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Harrowing destruction, limited military impact: The Blitz, 80 years on

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On September 7, 1940, the Luftwaffe launched the Blitz, starting with an aerial attack aimed mainly at the Port of London. The Nazi bombing campaign against Britain killed some 43,000 civilians, with raids on cities across the country lasting until May 1941. However, the Blitz did not achieve any military objectives or break British morale, failing to diminish the UK as a thorn in Adolf Hitlers side.

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When the Blitz started in September 1940, the Battle of Britain, which had been launched three months earlier, was drawing to a close before ending in October. It had become increasingly clear to the Nazis that the Royal Air Force was defeating the Luftwaffe in the skies.

Still, the bombing of British cities went ahead – even though it had been planned as part of Operation Sea Lion, the Nazi invasion of the UK that would soon be shelved amid the Germans defeat in the Battle of Britain and would never to take place.

In addition to the tens of thousands of civilians killed, more than two million homes were destroyed, 60 percent of them in London. The capital was the major target, but industrial centres such as Coventry, Birmingham and Sheffield, and port cities including Portsmouth, Glasgow and Belfast were also victims of the Blitz, as the press dubbed it using the German word for “lightning”.

The damage to Coventry in the West Midlands was particularly horrifying. Coventry Cathedral – a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece; one of the jewels in the crown of the Anglican Church – was reduced to ruins. Its roofless remains still stand as a testament to the pity of war.

This destruction contrasts with the negligible impact of the bombing on the outcome of the war, with minimal damage to the UKs strategic infrastructure. By and large the British people kept calm and carried on.

Eighty years on, FRANCE 24 discussed the Blitz with Richard Overy, professor of history at Exeter University and author of a variety of books on modern history, in particular the Second World War, including The Bombing War and Why the Allies Won.

Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, September 1940. © Wikimedia Creative Commons

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What motivated Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring to launch the air raids on the UK?

When they sent the Luftwaffe to Britain on September 7, they hadnt worked out the entire campaign; they hadnt thought about the Blitz as it was going to become. In fact, the September 7 attack was really part of the preparation for Sea Lion; a big air attack against London a week or so before Sea Lion had been planned in order to disrupt government administration, attack trade and shipping, and so on. So the idea was the launch a large shock attack against London, and then the invasion would take place about a week or 10 days later. But its often been misinterpreted, as if it was revenge for attacks by British bombers on Berlin.

How did the Blitz develop into a campaign that lasted several months?

The German invasion of Britain of course didnt take place. They hadnt defeated the RAF and Hitler realised it and postponed Sea Lion, finally cancelling it the following year, but he wanted to put pressure on Britain so he demanded a blockade campaign. Bombing was directed mainly at British ports and shipping, and the hope was that they could put pressure on Britain as its trade supplies would decline and the Churchill government would seek some kind of compromise with Hitler. But Hitler was always very iffy about it; he never had any confidence that the Luftwaffe could actually deliver what he wanted. So the invasion couldnt take place but Hitler wanted to keep going at Britain, and the only way he could think of doing it was by intensifying the blockade in the hope that that would be decisive.

It was only when it had become clear, by November, that the bombing had not achieved anything that Hitler decided that he was going to turn against the Soviet Union, and he would do that because it would put pressure on Britain and would also – the idea was – give Germany resources it could then use to turn against Britain and the United States at a later date.

A German Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber flying over Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London at the start of the Luftwaffe's raids on September 7, 1940.
A German Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber flying over Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London at the start of the Luftwaffe's raids on September 7, 1940. © Wikimedia Creative Commons

How extensive was the damage the Blitz caused?

The physical damage was much less than what the Luftwaffe had hoped for – and it indicated how weak the German bomber arm was. It had a relatively small force, not capable of carrying heavy loads of bombs. It very soon lost the ability to navigate accurately, its navigation being intercepted. In German pilots bugged conversations, they would talk to each other and say: “Whats the use? We simply couldnt bomb accurately; we didnt know what it was they wanted us to do.”

