French-Tunisian baker on the secrets behind Paris’ best baguettes

A French-Tunisian baker, who has won the right to supply the French presidential palace with baguettes for a year, says kneading is the secret behind his prize-winning loaves.

“A lot of people go too quickly with the kneading,” Mahmoud M’seddi told the BBC.

He is the latest winner of the annual best baguette in Paris competition.

Mr M’seddi makes his first visit to the Elysée Palace on Friday and will now start hand-delivering his baguettes.

He is the fourth North African in the last six years to win the award.

But Mr M’seddi said this was either coincidence, or maybe because a lot of the traditional bakeries in the Paris region are owned by North Africans.

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    He hopes to bump into French President Emmanuel Macron during his daily deliveries.

    “I’d like to meet the president – maybe we can take a photo together,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

    He says he gets up early to ensure his loaves are properly fermented, which he believes is a vital part of the process of making baguettes. “A lot of people don’t leave the time for the dough to ferment,” he said.

    “You have to give it the time, so the fermentation happens naturally. I either get up really early, or sometimes I leave it overnight.”

    The 27-year-old will also receive a cash prize of nearly £5,000 from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during a bread festival in May.

    “I’m really very, very proud. It’s massive to be the best, especially as I’m the youngest to win this prize.”

    A jury of 15 members, which included last year’s winner Sami Bouattour, tasted a total of 138 baguettes over the course of four hours to find a winner, the Parisian reports.

    He said he had been preparing for the prize for a year and all his efforts had now paid off.

    “I’ll never forget this year,” he said.

Viewpoint: Spain rape case highlights enduring machismo

There has been widespread anger in Spain at a court’s decision to convict five men accused of rape on a lesser charge of sexual abuse. The case – over an attack against an 18-year-old woman during the Pamplona bull-running festival two years ago – caused a national outcry.

Barcelona-based Spanish journalist and writer Eva Millet looks at the symbolism of the verdict and the fight for women’s rights in the country.

Recently, I was in Andalusia for a talk. Until not long ago, this southern region was one of the poorest and more macho-oriented in my country. Today it is prosperous and modern and a woman leads its regional government.

But a macho culture is hard to eradicate. At the hotel where I was supposed to stay I encountered a true macho, Manolo. I hadn’t seen one for a while. He smelled of alcohol, was rude and condescending and would not give me a room. Instead, he went to the bar, next door.

I followed him and travelled back in time: the place was full of men, drinking and watching a bullfight on TV. They stared at me. The mood was hostile. I went outside.

And then, the women arrived to my rescue. Three. In a Mini Cooper, looking fabulous, welcoming and warm. They dealt with Manolo smoothly. I got my room and we went for supper.

They were bright, fun and powerful. All had university degrees and good jobs. They were living proof that Spain has changed massively in the last few decades. Despite all the problems, it is a modern country, and women have played a fundamental role in this transformation.

On Women’s Day in March, millions here joined the global strike, with a strength not seen anywhere else. Spanish women have boomed and bloomed and made this country different.

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  • ‘Wolf pack’ gang rape trial angers Spain

    That is why the sentence against the La manada (wolf pack) gang has outraged us. The court has considered that what happened to the 18 year-old during the San Fermín festival was not rape, but sexual abuse.

    Let me remind you what happened to her. According to a police report, she was taken to a hallway where five men surrounded her, removed her clothes and had unprotected sex with her, including intercourse.

    Some of the men filmed the sexual act. One shared the video in a WhatsApp group, boasting, and promising to keep posting. When they finished, another stole the victim’s phone.

    The girl was left there, like a piece of used cloth. Despite the ordeal, she had the strength to report the assault.

    ‘What do I tell my daughters?’

    She was very brave. And that is why this sentence is even more outrageous – by denying that a prolonged sexual assault by five men constitutes rape, it also deters other women from reporting similar outrages.

    “What do I tell my daughters? That if something like this happens they should be passive, in order to avoid being killed? Or that they should resist, like martyrs, to prove that they did not consent?” asks Luz Sánchez-Mellado, a senior journalist of El País.

    Indeed. What do we tell our daughters when a court rules that what the “wolf pack” did wasn’t rape because it did not involve violence or intimidation, and when one of the judges called for acquittal on all charges except stealing the victim’s phone?

    I want to believe that this is an isolated case. That justice will be done. And I am not the only one: there is sheer indignation here. Not only from women but also, from fathers, brothers and sons.

Pamplona rape case: Protests over sentence go in to third day

Thousands of people turned out on the streets of the Spanish city Pamplona on Saturday for the third day of protests after five men were cleared of rape.

