Former France winger Dominici dies


Former France and Stade Francais player Christophe Dominici, whose dazzling runs made him one of the country’s best wingers, has died aged 48, his former rugby club says.

“It is with immense sadness that Stade Francais learns of the death of Christophe Dominici,” Stade Francais said in a statement.

Dominici won 67 caps for France between 1998 and 2007, scoring a memorable try in France’s stunning 43-31 victory against New Zealand in the 1999 World Cup.

He started his club career at RC La Valette in 1991 before joining Toulon in 1993 and Stade Francais in 1997 until he ended his career 11 years later.

He won five French national titles with Stade Francais and four Six Nations titles with Les Bleus, including two grand slams in 1998 and 2004.

“So much sadness. Christophe Dominici was an immense player, an artist, a funambulist. His sudden death is a shock,” sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said.

“I’m devastated. With his crappy physique, he beat all the best defences in the world. It really sucks to lose him at 48,” his former France and Stade Francais team mate Sylvain Marconnet said.





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Outcry in France After Police Clear Paris Migrant Camp


PARIS — The police violently cleared out a temporary migrant camp in central Paris, forcing people out of tents, chasing them in the streets and firing tear gas in a crackdown that fueled growing outrage over the government’s tough new security policies.

Housing and integrating migrants living in makeshift camps in Paris, especially on its northern edge, has become a chronic problem. The police regularly clear out hundreds or even thousands of people from such camps.

But the violent evacuation of mostly Afghan migrants on Monday evening from a symbolic square in central Paris was covered widely in the media and struck a nerve, coming just as Parliament was discussing on Tuesday a new security bill that critics say would make it harder for reporters or bystanders to film instances of police brutality.

The outcry over the evacuation comes at a time of heightened tensions around President Emmanuel Macron’s broader security policies, which opponents say increasingly restrict civil liberties. Part of that debate has played out after a string of Islamist terrorist attacks over the past few months.

Footage from Monday evening showed that as tensions rose and scuffles broke out with some protesters, police officers trying to clear the square shoved people with riot shields before using tear gas and dispersal grenades, which explode and spray smaller rubber pellets. The police also chased some of the migrants through side streets.

In one video widely circulated on social media, a police officer is seen tripping a fleeing man, who tumbles to the ground. Another video also appeared to show a journalist being cornered in the street by baton-wielding officers.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, expressed shock on Tuesday in a letter to the French interior minister, accusing the police of a “brutal and disproportionate use of force.”

“This unacceptable incident is unfortunately not without precedent,” Ms. Hidalgo wrote in the letter, which she shared on Twitter.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, toned down his usual tough talk on Tuesday, acknowledging on Twitter that certain images of the evacuation were “shocking” and saying that the Paris police chief had handed him a report documenting “several unacceptable events,” without giving further details on those events.

Mr. Darmanin said he had asked an internal police watchdog body to investigate over the next 48 hours and he vowed to make the results of that inquiry public. But critics were not convinced.

“You are importing methods that were developed in Calais to Paris,” Doctors Without Borders responded to Mr. Darmanin on Twitter, referring to the northern port city where the police have been accused of hostility and mistreatment in their handling of migrants trying to reach Britain from France.

In what has become a seemingly never-ending cycle in and around Paris, police regularly clear out hundreds of migrants and raze their tents and shacks, theoretically to offer them temporary accommodation. But a lack of emergency housing and slow asylum procedures has left many still living under bridges or on vacant lots.

Then on Monday evening, roughly 450 blue tents sprouted on the Place de la République, a large square in eastern Paris. Aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders said that the goal was to protest against the authorities’ failure to provide housing for 700 to 1,000 migrants who were left to roam the streets after 3,000 people were cleared last week from a camp in Saint-Denis, a suburb north of Paris.

Aid organizations say that the migrants, many of them young asylum seekers from countries like Afghanistan, Sudan or Ethiopia, are harassed and chased by police.

On Monday evening, the hundreds of migrants were joined on the Place de la République by left-wing politicians, lawyers and activists. Police quickly encircled the tents and started dismantling them as protesters shouted and jeered.

Most migrants appeared to leave peacefully. But videos showed that police forcefully ejected some of them who refused to exit their tents.

France’s left-wing parties swiftly criticized the evacuation.

“I was stunned by what I saw,” Olivier Faure, the head of the Socialist Party, told France Inter radio on Tuesday. “We are a country that is supposed to be the country of human rights.”

