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Unrelenting Yellow Vest activists have marched in Paris and other French cities for the 24th straight weekend, just days after Emmanuel Macron tried to placate the protest movement with promises of lower taxes.

The demonstrators who assembled in Paris, Toulouse and Strasbourg on Saturday appear to signal that despite the French president’s recent concessions to the group, the Yellow Vest movement is alive and well.

Oh Thursday, Macron held the first major press conference of his two-year presidency, in which he announced that he wanted to implement “significant” income tax cuts. The televised conference, however, was not well received among those who have turned out week after week to demonstrate against Macron’s business-friendly austerity measures.

AFP, after interviewing a dozen Yellow Vests in the south of France about their opinion of the press conference, reported that activists thought Macron’s olive branch was “rubbish.”

Protesters carry a placard depicting Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” as they take part in an anti-government demonstration called by the “Yellow Vest” (gilets jaunes) movement and the Trade Unions in Paris on April 27, 2019. © AFP / Zakaria Abdelkafi

Jérémy Clément, regularly cited as a spokesperson for the movement, told the news agency that “the President has understood our claims, but he hasn’t provided the answers to them.”

Protesters march with placards reading ‘RIC’ (Citizens Initiated Referendum) as they take part in an anti-government demonstration called by the “Yellow Vest” (gilets jaunes) movement in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 27, 2019. © AFP / Patrick Hertzog

The Yellow Vest (Gilets Jaunes) protests began last November as a rally against a proposed gas tax. Now an international movement, French Yellow Vest activists have assembled for 24 Saturdays in a row as of this week. Some demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, resulting in serious injuries.

Macron has already offered €10 billion ($11.1bn) in tax cuts and income subsidies for the working poor and pensioners, back in December, but the pledge did not slow down the burgeoning protest movement.

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In a move that many have interpreted as a shot across the bow of US President Donald Trump, Pope Francis has donated $500,000 to help Central American migrants stranded in Mexico as they try to reach America.

The aid is specifically intended to assist 75,000 people who arrived in Mexico last year as part of six migrant caravans.

The donation will be taken from the Catholic Church’s Peter’s Pence fund, from church collections around the world. Peter’s Pence said in a statement that aid to migrants by governments and private individuals has dropped as global media coverage of the crisis decreased.

“All these people were stranded, unable to enter the United States, without a home or livelihood,” Peter’s Pence said. “The Catholic Church hosts thousands of them in hotels within the dioceses or religious congregations, providing basic necessities, from housing to clothing.”

The US has heaped pressure on Mexico to stop the flow of migrants from Central America moving towards the US border. Last month, Trump cut all aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, accusing the Central American countries of not doing “a thing for us.”

Many have interpreted the Pope’s donation as a rebuke of Trump’s policies towards migrants and some are even saying that the US president is being “trolled” by the pontiff.

However, not everyone is happy that this is how the Pope chose to use the funds.

Pope Francis recently spoke out against governments that build walls to keep out migrants, saying: “Those who build walls will become prisoners of the walls they put up.”

Many of the migrants attempting to reach the US say they are escaping violence,  persecution and poverty in their home countries.

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Iran may pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as part of retaliatory measures to a renewed sanctions push from Washington, Iran’s foreign minister has said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said that quitting the agreement designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons was among “numerous options” available to Tehran, state broadcaster IRIB reported on Sunday. The move comes after the Trump administration announced new efforts on Monday to cut Iranian oil exports “to zero” by removing exemptions from sanctions for US buyers of Iranian crude.

Washington making ‘bad mistake by politicizing oil & using it as a weapon’ – Tehran

“The Islamic Republic’s choices are numerous, and the country’s authorities are considering them… and leaving [the] NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) is one of them,” Zarif said.

His comments follow strong rhetoric from US military officials against Tehran on Saturday. Speaking during a visit to Gulf allies aimed at creating “common cause against the threat of Iran,” US Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie said enough resources would be deployed to prevent Iran from taking “dangerous” actions. “We will be able to respond effectively,” he said.

Washington’s latest measures against Iran ended six months of waivers granted to its eight biggest oil customers, allowing them to continue Iranian imports without falling foul of the American sanctions regime. However, they now have until May 1 to cease orders for Iranian crude or risk the wrath of the US.

First ratified in 1970, the NPT aims to promote the eventual disarmament of existing nuclear arsenals, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, and the promotion of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Four countries have never signed up to the accords: South Sudan, Israel, Pakistan, and India.

