Macron to meet unions as pressure over ‘gilets jaunes’ grows

France’s beleaguered President Emmanuel Macron will hold talks with business leaders and trade unions Monday after a fourth weekend of protests that have challenged his grip on power. Macron, who will also meet political leaders and local officials, wants to “hear their voices, their proposals and with the aim of mobilizing them to act,” a … Continue reading “Macron to meet unions as pressure over ‘gilets jaunes’ grows”

France’s beleaguered President Emmanuel Macron will hold talks with business leaders and trade unions Monday after a fourth weekend of protests that have challenged his grip on power.

Macron, who will also meet political leaders and local officials, wants to “hear their voices, their proposals and with the aim of mobilizing them to act,” a spokeswoman for the Elysee Palace said Sunday.The meetings will come ahead of Macron’s address to the nation which is expected to center around national unity. Macron is anticipated to urge the “gilets jaunes,” or “yellow vest” protesters to seek dialogue after a weekend in which 1,723 people were taken in for questioning and 1,220 were taken into custody, according to the Interior Ministry. Across the country, 135 people were reported wounded.

    A demonstrator wearing a yellow vest is covered in blood after being injured during a protest in Paris on Saturday.Macron is facing criticism from both left and right with demonstrators marching against the rise of living costs, the scrapping of the “fortune tax” and accusations that the former banker has done little to address the inequality in French society. Further pressure grew over the weekend with police firing rubber bullets and hundreds of canisters of tear gas at the demonstrators, some of whom set vehicles on fire during Saturday’s protests.Read MoreThe protests have paralyzed Paris with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower being closed to the public, some metro stations being closed and sporting events across the country called off.About 8,000 police were on the streets of Paris and tens of thousands more deployed across the country.Protesters gather in the Place de la Republique on December 8.On Sunday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire claimed the the unrest was creating a “catastrophe” for the French economy.The French retail sector has suffered a loss in revenue of about $1.1 billion since the beginning of the yellow vest protests last month, according to Sophie Amoros, a spokeswoman for the French retail federation.

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      Andelman: “No doubt” Macron is out of touch 04:08″It’s a catastrophe for commerce, it’s a catastrophe for our economy,” Le Maire told reporters as he walked around Paris while surveying the damage wrought by protesters.The protests, which have stretched as far and wide as the southern cities of Marseille and Toulouse, brought out 136,000 people across the country on Saturday, police said.Originally a grassroots movement, the “gilets jaunes” first emerged online with Facebook events set up by citizens mostly from deprived rural areas.They began by coordinating road blockades across France to protest the fuel tax hike but the protests have since mushroomed into a broader demonstration of anger against Macron.

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        Moisi: France was supposed to be carrier of hope 10:04Dominique Moisi, a foreign policy expert at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne and a former Macron campaign adviser told CNN the French presidency was not only in crisis but that Europe’s future also hung in the balance:”In a few months from now there will be European elections, and France was supposed to be the carrier of hope and European progress. What happens if it’s no longer? If the president is incapacitated to carry that message? And it’s about the future of democracy, as well, illiberal democracies are rising all over the world.”And if Macron fails the future of France risks looking like the presidency of Italy today. And it’s much more serious because we have a centralized state which plays a major role in the balance of power within Europe. But make no mistake, it is a French version of a much more global phenomenon.” Trump faults Paris climate agreement as protests in France continueFrench Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday urged US President Donald Trump to refrain from commenting on the protests in France and not to meddle in the country’s domestic policies. “I say to Donald Trump, and the President of the Republic [Emmanuel Macron] has also said: we do not take part in American debates, allow us to live our life as a nation,” Le Driat told LCI television. Trump on Saturday posted two tweets referring to the “yellow vest” anti-government protests, saying the Paris Agreement on climate change wasn’t “working out so well for Paris.”

          When asked about Trump’s remarks, Le Drian also said the US President should “be careful with what he said.””Most Americans do not agree with his decision to break away from the Paris agreement,” he added.

Paris cleans up after riots as pressure builds on Macron

Paris tried to clean up and get back to normal Sunday after more battles between riot police and Yellow Vest protesters left 71 people injured and caused widespread property damage.

