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French court overturns ‘burkini ban’ laws after public outcry

Protesters demonstrated against France’s ban of the burkini outside the French Embassy in London on Aug. 25, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Neil Hall

The controversial ban on “burkinis” — a full-body swimsuit preferred by some Muslim women — has been overturned for the town of Villeneuve-Loubet by France’s highest administrative court.

“The emotion and concerns arising from the terrorist attacks, notably the one perpetrated in Nice on July 14, cannot suffice to justify in law the contested prohibition measure,” the Council of State’s ruling stated. “The contested decree has thus brought a serious and manifestly illegal infringement on basic freedoms such as the freedom to come and go, freedom of conscience and personal freedom.”

The decision is likely to set a legal precedent for the dozens of other French towns that have enacted such bans.

Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, representing the Human Rights League — one of the organizations that issued the legal challenge to the burkini ban — said that Friday’s decision sets a legal precedent for the rest of the country, the Associated Press reported.

“Today all the ordinances taken should conform to the decision of the Council of State. Logically the mayors should withdraw these ordinances. If not legal actions could be taken [against those towns],” Spinosi said.

But there is still resistance, in spite of the Council of State’s decision.

The Telegraph reported that the mayor of Sisco, Ange-Pierre Vivoni, has vowed to enforce his town’s burkini ban.

“This judgment does not affect us here because we had a fight over it [the burkini],” Vivoni said, referring to an Aug. 13 altercation on a Sisco beach that preceded the ban.

Proponents of the ban say it protects secularism, especially in the wake of jihadist attacks.

The Council of State’s decision comes a day after Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and current French presidential candidate, said he would be in favor of a nationwide burkini ban.

He said in a TV interview on Wednesday that the full-body swimsuit is a “provocation,” adding, “We don’t imprison women behind fabric.”

France still has a national ban on full-face veils, according to a law adopted in 2010 that banned “the covering of the face in public spaces.”

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U.S., Russia renew push for elusive agreement on Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shake hands during a bilateral
         meeting focused on the Syrian crisis in Geneva, Switzerland August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Martial Trezzini/Pool - RTX2N4LN

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, shake hands during a bilateral meeting focused on the Syrian crisis in Geneva, Switzerland August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Martial Trezzini/Pool/Reuters

GENEVA — The United States and Russia on Friday renewed efforts to secure a military and humanitarian cooperation agreement for war-torn Syria as conditions on the ground continued to deteriorate after months of hesitation, missed deadlines and failed attempts to forge a nationwide truce.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were meeting in Geneva as part of a new U.S. bid to enlist Russia as a partner in Syria as the fighting becomes more volatile and complicated with the introduction of Turkish ground forces. Neither Washington nor Moscow has signaled that an agreement is imminent, although progress appears to have been made in one critical battleground: the besieged city of Aleppo, where the United Nations has been clamoring for a 48-hour cease-fire so humanitarian aid can be shipped into the city.

Asked to describe the main impediment to a nationwide ceasefire in Syria as he sat down with Kerry, Lavrov said: “I don’t want to spoil the atmosphere for the negotiations.” Kerry did not speak and it was not immediately clear if either man would address reporters after their talks, which are expected to last several hours and also include discussions about the crisis in Ukraine.

On Thursday, U.N. officials said Russia was on board for a plan to win a 48-hour pause in fighting in and around Aleppo so that aid can be delivered to its increasingly embattled population. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry simply reiterated its general support for a ceasefire to open an aid corridor, and was waiting for the U.N. to announce it is ready.

The three-point plan for Aleppo, which U.N. officials say now needs the approval of two rebel groups and the Syrian government, would involve road convoys both from Damascus and across the Turkish border through the critical Castello Road artery. Another mission would go to southern Aleppo to help revive a damaged electric plant that powers crucial pumping stations that supply water for 1.8 million people.

Kerry was to meet with the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mistura, later Friday in Geneva.

Despite the apparent incremental progress on Aleppo, U.S. officials are keen to broaden the focus and hammer out a diplomatic initiative that would see greater military cooperation with Russia that could lead to a resumption of talks on a political transition. However, previous efforts to set target dates for the start of the transition process have failed, most recently when an early August timeline had to be abandoned.

Before those talks can begin, though, U.S. officials say it is imperative that Russia use its influence with Syrian President Bashar Assad to halt all attacks on moderate opposition forces, open humanitarian aid corridors, and concentrate any offensive action on the Islamic State group and other extremists not covered by what has become a largely ignored truce. For their part, U.S. officials say they are willing to press rebels groups they support harder on separating themselves from the Islamic State and al-Nusra, which despite a recent name change is still viewed as al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.

Those goals are not new, but recent developments have made achieving them even more urgent and important, according to U.S. officials. Recent developments include military operations around the city of Aleppo, the entry of Turkey into the ground war, Turkish hostility toward U.S.-backed Kurdish rebel groups and the presence of American military advisers in widening conflict zones.

Meanwhile, in a blow to the opposition, rebel forces and civilians in the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya were to be evacuated on Friday after agreeing to surrender the town late Thursday after four years of grueling bombardment and a crippling siege that left the sprawling area in ruins. The surrender of Daraya, which became an early symbol of the nascent uprising against President Bashar Assad, marks a success for his government, removing a persistent threat only a few miles from his seat of power.

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How well do you know the world: Peace deals and the ‘worst zoo’

This week, Colombia finalized a peace deal, an earthquake leveled villages in Italy, and something notable happened at the world’s “worst zoo.” Take our quiz about this and more.