The men, who called themselves the Wolf Pack, were found guilty of sexual abuse, which many consider too lenient.

The case has caused a national outcry, with protests also taking place in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia since Thursday’s verdict.

The victim, then 18, was assaulted at the city’s bull-running festival.

The Spanish hashtag #cuéntalo, meaning “tell it”, has been widely tweeted in recent days, as people shared their own stories of abuse in solidarity with her.

The five men – José Ángel Prenda, Alfonso Cabezuelo, Antonio Manuel Guerrero, Jesús Escudero and Ángel Boza – were each sentenced to nine years in prison.

Prosecutors had asked for sentences of more than 20 years.

Under Spanish law, the charge of sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve violence or intimidation.

The Spanish government has said it will review the classification of sexual offences.

More than 30,000 people protested on Saturday, according to police.

The demonstrators strode down the roads where the bulls run during the annual festival, known locally as San Fermín.

  • ‘Wolf pack’ gang rape trial angers Spain
  • Viewpoint: Rape case highlights enduring machismo

    Many said they were motivated not only by this case, but they also wanted to take a stand against the whole legal system, which they said was stacked against women.

    “Justice is still patriarchal, it puts the blame on us and we are unprotected,” said one of the female protesters to local radio station RTVE, according to Reuters news agency.

    The protesters gathered behind a giant banner, which said (in Basque): “No one judges our opinion.”

    A group of nuns from Hondarribia convent, in the Basque Country, also spoke out against the verdict.

    “We wanted there to be a voice in the Church to criticise the sentence,” a spokesperson for the sisters, Sister Mariluz, told AFP news agency.

    The five-month trial was held behind closed doors to protect the woman’s identity.

    According to a police report, the five men surrounded her in a small alcove, removed her clothes and had unprotected sex.

    Some of the men filmed the sexual act on their phones. In their WhatsApp group, named “la manada” (meaning wolf pack), they celebrated afterwards and promised to share the recording.

    The police report said the victim maintained a “passive or neutral” attitude throughout the scene, keeping her eyes closed at all times. Her phone was then stolen.

    Defence lawyers argued the apparent passivity was proof of consent. The prosecutors said she was too traumatised to move.

    The men, who have been in custody since 2016, were also ordered to pay the woman €50,000 ($61,000; £44,000) in compensation.

    Guerrero, a police officer for the paramilitary Guardia Civil, was fined an extra €900 for stealing her phone.

    Both the woman and the defendants say they will appeal against the verdict.

    After it was announced, the national police tweeted: “No is no”, plus the emergency number, adding: “We are always with you.”

Hungary’s dominant leader Orban defiant on keeping migrants out

“We are not against these people,” says Gergely Gulyas of refugees and migrants. “They suffered a lot. But at the same time it is no solution for Europe to become a new home for millions of people.”

Mr Gulyas, 36, is the rising star in Viktor Orban’s new conservative Fidesz government, which won Hungary’s elections this month in a third landslide in a row.

And migration policy will be at the centre of this administration’s communication strategy, as it was of the last. While other countries are free to choose to accept immigrants, says Mr Gulyas, Hungary has chosen not to. “And we expect other countries to respect our democratic decision.”

Prime Minister Orban holds the ideological reins, but this trained lawyer, fluent in both English and German, is tipped for the powerful chancellery which handles the country’s day-to-day business.

Mr Orban feels buoyed by his victory. And Western capitals will now have to do business with him for another four years.

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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Theresa May will visit in the coming weeks. That is because Hungary is part of Europe’s Visegrad group of countries, along with Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. And it beats the drum of national sovereignty the loudest.

    Hungary’s economy is booming – wages were up 13% last year, and growth up 4%. But it depends heavily on Germany and communications with Berlin have largely collapsed.

    Some 300,000 Hungarians work for German carmakers, like Mercedes and Audi, and a host of medium-sized and smaller firms; 30% of Hungary’s trade is with Germany.

    As Mr Orban prepares to present his new government on 8 May, his opponents have been gathering in the squares.

    “Don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t lie – because the government doesn’t tolerate competition,” read one of the posters at a rally of 100,000 protesters, on 14 April.

    That was followed by another protest of similar size on 21 April. A third has been promised for 8 May, as parliament assembles.

    Among those who addressed the protests was rapper G-Ras.

    “Finally the freedom-loving people are showing their power,” he told the BBC.

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      Protest organisers hope that a new opposition movement with new leaders will replace or co-opt the existing, weak and fragmented opposition parties.

      “The opposition do not represent us, because they were unable to co-operate for the people and put their differences aside,” says G-Ras.

