French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack | The celebrated Christmas market in France's eastern city of Strasbourg opened for another festive season Friday, with shopkeepers and visitors vowing

French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack

French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack

French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack

French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack

French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack

French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack
French city opens famed Christmas market year after attack
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STRASBOURG : The celebrated Christmas market in France's eastern city of Strasbourg opened for another festive season on Friday (Nov 22), with shopkeepers and visitors vowing not to be cowed by an attack last year by a radical militant gunman that killed five people.

The annual celebrations around a giant Christmas tree will be shadowed by the events of Dec 11, 2018 when Cherif Chekatt, 29, went on the rampage at the market.

This year, some 500 members of the security forces will be on duty - in uniform and plain clothes - and checks are being set up around the city centre.

"We have no specific elements of concern - terrorist or otherwise - concerning the Christmas market in Strasbourg," Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told the Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace newspaper.

Castener, who was to visit the market later Friday, said he wanted to "bring a message of vigilance but also calm, confidence and an invitation to the festivities."

"OUT OF THE QUESTION"

The stallholders who run some 300 wooden chalets selling local produce, souvenirs and Christmas products say they are still haunted by memories of the attack but that the market's work must go on.

Setting out her wares at the stall where she has worked for half a century, Monique Kuprycz-Adam said that the atmosphere was still oppressive but there was no questioning of shunning the event.

"My family has done the Christmas market since 1906. That (closing the stall) would show that we are scared and is out of the question," she said.

The historic Christmas market, which is being held in the city for the 450th year, is of key economic importance for Strasbourg and other cities and towns of northeastern France.

Every year sees a huge influx of visitors, with 2 million expected in Strasbourg and 1.5 million awaited in nearby Colmar, home to one of France's prettiest markets, to enjoy the shopping and goblets of mulled wine.

The Strasbourg market, which will stay open until December 30, has a budget of up to €5 million (US$5.5 million) but brings in 250 million euros ($275 million) in income for the city.

"The Christmas market is something magical for the young, the grown-ups and the elderly," said Christiane, a pensioner visiting the market on Friday. "We will think about the attack but it won't stop us. Otherwise, they will win."

"CAN'T EVER FORGET"

Most of Chekatt's victims were foreigners or had been born abroad. They included a Thai tourist, a Franco-Afghan garage owner and an Italian journalist.

He also wounded 11 people during his shooting and stabbing spree before being shot dead by police after a two-day manhunt.

Chekatt, who was on a watchlist of suspected militant radicals, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group in a video found by investigators on a USB stick.

But the government dismissed a claim by IS that it was responsible for the attack.

"Whether it's two years, three years, four years, ten years, I personally would still have the sounds of the gunshots in my head and the sparks from the gun," said Maxime Sengel, manager of a restaurant near where a victim died.

"That's something we can never forget," he added.

France has been targeted in a wave of attacks claimed by, or blamed on militant radicals since 2015.

In the most recent attack, a radicalised employee killed four of his colleagues at Paris police headquarters in October before himself being shot dead.

3 dead in Iraq capital as top cleric bluntly pushes reform

3 dead in Iraq capital as top cleric bluntly pushes reform

BAGHDAD: Three anti-government protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Iraq's capital on Friday (Nov 22) as the country's top Shiite cleric bluntly pushed politicians to enact electoral reforms.

More than 340 people have died and thousands have been wounded since rallies against widespread graft and unemployment erupted in Baghdad and the mostly-Shiite south last month.

For weeks demonstrators have demanded the government step down but leaders have resisted, instead proposing a raft of measures including recruitment drives and a revamp of Iraq's electoral system.

Protesters have brushed off the proposals, maintaining their sit-ins in Baghdad's iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square for four consecutive weeks.

They have spread onto bridges leading to the western bank of the river Tigris, an area which houses parliament, the prime minister's office, several ministries and the central bank as well as foreign embassies.

On Friday, security forces fired tear gas and live rounds to keep crowds from crossing, killing three protesters and wounding another 30, a medical source told AFP.

Two were shot dead and a third was killed by a tear gas canister, which rights groups say are being improperly fired directly at protesters in a way that can be lethal.

'GOING TOO SLOWLY'

Demonstrators were enraged at the violence, which has continued despite calls by the country's top Shiite authority, or marjaiyah, to deal with the rallies peacefully.

"The marjaiyah banned shooting (at protesters), but it's still happening and people are still dying," said Ahmad Mohammad, a 58-year-old protester in Tahrir.

In an unusually brief sermon on Friday, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani repeated his support for the protest movement and urged politicians to prioritise new election laws.

"The marjaiyah stresses the need to work quickly to pass an electoral law and a law on the electoral commission," said the sermon, read by a representative in the holy city of Karbala.