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Experts from NASA and other government agencies are gearing up to tackle an asteroid hurtling towards Earth. No, it’s not another remake of a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s part of a simulation to prepare for the doomsday scenario.

When the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference kicks off next week, NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office will team up with other agencies and scientific institutions, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to work on how they would handle an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Estimated risk corridor for the impact of a hypothetical asteroid. © ESA

The group hopes to learn the best strategies for dealing with the threat, starting from the instant a potentially dangerous asteroid is detected by astronomers.

The experts will work on the following fictional scenario:

Astronomers discover an asteroid on March 26, 2019 and give it the name ‘2019 PDC.’ Very little is known about the asteroid’s physical properties, and experts have determined it could be anywhere from 100-300 meters in size. The astronomers class 2018 DPC as a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid.’

Initially, the European Space Agency and NASA’s ‘impact monitoring systems’ forecast that the asteroid has a 1-in-50,000 chance of striking Earth and it is most likely to strike on April 29, 2027. However, after monitoring the asteroid for a month, they conclude that the chances of the object hitting Earth have increased dramatically to 1-in-100.

Once again, this is fictional – there’s no need to call Bruce Willis just yet.

NASA says the exercise won’t be tightly scripted. The goal is to investigate how all the relevant agencies and citizens might respond to an actual impending asteroid strike. The space agency has already taken part in six similar exercises in recent years.

“These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. “This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments.”

So there you have it. When the asteroid comes, they will be ready. We hope.

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Yellow Vest protesters have marched on the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, prompting police to deploy tear gas. The demonstrators have also swarmed several TV stations, demanding better coverage of their movement.

The 24th consecutive weekend of demonstrations saw more than 5,000 protesters take to the streets across France, including 2,600 in Paris, according to Interior Ministry figures, which the Yellow Vests have often questioned in the past.

In Strasbourg, tear gas filled the streets as police struggled to keep hundreds of demonstrators away from the EU Parliament buildings. Police have blocked roads and bridges, and clashes have broken out between heavily armored riot control officers and masked protesters.

Wearing improvised gas masks, the Yellow Vests kicked tear-gas canisters back at the battalions of police blocking the roads.

Paris has been the epicenter of the Yellow Vest movement since it began as a show of opposition to a planned fuel tax hike last November. On Saturday, activists surrounded the headquarters of several French television networks there, demanding better coverage of their weekly demonstrations.

Saturday’s marches came two days after French President Emmanuel Macron tried to assuage popular anger with promises of lower taxes. However, activists have continued to demonstrate against Macron’s pro-business, pro-EU policies, calling his peace offering “rubbish.”

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Spain goes to the polls on April 28 for the country’s third general election in four years. Spanish politics has splintered in recent years, with the country’s two establishment parties now vying with fringe groups for power.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who heads the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), took office in June 2018 after succeeding with a no-confidence motion against former PM Mariano Rajoy and his People’s Party (PP) government. But Sánchez called snap elections in February after his 2019 budget was rejected by right-wing and Catalan pro-independence parties.

The PSOE and PP used to dominate Spanish politics, on the left and right respectively. However, the 2008 financial crisis and years of austerity that followed led to “fatigue among society with the traditional two big parties,” and “disenchantment with politicians in a country that only implemented democracy less than 40 years ago,” Dr. Arantza Gomez Arana of the University of Birmingham’s social sciences department told RT.

Sánchez’s is a minority government, holding only 85 of 350 seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies. The remaining seats have been fought over bitterly by a number of fringe parties that have gained traction in recent years.

Candidates from PP, Podemos, PSOE, and Ciudadanos take part in a televised debate © Reuters / Juan Medina

Who’s in the game?

Aside from the aforementioned PSOE and PP, a number of viable contenders have sprung up on the right and left.

Ciudadanos (Citizens) is a populist centrist party in the mold of French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! Party. Birthed in Catalonia in 2005, the party took 40 seats in the 2015 general election, and represents the views of Catalonians who oppose the region’s independence movement. Its leader, Albert Rivera, has ruled out forming a coalition with Sanchez’s PSOE, based on the PM’s alliance with Catalan separatist parties.

Another populist party, this time on the left, Podemos was formed by university professors who participated in a 2011 anti-austerity protest in Madrid. The party succeeded in drawing away left-wing voters dissatisfied with the PSOE, and took 69 seats in the 2015 election. However, the party has since been rocked by infighting and splits.