      In Hungary’s new parliament, Fidesz will have 133 seats, while the remaining 66 are shared between six wounded and disgruntled parties.

      The main danger for the opposition is that Hungarians will not wait for the next elections, but vote immediately with their feet.

      The phone never stops ringing in Marcell Tanay’s spacious office in the heart of Budapest’s sixth district. He runs EUWork, Hungary’s largest recruitment agency to help people find work abroad. Many of his clients are aged 25 to 35, well-qualified but frustrated by low salaries.

      That is bad news for a government desperate to persuade Hungarians to stay at home and have more babies.

      There are growing shortages in most professions, including catering, healthcare, construction, IT and public transport.

      Katalin Novak, 40, is set to take on the role of minister of family policy in Mr Orban’s new government. Hers will be the daunting task of finding ways to reverse the drastic decline in Hungary’s population.

      The prime minister knows how important that is. Three years ago he warned that Hungary’s very future was at stake.

      “In the history of the world, not a single culture that was unable to populate the land in which it lived was able to survive.”

Tibet group thanks Sweden in ‘Chinese spy’ case

A Tibetan leader says she hopes other countries will follow Sweden’s example by prosecuting alleged spies who give China information on exiled Tibetans.

On Wednesday, Sweden charged a Tibetan man, Dorjee Gyantsan, with espionage. China allegedly paid him for personal information about fellow Tibetans.

Tibetan community leader Jamyang Choedon said Sweden’s action could “be an example for other countries”.

Her associates in Sweden back the Dalai Lama’s struggle for Tibetan self-rule.

The Dalai Lama – the Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader – is seen by China as a separatist threat. The Chinese Communist Party insists Tibet is an inseparable part of China.

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    Ms Choedon, speaking to the BBC from Stockholm, said her small community of about 140 Tibetans was “really shocked and a bit scared” by the case of Dorjee Gyantsan, who is 49. She said it was the first such case in Sweden.

    Mr Gyantsan has denied all the charges, his lawyer Mikael Soderberg told the BBC. Arrested in February 2017, he is currently free but not allowed to leave Sweden.

    “We know him, he was actively taking part in the community,” Ms Choedon said. “I never felt he was against the Dalai Lama. He has been in Sweden more than 10 years.”

    “We’re very thankful to the Swedish government that they are taking full steps; I hope all other countries do the same.”

    Trips to Poland

    The indictment accuses Mr Gyantsan of having spied on Tibetan community members in Sweden for “cash benefits” and says he met “a representative of the Chinese state repeatedly in Poland, in connection with this activity”. The espionage allegedly took place in 2015-2017.

    When he was arrested, on returning from Warsaw, he was found to be carrying $6,000 (£4,200) in cash.

    “The offence is considered gross because it was systematic, in progress for a long time and may have caused many people serious harm,” the indictment says.

    In Sweden the minimum jail term for spying is six months and the maximum four years.

    Commenting on the case, Daniel Stenling, an officer of Sweden’s Sapo intelligence service, said Sapo had worked with other European police authorities to monitor Mr Gyantsan’s activities.

    He called such spying “a very serious crime… as it prevents people who are already vulnerable, and have fled their countries, from exercising the rights and freedoms they should be enjoying under Sweden’s constitution”.

France attack: Lakdim’s girlfriend ‘known to security services’

The girlfriend of the man who carried out last week’s attack in south-west France was known to the security services, local media report.

A source close to the investigation told the AFP news agency the 18-year-old French woman, who is in custody, showed “signs of radicalisation”.

Four people were killed and 15 injured in the attack on 23 March.

The gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, was on an extremist watch list but it was decided he was not a threat.

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    He was shot dead by police after killing and injuring a number of people in separate incidents, including taking hostages at a supermarket in the town of Trèbes.

    Tributes have been paid to the victims, including a French gendarme who was killed after swapping places with one of the hostages.

    According to French-language radio station RMC, the attacker’s girlfriend is a convert to Islam who has been known to security services for at least a year. She has not been named but remains in police custody.

    A 17-year-old said to have been a friend of the attacker is also being held.

    Lakdim, who was born in Morocco and became a French citizen in 2004, was a petty criminal before he was flagged as a potential security threat in 2014.

    During the attack, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and is said to have demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the most important surviving suspect in the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

    Prosecutor Francois Molins said Lakdim had been on an extremist watch-list due to “his radicalisation and his links with the Salafist movement”, a hard-line offshoot of Sunni Islam. However, there had been no indication he would carry out an attack.

