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Thousands rally across France in tribute to murdered schoolteacher

Nation mourns Samuel Paty, who was beheaded in a terrorist attack on Friday

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Tens of thousands of people have rallied in solidarity, in dozens of towns and cities across France, after a secondary schoolteacher was beheaded in an attack that has shocked a country already shaken by terrorist atrocities.

Demonstrators gathered on Sunday in cities including Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux in support of free speech and in tribute to Samuel Paty, who was killed outside his school on Friday after discussing caricatures of the prophet Muhammad with his class.

Leading politicians, civil rights associations and teachers’ unions rallied on the Place de la République in Paris holding placards proclaiming “Je suis Samuel”, an echo of the “Je suis Charlie” slogan following the 2015 attack in which Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Protesters at Place de la République in Paris pay tribute to Samuel Paty. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Others held placards aloft declaring “No to totalitarianism of thought”, “I am a teacher” or “Schools in mourning”. Between bursts of applause, others chanted “Freedom of expression, freedom to teach” or sang La Marseillaise.

“We are the result of our history: these values of liberty, secularism and democracy cannot remain just words,” one demonstrator in Paris told French television. “We have to keep them alive, and being here helps do that.”

Many teachers said the killing came amid a climate of growing suspicion and criticism of teachers, with parents particularly willing to intervene. “We have to be allowed to do our jobs,” one teacher told Le Monde. “It cannot be allowed come to this – that I now know I might end up being killed for teaching,” said another.

Before the rallies, the education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer called on “everyone to support our teachers”, saying “solidarity and unity” was vital. State interior secretary, Marlène Schiappa, said she was attending the Paris rally “for teachers, secularism and freedom of expression, and against Islamism”.

Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Lyon mosque and a senior Muslim figure, said Paty had merely been “doing his job” and was “respectful” in doing so. “These terrorists are not religious but are using religion to take power,” Kabtane told Agence France-Presse.

A national tribute will be organised for Wednesday, the Elysée palace announced. The prime minister, Jean Castex, who attended the Paris rally along with opposition leaders and the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said the government was working on a strategy to better protect teachers from similar threats.

“I want teachers to know that, after this ignoble act, the whole country is behind them,” Castex said. “This tragedy affects each and every one of us because, through this teacher, it is the republic that was attacked.”

The 47-year-old history and geography teacher was repeatedly attacked with a 30cm butcher’s knife outside the Bois-d’Aulne secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, about 20 miles north-west of Paris, by an 18-year-old assailant.

Named as Abdullakh Anzorov, the attacker was shot dead by police soon afterwards when he fired at officers and tried to stab them as they closed in on him. He was born in Moscow of Chechen parents, authorities said, and had arrived in France aged six where he had been granted refugee status along with his family.

Anzorov lived in Évreux, about 60 miles from Conflans, had not attended the school and, while he had a record for vandalism and fights as a child, had no known radical or Islamist affiliations, French media reported.

A Twitter account under the name Abdoulakh A belonging to the suspect posted a photo of the decapitated head from the attacker’s mobile phone minutes after the attack, along with the message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Mohammed down.”

Earlier this month, as part of a class discussion on freedom of expression and alongside cartoons and caricatures of different subjects, Paty showed his pupils two of the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed published by Charlie Hebdo.

According to parents and teachers, the teacher had given Muslim children in his class the option to leave the classroom or turn away before he showed the two cartoons, saying that he did not want their feelings hurt.

A placard with the portrait of history teacher Samuel Paty as people gather in Paris.

A placard with the portrait of history teacher Samuel Paty as people gather in Paris. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

France’s anti-terror prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, said on Saturday that the teacher had been the target of multiple online threats for showing the cartoons to his class. Depictions of the prophet are widely regarded as taboo in Islam.

The father of one girl at the school had launched an online appeal for a “mobilisation” against the teacher, demanding he be fired. He also named Paty and gave the school’s address in a social media post days before the attack.

A known Islamist militant accompanied some parents to the school to argue their case, and helped file a formal police complaint. The schoolgirl’s father and the Islamist leader, along with four members of Anzorov’s family, are among 11 people arrested, including one person detained on Sunday.

Friday’s attack was the second of its kind since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the magazine’s former office.



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Disaster

US sets record with 225,201 single-day Covid-19 cases

The country on Wednesday had set a world record of single-day case count, as 196,227 new cases were reported and hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the first time.

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RUSSIA CORONAVIRUS

Washington, Dec 5 : Setting a new grim record, the US reported 225,201 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day spike since the onset of the pandemic in the country, currently the worst-hit in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The new figure on Friday increased the overall caseload to 14,343,430, the University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update on Saturday.

In the same period, the country also reported 2,506 new fatalities, which increased the total coronavirus death toll to 278,605, according to the CSSE.

The two tallies are the highest in the world.

The country on Wednesday had set a world record of single-day case count, as 196,227 new cases were reported and hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the first time.

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36 cross-party UK MPs support Indian farmers’ agitation

The government has maintained that the new laws will provide farmers with better opportunities. It has also accused the opposition parties of misleading farmers.

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Dominic Raab Labour Party

A faction of 36 cross-party UK MPs, led by the Labour Party’s Tanmanjit Singh Dhesi, have come out in support of the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India, asking British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to raise the matter with New Delhi.