Britains potential war production wasRead More – Source

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Italy’s former PM Berlusconi in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus

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Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been diagnosed with the early stages of double pneumonia after testing positive for coronavirus, Italian media reported on Friday.

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Double, or bilateral, pneumonia affects both lungs and can make breathing difficult. The condition has been seen in many cases of patients hospitalised with Covid-19.

Berlusconi, 83, was taken to Milan's San Raffaele hospital on Thursday evening, two days after his Forza Italia party announced he had coronavirus.

His entourage has stressed that the four-time prime minister is not in intensive care.

"After the appearance of some symptoms, Berlusconi was admitted to hospital as a precautionary measure," Forza Italia said in a brief statement, adding that his condition was "not a cause for concern".

Berlusconi underwent major heart surgery four years ago and halted all public appearances after the coronavirus pandemic hit Italy in February, spending the initial two-month lockdown in a villa owned by one of his daughters in the south of France.

He took a coronavirus test after spending part of August at his villa on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, which has seen a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases during the bustling summer tourism season.

Italian newspapers have speculated that Berlusconi might have been infected by two of his younger children — Barbara and Luigi — who were with him in Sardinia and were also seen partying on other holiday islands last month. Both have since tested positive for coronavirus.

Berlusconi's latest partner, Marta Fascina, has aRead More – Source

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Serbia and Kosovo agree to normalise economic ties at US-brokered talks

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Former foes Kosovo and Serbia agreed Friday to normalise economic relations in a US-brokered deal that the administration of President Donald Trump touted as a major diplomatic success — but which leaves political normalisation on hold.

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The two sides signed a statement in the White House Oval Office committing to a raft of measures to improve transport infrastructure and border crossings, cut trade tariffs and share energy and water resources, and to implement earlier agreements on opening highway and rail links.

They also agreed, as part of their commitments, to improve their relations with Israel. Serbia will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while Kosovo, a majority-Muslim country, will formally recognize the Jewish state.

In turn, Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, gained formal recognition from Israel.

"A truly historic day," Trump said, with Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sitting beside him in the Oval Office.

"By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a real breakthrough on economic cooperation across a broad range of issues."

Trump praised his special emissary Richard Grenell for bringing the two sides together, two decades after they fought a war that left 13,000 dead.

"It took decades because you didn't have anybody trying to get it done," Trump said of the agreement.

"There was a lot of fighting and now there's a lot of love," he said. "Economics can bring people together."

'Big step'

Apparently because they do not formally recognize each other, the two sides appeared to sign parallel statements of intent rather than a formal bilateral agreement.

But a Trump administration official stressed it was a pact between the two sides.

"They have normalized their economic relations," said White House national Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.

"The Serbia-Kosovo conflict has gone on for decades. They have been stuck, unable to move forward for many, many years."

Hoti said the deal was "a big step" towards the two sides granting each other formal diplomatic recognition.

Serbia has refused to recognize its former territory since Kosovo declared independence.

Although many countries, including the United States and European powers, recognize both, Serbian allies China and Russia have withheld their endorsement of the Kosovo state, preventing it from joining the United Nations.

'No more surprises'

Vucic though said the Serbians had struck a bilateral agreement "with the US," so that no recognition was given to "third party" Kosovo.

"We will have a common market, no more surprises with the tariffs," he added.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci hailed the agreement in a statement, pRead More – Source

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Anti-government protests turn tense in Bulgaria as thousands rally against PM

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Thousands of Bulgarians rallied in front of the parliament in Sofia on Wednesday in one of the biggest protests so far in two months of demonstrations calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

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Tensions rose in the late hours after some protesters threw over 100 small bombs and firecrackers at police. Officers brought a water cannon and cordoned off the square in front of the parliament. Some 60 people were arrested, police said.

Protest leaders appealed for a peaceful rally and said provocateurs attacked the police. Earlier on Wednesday scuffles broke out between protesters and police, who fired pepper spray and arrested 35 people.