The most talked-about party in the runup to Sunday’s vote is undoubtedly Vox, a populist right-wing party supported by former Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

Vox shot to prominence in Andalusian regional elections in 2018, winning 12 seats and supporting a center-right government. The party has called for crackdowns on immigration and abortion and vehemently opposes Catalan independence. It also has hardline conservative views on LGBTQ and women’s rights.

While Vox’s rise mirrors that of populist parties in France, Italy, and the Netherlands, the party is not particularly anti-EU, in the vein of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. It has, however, positioned itself as a champion of Spanish nationalism and opponent of immigration, much like its other European counterparts.

Vox has capitalized on the fragmentation of the PP’s voter base, and has succeeded in “shaping the agenda” by pushing other conservative parties further to the right, Dr. Alejandro Quiroga, a reader in Spanish history at Newcastle University, told RT. Vox is expected to win a handful of seats in Madrid and southern Spain. Despite predictions of modest success, some Vox voters could be keeping their opinions to themselves when polled.

What are the issues?

Although Spain’s unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 26 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2018, it is still double the European average. However, economic issues have taken a back seat to the issue of secessionism in Catalonia. Spain has grappled with Basque separatism for decades, and another pro-independence movement poses a direct threat to the country’s integrity.

Left-wing parties favor negotiation with the Catalonians, coupled with financial and limited self-government initiatives. The right favors a crackdown on the power of regional governments, and the PP, Ciudadanos, and Vox have been using Catalonia as a “punching bag to justify their authoritarianism,” Harrington told RT.

Protesters wave Catalonian flags at a demonstration in Barcelona, October 2018 © Reuters / Enrique Calvo

Culture-war issues have also risen to the forefront. Sanchez has painted himself as a champion of social justice and liberal reforms, appointing a record number of women to cabinet positions. Vox represents a backlash to Sanchez’s proud liberalism, opposing gender violence laws – which it claims discriminate against men – and advocating a ban on public hospitals performing abortions and sex change operations.

Perhaps the best illustration of the cultural divide between the right and the left can be seen in attitudes towards the Spanish tradition of bullfighting. Animal rights party Pacma – founded 16 years ago to campaign against the sport – looks set to win two seats, according to a recent poll. Vox, on the other hand, has enlisted bullfighters as candidates in Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona and Huesca.

Possible coalitions

Given the fragmentation of Spanish politics, no outright winner will likely emerge. A coalition will therefore form, either on the left or right.

Quiroga said the prospect of a right-wing coalition made up of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox is a “very serious possibility.” That was partly echoed by Harrington, who said the three conservative parties are “not that different” in ideological terms, but that it’s a “matter of style” and the ability to form any potential coalition would “come down to the personal rivalries” between the leaders involved, and whether they could be managed.

The “most probable possibility is the socialist party supported by minority and regional parties,” Marc Sanjaume-Calvet, political science researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra told RT. Podemos could also lend their support to a left-wing coalition.

If no coalition can be formed, another general election will be held and Spaniards will go back to the polls for the fourth time in as many years.

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An Iranian UAV has reportedly brazenly approached a US aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf to film the ships close-up in HD. The images were shared by Tehran’s semi-official news agency.

The undated clip, which was released by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, showed a homemade Ababail-3 drone taking off from an Iranian airfield with the musical accompaniment of a rather epic tune.

Its audacious mission proved successful, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, which reported on the close-up shots of the USS ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower’ aircraft carrier apparently taken by the UAV.

The footage was recorded from such a small distance that the numbers on the wings of E-2C reconnaissance planes and F-18 fighter jets on deck are easily distinguishable. Iranian graphic designers even captioned some of the aircraft in the video.

Tasnim hinted that the drone flyby was a response to the US designating the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization” earlier in April. It was the first time that a whole foreign military was put on the blacklist by Washington.

USS ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower’ is the flagship of the Carrier Strike Group 10, which also includes guided-missile cruisers USS ‘Monterey,’ USS ‘San Jacinto’ and USS ‘Vella Gulf.’ The air wing of the 333-meter-long aircraft carrier consists of around 90 planes and helicopters.

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Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has launched a blistering attack on the current leadership of the South American country, saying they are a “bunch of lunatics” and United States “lackeys.”

Lula, who led Brazil from 2003 until 2011, made the extraordinary comments in his first interview since being jailed on corruption charges last year. The 73-year-old was forbidden from speaking to the media until Friday, when two Brazilian journalists visited him in prison after winning a protracted legal battle.

Current president Jair Bolsonaro’s close ties with the United States is clearly a source of much dismay for the former leader, who was leading in the polls during last year’s election before being barred from running due to the corruption charges, which he has repeatedly disputed.