The MPs, in a missive to Raab, asked to pressurise India against the recently enacted agriculture laws which “exploit” the farmers and those who depend on farming.

They further urged the Foreign Secretary to hold talks with the Indian government through the support of Sikh farmers in Punjab and abroad.

In his letter, Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough, said that last month several MPs wrote to the Indian High Commission in London about the impacts of the three new farm laws.

“This is an issue of particular concern to Sikhs in the UK and those linked to Punjab, although it also heavily impacts on other Indian states.

“The Punjabi community is widely recognized as the backbone of the state’s economic structure and the farmers’ concerns are a powerful faction in national and state politics,” the letter said.

It called for an urgent with Raab to discuss the “deteriorating” situation in Punjab and its relationship with the Union government.

Also, representations to be made to India about the impact on British Sikhs and Punjabis, with longstanding links to land and farming in India.

In a tweet, Dhesi said: “Many constituents, especially those emanating from the Punjab, have contacted MPs to express solidarity with the farmers opposing farmers Bill 2020 in India.

“Dozens of MPs duly deliberated and signed a cross-party letter, seeking justice for the peacefully protesting farmers.” The development comes as farmers have continued their protests at the Delhi-Haryana and Delhi-Uttar Pradesh borders.

The agitated farmers are demanding the repeal of the three farm laws passed by Parliament earlier this year and have expressed apprehension that they would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporate houses.

The government has maintained that the new laws will provide farmers with better opportunities. It has also accused the opposition parties of misleading farmers.

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Adar Poonawalla, CEO Serum Institute among 6 named ‘Asians of the Year’ by Singapore daily

The Serum Institute was founded by Poonawalla’s father Cyrus Poonawalla in 1966.

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Adar Poonawalla

Singapore, December 5 : Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India, is among six people named ‘Asians of the Year’ by Singapore’s leading daily, The Straits Times, for their work in fighting the Covid pandemic.

Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) has collaborated with the University of Oxford and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for making the Covid vaccine, ‘Covidshield’, and is conducting trials in India.

The other five named in the list are Chinese researcher Zhang Yongzhen, who led the team that mapped and published online the first complete genome of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that sparked the pandemic, China’s Major-General Chen Wei, Japan’s Dr Ryuichi Morishita and Singapore’s Professor Ooi Eng Eong, who are among those at the forefront of developing vaccines against the virus, and South Korean businessman Seo Jung-jin whose company will enable the making and dispensing of the vaccines and other Covid-19 treatments to the world.

Collectively referred to as “the virus busters”, they are heroes of a kind, having devoted themselves to the pressing cause of resolving the coronavirus pandemic, each in their own capacity, the daily said.

“Sars-CoV-2, the virus that has brought death and hardship to the world’s largest and most populous continent, is meeting its tamer in The Virus Busters,” the award citation said.

“We salute your courage, care, commitment and creativity. In this peril-filled hour, you are a symbol of hope for Asia, indeed the world.”

The Serum Institute was founded by Poonawalla’s father Cyrus Poonawalla in 1966.

Poonawalla joined the Serum Institute of India in 2001 and became the CEO of Serum Institute with complete control of the day-to-day operations of the company in 2011.

Poonawalla said that he had put USD 250 million of his family fortune into ramping up his institute’s manufacturing capacity.

“I decided to go all out,” said Poonawalla, 39, who has pledged that his firm’s COVID-19 vaccines will help supply lower- and middle-income countries that face significant disadvantages in the quest to obtain them.

Poonawalla said his institute is helping poorer countries level up in access to vaccines.

In the big picture of ending the pandemic, commonality of purpose is key, said The Straits Times, Singapore’s mainstream daily.

The Straits Times Asians of the Year have led the way, as have scores of other individuals in their own fields. When an end comes into sight, it will be due in no small part to these people who – undaunted by the tumult – have committed themselves to the sobering, much-needed work to put together an exit plan from the crisis, for humanity.

“There has not been a day this year when the pandemic has not been in the news. Straits Times’ editors felt there could be no more deserving recipients this year than the people squaring up to Asia’s biggest-ever health challenge, engaged in pioneering and courageous efforts to prevent the highly contagious virus from wreaking more damage,” Bhagyashree Garekar, Straits Times’ foreign editor, said on Saturday.

“In a year that is ending with a wish for great resets… Asia’s virus busters are the face of hope on the horizon,” said Garekar.

Between them, the recipients of the 2020 award capture the entire trajectory of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In deciding to honour The Virus Busters, Straits Times editors had in mind those who have, in one way or another, enabled the complex, multi-stage process of preventing as many people around the world from getting the deadly disease in as little time as possible.

“Each year, ST editors seek out a person, team or organisation that has not only made or shaped the news, but also helped contribute positively to Asia in the process,” said Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of Straits Times.

“This year, we naturally looked to those involved in the fight against Covid-19, which has dominated the headlines. We debated long and hard, but finally agreed on a group of people who have done the most to help find an answer to the crisis brought on by the virus.

“They are a disparate group whose collective efforts have pushed forward the search for vaccines, allowing these to be discovered and delivered with an urgency never attempted or seen before. Their commitment and actions have helped save lives and give hope to people all around Asia, and the world,” Fernandez said. PTI

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