [give] the impression that the border of Ukraine can be broken open to foreigners,” Ukraine’s presidency said.

Hundreds of Hasidic Jews, including children, are currently camped out at the border of the two countries, where charities and pilgrims claim they are running out of food and medical supplies.

“We are stuck here with no money, no roof, no food or drink,” said Haim Weitshandler, 40.

Weitshandler urged the Israeli government to resolve what he called a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Hasidic Jews travel to Ukraine every Jewish New Year — which is being marked from September 18-20 — in their tens of thousands to worship at Rabbi Nahman’s tomb.

But Ukraine is keen to avoid a spike in coronavirus infections and Kyiv has closed its borders to foreigners until late September. Israel has imposed a three-week lockdown.

A video released by Ukrainian border guards showed dozens of ultra-Orthodox pilgrims in traditional garb praying in the middle of a road near a long line of trucks.

Suitcases and bags were strewn on the ground while one man played a guitar.

Ukrainian border guards armed with shields looked on, forming a cordon.

Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko has told officials to provide assistance to the pilgrims, accusing Ukraine of “shutting its borders” and leaving hundreds of people in neutral territory.

The Belarus Red Cross Society said the pilgrims did not have “enough resources to ensure their basic needs” and assistance was being provided, particularly to parents with children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

‘Three charter planes’

As of Tuesday morning, 690 pilgrims were at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border and hundreds more were expected to arrive, Kyiv said.

“We expect that three charter planes — some 600 foreigners — will arrive in Minsk,” Deyneko said, referring to the capital of Belarus.

He said up to 1,000 people were expected to arrive at the border near Ukraine’s northern Chernigiv region, while in the northwest up to 700 were expected near Zhytomyr region and as many as 1,500 people near Volyn region.

Authorities have deployed aircraft and drones to monitor the border and said the pilgrims were receiving water and kosher food from Jewish organisations.

The border guard service said people were trying to enter Ukraine “even after having received explanations and were fully aware of the entry restrictions for foreigners”.

Thousands of pilgrims have already arrived in Uman, police said.

Speaking to AFP in the historic city, Haim Hasin, a 43-year-old representative of the local Jewish community, expressed hope that travellers would soon be allowed in.

“We are trying to do everything to prepare the place. All restrictions are being followed here,” he said.

As pilgrims one by one approached the tomb and kissed it, fellow worshippers in yellow vests immediately moved to disinfect it and temperature checks were carried out. Signs outside urged people to wear masks.

Last week, a group of pilgrims broke apart barriers set up to ensure the orderly passage to the shrine and Ukraine said it would deport two people.


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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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