Protesters threw eggs, apples and garbage. They also shook police vehicles, and about 100 officers were affected by pepper spray aimed at them by protesters, Sofia Police Chief Georgi Hadzhiev said. Health officials said some 45 people, including police officers, were treated in hospitals.

The rally took place on the first sitting of parliament after summer recess. Protesters called it the “Grand National Uprising” in response the governments plan for a new constitution.

The events from the #protest in #Bulgaria today (so far):
* police pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed people at random, including journalists and seniors
* random arrests without an explanation BUT with a good beating
* selective and manipulative media reporting (as usual)#ostavka pic.twitter.com/13aksJAknc

— Mila Daskalova #ostavka (@MilaDaskalova) September 2, 2020

Protesters accuse three-times premier Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev of failing to fight the corruption that erodes the rule of law and benefits powerful tycoons in the European Unions poorest country.

In parliament, President Rumen Radev called for the resignation of Borissovs centre-right government and appealed to deputies to dismiss plansRead More – Source

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Spain’s Gypsy community still suffers discrimination

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FOCUS © FRANCE 24

Back in February, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights strongly condemned the way Spain is treating its Gypsy community. According to the UN, of the 750,000 Gypsies who live in the country, almost half of them live below the poverty line. Many membeRead More – Source

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Millions of children across Europe return to school with mandatory face masks

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Millions of students headed back to class in France, Belgium and England on Tuesday as European schools cautiously reopened amid rising coronavirus cases in several countries, with face masks often mandatory.

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Officials have drawn fire from parents and teachers worried that strict social distancing and other protective measures will not be enough to prevent a second wave of Covid-19.

But many governments insist that the greater risk is young people losing out on crucial in-person lessons, and that keeping kids at home for distance learning puts too big a burden on working parents.

"I do not underestimate how challenging the last few months have been, but I do know how important it is for children to be back in school, not only for their education but for their development and well-being," Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

The UN's education agency UNESCO warned that just half the roughly 900 million primary and secondary students restarting school from August to October will actually be allowed back in classrooms.

"Several generations are facing the threat of school closures, which concern hundreds of millions of students and have lasted many months," the agency's director general Audrey Azoulay said in a statement late Monday.

In France, some 12.4 million students returned Tuesday, with masks required for all teachers as well as students over 11.

"It doesn't bother me to wear a mask, even if it does feel a little weird," said Marie, who was starting her first year of middle school in the southern French city of Marseille.

But many teachers were less enthusiastic. "How can we connect with children when half your face is hidden behind a mask?" said Julie Siata, who teaches English at another Marseille school.

'No zero risk'

Pupils also returned Tuesday in Belgium, which has suffered one of the highest rates of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

Masks are required for those aged 12 and older, and must be kept in a protective case or pouch.

"You can't risk having the mask contaminated when taking it off to eat," said Martin, soon to be 13, as he headed to school in Brussels, adding that he was "stressed" about the new protective measures.

In England and Wales, where openings as well as start times are being staggered this week to avoid crowds on public transport and playgrounds, teachers are urging parents to avoid lingering with other parents after drop-offs.

The British government has faced a storm of criticism over reopening schools, after reversing course last week to Read More – Source

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Tensions escalate between Greece and Turkey in eastern Mediterranean

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After weeks of tensions in the Mediterranean Sea, Greece and Turkey have stepped up rival military manoeuvres in recent days. The two countries are at odds over maritime borders, but also – and above all – the search for undersea oil and gas. ConcerRead More – Source

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Montenegro voters face choice between pro-EU ruling party and pro-Russian opposition

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Voters in Montenegro on Sunday cast ballots in a tense election that is pitting the long-ruling pro-Western party against an opposition seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia.

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The parliamentary vote is marked by a dispute over a law on religious rights that is staunchly opposed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.

The issue has fueled divisions in the nation of 620,000 people that has defied its traditional Slavic allies to become independent in 2006 and join NATO in 2017.

