Police shooting puts Paris in alert before election

A boulevard normally teeming with tourists, the Champs-Elysees has now become the site of an attack targeting police officers.

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The shooting happened just a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe.

Counterterrorism police have evacuated the area after a man using a semiautomatic weapon shot one police officer dead and injured two other people.

He tried to run from the scene but was shot dead himself.

A manhunt has been launched for a second attacker, believed to have entered the country from Belgium.

French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henri Brandet says the officers were deliberately targeted.

“Just before 9pm in front of number 102, Avenue de Champs-Elysees, a vehicle stopped next to a police vehicle. A man jumped out of this vehicle and opened fire on the police vehicle, fatally wounding one officer. The man then tried to run onto the pavement, targeting the police officers there. He managed to wound two of them. They sustained serious injuries. The two police officers who were wounded and other nearby officers returned fire, and the attacker was killed.”

This witness, giving his name as Chelloug, says he feels lucky to have escaped with his life.

He was two metres from the targeted police van when he saw the gunman park his car nearby.

He says he heard six shots fired and saw a police officer hit the ground.

“He (the gunman) parked just behind the van, and he got out with a Kalashnikov, and I heard six gunshots. I thought they were firecrackers, because we all looked around the road and there was no-one. In fact, he was hidden behind the van and shooting at the police. I think he hit a policeman. As soon as the policeman opened the door of the van, he fell, I think. As soon as we saw that, we all ran back inside Alain Affelou. We hid, and I went up to the first floor, and we saw (the policemen) shoot him.”

Prosecutors are looking at terrorism as a possible motive in the attack.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

A statement released by the group’s media wing, Amaq, claims the attacker was a Belgian national named Abu Yousuf al-Belgiki.

Authorities have identified him as a 39 year-old from suburban Paris.

French president Francois Hollande says he is certain the attack was a terrorist act.

“The assailant was himself neutralised by other police officers. Our entire district has been cordoned off. Those present were evacuated. And we are convinced that the trails which can lead us in the inquiry will identify terrorists.”

Mr Hollande says a passer-by has been wounded in the shooting, but he provided no details.

Speaking before French officials, United States president Donald Trump has offered condolences and says people must remain strong.

“Well, first of all, our condolences from our country to the people of France. Again, it’s happening, it seems. I just saw it as I was walking in, so, it’s a terrible thing. And it’s a very, very terrible thing that’s going on in the world today. But it looks like another terrorist attack. And what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong, and we have to be vigilant, and I’ve been saying it for a long time.”

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned Australians to be wary of their surroundings overseas.

“Our prayers are with the family of the police officer that’s been killed, and we pray for a quick recovery for the police officer that’s been wounded. It has all of the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, but, at this stage, I’m advised that the French prosecutor is on the scene.”

Expressing solidarity with police, presidential candidates François Fillon and Marine Le Pen cancelled their final campaign events.

It is unclear how the shootings might influence the voting.

For weeks, former banker Emmanuel Macron and Ms Le Pen have been out in front in opinion polls.

But polls now show there is a chance any of four leading candidates could reach the second-round run-off on May the 7th.

SBS Europe correspondent Brett Mason is in Paris and says the shooting has heightened fears in a city already on edge.

“This comes just a day after what police described as an imminent terror attack was foiled in Marseille, the south-east of France, the port city where Marie Le Pen held her final campaign rally. In that attack that police believed was imminent, explosives, ammunition and weapons were uncovered by counterterrorism officers during a raid of a rented apartment. So this city was already on high alert. A state of emergency has been in place here for some time. Fifty-thousand police and military will be on the streets for the first round of that election on Sunday.”

France is at its highest possible level of alert since a string of attacks began in 2015, killing over 230 people up to now.

 

 

World economy looks hopeful – but warnings abound

It has been a lean few years for the world economy.

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But International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde says that looks set to change.

“We are forecasting growth in 2017 at 3.5 per cent and 2018 at 3.6 per cent, and that’s a significant uptick from 2016, which was only at 3.1 per cent, which is all good news. But we need to make sure that this momentum is sustained and that we continue to have that growth and more, and, importantly, that that growth is shared more equitably.”