Tourist sites were reopened and workers took to the streets to clean up broken glass.

French officials called for unity after days of unrest that saw demonstrators protesting French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed fuel tax hike and other economic policies amid high living costs.

"No tax should jeopardize our national unity. We must now rebuild that national unity through dialogue, through work, and by coming together,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Riot police officers stand in front a burning trash bin during clashes, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 in Marseille, southern France.  (AP)

Macron, who sent a tweet of appreciation to police for their "courage and professionalism," faces pressure to propose solutions to calm the anger. The leaderless Yellow Vests have called for him to resign.

The French leader swept into power in 2017, having emerged out of obscurity less than a year earlier. Espousing his own brand of centrism, he has presented himself on the world stage as a spokesman for multilateralism and internationalism against a nationalist wave moving through Europe.

While he has regularly been seen on world stages, including the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, he has stayed mostly quiet this week, choosing to keep away from the limelight as his government attempts to deal with the issues being protested by the “yellow jacket” protesters who have protested and even rioted in cities over France in recent weeks.

EMMANUEL MACRON GOES AWOL AS VIOLENCE, PROTESTS ENGULF PARIS

In a failed bid to deter demonstrators France deployed 89,000 police – and 12 armored vehicles – on Saturday. About 125,000 Yellow Vests protested across the country and around 1,220 people were taken into custody, the Interior Ministry said.

A worker clears debris in a bank as a man watches through smashed windows, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Several tourist areas, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, were closed out of fear of the rioting. Video footage showed protesters being hit by rubber bullets and police using water cannons at the Arc de Triomphe.

In response to the demonstrations, the government said it would abandon the unpopular fuel tax hike and froze electricity and gas prices for 2019. Macron’s about-face has damaged his credibility with climate defenders and foreign investors.

It’s done nothing to calm the "gilets jaunes," the nickname for crowds wearing the fluorescent yellow vests that all French motorists must keep in their cars.

People run away from a burning car during clashes, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 in Marseille, southern France. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Now the movement is making other demands, such as taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage.

Citing France's commitment to fighting climate change, President Donald Trump suggested in a tweet that “maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”

Fox News reporter Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Salvini holds ‘Italians first’ rally in Rome to celebrate six months in power

Far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini attacked same-sex unions and promised to put “Italians first” during a rally in Rome on Saturday, as his government remained locked in deadlock with the EU over its proposed budget.

The rally was held to celebrate the success of Salvini’s Northern League party in this year’s general election, which saw the populist and euroskeptic party enter into a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.Salvini told about 50,000 supporters in Piazza del Popolo that the current government would last for five years. But the event had the markings of a campaign rally throughout, with the Interior Minister telling the crowd that “United we will win” as he finished his speech.

    European Commission rejects Italian government's spending plansA vocal opponent of same-sex marriages, which are not legal in Italy, Salvini also promised a return to Italy’s traditional roots, saying: “We will be be judged by the number of cribs we fill, with babies born not to Parent one or Parent two but to a mother and a father.” Italy is facing disciplinary proceedings from the European Commission over its proposed budget, which the bloc says does not comply with fiscal rules on EU member states.Read More”We are afraid of nothing and nobody,” Salvini said of the dispute, while supporters waved flags adorned with the “Italians first” slogan, according to Agence France-Presse.He also chided European regulations on so-called Made in Italy products and foods, saying: “We need a new EU based on respect, work and progress.”

      The event came days after Italy passed the so-called “Salvini decree,” which removed migrants from the country’s “welcome centers” and essentially made them homeless.Hours before he took to the stage, a stampede at a rap concert in Corinaldo, north of Rome, killed five teenagers and one adult.

Russia’s most famous human rights activist dies at 91

MOSCOW – Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a human rights pioneer and dissident who challenged the Soviet and Russian regimes for decades, demanding that they free political prisoners and establish democratic rights, died Saturday in a Moscow hospital, a Russian official said. She was 91.

"She remained a human rights activist to the very end," said Mikhail Fedotov, head of Russia's Human Rights Council. "This is a loss for the entire human rights movement in Russia."