The post How well do you know the world: Peace deals and the ‘worst zoo’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

News Wrap: Italian quake death toll rises to 250; Afghan university attack kills 13

A body is carried away by rescuers following an earthquake in Amatrice,
         central Italy, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX2MZXS

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HARI SREENIVASAN:  Rescuers in Italy today desperately searched for signs of life amid a sea of rubble.  The death toll now stands at 250 people.  The temblor leveled a cluster of mountain communities northeast of Rome early yesterday.

Emma Murphy of Independent Television News is in Italy with the latest.

EMMA MURPHY:  Since the first quake, the aftershocks are seemingly endless.  This one measuring 5.4 brought fear to an already traumatized population and greater danger to those working through what is already damaged.

And what damage.  This is Pescara del Tronto.  These images are of destruction on such a scale which makes them almost impossible to take in.  On the ground, it still seems unreal.  And yet a closer look gives a glimpse into the lives which were lived here and for some lost here.

Even the bishop tells me he has no words to offer comfort, relying instead of spiritual closeness or physical closeness and silence to help people through.

There were around 1,000 people in the town when the quake struck.  Incredibly, most were able to escape.  But there are others buried deep beneath.  There are moments of joy, like when this worker shouted that he thought there was a child and called for silence.

They carefully begin to inch her out from the rubble which she has been trapped in for 15 hours.  She is 10 years old and pulled out alive.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

EMMA MURPHY:  It was a moment of hope, but there is much desperation and a feeling that the time for rescues has now passed.

MAN:  We use the dogs.  They are looking for now at this moment, but no sign of people alive, no.

EMMA MURPHY:  For some, there’s been a chance to retrieve a few belongings abandoned as they ran for their lives.

MAN:   I’m angry with God.

EMMA MURPHY:  You’re angry with God?

MAN:  Yes, I’m angry with God.

EMMA MURPHY:  It’s unlikely these homes will ever be salvaged.  And few feel particularly confident about living here now.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Italy’s civil protection agency estimates about 5,000 people, including firefighters, soldiers, and volunteers, have provided assistance in the wake of the disaster.

Colombia’s president formally delivered a historic peace deal with FARC rebels to his country’s congress today.  It establishes a timetable for the leftist rebels to disarm and reenter society, ending five decades of war that’s killed more than 220,000 people.  President Juan Manuel Santos hailed the agreement before a jubilant crowd outside the congress building in Bogota.  It still requires the Colombian people’s approval in an October referendum.

PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, Colombia (through translator):  I want to inform Colombians that I have ordered a definitive cease-fire with the FARC, beginning this coming Monday.  With this ends the armed conflict with the FARC.  Through this act, we are giving the people the last word regarding Colombia’s peace, and it will be the people on October 2 who will say, yes, we want peace.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  We will take a closer look at Colombia’s path to peace after the news summary.

At least 13 people are dead one after a nearly nine-hour-long siege at the American University of Afghanistan on the outskirts of Kabul.  Dozens more were wounded.  The attack began last night with a car bomb at the university’s entrance, followed by gunfire.  It didn’t end until this morning, when two gunmen were shot dead by Afghan special forces.  Students recounted the assault.

AHMAD HUSSIN, Student, American University of Afghanistan (through translator):  We were at the gym inside the university when the attack took place.  There is a safe room there.  We all stayed there until 1:30 a.m.  Then the security forces came in and rescued us.

NAQIE ULLAH, Student, American University of Afghanistan (through translator):  The militant insurgents threw hand grenades at us, but we covered ourselves under the desks to avoid shrapnel.  Then we all jumped down from the window of the second floor and escaped.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The State Department confirmed no U.S. citizens were among the dead.  So far, there has been no claim of responsibility.

In Syria, the main Kurdish militia is beginning to withdraw from the Turkish border a day after the U.S. threatened to revoke its support if the Kurds didn’t do so, this in part due to Turkish concerns that the so-called YPG has gained too much ground fighting the Islamic State.  They say the group is tied to Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.

Meanwhile, more Turkish tanks and fighters moved into the Syrian border town of Jarabulus today to help Syrian rebels secure the area from ISIS militants.

U.S. defense officials have confirmed a series of naval face-offs with Iran in the Persian Gulf.  An Iranian vessel approached two American warships yesterday, prompting one U.S. ship to fire warning shots.  The incident came a day after Iranian boats steered within 300 feet of an American ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

A Pentagon spokesman said Iran’s naval aggression was a concerning trend.

PETER COOK, Pentagon Spokesman:  We certainly hope it doesn’t continue, because it serves no purpose, other than to raise tensions in an important part of world, and tensions that we don’t seek to have escalated.

We are conducting ourselves again, as always have, as the Navy does around the world, in a safe and professional manner, and our sailors will continue to do that, and they will continue to take the steps they need to, to protect themselves, their ships and our interests in the region.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Iran’s defense minister warned today they will continue to confront any vessel entering its territory, even though this week’s incidents were in international waters.

The maker of the EpiPen said today it is reducing out-of-pocket costs for some patients, amid a firestorm of criticism.  The company, Mylan, will issue savings cards that cover up to $300 of the cost of its $600 two-dose package of the lifesaving allergy treatment.  It is also doubling the amount of people that qualify for its patient assistance program.

Stocks slipped on Wall Street today, led by declines in the health care sector.  The Dow Jones industrial average lost 33 points to close at 18448.  The Nasdaq fell five points, and the S&P 500 slid nearly three.

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