“I’ve never seen a [Brazilian] president salute the American flag. I’ve never seen a president go around saying, ‘I love the United States, I love it!’” he said. “You should love your mother, you should love your country. What’s all this about loving the United States?

“Does anyone really think the US is going to favor Brazil?” he asked. “Americans think of themselves first, second, third, fourth, fifth – and if there’s any time left over, they think about Americans. And these Brazilian lackeys go around thinking the Americans will do anything for us.”

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. © Reuters/Adriano Machado

Bolsonaro has long spoken of his admiration for US President Donald Trump and the American way of life. During a trip to Washington DC last month, he praised Trump for changing the US in a way that he said he hopes to change Brazil.

Trump responded to the flattery by telling Bolsonaro that he will possibly support a push to make Brazil “maybe a NATO ally.” The Brazilian president also managed to squeeze a visit to the CIA’s headquarters into his US trip.

During the lengthy interview, Lula also criticized Bolsonaro’s hardline views which he said have diminished Brazil’s status as an emerging world power. “I was the only president who was invited to all the G8 meetings… Brazil was very important in the G20,” he said. “All this has fallen apart.”

Lula urged Brazilians to partake in a period of “self-reflection” in the aftermath of last year’s divisive election. “What we can’t have is this country being run governed by a bunch of lunatics. The country doesn’t deserve this and above all the people do not deserve this.”

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Airstrikes against ‘terrorist’ targets in Pakistan and subsequent aerial battles with Islamabad’s warplanes would have been more successful if India had better technology, a service report cited by local media admits.

The Indian Air Force’s ‘lessons learnt’ assessment primarily covered February’s retaliatory airstrike on a suspected jihadist training camp in Balakot, Pakistan, resulting in a military flare-up with its neighbor. It found that IAF warplanes would have been able to do serious damage to their Pakistani adversaries – if they had access to weapons capable of doing so in the first place.

The wording of the report was somewhat careful about admitting this fact openly, suggesting that they would have been able to compete with their opponents more effectively if they had possessed “technological asymmetry.”

A litany of technical issues was found to have hampered the IAF’s combat prowess. On top of problems integrating new weapons with the available hardware, one of the fighter jet’s missiles apparently failed to deploy from the aircraft altogether due to issues with its navigation system. The same issue had featured in an earlier embarrassing report which suggested that India had likely shot down its own helicopter with a malfunctioning missile while attempting to target encroaching enemy craft.

The latest review also noted that since 1999’s Kargil War, Pakistan “has been consistently enhancing its air defense and offensive capabilities,” demonstrated in the recent clashes by their use of F-16 fighter jets, giving Islamabad an edge. India’s hardware, meanwhile, has become increasingly outdated.

“We felt we could not punish the adversaries appropriately. So we need to bolster technological asymmetry so that the enemy does not even dare to come close to the border,” one source told India’s Economic Times. While things didn’t go exactly as expected, the report reminds readers that “no battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy.”

India also maintained that it carried out the assault into Pakistani airspace in order to strike a training facility used by the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which had carried out an attack in Pulwama, killing 40 Indian troops. However, Pakistan has consistently denied the existence of such camps, and said that the raid had merely destroyed some trees.

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The 18-month sentence imposed by a US court on Russian gun activist Maria Butina came as a shock to her family, who were already expecting her back home, her father told RT. He believes appealing the ruling is pointless.

Maria, her lawyers and her family were “confident” going into Friday’s trial and expected “a fair sentence, which would be the end of her detention,” Valery Butin said.

“We weren’t ready for such a harsh, unfair decision,” he said after his daughter was handed a prison term for acting as a foreign agent on behalf of the Kremlin without proper registration.

Valery Butin © RT

Maria’s legal team said they won’t appeal against the decision “because the hearing will last as many months as she’s going to spend in prison anyway,” he explained. With credit for pretrial custody, the 30-year-old is likely to remain in a US prison for less than nine months.

Maria, who arrived in the US on a student visa in 2016 and quickly became a noticeable figure in pro-gun circles, was “caught in the mix” with all the anti-Russian hysteria in America, Valery believes. The Mueller probe found no collusion between Donald Trump and Moscow, but Maria was still “declared the main guilty party,” he said.

Valery described his daughter’s treatment in US prison as “normal” in recent months, saying that she’s allowed to leave her cell and visit the gym, among other things. It’s nothing compared to the beginning of her detention, when Maria was “discriminated against… held in solitary confinement for 22 hours per day, and only allowed out during the night.”

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