Quebec lawmakers pursue ‘burqa ban’ for 3rd time in 10yrs

The provincial government of Quebec, Canada is due to debate a proposed law which would require people to remove any facial coverings while working in the public sector or dealing with government workers.

“As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered,” Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said Monday, as cited by CBC“This is a bill about le vivre ensemble [living together in harmony], it’s a bill about guidelines and clearly establishes neutrality of the state.”

Bill 62, which ostensibly covers religious neutrality, could be voted upon as early as Tuesday reports CBC.

Doctors, nurses, teachers, postal workers, bus drivers and a multitude of other public servants would be required to uncover their faces were Bill 62 to pass. Even those receiving their services would be forced to reveal themselves.

In addition to integration concerns, Vallée cited “communication reasons… identification… and security reasons,” adding that, if it passes, the law will be the first of its kind in North America.

Similar proposals were defeated in 2010 and 2013, including the highly controversial ‘Quebec Charter of Values,’ introduced by the Parti Québécois, which proposed a ban on all “conspicuous” religious symbols including Jewish kippahs, Muslim veils and Christian crosses, according to Newsweek.

Naturally enough, the proposed bill has drawn widespread criticism, with many claiming it disproportionately targets Muslim women while others, like the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec, say it doesn’t go far enough.

“For me, neutrality would be everyone believes what they want to,” said Shaheen Ashraf, a board member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women in Montreal, as cited by the CBC.

“Forcing someone to uncover, or forcing someone to cover: for me that’s not neutrality,” she added.

The wording of the legislation is murky, however, with an apparent exemption afforded to “serious” requests for religious exceptions.

This, of course, raises the semantic debate over what constitutes a “serious” request, as highlighted by Lucie Lamarche of Quebec’s Ligue des droits et libertés.

“The management of the [law] is a bit hard to figure out,” said Lamarche, a law professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, as cited by CBC.

“The thing with guidelines is that they are read and applied by many people in many different contexts in many different regions,” she said.

“As we know, there are many different opinions about the role of the state and the principle of state neutrality in Quebec. So it’s hard to believe that those guidelines by themselves won’t produce discrimination.”

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Vast majority in Czech Republic reject euro in favor of national currency

Over 85 percent of Czechs are against the idea of replacing the koruna with the euro, according to a poll by Datamar before parliamentary elections.

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© Ralph Orlowski

“In Czech society, a negative outlook on the republic’s entry into the eurozone prevails. A total of 85.2 percent of respondents said they were against, while 51.2 percent of them expressed their categorical reluctance. The adoption of euro is supported by 14.8 percent of respondents, but only 4.6 percent of them are absolutely sure about that,” said the pollsters, who carried out the survey in October ahead of the parliamentary elections.

The Czech koruna has become the world’s top performing currency against the US dollar, strengthening over 10 percent against the greenback in the last 52 weeks. The koruna has appreciated more than four percent year-to-date, the most of all currencies in the world, ahead of the Russian ruble, Polish zloty and Swedish krona.

Danske Bank predicted in September the koruna would extend its rally, “based on robust Czech economic fundamentals and relative monetary policy divergence.”

READ MORE:Denmark & other EU members may soon be forced into the euro

Besides the currency, more than 88 percent of respondents support the introduction of national referendums on key issues of the country’s life. Currently, it is only legally possible to hold referendums at the district level.

The survey participants were divided on the employment of foreign citizens in the country. About 51 percent of the respondents expressed their approval, and 48.8 percent opposed it.

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European Human Rights Court sees no politics in Navalny brothers embezzlement case

The European Court of Human rights (ECHR) has refused to recognize the embezzlement case against Russian activists Aleksey and Oleg Navalny as politically-motivated.

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Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny (R) and his brother and co-defendant Oleg attend the verdict announcement of their fraud trial at a court in Moscow on December 30, 2014 (AFP Photo / Dmitry Serebryakov)

The ECHR’s decision in the case of the Navalny brothers against Russia was released on the court’s website on Tuesday. It reads that the court had looked into Navalny brothers’ claim that the criminal case against them and subsequent conviction pursued purposes other than bringing them to justice – in particular, curtailing the political activities of Aleksey Navalny.