The ministers in charge of housing and citizenship said in a statement on Tuesday that “migrants are people who must be treated with humanity and fraternity,” adding that the authorities had freed up temporary housing for 10,000 people since mid-October, with funding for 4,500 additional spots next year.

In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron himself said “I do not want to have men and women on the streets, in the woods, by the end of the year.” But the number of asylum seekers has increased since then, with nearly 178,000 applicants in France last year, up 9 percent from 2018.

Critics accuse the government of needlessly toughening its asylum policies.

“It’s up to the state to shoulder its responsibilities and to stop suggesting that we are being invaded, and to mobilize all the necessary resources so that these populations don’t live like rats,” Yann Manzi, the head of Utopia 56, one of the aid groups that helped set up the camp in Paris, told reporters on Monday evening.





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Corruption Trial of Ex-President Sarkozy Opens in France


PARIS — The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy appeared in a Paris courtroom on Monday to face charges of corruption and influence-peddling, as years of his drawn-out legal entanglements came to a head despite his enduring influence and popularity on the right.

Mr. Sarkozy, 65, who was president of France from 2007 to 2012, arrived at the main courthouse in Paris under tight security and without talking to a crowd of reporters gathered there. He is accused of trying to illegally obtain information on another legal case against him from a judge in return for promises to use his influence to secure a prestigious job for the judge.

Only one other president in recent French history has been put on trial: Jacques Chirac, who was convicted in 2011 for embezzling and misusing public funds when he was mayor of Paris. Mr. Chirac was the first French head of state to stand trial since Marshal Philippe Pétain was found guilty of treason at the end of World War II for collaborating with Nazi Germany.

Mr. Chirac, however, was tried in absentia because of his poor mental health.

Under French law, a person convicted of corruption can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 1 million euros, or about $1.2 million, while influence peddling can be punished by up to five years in prison and a €500,000 fine.

The trial, initially scheduled to last until Dec. 10, could be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Lawyers for Gilbert Azibert — the 73-year-old judge who stands accused of involvement in the corruption case alongside Mr. Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog — say he is too much at risk from the virus because of heart and respiratory issues to attend sessions in court.

After a short hearing, the court suspended the proceedings and deferred a ruling on a potential postponement until Thursday, when a medical report on Mr. Azibert is due.

Mr. Sarkozy, a combative conservative politician who lost his bid for re-election in 2012 and whose comeback attempt failed in 2016, has denied wrongdoing in a complex web of financial impropriety cases that have plagued him since he left office.

Last month, prosecutors added a new charge in one of the longest-running and most serious cases against him, involving accusations that his 2007 campaign received illegal Libyan financing from the regime of the now-dead strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Mr. Sarkozy has been charged in that case, but leaks in the French news media indicate there is little concrete evidence so far of his direct involvement in the alleged financing scheme, and one of the key witnesses recently recanted some of his accusations against the former president.

“How long are we going to use taxpayer money to try and prove by all means possible that I am corrupt?” an angry Mr. Sarkozy said on the news channel BFM TV in an interview this month.

“The French must know, whether you like me or not — I have many flaws and probably made many mistakes — I am not a crook,” he added.

The case that started Monday, known as the “wiretapping affair,” is the first against him to finally reach trial, as Mr. Sarkozy — formerly a lawyer — has used every legal recourse available to him to draw out proceedings.

Although the cases are separate, the wiretapping affair emerged from the Libya inquiry, which began in 2013 and had led investigators to place wiretaps on phones belonging to Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Herzog, his lawyer.

Through the wiretaps, prosecutors say, investigators discovered in 2014 that Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Herzog were using secret phone lines and that the two had discussed ways of obtaining confidential information about another case involving the former president that was being handled by France’s top appeals court.

Prosecutors say Mr. Sarkozy sought to illegally obtain information from Mr. Azibert, then a magistrate at the court, including by promising to use his influence to secure a job for the judge in Monaco.

The job never materialized, but under French law, prosecutors do not have to prove that a corrupt deal was carried out to secure a conviction — only that one was agreed upon. Mr. Herzog, 65, and Mr. Azibert also deny any wrongdoing.

Paul-Albert Iweins, one of Mr. Herzog’s lawyers, said the wiretaps of the conversations between Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Herzog were a violation of lawyer-client confidentiality and that the discussions between Mr. Herzog and Mr. Azibert were mere conversations between friends.