Russia Kemerovo fire: Shopping centre exits ‘were blocked’

Russian investigators and witnesses say there was no alarm and exits were blocked when a fire engulfed a shopping and entertainment mall in Siberia, killing at least 64 people.

Many of the victims in the coal-mining city of Kemerovo were children.

Russia’s Investigative Committee spoke of blocked exits and “serious violations” at the Winter Cherry mall.

Sunday’s blaze started on an upper floor. The mall’s shops, cinema and bowling alley were packed at the time.

Video on social media showed people jumping from windows to escape.

The Investigative Committee says a fire safety technician at the complex “switched off the alarm system” after being alerted about the fire.

The committee says two other fire safety officials have been detained for questioning, along with the Winter Cherry complex’s technical director and the manager of a business located where the fire started.

Ten people are still listed as missing. Local teachers are trying to trace their pupils, who were on holiday. They do not know how many were in the complex.

In a Facebook post (in Russian), Kemerovo politician Anton Gorelkin said that “fire exits were shut, turning the complex into a trap” and “there was no organised evacuation”.

He also said a fire extinguisher that could have doused the flames at the start did not work.

The region’s deputy governor, Vladimir Chernov, said “this is the question: why were the doors shut?”

Russian media said most of the roof had collapsed. The fire engulfed a children’s trampoline room and a cinema on the fourth floor.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Firefighters said the building was still smouldering a day later, with smoke billowing out and the remaining structures at risk of collapse.

What do we know so far?

The fire broke out at about 17:00 (10:00 GMT) on Sunday. Some 660 emergency personnel were deployed in the rescue effort.

Deputy governor Chernov was quoted as saying the fire probably began in the children’s trampoline room.

“The preliminary suspicion is that a child had a cigarette lighter which ignited foam rubber in this trampoline room, and it erupted like gunpowder,” he said.

However, Rossiya 24 TV, a national broadcaster, said an electrical fault was the most likely cause – as in most previous deadly fires in Russia.

Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Anna Kuznetsova, has blamed negligence, and called for urgent safety checks at similar entertainment complexes.

Two witnesses told BBC Russian that they had seen the fire blazing in the trampoline room on the fourth floor but had not heard any fire alarm.

Meanwhile, witness Anna Zarechneva told Russian RBC News that “a woman burst into the cinema during the film and shouted ‘Fire! Fire!’, and we started running out”.

“The lights didn’t come on in there to help us escape. We got out by following the floor lighting. But at that point no alarm bells were ringing. I only heard an alarm when I reached the first floor.”

The daughter of a shop assistant who was working on the second floor said “the alarm didn’t go off… she learnt about the fire from a man who ran past her – there was no help from any staff”.

Russia’s deadliest fires

2009 – 156 people die in a Perm nightclub inferno in the Urals region, Russia’s worst fire in recent years (fireworks and lack of exits blamed)

2007 – Fire engulfs a rural old people’s home in the southern region of Krasnodar, killing 63 (burning cigarette blamed)

2006 – 46 die in Moscow narcological hospital fire (arson blamed)

2003 – A hostel fire at the Russian People’s Friendship University in Moscow kills 44 (lack of safety measures blamed)

1999 – Fire engulfs the police headquarters in the southern city of Samara, killing 57 people (burning cigarette blamed officially, but arson by criminals not ruled out)

Source: Interfax news agency

There are unconfirmed reports that some mall guards prevented children from fleeing down staircases.

Kemerovo region has declared three days of mourning, and locals are leaving flowers and cuddly toys at a makeshift memorial near the complex.

An Instagram post from Kemerovo showed a big queue of volunteers waiting to donate blood at a clinic.

Skip Instagram post by kemerovo_insta

Очередь в пункт Сдачи Крови! Кемеровчане 🙏🏻 #кемерово #кемеровоинста #kemerovo #kemerovoinsta #кузбасс

A post shared by Кемерово | Kemerovo (@kemerovo_insta) on Mar 25, 2018 at 6:50pm PDT


End of Instagram post by kemerovo_insta

Who were the victims?

At least nine of the bodies found so far are children.

As well as those killed, 11 injured victims are being treated in hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation.

The most serious case is an 11-year-old boy whose parents and siblings died in the fire, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said. He reportedly fell from the fourth floor and is in intensive care with multiple injuries.

Russia’s emergencies ministry says 58 bodies have been recovered, and so far just 17 have been identified.

Kemerovo lies about 3,600km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow.

The shopping centre, covering 23,000 sq m (248,000 sq ft), opened in 2013. It includes a petting zoo, all of whose animals are reported to have died.

Yevgeny Dedyukhin, deputy head of the Kemerovo region emergency department, said the area of the fire was about 1,500 sq m.