On the question of trade, Ms Lagarde says more work needs to be done but the IMF will be part of it.

“Is trade going to continue to increase and grow? We do think so. Is trade operating in a perfect environment with the perfect setting? No. Is there room to improve that? Of course. Should it be done in a cooperative forum, such as on the occasion of a week like this, with all finance ministers around and talking to each other in a cooperative setting and forum such as the IMF? Yes, we think so.”

The International Monetary Fund’s outlook comes in advance of meetings in the United States with the World Bank and the Group of 20 major economies.

The international picture is gradually strengthening, especially in many major economies, despite resistance to free trade and despite political unrest in some countries.

But the IMF’s optimistic forecast does come with a distinct warning from World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim.

“There are still many downside risks, however, and countries that have the fiscal space need to continue with structural reforms. This is vital to accelerating the sustainable and inclusive economic growth needed to end extreme poverty by 2030. We’re meeting in a time when we face several overlapping crises, both natural and man-made, all of which add urgency to our mission.”

The World Bank Group undertook a study to gauge how satisfied people are and found access to the internet is increasing short-term satisfaction.

But even that picture is not all rosy.

The World Bank Group president says the expansion of technology will have a huge impact on today’s jobs.

“We estimate that two-thirds of all jobs that currently exist in developing countries will be wiped out by automation. At the same time, the internet, smart phones and social media allow everyone to see exactly how everyone else lives, which is causing aspirations to rise all over the world. I see this everywhere I go.”

The study suggests the sense of what is possible expands with technology.

It says rising aspirations, and the chance to connect them with opportunities, can lead to great dynamism in society.

But that, too, comes with a warning from the World Bank Group president.

“If those rising aspirations then meet frustration, we are very worried about more and more countries going down the path of fragility, conflict, violence, extremism and, of course, eventually migration, because the other thing that access to the internet does is it increases people’s desire to migrate.”

 

 

US VP Pence visits Australia

Seen by some as a more measured voice in US President Donald Trump’s inner circle, just three months after the Trump Administration took office, Australia is playing host to Vice President Mike Pence.

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He’s landing in the country to shore up the US-Australia alliance amid international fears about the unpredictability of his boss.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will play host and has told the ABC he’s looking forward to the meeting.

“It is very noteworthy that this is a very early visit; I believe the earliest visit by a Vice President to Australia in a new administration. It shows … ah, you know … many people, including wise people in the media, were sceptical about the Administration’s commitment to the region.”

Australia is the final stop on the vice-president’s ten-day tour of the Asia Pacific.

Given North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

However, while speaking in Japan, Vice President Pence seemed to echo the calls of President Trump that a diplomatic approach to North Korea is no longer possible.

“North Korea is the most dangerous and urgent threat to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific. As President Trump has made clear to the world, the era of strategic patience is over.”

For Australia, this visit will give an insight into what the Trump Administration has planned for trade negotations too.

The US claims it’s open to boosting trade in the region despite abandoning the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But it’s already signalled it won’t continue doing deals when it’s not in its national interest; in other words, deals in which the US gives more than it gets in return.

Dougal Robinson, a research fellow with the United States Studies Centre, says this visit will need to go some way towards repairing the US Australia relationship.

“It’s an important visit because Pence will be trying to reassure Australia that the US is fully committed to the US-Australia alliance after the phone call with President Trump.”

That hostile call three months ago saw Donald Trump reportedly describe the refugee resettlement arrangement with Australia – signed under the Obama Administration – as the worst deal ever.

The Administration has since committed to honouring it, which will see asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru resettled in the United States.

Prime Minister Turnbull welcomes the day when President Trump makes his first visit.

“Our alliance with the United States is vital, the commitment is so deep on both sides, it will survive many Prime Ministers and many Presidents. That commitment is rock solid.”

 

 

Security agencies reassure Australians ahead of ANZAC Day events

Across the eastern seaboard, police are adamant there is no specific threat to celebrations on the day, however New South Wales Counter-Terror Minister David Elliott has admitted individual attackers pose the greatest risk.

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“Well because our agencies are working so well and because the intelligence organisations are working so well it is harder for organisations to come together and express a threat, so the individual threat is probably the largest one and that’s why we have contingencies. That is why the police will be out in force.”