Navalny is an anti-corruption blogger turned politician, with presidential ambitions. After studying the case, the ECHR decided that the reason for the prosecution and conviction of Aleksey and Oleg Navalny was that stated in the case materials and court verdict – embezzlement of money from international cosmetics giant Yves Rocher.

The Russian Justice Ministry welcomed the move in a Tuesday statement. “The ECHR has refused to acknowledge the presence of political motives in the actions of the national law enforcement agencies for bringing the Navalny brothers to account for the crimes they committed,” justice ministry representatives told TASS.

However, the ECHR also found that the Russian court and investigators violated the Navalny brothers’ right to a fair trial, as well as the right to lawful punishment, and ordered the Russian government to pay the brothers €10,000 ($ 11,700) each in compensation, as well as approx. €62,800 in combined court fees. The Russian Justice Ministry said in comments that it did not agree with the decision and will decide whether or not to appeal it within the period allowed.

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Alexei Navalny before the hearings in Moscow's Simonovsky District Court August 3, 2017. © Alexey Kudenko

In December 2014, Aleksey and Oleg Navalny were convicted of embezzling over $ 500,000 from Yves Rocher. The investigation leading to the conviction revealed that the brothers set up an intermediary transport company and persuaded Yves Rocher managers to use its services for inflated prices, while all the work was done by subcontractors. The scheme worked for over four years.

The total amount paid by Yves Rocher to the brothers exceeded 55 million rubles (over US$ 1.6 million at the time) and the amount they pocketed was over 20 million rubles, according to the claim.

Aleksey Navalny received a suspended 3.5 year sentence. Oleg Navalny, who at the time of these events worked as a manager in the state company Russian Post and whose involvement was crucial for the scheme, received 3.5 years in prison.

The brothers were each fined 500,000 rubles, and together will have to pay 4.4 million rubles to a company listed as one of those affected in the case.

In August, a Moscow court extended Aleksey Navalny’s probation period by one year for repeated violations of public order and refusals to comply with police.

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29 French nuclear reactors vulnerable to natural disaster – safety watchdog

A natural disaster could put at risk the cooling systems of almost 30 nuclear reactors at 12 nuclear sites in France, according to the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN).

On Monday, the ASN said that 20 nuclear reactors at 8 nuclear plants operated by EDF are potentially at risk of a “total loss of the heat sink,” which is classified as ‘level 2’ according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).

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© Greenpeace

Another nine reactors at four nuclear sites are at “risk of partial loss,” which is ‘level 0’ according to the INES. The scale has 7 levels that describe the safety significance of nuclear and radiological events, with the highest level classified as a ‘major accident,’ and events from levels 1 to 3 classified as ‘incidents.’ Events without any safety significance are rated as Below Scale/Level 0.

The French company EDF, which operates the country’s nuclear reactors, said earlier that 20 reactors might not be able to withstand earthquakes, which could cause a collapse of their cooling systems, and nine reactors’ cooling systems could also be at risk.

The ASN said that thickness measurements of pipeline systems at the Belleville Nuclear Power Plant in May and June 2017 revealed the metal is too thin to resist an earthquake. After discovering the vulnerabilities, “a thickness measurement campaign” was carried out by EDF at potentially at risk nuclear facilities.

EDF said on October 11 that it was fixing pipe problems at 20 nuclear reactors to prevent the collapse of cooling systems, and the ASN is currently checking the progress.

READ MORE: France to shut down oldest nuclear plant by 2020

Last week, Greenpeace activists staged a fireworks display on the premises of the Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant to highlight “security risks” at the facility. Four reactors at the site were included among reactors at risk level 2 by the ASN.

France operates 58 nuclear reactors with total capacity of 63.2 GWe. Concerns over seismic safety were among the reasons it was decided to shut down the Fessenheim plant by April 2020.

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Putin green lights launch of the CryptoRuble

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the issue of a national cryptocurrency, according to Communications Minister Nikolay Nikiforov, after a closed-door meeting.