“The shopping centre is a very complex construction,” he said. “There are a lot of combustible materials.”

Spain Catalonia: Puigdemont’s arrest in Germany sparks mass protests

Protests broke out across the Spanish region of Catalonia on Sunday after former leader Carles Puigdemont was taken into custody in Germany.

At least 89 people were injured in clashes with police and four arrests were made.

Mr Puigdemont, who is wanted in Spain for sedition and rebellion, was detained by German police acting on a European arrest warrant.

He will appear before a German judge later on Monday.

Mr Puigdemont was detained while crossing from Denmark on his way to Belgium, where he has been living in self-imposed exile since Catalonia’s parliament unilaterally declared independence from Spain in October.

Germany has 60 days to decide whether to return him.

In order to do so, its judges need to assess whether the Spanish charges are punishable under German law.

Criminal lawyer Martin Heger told Germany’s Spiegel website (in German) that the lesser charge of misappropriation of public funds was also a crime under German law, and therefore it was clear that the exiled ex-leader would have to be extradited.

However, if he is extradited on that charge, he can only be tried on that offence.

It is unclear whether the alleged crimes of rebellion and sedition are punishable in Germany.

The extradition procedure can last about two months.

Mt Puigdemont also has the right to oppose the warrant and apply for asylum in Germany.

Spain’s latest move is considered the most serious challenge to date to the Catalan independence movement. Almost the entire leadership now faces a major legal fight.

Various other Catalan politicians have been subjected to new warrants, including Catalonia’s former education minister, Clara Ponsati. She is in Scotland, where she has a position at the University of St Andrews, and is preparing to hand herself in.

The number of European arrest warrants issued has increased since 2005, according to EU figures. In 2015, about 16,000 warrants were issued and about 5,000 executed.

How did we get here?

1 October 2017: The independence referendum takes place in Catalonia; it is deemed illegal by Spain and boycotted by many potential voters

27 October: Catalonia’s leaders declare independence, which leads to the Spanish government imposing direct rule on the region and dissolving its parliament

30 October: Charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds are brought against various sacked members of the Catalan government, including Mr Puigdemont

2 November: Several former Catalan ministers are taken into custody in Spain

3 November: European arrest warrants are issued against Mr Puigdemont and four of his allies, who have all fled to Belgium

5 December: A Spanish judge withdraws the European arrest warrants but says the group still face possible charges for sedition and rebellion

21 December: Carles Puigdemont is re-elected to parliament during Catalan’s regional elections – which Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy had called to “restore democracy”

1 March 2018: Mr Puigdemont says he is stepping aside and he backs detained activist Jordi Sanchez to run as Catalonia’s president

21 March: Mr Sanchez drops his leadership bid and instead the candidacy is passed to Jordi Turull, who the following day is rejected by hardline separatists

23 March: Mr Turull and various others are arrested in Spain, and the European arrest warrants are reissued

25 March: Mr Puigdemont is detained in Germany

Russia fire: Kemerovo shopping centre blaze kills children

At least four people, three of them children, have been killed and dozens injured in a fire at a shopping centre in Siberia, media reports say.

The blaze started on the fourth floor of the Winter Cherry building in the city of Kemerovo, according to Russia’s Sputnik news site.

Video posted on social media showed smoke billowing from windows as fire crews worked to evacuate the property.

People were also seen jumping from windows to escape the flames on Sunday.

Initial reports said that four children had died, but this was later corrected to three children and a woman.

A representative of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Svetlana Petrenko, said that 26 people had sought treatment or had been taken to hospital.

The fire started in part of the building that contains an entertainment complex and a cinema, local media reported, raising concerns that more children may have been trapped.

Ms Petrenko added that in two of the halls that formed part of the cinema, the ceiling had collapsed.

More than 200 people were reportedly evacuated in a rescue operation that involved 15 fire crews.

Eyewitnesses said the popular shopping centre also contained a zoo, with animals including guinea pigs, goats, hedgehogs and cats – although there have been no reports of any animal fatalities.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known but authorities have launched an investigation into the incident, Sputnik added.

‘Orange snow’ baffles eastern Europeans

People in eastern Europe have been wondering at the appearance of orange-tinted snow.

Pictures of the snow have been posted on social media from Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova.

Meteorologists say the phenomenon is caused by sand from Sahara desert storms mixing with snow and rain.

It occurs roughly once every five years but concentrations of sand are higher than usual his time. People have complained of sand in their mouths.

Skiers and snowboarders from resorts near the Russian city of Sochi sent pictures of the unusual scenes.