The gentle but courageous activist was born under dictator Josef Stalin's regime. She risked her own freedom to protest the plight of political prisoners in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s and co-founded the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organization, in 1976.

Alexeyeva faced death threats throughout her career and was forced into exile by Soviet authorities in 1977.

She returned to Russia in 1993 after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and continued her work energetically, but suspicion of non-governmental organizations under President Vladimir Putin's rule increasingly impeded her activities.

In 2014, she announced that the Moscow Helsinki Group had laid off most of its staff and cut pay for the remainder. The move followed declining foreign donations in the wake of legislation requiring groups receiving such funding to register as "foreign agents."

Alexeyeva relentlessly pressed Soviet authorities to improve human rights, through times of crushing repression and those of relative tolerance, a job that required enormous patience.

"In Soviet times, we couldn't do anything to defend human rights," she told The Associated Press in a 2009 interview. "We couldn't even defend ourselves. Our activity was confined to proclaiming that the state should respect human rights and defend them."

After the Soviet collapse, she turned into a respectful but insistent voice urging that Russia's newly elected leadership live up to its rhetoric about democracy and the rule of law.

Despite Putin's early patronage, including his naming her to an advisory council, Alexeyeva was a leading critic of Russia's second war in Chechnya, launched in 1999 during Putin's first term as prime minister, and of Putin's weakening of Russia's democratic institutions.

Government officials later accused nongovernment organizations like the Moscow Helsinki Group of spying on Russia for the West, and Alexeyeva became the target of death threats by nationalist groups. Still, she remained determined and optimistic, maintaining her ties to the Kremlin.

"I don't accuse, I explain," she said. "I say, 'You don't agree? We will speak some more.'"

While she was certain that Russia would one day embrace Western-style democracy, she did not expect that it would happen soon.

"I won't live to see Russia become a democratic state with the rule of law," she told the AP.

Still, Putin made a house call to Alexeyeva on her 90th birthday last year, complete with a champagne toast.

In the early 2000s, Alexeyeva privately urged Putin to halt plans to expel thousands of Chechen refugees from camps in the neighboring region of Ingushetia and force them to return to their war-ravaged homeland.

"He agreed, the camps existed for two years after that and the people lived in camps rather than under bombs," she said.

In December 2008, Putin proposed legislation that would have significantly broadened the definition of treason. Rights activists said the law would make anyone critical of the government liable to prosecution as an enemy of the state. After an outcry by Alexeyeva and others, the proposal was withdrawn.

But Alexeyeva and her allies lost at least as many battles as they won.

After the December 2003 parliamentary election — a watershed vote that saw most of Russia's liberal opposition leadership driven from parliament — Alexeyeva recalled bluntly telling Putin: "We don't have elections anymore, because the results are decided by the bosses and not the people."

Born in Crimea on July 20, 1927, Alexeyeva studied archaeology at Moscow State University. She was drawn into the dissident movement during the Khrushchev thaw, the period of relaxed censorship under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s and early 1960s.

She was part of the small but determined circle of Moscow dissidents that included Sergei Kovalyov, a biologist who survived a gulag labor camp, and physicist Andrei Sakharov, who won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. The dissidents often met but seldom talked about their illegal political activities, working in secret cells to deter arrests.

In the early 1970s, Alexeyeva worked on the Chronicle of Current Events, the most important of the dissident underground journals typed up on onionskin sheets backed by carbon copy paper and circulated hand-to-hand.

One night Alexeyeva grew worried as she waited in a friend's apartment for a courier to deliver the latest edition of the Chronicle for retyping. When a knock came at the door, she hid, certain it was the KGB, before hearing the voice of fellow dissident Kovalyov. Until that moment, she said, she didn't know he was one of the journal's editors.

Kovalyov later spent seven years in a Soviet labor camp for his role in the publication.

Like other dissidents, including author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Alexeyeva was threatened with arrest unless she left the Soviet Union. The mother of two fled with her younger son, Mikhail, in 1977, eventually settling in the United States. There, she co-wrote about her life in "The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era" and also wrote a book called "Soviet Dissent."

