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POLITICS

France creates ‘air bridge’ to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan

France will evacuate its first nationals from the fallen Afghan capital Kabul to a base in the United Arab Emirates by Monday evening, defence minister Florence Parly said.

France creates 'air bridge' to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan
US helicopters over the American Embassy in Kabul. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

“We are planning to carry out the first rotation between now and the end of this Monday,” Parly said on France Info radio, adding there were several dozens of French citizens to be evacuated along “with people under our protection.”

“We have organised at the base we have in the United Arab Emirates the capabilities to receive the first evacuees,” Parly said.

These are for French nationals who remain in Kabul but also “people under our protection and who we are going to evacuate”, Parly said.

The French base in the UAE “will serve as a military hub to ensure the back and forth between Abu Dhabi and Kabul and then repatriation to France”, Parly added.

Diplomatic personnel are included among the dozens of people set to be evacuated, she added.

The priority is to “evacuate (Afghan) personnel who rendered eminent service to our country by helping us daily, and also doing the maximum to
provide protection to figures who defended the rights, human rights, journalists, artists, all those who stood for these values that we continue to defend around the world,” she said.

The military operation dubbed Apagan involves two French air force transport planes, a C-130 and A400M, which left France late on Sunday and early on Monday for the Emirates.

President Emmanuel Macron has convened a meeting of the country’s Defence Council and will address the nation on Monday evening.

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POLITICS

French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

France's interior minister said on Tuesday that he would seek to overturn a rule change in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkinis in state-run swimming pools.

French government aims to block 'burkinis' in swimming pools

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

The Alpine city of Grenoble changed its swimming pool rules on Monday to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men which were mandated before.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation” that was “contrary to our values”, adding that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

Under a new law to counter “Islamist separatism” passed by parliament last year, the government can challenge decisions it suspects of undermining France’s strict secular traditions that are meant to separate religions from the state.

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC on Monday.

The head of the EELV party, Julien Bayou, argued that the decision had nothing to do with secularism laws, which oblige state officials to be neutral in religious matters but guarantee the rights of citizens to practice their faith freely.

Burkinis are not banned in French state-run pools on religious grounds, but for hygiene reasons, while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

“I want Muslim women to be able to practice their religion, or change it, or not believe, and I would like them to be able to go swimming,” he added. “I want them also to suffer less demands to dress in one way or another.”

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.

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