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ENVIRONMENT

700 firefighters battle forest fire in southern France

Residents were evacuated overnight as flames threatened villages in the area

Firefighters spray water to extinguish a wildfire burning at night
Firefighters spray water to extinguish a wildfire near Besseges, southern France. (Photo: Sylvain Thomas / AFP)

Around 700 firefighters backed by aircraft are battling a massive blaze in France’s southern Gard département that had already burned 600 hectares (1,500 acres) overnight.

The operation “is continuing, but the fire is advancing more slowly and fortunately is no longer threatening any homes,” a spokesman for the local fire service told AFP, adding that several fire fronts remained “inaccessible”.

Two Milan firefighting planes resumed dumping water on the blaze from early in the morning, the spokesman said.

READ ALSO ‘Be vigilant’: The parts of France braced for forest fires this summer

The prefecture this morning placed several areas of the département on red alert for fire risks.

People in the hamlet of Bordezac and other small settlements in the Besseges area were evacuated on Thursday evening, with the local prefect’s office saying around 100 had to be put up for the night.

Firefighters were drawn from neighbouring regions to battle the flames Thursday, while 12 firefighting planes and two helicopters were also deployed.

The fire service said thousands of hectares of heavily wooded land were under threat, as strong winds fanned the flames through the dried-out trees.

Although several other fires began in the region on Thursday, most were put out before nightfall.

READ ALSO What to do if you see a wildfire in France

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SPORT

French cities refuse to set up big screens for World Cup matches

Many of France's big cities have decided not to set up big screens or fan zones for the football World Cup in November - a decision taken in protest at the human rights record of host country Qatar.

French cities refuse to set up big screens for World Cup matches

Weeks ahead the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, authorities in several French cities – including Paris – have already announced that they will boycott the event by not showing any matches on big screens (écran géant)  or by creating fan zones, although bars and restaurants can still decide to screen matches.

Paris

France’s capital will not show matches from the World Cup in Qatar on giant screens, partly due to the “conditions” of the tournament, the city’s current deputy mayor for sports, Pierre Rabadan, told AFP on Monday.   

Rabadan told AFP: “For us, there was no question of setting up big screen areas for several reasons: the first is the conditions in which this World Cup has been organised, both in terms of the environment and the social aspect. The second is the fact that it takes place in December.”

Bordeaux

Bordeaux’s mayor, a member of the Green Party, Pierre Humic, said on RMC (the French sports radio channel), that his city will also boycott the event by not installing any big screens. According to BFMTV, Humic planned to finalise his decision on Tuesday, during the city council meeting.

“We, the mayors, are currently concerned about broadcasting [the World Cup] on big screens in our cities. And it is our role to say that we do not want to be complicit in this energy waste,” Humic said on RMC.

Humic clarified that bars and restaurants could nevertheless broadcast the competition throughout the city at their own discretion. “I am not the director of conscience of Bordeaux,” he said.

“Everyone can respond as they wish. And far be it from me to impose my point of view on anyone. I am very respectful of individual freedoms.”

Lille

In the north of France, giant screens will remain turned off too. On Friday night, Lille’s city council formalised their decision not screen matches.

Mayor, Martine Aubry, tweeted her disapproval for the World Cup in Qatar, calling it “nonsense in terms of human rights, the environment and sport.” 

Additionally, the deputy Mayor, Arnaud Deslandes, said that the city will not create fanfare around an “event we refuse to support.”

However, at least a dozen bars in the city plan to broadcast the World Cup, though some told Franceinfo they will abstain.

READ MORE: ‘Allez putain!’: French phrases you need for watching the 2022 World Cup

One such bar is “O’Mulligan’s,” run by manager Justine Chambrillion.

Chambrillon told Franceinfo that the establishment welcomed over 800 customers during the 2018 World Cup, but this year they will not air it. The manager said it would be “absurd to rejoice in a sporting event that has caused thousands of deaths, that flouts human rights, and that has a completely disastrous ecological impact.”

Marseille

The Mediterranean city announced previously that it would not set up fanzones or giant screens prior to the finals, at which time they would only do so if the French team qualified. However, on October 3rd, local authorities said they have decided not to install any giant screens, regardless of the performance of the French team.

“The City of Marseille is committed to an ever fairer and more inclusive practice of sport. Marseille, which is strongly attached to the values of sharing and solidarity in sport and committed to building a greener city, cannot contribute to the promotion of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” the city said in a statement.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s mayor, Jeanne Barseghian, a member of the Green Party said during the city council meeting on Monday that “there are no plans for public screenings concerning the World Cup, because the City of Strasbourg will not broadcast the 2022 World Cup organised by Qatar.”

Elaborating on the decision, Barseghian told France 3 Alsace that: “It is impossible for us not to listen to the numerous alerts from NGOs denouncing the abuse and exploitation of immigrant workers. Strasbourg, the European capital and seat of the European Court of Human Rights, cannot decently support these abuses.”

Several other French cities and smaller towns, including Nancy, Reims and Rodez, have also decided on a boycott, with others likely to follow. 

Human rights

The issue of human rights is central to many cities’ and individuals’ choices to boycott the Qatar World Cup, namely the treatment of migrant workers who were hired to build much of its infrastructure.

NGOs such as Human Rights Watch allege the “Kafala system” – defined by the Council on Foreign Relations as a sponsorship programme “that gives private citizens and companies in Jordan, Lebanon, and most Arab Gulf countries almost total control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status” – leaves migrants vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. 

Specifically, many have expressed concern over the number of workers who have died or been injured in the construction of the World Cup. As of 2021, at least 6,500 migrant workers involved in the construction of the World Cup had died in Qatar, according to The Guardian after consulting data from the embassies of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

However, Human Rights Watch reported that the true numbers are likely higher, “because there are a dozen more countries sending migrant workers to Qatar, including the Philippines, Kenya, and Ghana.”

Qatari authorities have said that there have only been three deaths at World Cup stadiums in work accidents.

Others have expressed concern regarding the rights of LGBT people attending the tournament, as homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.

After one high profile athlete came out, he said he would like to play in the World Cup, but was worried about his safety in doing so. 

In response to questioning about the safety of footballers – and fans – the head of the “social and human legacy initiative” for the tournament, Nasser Al-Khori, said to SBS news that the country is “modernising, but in our own sort of way, sticking to our identity, our culture, our roots.” He added “We welcome everybody, but we also expect and want people to respect our culture” when asked about visitors and players from the LGBT community, a comment that has been met with backlash from rights groups.

Environmental impacts

Several French public officials have discussed their dissatisfaction over the environmental impacts of the 2022 World Cup. 

Dezeen reported that the tournament will generate “more emissions than the whole country of Iceland emits in a year.” 

According to a report published by organisers of the FIFA 2022 World Cup, the event will emit 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The tournament will run from November 20th to December 18th.

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