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Protests across France to test government resolve over pension reform

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Protests across France to test government resolve over pension reform

Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take part in demonstrations across France on Saturday as protesters seek to keep up the pressure on the government over its plans to make people work longer before retiring.

After three days of nationwide strikes since the start of the year, unions are hoping to match a mass turnout from Jan. 19 when more than a million people marched in opposition to pushing the age to take a full state pension to 64 from 62.

“I am expecting a lot of people. We need to be extremely numerous,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union, the country’s largest, said on Friday, adding that some 250 demonstrations were planned across the country.

“There is a form of contempt (from the government). There is no answer to the (social) movement and there needs to be one.”

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The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries – a benefit that opinion polls show a substantial majority are reluctant to give up.

President Emmanuel Macron says the reform is “vital” to ensuring the viability of the pension system.

Saturday’s protests are the first on a weekend, when workers do not need to strike or take time off to march. They also come after the first week of debate on the pension legislation in parliament.

The opposition has suggested thousands of amendments to complicate the debate and ultimately try to force the government to pass the bill without a parliamentary vote and through decree, a move that could potentially sour the rest of Macron’s mandate. He was re-elected in April 2022 for five years.

Pushing back the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would yield an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, according to Labour Ministry estimates.

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Unions say there are other ways to do this, such as taxing the super rich or asking employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more.

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Two dozen people dead after van falls into Afghan ravine

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Two dozen people dead after van falls into Afghan ravine

Twenty four people, including 12 women and 8 children, died on Wednesday when the van they were travelling in fell into a ravine in northern Afghanistan, police said.

“Due to the neglect of the driver, the vehicle deviated from the road and fell into a ravine. Twenty four people are dead,” said Den Mohammed Nazari, a police spokesman in Sar e Pol province,

No further details were available about the cause of the accident.

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Israeli army detonates home of Palestinian ‘assailant’ in West Bank

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Israeli army detonates home of Palestinian 'assailant' in West Bank

The Israeli army demolished the home of an alleged Palestinian assailant on Thursday in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Israeli military said its forces were operating in Ramallah “to demolish the residence of the terrorist who carried out a bombing attack in Jerusalem last November.”

The Israeli army released video footage showing soldiers setting explosives and explosions as they demolished the home.

Clashes erupted after Israeli forces mounted a rare raid into the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank early on Thursday, in what the military said was an operation to demolish the house of an assailant.

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A Reuters witness said a large military convoy arrived in downtown Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, leading hundreds of Palestinians to gather in the area.

Some Palestinian youth hurled stones at Israeli forces, who fired live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd, the witness said. Trash bins that had been set on fire blocked roads as ambulance sirens wailed.

The Palestinian health ministry said at least six people were transferred to hospital for treatment, including three who sustained gunshot wounds.

The twin blasts carried out by the Palestinian assailant in November killed two people, including an Israeli-Canadian teenager, and wounded at least 14 others in what police said were explosions of improvised bombs that were planted at bus stops near the city exit and in a junction leading to a settlement.

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In unusual orca sighting, tour spots at least 20 killer whales off San Francisco

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In unusual orca sighting, tour spots at least 20 killer whales off San Francisco

 An uncommonly large grouping of orcas for Northern California — roughly two dozen killer whales — were spotted by a whale watching tour off the coast of San Francisco last month, likely gathered together to celebrate a successful hunt for sea lions or seals.

“I screamed ‘orca!’” recalled Michael Pierson, a Oceanic Society naturalist leading the tour, after noticing “those distinct dorsal fins poking out of the water.”

“It was really, really special,” Pearson said in an interview on Wednesday.

The big group of whales was seen on May 7 near the Farallon Islands, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of San Francisco. Killer whales are more commonly found around the deep ocean canyon beneath Monterey Bay — about 75 miles south of the city — and can be spotted anywhere from the coastline to just 5 miles off shore, according to Nancy Black, a marine biologist and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

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It’s easier for whale-watching tours to see them in Monterey Bay because the canyon is so close to the beach, while the Farallon Islands require a miles-long boat ride from San Francisco, and the water still may not be deep enough there, Black said.

“They’re the whale that most people want to see when they go whale-watching,” she said, “you just don’t know when they’re going to be around.”

Black, who is also the director of the nonprofit California Killer Whale Project, said she’s seen larger groupings of orcas than last month’s two dozen but added that any sighting is special. As she spoke, she watched five swim together in Monterey Bay.

The Oceanic Society regularly does tours to the Farallon Islands — which include collecting data for scientists and conservationists — and spring is migration season. Pierson and the boat’s captain, Jared Davis, decided to try a different route on May 7 to head out over deeper water.

When spotted during Farallon Islands tours, the orcas are usually in a family group of three to six whales. They typically range from Baja California up the West Coast and Canada to Alaska.

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Last month, however, the tour stumbled across several family groups congregating together, for a total of 20 to 24. They were likely near the islands because it’s where pregnant sea lions and seals give birth this time of year — and the mammal-eating whales had probably just feasted.

“We don’t know exactly why this particular group was so big,” he said.

While the adult males, with their distinctive 6 feet-tall (2-meter) dorsal fins, were “definitely a showstopper,” Pierson said the mothers and their calves were also a big hit.

“You could hear the coos and awws from everyone on board,” he said.

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