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UKRAINE

Thousands gather in Florence and Paris to show support for Ukraine

Thousands of people gathered in the Italian city of Florence on Saturday to show their support for Ukraine following Russia's invasion, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appearing via videolink.

People watch a giant screen (not in picture) displaying an image of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking through a video link in Florence. 
People watch a giant screen (not in picture) displaying an image of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking through a video link, addressing people taking part in a peace rally for Ukraine on March 12th, 2022 in Florence. Carlo BRESSAN / AFP

The square outside the Santa Croce basilica became a sea of rainbow peace flags peppered with blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine’s national flag.

In an address shown on a big screen, Zelensky told the crowd his country was under bombardment “24 hours a day”, targeting schools, hospitals and residential areas, “even churches, even squares like yours”.

According to an Italian translation, he said 79 children had been killed in the conflict so far, saying Europe must “not forget”.

A Ukrainian woman takes part in a peace rally for Ukraine on March 12th, 2022 in Florence. Similar rallies took place simultaneously in several European cities to demand a ceasefire in Ukraine and an end to the war. (Photo by Carlo BRESSAN / AFP)

The demonstration was organised by Florence mayor Dario Nardella, also president of the Eurocities network of more than 200 cities across 38 countries.

In France, meanwhile, nearly 10,000 people demonstrated in cities across France to show their support for the people of Ukraine.

Protesters deploy a giant Ukrainian national flag and hold placards during a support demonstration in Paris on March 12th, 2022. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

Around a thousand gathered in Paris to denounce the Russian invasion, many carrying blue and yellow badges, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Some carried placards calling for a boycott of Russian oil and gas.

Last weekend, more than 40,000 people turned out across France, including 16,000 in Paris.

Across France, people also came out in force to call for more attention to the climate crisis in the run-up to presidential polls next month.

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ENERGY

French electricity grid operator to return €1 billion to clients

France's electrical grid operator RTE said on Wednesday that it would hand at least one billion euros back to major power users in early 2023, as its revenues have surged during Europe's energy crisis.

French electricity grid operator to return €1 billion to clients

The exact amount will “match the one-off profit forecast for 2022 with the electricity market under stress,” the largely state-owned RTE said in a statement.

It added that the reimbursement could reach a record of more than €1.5 billion.

The move comes as public pressure is growing for an EU-wide tax on the “super-profits” generated by energy companies as prices have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Almost 380 large-scale electricity buyers in industry would share around €130 million from the pot, RTE finance and purchasing director Laurent Martel told AFP.

The companies include chemical plants, metalworking sites, steelmaking operations as well as paper and cardboard factories.

But most of the payout — around 90 percent — will go to operators of local low- and medium-voltage networks, which bridge the gap between RTE and end users of electricity, from industry to households.

RTE’s revenues have been especially strong this year thanks to fees paid to use its so-called “interconnectors” across national borders.

These depend in part on the difference in electricity prices between France and its neighbours, which soared this year due to the energy crunch from the war in Ukraine and a large chunk of the country’s nuclear reactor fleet being under maintenance.

RTE said that without its plan to bring forward the reimbursement, the payments would instead be spread over several years.

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