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France terror attack: Beheading of teacher heightens debate about Islamist terrorism and freedom of speech | World News

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Conflans-Saint-Honorine is a place like many others. In the outer suburbs of Paris, it is a pleasant but unremarkable grid of homes and amenities. 

And yet now, it finds itself at the very heart of the French national debate after a truly horrific murder on its streets.

Samuel Paty, 47, a well-respected teacher, was attacked and beheaded as he walked along the street at 5pm. His killer, aged just 18, was then shot dead by police as he walked along a neighbouring road.

Mr Paty is understood to be a 47-year-old history teacher
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Mr Paty had held a classroom discussion over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad before his death
Police officers secure the area near the scene of a stabbing attack in the Paris suburb of Conflans St Honorine, France, October 16, 2020
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Police officers pictured at the scene of the stabbing on Friday evening

Within hours, President Emmanuel Macron was on the scene, visiting the school where Mr Paty taught history and geography.

Macron normally likes to deliver long, impassioned speeches, but here his address was briefer and more restrained. He looked stunned but called for unity, while describing the murder as an act of “Islamist terror”. The education minister, Jean-Michael Blanquer, described the killing as an attack on the French Republic.

At the school where Mr Paty taught, there was a long line of teachers, parents and students on Saturday, coming to pay respects, laying flowers and leaving notes. The school, which was ringed by a line of French CRS riot police, also provided psychological support for those affected by what had happened.

Some carried signs saying “Je Suis Enseignant” (I am a teacher) in tribute to Mr Paty. Online, the similar expression “Je Suis Prof” was being widely shared.

The impact of this upon the school community will be great. But it is also affecting France, a country that has struggled enormously to cope with the effects of Islamist terrorism in recent years.

It is five years since gunmen broke into the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people. More died in the following days, the precursor to a wave of terrorist attacks across France that killed hundreds.

In Paris, the trial is now under way of men and women accused of being accomplices in those first attacks. As the trial started, Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as an exercise in free speech.

Others called it inflammatory, even reckless. Not long after, the magazine’s existing head of human resources was moved out of her home on police advice.

Last month, a man attacked two people outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo; both suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries. And all the while, the trial continues.

Now, this murder will heighten again the question of Islamist terrorism, and its causes. It seems quite clear that there is a link between the killing of the teacher, and Mr Paty’s decision to launch a classroom discussion over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

A teacher stands with a placard reading 'I am a teacher, I defend the freedom of speech, I fight for our work conditions and against all kind of racism' near the entrance of a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 30kms northwest of Paris, on October 17, 2020, after a teacher was decapitated by an attacker who has been shot dead by policemen
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‘I am a teacher, I defend the freedom of speech, I fight for our work conditions and against all kind of racism’
Flowers have been placed at the entrance of a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 30kms northwest of Paris, on October 17, 2020, after a teacher was decapitated by an attacker who has been shot dead by policemen
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Flowers have been left outside Mr Paty’s school

So what to do? In a country that puts such a value on free speech and secular government, the right to insult is entrenched. But the fury sparked by these cartoons has now cost many lives, and heightened tensions dangerously.

Into this quandary walked the local mayor, Laurent Brosse. He was born and bred in this town.

“I want to tell the locals that we will recover,” he said. “We will all rise together. We will rise again thanks to our spirit of solidarity which makes the uniqueness of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

“It is by debating, exchanging opinions and listening that we will be able to overcome this dramatic test.”

But there has been a lot of talking in France over recent years in search of an answer, to work out how to preserve the fundamental tenets of French society while also stemming the rise of Islamist terrorism.

Judging by this horrific attack, the puzzle has not been solved.

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Coronavirus: Yodellers reject blame for ‘one of Europe’s worst COVID outbreaks’ | World News

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The cast of a yodelling musical have rejected blame for a COVID-19 outbreak dubbed one of the worst in Europe.

The performances in Schwyz, Switzerland, were attended by 600 fans at the end of September – and coronavirus cases there have more than doubled to 1,238 since the middle of that month.

With an infection rate of 408 cases per 100,000 people, it is now the worst-hit region in Switzerland.

But a cast member from “Forever and Always”, which enforced social distancing but did not require attendees to wear face masks, has dismissed the idea that the yodellers are responsible as “pure slander”.

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A yodelling musical is being blamed for the worst coronavirus cluster in Switzerland.
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Yodel musical ‘Forever and Always’ has delayed the rest of its tour due to the pandemic. Pic: Jodelmusical

Erwin Bertschy admitted three other performers had tested positive for COVID-19 five days after the shows, but said the organisers had a “protection concept that was adhered to”.

“At the same time, the restaurants were open all night and they were full to the brim,” he told Sky News. “But it’s easier to blame an external organiser.”

Fellow cast member Maja Keller-Roth agreed, saying there were other events during that weekend in Schwyz where people could have caught the virus.

“We think it’s a shame and sad that the media are now dragging us through the mud,” she told Sky News.

Beat Hegner, the managing director of the venue that hosted the performances, appeared to accept some responsibility when he told a Swiss TV channel: “We couldn’t help what happened with this yodelling group.

“We learned nine days after the performances that several people in the troupe were infected. From there, we couldn’t control the chain of infection.”

Some scientists have suggested singing could spread the virus via airborne droplets.

A yodelling musical is being blamed for the worst coronavirus cluster in Switzerland.
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Erwin Bertschy (far left) did not test positive for the virus, but three of his fellow performers did. Pic: Jodelmusical

Intensive care wards are filling up at Schwyz hospital, prompting one of its directors, Franziska Follmi, to warn that the hospital “can’t manage” if the rise in cases continues.