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© Sergey Pyatakov

The minister said once the digital currency or CryptoRuble is issued other cryptocurrency mining will be banned and it will be entirely regulated by the government.

“I am so confident to declare that we will run CryptoRuble just for one simple reason: if we don’t, our neighbors in the Eurasian Economic Community will do it in a couple of months,” said Nikiforov.

All the financial operations involving the CryptoRuble will be taxed according to the minister. The tax will also be applied to any appreciation in value.

“When buying and selling a CryptoRuble, the rate will be 13 percent from the earned difference. If the owner cannot explain the reason for the appearance of his CryptoRubles, when converting them into Russian rubles, the tax for him will be 13 percent of the total,” he said.

The national digital currency will be moved to international markets, according to the Russia’s Deputy Minister of Economic Development Oleg Fomichev, stressing that there is no point in the currency circulating only inside the country.

“This mustn’t be a private currency, but the one, which is issued by the state, controlled by the state and enable to provide circulation of digital money in light of the digital economy,” he said.

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Spanish F18 fighter jet crashes after takeoff in Madrid, pilot killed – Defense Ministry

An EF-18 fighter jet has crashed at the Torrejon military base outside Madrid, according to the Spanish Defense Ministry. The ministry confirmed that the pilot has died.

The incident occurred during take-off maneuvers shortly after 11am local time Tuesday. The ministry spokesperson declined to comment on the extent of the damage or whether the pilot survived.

The EF-18, a modified F/A-18 Hornet, was from the 12th wing of the Spanish Air Force, reports El Mundo.

Local emergency services have been dispatched to the base and are coordinating with firefighters stationed there.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is underway, the Ministry of Defense confirmed via Twitter.

The incident took place just five days after another military plane crash claimed the life of pilot Borja Aybar, whose aircraft suffered a malfunction while he conducted landing maneuvers.

READ MORE: Military plane crashes in south-eastern Spain, pilot killed – Def. ministry (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

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Rights activists propose nationwide ‘fine amnesty’ to mark revolution anniversary

The Russian Presidential Human Rights Council proposes writing off all unpaid fines for matters such as traffic violations or improperly registered immigrants, in connection with the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

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© Sergey Guneev

The plan was revealed by the council’s chairman, Mikhail Fedotov, in an interview with Russia-24 TV. The draft bill includes amnesty for crimes committed by women with children, women over 55 years old, and men over 60, as well as veterans. The draft also includes a proposal to write off all unpaid fines.

Fedotov said in the interview that if the council’s draft on amnesty is passed into a law, it would involve “not dozens or hundreds, but thousands of people.”

He also said that amnesty should be connected not only to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, but also to all revolutionary events of this period in Russian history – starting with the bourgeois revolution that began in February 1917, and ending with the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in early 1918.

In late September, Russia’s largest opposition party – the Communists – drafted their own bill proposing major amnesty connected to the anniversary of the revolution.

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RIA Novosti / Vitaliy Ankov

The Communists proposed that amnesty be granted to convicts who participated in combat defending Russia, those who worked in defense companies in times of war, and those who served in Soviet and Russian military forces deployed in foreign countries in times of conflict – in particular, the Soviet military contingent in Afghanistan.

A similar proposal was drafted in early September by the nationalist-populist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). The LDPR draft offers amnesty to underage convicts and adults who committed crimes before coming of age, disabled people, mothers with small children, pregnant women, and older citizens – women over 55 and men over 60.

The last time Russia announced nationwide amnesty was in 2015, in connection with the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II. According to the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment, about 225,000 convicts were released from custody or had other punishments lifted.

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Sections of Western Wall, Roman theater unseen for 1,700yrs uncovered in Jerusalem (PHOTOS)

Archaeologists have discovered an eight-meter-high section of the Western Wall and a subterranean Roman theater, which haven’t been seen by human eyes for almost two millennia.

The Israel Antiquity Authority announced the discovery on Monday following a two-year excavation of the site.

“From a research perspective, this is a sensational find,” archaeologist Joe Uziel said at a press conference on Monday morning in Jerusalem’s Old City, as cited by The Jerusalem Post.