Indicating high interest in the election, more than half of eligible voters had cast their ballots by midday. Lines formed outside some polling stations on a very hot summer day.

Months of church-led protests against the property bill have raised tensions and fears of potential incidents during and after the election on Sunday.

Authorities are also thinking back to the previous election, in October 2016, when they said they thwarted a planned election-day coup orchestrated by two Russia military intelligence officers.

Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said the state will deal with any attempts to affect this election.

“This is the day when Montenegro decides to move strongly forward toward economic and general development — a Montenegro that is a member of the the European Union and a reliable member of NATO," he said.

Some 540,000 voters are choosing whether to keep in power the Democratic Party of Socialists, which has governed Montenegro for some 30 years.

The party led Montenegro to independence peacefully from much larger Serbia and into NATO, despite strong opposition from Russia.

However, the DPS and its leader, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, have faced accusations of an autocratic rule, widespread graft and criminal links.

Djukanovic has said Sunday's vote will determine whether Montenegro will continue toward membership in the European Union or allow Serbia and Russia to install their stooges.

“I am absolutely convinced that the democratic will of the majority is on the side of Montenegro and its European future," Djukanovic said after voting on Sunday. He cited alleged attempts to “induce" tensions from outside Montenegro and blasted neighboring Serbia.

“We have all together registered that stampede …. in which the entire Serbian media and political scene is involved," said Djukanovic. “We could possibly pick with tweezers someone who is not involved."

The Montenegrin president, known as the longest-serving European leader, has been a key Western ally in the efforts to push the volatile Balkan region toward Euro Atlantic integration.

Opinion polls ahead of the election have predicted that the DPS will finish ahead of other groups, but might not garner enough votes to form the government on its own.

The main opposition group, the pro-Serb and pro-Russian “For the future of Montenegro" alliance, has backed church-led protests against the religion law, and it wants closer ties with Belgrade and Moscow.

The group's leadRead More – Source

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North Macedonia’s parliament approves new left-wing coalition government

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North Macedonia's Social Democrats returned to power Sunday after parliament approved their new coalition, ending a months-long leadership void amid the pandemic.

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The vote brings Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, credited for putting the Balkan state on an EU path, back into top office after his party narrowly won a victory over right-wing rivals in July.

"A period of order, justice and discipline is coming, it is time for vetting of the judiciary and unselective rule of law," Zaev told the assembly.

His governing coalition, a tie-up with the largest party representing the ethnic Albanian minority, was approved by 62 votes in the 120-seat assembly following two days of heated debate that ended just before a midnight deadline.

The vote ends a period of eight months in which North Macedonia was run by a weak technical government, who were only supposed to be in power until April, when a snap election was initially scheduled.

The vote was then delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic until July, leaving the Balkan state without sturdy leadership as the virus took its toll.

After an upsurge of coronavirus cases in June and July, the virus has infected some 14,000 and killed nearly 600 in the country of around 2 million.

Zaev pledged to tackle the pandemic and its economic effects, as well as make progress on EU accession talks after the country officially became a candidate for membership earlier this year.

During the parliamentary debate the right-wing opposition accused the Social Democrats of corruptioRead More – Source

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Irish man pleads guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter over Vietnamese lorry deaths

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Irishman Ronan Hughes pleaded guilty on Friday to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men, women and boys found in the back of a refrigerated truck near London last year.

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Hughes appeared at the Old Bailey court following the discovery of the bodies in October. Eamonn Harrison from the British province of Northern Ireland, pleaded not guilty to the same charge.

Thirty-one of the victims were men or boys, and eight were women. The oldest was 44 and three were aged under 18, including two 15-year-old boys.

The bodies of the victims were found in a refrigerated trailer on October 23 in an industrial park in Essex, east of London. Police said the truck came from a Belgian port.

Essex Police had initially said the victims were believed to be Chinese nationals, until several Read More – Source

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