“The explosion in the number of cases in Schwyz is one of the worst in all of Europe,” said Reto Nuesch in a video appealing to the public.

“It is time for you, the population, to react. Wear masks, stop partying.”

He took aim at the local government, saying that “the measures were not formulated clearly enough until now”.

The local government only announced on Monday that masks would become compulsory for all public and private events of more than 50 people.

Switzerland’s federal system gives leeway to its regions – known as cantons – to set health policy.

A yodelling musical is being blamed for the worst coronavirus cluster in Switzerland.
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Maja Keller-Roth said it’s a ‘shame’ the musical is being blamed for rising coronavirus cases. Pic: Jodelmusical

In a sign of a second wave, the country reported another daily record of 3,105 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

The Alpine nation has confirmed more than 71,000 cases in total and over 1,800 deaths.

Geneva this week limited public gatherings to 100 people, and now requires contact details to be taken for events of more than 15 people.

“If we don’t get a handle on this, we run the risk of getting into a situation that’s harder to control,” said Bertrand Levrat, general director of Geneva Hospitals.

“We are really at a turning point – things can go both ways.”

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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenia accused of killing 13 people with missile strike on Azerbaijan | World News

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At least 13 people are said to have been killed in a missile strike on the second-largest city in Azerbaijan, as the conflict with Armenia continues.

Azerbaijani officials said Armenia was responsible for the deaths and the wounding of 50 others in Ganja, in an escalation of their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenia’s defence ministry denied launching the strike and separatist authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped short of claiming responsibility, but alleged they were “legitimate” military facilities.

Search and rescue teams work on a blast site hit by a rocket in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan
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Search and rescue teams work on a blast site hit by a rocket in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani officials said about 20 residential buildings were damaged or destroyed by a Soviet-made Scud missile, and emergency workers spent hours searching in the rubble.

Scud missiles date back to the 1960s and carry a large warhead of explosives, but are known for their lack of precision.

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, said the missile strike was a war crime and warned Armenia it would face responsibility for it, having already condemned another apparent strike on Ganja this month.

“Azerbaijan will give its response and it will do so exclusively on the battlefield,” Mr Aliyev said.

While authorities in both Azerbaijan and Armenia have denied targeting civilians, residential areas have increasingly come under attack during a conflict thought to have killed upwards of 600 people as of earlier this week.

Stepanakert – the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh – was shelled overnight, with three civilians wounded, according to separatist authorities.

An injured man sits on a bench near a hospital in Stepanakert in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh
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An injured man sits on a bench near a hospital in Stepanakert in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.

Mr Aliyev announced that Azerbaijani forces had captured the town of Fizuli and seven other villages, gaining a “strategic edge”.

Fizuli is one of the seven Azerbaijani areas outside Nagorno-Karabakh seized by Armenian forces in the early 1990s.

Relatives  carry the coffins of victims of a rocket attack during their funeral in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan
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Relatives carry the coffins of victims of a rocket attack during their funeral in Ganja

Armenia and Azerbaijan were both within the Soviet Union until its break-up at the start of the 1990s, and both have remained on friendly terms with Russia.

More than 10 hours of talks brokered by Russia ended with a ceasefire, but the agreement immediately failed, with both sides blaming each other.

Turkish support for the Azerbaijani military has given it an edge on the battlefield, helping them outgun the Armenian forces that rely mostly on outdated Soviet-era weapons.

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Coronavirus: Intensive care units in Europe could reach capacity in weeks – WHO | World News

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Intensive care units in Europe could reach maximum capacity in weeks amid surging numbers of coronavirus cases, the World Health Organisation has warned.

To try to curb the disease, France is bringing in a 9pm curfew in Paris and other big cities, the Czech Republic has shut schools and is building a field hospital, and Poland is limiting restaurant hours and closing gyms and schools.

In Belgium, new infections are doubling every week, and in Brussels, 20% of tests are coming back positive. Health authorities say the maximum capacity of 2,000 ICU beds could be full by mid-November.

Five weeks after reopening, Belgian universities will switch mostly to online teaching from Monday.

A cook bangs a pot during a demonstration against new restrictions in Barcelona
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A cook bangs a pot during a demonstration against new restrictions in Barcelona

The French health ministry reported a further 25,086 daily cases on Friday, following a record figure of 30,621 on Thursday. It said 122 people had died.

The country is deploying 12,000 extra police to enforce its new curfew, beginning on Saturday.

In Greece, the number of daily cases rose above 500 for the first time on Friday, reaching 508, with 227 in the Athens metropolitan area.

King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, has been criticised by several members of parliament for travelling to Greece for a holiday.

Although the break does not contravene any rules, Joost Sneller from the D-66 party said the king’s decision was “unwise and incomprehensible”, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

A man has a test done in Turin
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A man has a test done in Turin

The WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said: “We know of a number of cities across Europe where ICU capacity will be reached in the coming weeks.”

But she added that better treatments and increased testing capacity mean countries may find themselves in a better position than months ago.

In Italy, the president of the Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca, said he would impose a curfew on 31 October to stop the virus being transmitted at “stupid” Halloween parties.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has ruled out another national lockdown, but Lombardy’s leader has said he will revise opening hours for bars and restaurants and close gaming centres and bingo halls.

France is bringing in a 9pm curfew in Paris and other big cities
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France is introducing a 9pm curfew in cities

In Barcelona, 1,000 hospitality workers, banging pots and pans, protested against a 15-day shutdown of bars and
restaurants ordered by the Catalan regional government.

One of the protesters, restaurant owner David Polo, said: “After all we’ve had to endure over the past months this really is the final slaughter.”

In Malta, passengers were stopped from disembarking from the MSC Grandiosa cruise ship over a suspected case of coronavirus.

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