“All of this is little bits of sentences that were taken out of context,” Mr. Iweins told Franceinfo radio on Monday.

Mr. Sarkozy is scheduled to stand trial next year in another case involving his 2012 campaign in which he has been charged with exceeding strict limits on campaign spending. Other cases against Mr. Sarkozy have been dropped, including one in which we was accused of manipulating the heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune into financing his 2007 campaign.

Despite his legal woes, Mr. Sarkozy remains on good terms with President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently mirrored his tough stances on issues like crime and immigration, even making Gérald Darmanin, a former protégé of Mr. Sarkozy, his interior minister.

And while Mr. Sarkozy denies that he has new political ambitions — “politics is no longer my concern today,” he told BFM TV this month — he still holds considerable sway on the French right, with firm support from his political party, Les Républicains, and an unparalleled ability to electrify its base.

Last summer, Mr. Sarkozy’s latest book, a reflection on the first years of his presidency, was a best seller, and he is regularly swarmed for autographs and selfies during book signings.



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Trial of ex-president Sarkozy a landmark for France


Background to Nicolas Sarkozy case explained



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Autumn Nations rugby results, news, scores: France beat Scotland, Stuart Hogg ‘schoolboy’ error, England, Wales win


Scotland captain Stuart Hogg admitted he had made a “schoolboy error” after a failure to find touch denied his side the chance of a dramatic draw against France at Murrayfield on Sunday.

There were already 80 minutes on the clock when Scotland, seven points down and needing a converted try to draw level were awarded a penalty by English referee Wayne Barnes.

At that stage it was imperative full-back Hogg find touch with his kick to give Scotland the chance of a line-out near the French try-line.

But his overhit effort went dead, allowing France to run out 22-15 winners, with ‘Les Bleus’ on course to play in the Autumn Nations Cup final in a fortnight provided they do not suffer a shock Pool B reverse against Italy next week.

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Vakatawa powers France to beat Scotland


France centre Virimi Vakatawa muscled over the line to break open an absorbing clash which saw his side beat a spirited but ultimately toothless Scotland 22-15 at Murrayfield to top Group B of the Autumn Nations Cup.

The hosts struggled throughout the game to contain the Fiji-born Frenchman, who scored the only try just after halftime as he tracked a sniping break from Vincent Rattez and burst through Scotland’s flailing defenders.

The home side’s Duncan Weir, once again deputising for the injured Finn Russell and Adam Hastings, kicked flawlessly to ensure the sides went in 12-12 at the break despite France showing more attacking verve and edging the forward contest.

Thomas Ramos was equally accurate from the spot for the visitors with four penalties, while fly-half Matthieu Jalibert added a smartly taken drop goal for the French side.

It was an engaging contest that slowly but decisively swung France’s way in the last quarter as their more powerful forward replacements wrested control.

A missed touchfinder by Stuart Hogg from a last-minute penalty characterised Scotland’s hapless approach, and their coach Gregor Townsend said his players were downcast after a game they fought hard in but never led.

“It was a bit of an arm-wrestle, we never got ahead on the scoreboard, a lot of times we came back,” he said.

An outrageous early back-of-the-hand offload from the lively Rattez did not come off but was characteristic of the confidence coursing through the young French side these days.

France’s defence coach Shaun Edwards said afterwards: “I thought it was a very mature performance against a very good Scotland team.”

The victory marks further impressive progress for a French team that is becoming one of the world’s best, blending the thrilling attacking talent of young halfbacks like Antoine Dupont with an increasingly dominant pack.

It also marks a moment of revenge for Fabien Galthie’s side, after Scotland ended their Grand Slam dreams earlier this year at the same ground.

The Scots meanwhile were left to rue the end of a five-game winning streak and ponder how they can bring more options in attack after failing to threaten the French line.

They will have to wait to show any improvement, however, after their game against Fiji was cancelled following an outbreak of COVID-19 in their opponents’ camp.

France lead the group with nine points ahead of Scotland on six and Italy with five and can guarantee a spot in the final if they beat the Italians at the Stade de France next Saturday.

The likely opponents in the showpiece match will be England, who need to beat a badly out-of-form Wales on the same day in their final fixture to ensure a clean sweep of Group A.