“The discovery was a real surprise. We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem’s lost theater. Like much of archeological research, the expectation is that a certain thing will be found. But at the end of the process, other findings – surprising and thought-provoking – are unearthed,” Uziel added.

Archaeologists have searched for the ruins for 150 years, according to The Times of Israel, and their discovery is already altering their perceptions of Roman-occupied Jerusalem after the fall of the Second Temple and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE.

READ MORE: US withdraws from UNESCO, cites ‘continuing anti-Israel bias’

Early discoveries indicate that the city was in a state of upheaval at the time: the theater itself was not fully constructed, the paving stones used for roads had been turned into makeshift benches, and even drainage ducts had been rerouted to accommodate additional Roman construction work on a stadium.

“A number of findings at the site indicate this, among them a staircase that was never completely hewn,” said Avi Solomon, another member of the archaeological team. “It is clear that great effort was invested in the building’s construction. But oddly, it was abandoned before it was put to use.”

“The reasons for this are unknown,” he added. “But they may have been connected to a significant historical event – perhaps the Bar Kokhba revolt. Construction of the building may have been started, and then abandoned when the revolt broke out.”

READ MORE: Long-lost Roman city of Neapolis discovered off Tunisia (PHOTOS)

The dig is taking place beneath Wilson’s Arch, beside the men’s section of the Western Wall. The team also constructed a reinforced floor to prevent any disruption to worshippers at the Temple Mount, one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites.  

The team will continue its work for at least another six months with a view to uncovering ruins and relics from Jerusalem’s First Temple era. They are awaiting the results of carbon-14 dating but Uziel says the find “dates pretty solidly to the late Roman period.”

“Advanced research methods from various fields were employed to uncover remains invisible to the naked eye, but only viewable through a microscope,” said Uziel.

“This enables conclusions to be drawn at a level of precision that would have been impossible in the past, transforming the study of the findings at Wilson’s Arch into pioneering, cutting-edge micro-archeological research,” Uziel added.

“What happened on the Temple Mount between the destruction of the Second Temple and the Muslim period is one of the riddles we have yet to solve,” said Uziel. The team have yet to uncover any evidence of the Roman Temple of Jupiter, which was rumored to have been built on the Temple Mount.

READ MORE: Mosaic found in Jerusalem once decorated ‘ancient hostel’ – study

“We have a great deal of archaeological work ahead and I am certain that the deeper we dig, the earlier the periods we will reach, further anchoring the profound connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Places.

The team’s findings will be presented later this year at a conference entitled, “New Studies in the Archeology of Jerusalem and its Environs,” which will mark 50 years of archaeology since the unification of Jerusalem.

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88yo 'Nazi Grandma' gets 6 months in jail for denying Holocaust… again

A German court has found Ursula Haverbeck, also known as ‘Nazi Grandma’, guilty of inciting hatred by saying that Holocaust is fiction and there were no gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The octogenarian was handed a six-month jail sentence.

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau © Mark Blinch

Haverbeck, a notoriously fervent denier of the mass killings of Jews during Holocaust, received yet another conviction, this time for claiming at an event in Berlin in January last year that Holocaust did not happen and nobody was gassed in the infamous death camp in Auschwitz, that claimed lives of 1.1 million people between 1940 and 1945, mostly Jews.

Haverbeck who pleaded not guilty, alleged that she was citing from a book when speaking at the event. However, upon studying the half-a-minute footage, the court determined that it “was her own speech” and found her guilty. Her lawyer’s argument that prosecuting her violates Haverbeck’s right to free speech, failed to score any points with the judge. Moreover, while on trial, the accused repeated the statement, Der Spiegel reports.

An author for Neo-Nazi magazines, Haverbeck has never minced words in expressing her more-than-controversial beliefs no matter the consequences.

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© Kacper Pempel

Next month, she is set to stand trial on similar charges in the town of Detmold, where she is appealing the eight-month jail sentence the court handed to her last September. The charges revolving around her letter to Detmold’s mayor in which she insisted that Auschwitz was a plain labor camp. The letter was timed with the trial of a former SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp, Reinhold Hanning, tried in Detmold. The court eventually sentenced Hanning to five years behind bars “for accessory to murder in 170,000 cases.”