But the call was met with scepticism from demonstrators, who have sought more robust support from the seat of Shiite religious power in Iraq.

"They're going too slowly on the government. I call them the silent marjaiyah," another demonstrator scoffed.

Parliament earlier this week began discussing a draft electoral law that would shrink parliament and distribute votes according to a complex hybrid system.

But the United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the draft law "requires improvements to meet public demands."

Critics of the current law say it favours entrenched political parties over independents and is vulnerable to corruption and seat-buying.

The last elections in May 2018 produced a parliament in which no bloc had a clear majority - a shaky foundation for Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

'LOST ALL LEGITIMACY'

Parties have rallied around Abdel Mahdi in recent weeks, but protesters have also defiantly clung on.

They were buoyed on Thursday by the government's lifting of its weeks-long restrictions on social media, opening the door to a slew of critiques of the political class.

"They have lost all legitimacy and their proposals don't represent us. This government must resign," said Abou Ali, a 32-year-old demonstrator in Baghdad.

Further south, sit-ins continued in the largely agricultural towns of Hillah, Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah, as well as the two Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

In protest-hit Kut, a local tribal leader said protesters would maintain the pressure on authorities.

"We are determined to keep demonstrating until our demands are met: the government's resignation and parliament's dissolution," said Nasir al-Qassab.

"We reject proposals from the government ... They're just trying to procrastinate," he said.

Football: UEFA fine Celtic for illicit banners, chants in Lazio win

Football: UEFA fine Celtic for illicit banners, chants in Lazio win

REUTERS: Celtic have been fined €15,000 (US$16,582) by UEFA for illicit banners and offensive chants by their supporters in their Europa League match against Lazio last month, European soccer's governing body said on Friday (Nov 22).

Scottish champions Celtic beat the Italian outfit 2-1 at Celtic Park but the game was overshadowed by events off the pitch.

A home supporters group displayed signs that read "Brigate Verde" - along with a white star - which bore a resemblance to Italian left-wing organisation Brigate Rosse.

Another flag depicted Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini hanging with the slogan "Follow Your Leader."

UEFA rules prohibit "provocative messages that are of a political, ideological, religious or offensive nature".

UEFA's control, ethics and disciplinary body also hit Lazio with a fine of 10,000 euros for offensive chanting.

Football: Leclercq, who led Lens to only title, dies at 70

Football: Leclercq, who led Lens to only title, dies at 70

PARIS: Daniel Leclercq, known as the "Druid", who led Lens to their only French league title in 1998, has died at the age of 70, his former club announced on Friday (Nov 22).

The Voix du Nord newspaper reported he suffered a pulmonary embolism and the French side's former president Gervais Martel said Leclercq died in Martinique where he lived.

Leclercq, a central defender, played more than 360 games in nine seasons for Lens from 1974 to 1983. He then coached the club for three seasons from 1997 to 1999 leading them to league and league cup trophies. He returned to the Stade Felix-Bollaert as sporting director from 2008 to 2011.

He was nicknamed the "Druid" for his coaching style as much as for his wispy hair and distinctive posture.

"A part of Lens has gone," Martel told AFP.

"He was first a great player, then as a coach he took us to the highest level. It was unthinkable to be French champion. I don't know if we'll ever go through this again. He was constantly demanding. That reassured the players, even if they sometimes feared him."

Leclercq was from the outskirts of another northern town, Valenciennes where he started his career.

As a player he had a couple of stints with Marseille, where we helped win a league title in 1971, but as a coach he worked only in the north.

In addition to Lens, he had two periods in charge of Valenciennes, guiding the club to promotion in his second spell there from 2003 to 2005.

He wrote his legend in 1998 at Lens, the same year France won the World Cup on home soil.

"He was an idol for the fans," said Martel.

"When we were champions, he was proud and so happy for them. He often told me: 'people got their pride back' when life was difficult with the mines that had closed and many people were unemployed."

Leclercq managed to get the most out of a squad that included a core of French players who failed to make the World Cup squad - Tony Vairelles, Guillaume Warmuz, Jean-Guy Wallemme and Frederic Dehu - as well as Czech midfielder Vladimir Smicer and Montenegrin striker Anto Drobnjak as key figures.

"The 1990s were a time of tactical, space-reducing football," goalkeeper Warmuz told AFP.

"He had the idea of football with panache. It was revolutionary. In January 1998, he asked each one of us in the dressing room if we wanted to be French champions."

Lens and Metz, another club to have never won the league, broke away from the rest of the field during the campaign. Lens took over first spot when they won at Metz at the end of March and then held on to take the title on goal difference after drawing on the last day at home to Auxerre.

The following season Lens beat Metz to win the League Cup.

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