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France to start easing COVID-19 lockdown rules in three steps: Government spokesman


PARIS: France will start easing COVID-19 lockdown rules in coming weeks, carrying out the process in three stages so as to avoid a new flareup in the pandemic, the government said on Sunday (Nov 22).

On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron will give a speech to the nation about the virus situation and may announce a partial relaxation of restrictions which have been in place since Oct 30.

“Emmanuel Macron will give prospects over several weeks, especially on how we adjust our strategy. What is at stake is adapting lockdown rules as the health situation improves while avoiding a new flare up in the epidemic,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Le Journal Du Dimanche.

“There will be three steps to (lockdown) easing in view of the health situation and of risks tied to some businesses: A first step around Dec 1, then before the year-end holidays, and then from January 2021,” Attal added.

READ: France becomes first European country to top 2 million COVID-19 cases

Macron has said that France’s second national lockdown, which started on Oct 30, would last at least four weeks. Curbs include the closure of non-essential stores, restaurants and bars.

But with recent data showing France on track to rein in a surge in coronavirus infections, the government is under pressure from shops and businesses to ease restrictions in time for the Christmas shopping season, when many retailers make the bulk of their annual turnover.

“We had committed to allow them (shopkeepers) to reopen around Dec. 1 if the health situation improved, which seems to be the case,” Attal said.

Bars and restaurants however “will continue to experience restrictions,” he added.

On Thursday Health Minister Olivier Veran said France will win its battle against the coronavirus but it is a struggle which will take time, warning the lockdown was not yet over.

The number of new coronavirus infections in France rose by 17,881 on Saturday, lower than the 22,882 reported on Friday while the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 dropped for the fifth day in a row and was down at 31,365.

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France Urges Russia to Resolve Karabakh Ceasefire ‘Ambiguities’


France on Tuesday urged Russia to clear up “ambiguities” over the ceasefire it brokered between Armenia and Azerbaijan to end fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, notably regarding the role of Turkey and foreign fighters.

“We must remove the ambiguities over refugees, the delimitation of the ceasefire, the presence of Turkey, the return of fighters and on the start of negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.

Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered the ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which allowed Azerbaijan to consolidate gains after several weeks of fighting.

But the talks did not involve France or any other Western country.

Le Drian added that these issues would be discussed by a meeting of diplomats in Moscow from the Minsk Group on Karabakh, which is co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States and leads efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a region of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians that broke away from Baku’s control in a war that erupted as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Azerbaijan never hid its desire to regain control and six weeks of fighting ended earlier this month with large chunks of Karabakh and surrounding regions again held by Baku, under a deal widely seen as a major defeat for Armenia.

France has a large Armenian minority concentrated in several cities and has been hugely critical of Turkey’s support of Baku in the conflict, which according to President Emmanuel Macron extended to sending Syrian fighters to the region.

It remains unclear if Turkey is planning to dispatch its own troops to play a role in the ceasefire deal.

“The departure of foreign fighters deployed in the conflict is a fundamental element for stability in the region,” said a French diplomatic source, who asked not to be named.

Le Drian denied that France had been passive in the conflict by failing to support Armenia, saying “discussions have already begun” over the future status of Karabakh with Putin and the United States.

“The ceasefire was essential to save thousands of lives. But there are ambiguities,” said Le Drian.



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England v France: Natasha Hunt returns to squad for rematch


Hunt has won 54 caps for England
Date: Saturday, 21 November Kick-off: 12:00 GMT Venue: Twickenham
Coverage: Live on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer and online with live radio and text commentary

Scrum-half Natasha Hunt has returned to the England squad for Saturday’s rematch against France at Twickenham.

Loughborough’s Abbie Brown, who can play at wing or full-back, is called up for the first time since her return to the 15-a-side game from sevens.

Hunt’s Gloucester-Hartpury team-mate Ellena Perry is a new front-row option.

A strong second-half performance helped England to a 33-10 win over France in Grenoble last weekend.

“Last Saturday’s game against France was a tough and physical affair and we expect more of the same,” said head coach Simon Middleton.

“We’ve spoken a lot about resilience, which we’ve shown in our training and our two matches at the start of the season to date.

“While we were delighted with the result and much of the performance in France, we know we need to be better this weekend.”

Hunt’s return increases Middleton’s options at nine after Claudia MacDonald and Leanne Riley played scrum-half in the wins over Italy and France respectively.