In August, Haverbeck lost an appeal in the district court of Verden in Lower Saxony, which increased her jail term from 10 months to two years without parole. The court found her guilty of inciting to Holocaust denial.

Under German law, incitement of hatred constitutes not only encouraging hatred or violence to a particular group of people, but also approving of, denying or downplaying Nazi crimes. Those found guilty by the court face up to five years in prison. However, Haverbeck is yet to serve any jail time, as the decisions in her cases are still pending.

Haverbeck has also received two fines and a suspended sentence for sedition.

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Quitting Iran deal would ruin 12yrs’ work, threaten nuclear war – rep for Nobel Peace Prize-winner

Washington’s threats to walk out of the Iran nuclear deal is a critical moment for global nuclear non-proliferation, as it risks uprooting over a decade of diplomatic work and bring the world on the verge of a nuclear war, Jean-Marie Collin of ICAN France told RT.

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U.S. President Donald Trump © Joshua Roberts

Collin, coordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for France, which was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, told RT he believes the US is putting the world’s safety in jeopardy by threatening to quit the nuclear deal.

Defending the agreement, Collin argued that no deal could possibly please all sides, as the ability to compromise lies in the nature of every agreement.

“Maybe it’s not the best agreement that we obtained, but you know, an agreement is never the best,” he said, adding that the deal should be considered a success as it reduces the chances of a major nuclear conflict breaking out.

“The important fact is that we arrived [there] after 12 years of diplomatic work, we did not have any war, we did not have any conflict with Iran and the rest of the world,” Collin said.

The deal stuck between Iran and the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany in 2015 should not be a subject to revision, as it would undermine the result of a decades-long negotiation process, Collin said, saying “the deal is the deal.”

“You cannot ask to revise the deal,” he stressed, pointing out that it will be possible to renegotiate some of the provisions only after they expire in 2025, but not before.

READ MORE: Intl Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons wins Nobel Peace Prize

“Maybe some state will want to add some new paragraphs, some new rules, it’s a possibility we cannot deny just now 10 years before,” he said.

Meanwhile, the statements by US President Donald Trump leave the deal’s fate hanging in the balance, Collin argued, as after Washington withdraws, Tehran will follow the suit.

“It’s a really important moment of these times, because we have two presidents, one from a democratic country, one from an authoritarian country, who are apparently ready to use nuclear weapons and it points to the fact that nuclear weapons are not safe either in good hands or in bad hands,” the activist said.

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A man looks at Iranian-made missiles at Holy Defence Museum in Tehran © Raheb Homavandi

The ongoing war of words between the Iranian and the US governments and mutual threats to quit the deal, might indeed pose a risk to the entire world’s security if hostilities reach a boiling point.

“The problem is we are on a limit to have escalations,” Collin said, adding that “If there’s an accident that gets to war, we are going to have international problems across the world. All countries would be touched by this possible nuclear war.”

The only way to avert the catastrophic scenario of all-out nuclear warfare is to engage in negotiations, Collin said, noting that Russia and China should assume a leading role in this process taking into account the US’s bellicose rhetoric on the issue of late.

“We should engage in diplomatic action with Russia and China, who are key major players in these problems… For sure, it’s important that these countries make some proposals because for the moment we have no real proposal on the table from the United States.”

On Monday, Trump doubled down on his threat to withdraw from the landmark deal, saying that its “total termination” is “a very real possibility.”

It comes just several days after Trump did not recertify the nuclear deal before Congress, sparking an international outcry. The move means that now the Congress must decide within 60 days whether to impose sanctions on Iran, which were lifted as part of the agreement in exchange for Iran significantly curbing its nuclear program.

Iran insists that it does not possess nuclear weapons and doesn’t pursue the goal of developing them.

The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has repeatedly attested to Iran’s full compliance with the deal, while Washington keeps accusing Tehran of violating the spirit of the deal by conducting missile tests.

However, the Iranian government argued that the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads and that its military program is exclusively defensive in nature.

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