Counter-terrorism officers would not be drawn on the specific details of security operations or staffing numbers across the states, but Mr Elliott admits all public events are a risk.

“Any mass gathering is a risk to the community. Any mass gathering of course makes us more vulnerable, but as Australians we don’t accept terrorism as a reason to change our lifestyle. Our plans and contingencies for a safe day are well prepared. I am comfortable that the police are ready and able to respond to anything that occurs, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t accept responsibility for own actions.”

In Victoria, police have undertaken extensive preparations for Anzac Day events and ceremonies.

Acting Commander Peter O’Neill, of Victoria Police, says police will maintain a strong presence at the Shrine of Remembrance and throughout the CBD as part of Anzac Day services and ceremonies.

Victoria Police say a wide variety of units will be in attendance, including general duties police, transit police, operational response units, highway patrol units and Protective Service Officers.

Queensland police Detective Acting Superintendent Mick O’Dowd outlined a joint security effort for commemorative events in Brisbane.

“Our measures will be in response to the security environment that most of our major events are organised with now, the exact details of what goes into staffing numbers is an operational matter I won’t disclose, however to say that the threat level hasn’t changed. We have no specific threats for any of the events in Queensland and any of the ANZAC Day marches and events, we have no specific threats.”

This year, the New South Wales Government has also called on the public to assist them in keeping events safe.

Minister Elliott says it’s a community responsibility.

“If you see something that is suspicious, report it. If you meet somebody that doesn’t seem quite right – report it. Because the best way to fight terrorism, the best way to promote a safe and secure environment is to make sure we all talk and we all promote the success and safe future of our community.”

Former Australian Army officer and Victoria Cross medal recipient, Ben Roberts-Smith, highlights the importance of honouring fallen soldiers, now more than ever.

“The tightening up of security is obviously just a precautionary measure and we have the best police and emergency services in the world looking after us. And I think people just need to focus on going about their everyday business and remembering that ANZAC Day is an incredibly important part of what we do in Australia in commemorating the freedom we have. We need to pay our respects and I would urge everyone to go about that in a normal way. By letting terrorism or threats of violence stop us from doing what we want to do in our day to day lives would mean that they have won – and that isn’t acceptable.”

 

 

Melbourne boy killed holding dad’s hand

A four-year-old boy killed by an out-of-control 4WD was holding his father’s hand as they left a Melbourne medical clinic when the horror smash occurred.

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A Toyota LandCruiser went flying into the Epworth Specialist Centre car park in Berwick about midday on Friday.

The driver, a 56-year-old Pakenham man, told a witness he had just left the nearby Casey Hospital after receiving dialysis.

He is in a stable condition in Dandenong Hospital while paramedics took a woman in her 60s who was clipped by the car to Casey Hospital with minor injuries.

Detective Sergeant Mark Amos told reporters at the scene the father and son from Narre Warren South were walking out of the clinic when the boy was hit.

“The father’s gone out with his son, holding his hand, doing what good dads do,” he said.

“And this outcome’s come up on them very, very suddenly.

“There’s just no way you could’ve predicted this could happen.”

Cameron and Sarah Smith were driving behind the LandCruiser when the crash happened and rushed to assist.

“He was in front of us and he started to veer off into oncoming traffic and he’s gone airborne,” Mr Smith told the Nine Network.

“He stated that he had dialysis, he just had blood taken out and he just literally pulled (out) from the hospital.”

Photos from the scene show the Toyota LandCruiser on its side with a smashed windscreen, next to a number of smashed-up parked cars.

Several witnesses told reporters they saw the LandCruiser become airborne before crashing.

“It was off the ground, travelling at a huge speed and, of course, then I hear the slamming into the other vehicles,” Michael Fleming told Nine.

“I ran around and I saw the little boy being held by someone. Couldn’t even imagine the shock. Walking in a car park of a medical centre and this happens. Very sad.”

An Epworth HealthCare statement said staff at the medical centre had helped where they could and are assisting police with their investigation.

“Epworth staff are shocked and saddened that a four-year-old child has died at the scene and that a number of people are injured,” the statement said.