England training squad

Forwards:

Sarah Beckett, Shaunagh Brown, Poppy Cleall, Amy Cokayne, Vickii Cornborough, Lark Davies, Detysha Harper, Sarah Hunter, Laura Keates, Heather Kerr, Alex Matthews, Harriet Millar-Mills, Marlie Packer, Ellena Perry, Morwenna Talling, Abbie Ward.

Backs:

Holly Aitchison, Jess Breach, Abbie Brown, Katy Daley-Mclean, Abby Dow, Zoe Harrison, Natasha Hunt, Megan Jones, Ellie Kildunne, Claudia MacDonald, Leanne Riley, Helena Rowland, Emily Scarratt, Kelly Smith, Lagi Tuima.



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Trial in France for extremist foiled by 3 Americans on train


PARIS — Head lowered, an Islamic State operative listened silently as a Paris judge on Monday detailed his alleged plot to unleash mass slaughter on a high-speed train before he was tackled and subdued by American vacationers whose heroics inspired Clint Eastwood to direct a Hollywood re-enactment.

Opening a month-long trial for Ayoub El Khazzani, the judge said the 31-year-old Moroccan with ties to a notorious terror mastermind intended to “kill all the passengers” aboard the Amsterdam to Paris train in 2015 but “lost control of events.”

One of the Americans who tackled the bare-chested gunman, who was laden with an arsenal of weapons and shot another passenger, told investigators that he seemed high on drugs and “completely crazy,” the judge said.

A lawyer for the two U.S. servicemen and their friend, whose electrifying capture of El Khazzani inspired Eastwood’s movie “The 15:17 to Paris”, said their heroics during the drama on Aug. 21, 2015 thwarted a “slaughter.”

“This terror attack could have killed up to 300 people based on the number of ammunition that was found on the terrorist and in his bag,” said the attorney, Thibault de Montbrial.

With El Khazzani in court and watched by security officers, the trial opening was largely taken up with procedural issues including whether Eastwood’s presence is needed. That question was not immediately resolved. The actor-director has so far not responded to a summons.

El Khazzani boarded the train in Brussels armed with a Kalashnikov, nine clips with 30 rounds each, an automatic pistol and a cutter, according to investigators.

He is charged with attempted terrorist murder. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

His lawyer, Sarah Mauger-Poliak, said El Khazzani “regrets having allowed himself to become indoctrinated” by extremist propaganda and wants “to demonstrate his remorse.”

Three others, who weren’t on the train, are being tried as alleged accomplices.

Bilal Chatra, 24, an Algerian member of the Islamic State group, would have been the second man on the train but dropped out of the plot a week earlier. He left Syria for Europe a week before to set up the exit route.

Mohamed Bakkali allegedly sheltered the attackers in Budapest, Hungary, which he denies. The two were arrested in Germany in 2016. A third man, Redouane El Amrani Ezzerrifi, allegedly piloted a boat to help in their return to Europe.

The trial ties into the massacre of 130 people in Paris three months later, on Nov. 13, 2015, at the Bataclan music hall and restaurants and cafes. The suspected mastermind of those assaults, Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, also worked behind the scenes in the train attack, according to the prosecution. Prosecutors say Abaaoud and El Khazzani traveled together from Syria to Belgium and holed up with Chatra in a Brussels apartment.

French special forces killed Abaaoud days after the Bataclan attack.

Once aboard the train, El Khazzani lingered in a restroom between cars and emerged bare-chested with the Kalashnikov. One waiting passenger struggled with the attacker, then a French-American, Mark Magoolian, wrestled the Kalashnikov away — before being shot himself by a pistol.

Spencer Stone, then a 23-year-old U.S. airman, has said he was coming out of a deep sleep when the gunman appeared. He said Alek Skarlatos, then a 22-year-old U.S. National Guardsman recently back from Afghanistan, “just hit me on the shoulder and said ‘Let’s go.’”

The men, all from California and following what Skarlatos has said was “gut instinct,” snapped into action. Stone and Skarlatos moved in to tackle the gunman, helped by a third man, Anthony Sadler, 23, then a student. Stone said he choked El Khazzani unconscious. A British businessman also joined the fray.

Stone, whose hand was injured by the cutter, is also credited with saving Magoolian, whose neck was squirting blood. Stone said he “just stuck two of my fingers in his hole and found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped.”

The train rerouted to Arras, in northern France, where El Khazzani was arrested.

———

Nicolas Vaux-Montagny reported from Lyon, France.



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