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SYRIA

Strike destroyed ‘large part’ of Assad’s chemical weapons: French FM

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday that missile strikes carried out overnight in Syria had destroyed a "large part" of the Damascus government's stocks of chemical weapons.

Strike destroyed 'large part' of Assad's chemical weapons: French FM
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives to give a statement on Saturday morning. Photo: Michel Euler /Pool / AFP
“A large part of its chemical arsenal has been destroyed,” Le Drian told BFM television. “A lot has been destroyed in last night's strikes.”
   
He also said France had “solid intelligence” that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the gas attack in the rebel-held city of Douma last weekend, which monitors say killed at least 40 people.
 
Syria as well as its main backer Russia have denied being behind the attack, a claim that was dismissed by Le Drian, citing “overwhelming testimony” and extensive analysis by French intelligence services and 
laboratories.
   
“The analyses are not yet finished… but will allow us to identify all the gases. There was chlorine, that's certain,” and preliminary evidence points to other gases as well, he said.
   
But although France has determined that high-ranking officers in the Syrian army ordered the attack, Le Drian said he could not state with certainty that Assad himself was behind those orders.
   
He warned, however, that France would not hesitate to strike Syria again in case of further chemical attacks.
   
“On the question of chemical weapons, there is a red line that must not be crossed, and if it should be crossed again, there will be another intervention,” Le Drian said. “But I think the lesson has been learned.”
   
“The point is to make sure there is no proliferation of chemical weapons,” he added. “The point was not to impact the regime's allies, nor even to impact the institutional functioning of the Syrian regime.”
   
Le Drian also said that for now President Emmanuel Macron still planned to travel to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin in May, while urging Moscow to work constructively on applying US Security Council resolutions on Syria.
   
“We have to keep talking with Russia, and Russia needs to realise that it has voted in favour of UN security resolutions (on Syria) and that they must be applied today, and not be carried away by the barbarity of Bashar  al-Assad,” he said.

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STRIKES

French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.

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