In the 2009 interview, Alexeyeva recalled how Russia had changed since her dissident days. One major watershed, she said, was the 1976 Helsinki agreement, which introduced the concept of human rights to the world.

"Now every policeman knows what human rights means," Alexeyeva said. "He doesn't enforce them, but he knows. That is why I think that today is much easier for us than in the Soviet times."

Many liberal Russian have blamed the country's leaders for steering Russia toward authoritarianism. But Alexeyeva said Russia's problem wasn't its leaders, it was its weak society, which she said was incapable of holding leaders to account.

"I don't think the leaders of Western democracies are really such strong democrats," she said, but added that Western leaders have to support human rights and the rule of law or risk being voted out.

Alexeyeva said she often received death threats — and sometimes wondered if she dismissed them too lightly.

She recalled having tea in her kitchen in 2008 with Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who represented Chechen families with grievances against the government. Markelov said someone was threatening his life, but Alexeyeva tried to be reassuring.

"I told him we all get them," she said, her eyes misting.

Markelov, however, was shot and killed on a snowy Moscow street in January 2009 along with Anastasia Baburova, a young journalist.

Still, Alexeyeva said neither she nor her colleagues would give up their human rights cause.

"I don't know of a single person who works with me who would stop doing what they are doing because of threats," she said. "If I stopped what I am doing now, life wouldn't be interesting to me."

She is survived by her two sons, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Refugee teens in Austrian schools straddle different worlds

VIENNA – Lilas Almalaki didn't know a word of German when she enrolled in an Austrian middle school two months after fleeing her war-torn homeland in 2015, so she relied on the proficient English she learned as a top student in Syria to keep the bullies in place.

Hassan Husseini didn't speak German either and had never spent a day in a classroom when he arrived as an Afghan refugee the same year. He had a tougher time when picked on.

Despite their differences, the two teens share the same challenge. Like the nearly 10,000 other school-age children who arrived in Austria during Europe's largest modern influx of refugees, school is where they must learn to bridge different worlds: one that has shaped their families and identities, and the other where they hope to prosper in peace.

But they entered schools already straining to cope with large numbers of children born in Austria to migrant parents who are still struggling with basic German. That difficulty has deepened local anxieties over integration and helped propel the far right into Austria's new government.

Immigration and the integration of 2.5 million people who the European Union says sought asylum in 2015 and 2016 are issues across Europe. On the front lines are the schools, where teachers, administrators, psychologists and parents are clashing over the future of the next generation.

"The children are living in two worlds," says Andrea Walach, the principal at Hassan's middle school in Vienna, where only seven of more than 200 students speak German at home. "One world is school … but when they are at home, all of this is forgotten."

In 2015, nearly 90,000 asylum-seekers — mostly from Afghanistan and Syria, and a third of them younger than 18 — arrived in Austria, a nation of less than 9 million people.

Today, 51 percent of the quarter-million students in Vienna's schools speak languages other than German in their daily life, according a 2018 report. That includes 34,000 pupils who don't understand enough German to follow their teachers, the Education Ministry says.

That number goes up to more than 70 percent in vocational middle schools like Hassan's, pathways to apprenticeships in trades that must accept anyone who applies. The other option is an academic school like the one Lilas attends, which restricts admissions.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's center-right People's Party and junior coalition nationalist Freedom Party campaigned on tougher immigration controls. His government has also rejected a global migration pact that is being approved this week at a U.N. conference in Morocco.

The government has also changed the way it handles children who struggle with German.

In the past, students not proficient in German had been exempt from grading for up to two years in all subjects. Now, any new students struggling with German are taken out of regular classes, except physical education and the arts, and put into their own language-intensive programs.

Critics say separating students fuels discrimination and prevents them from learning from their peers. Proponents counter that socialization can't happen if kids can't talk to one another, so this speeds up eventual integration.

Integration in schools is a crucial matter, child development experts say, because that's where migrant children learn what their new society expects of them — which greatly affects how well they will do as adults. That means the debate over how to best teach migrant children is not just about language, it is also about bridging sometimes widely diverging cultures.

Austrian education ministry official Martin Netzer says the priority, along with German proficiency, is "to make sure that our basic values are accepted and that there is understanding on both sides."

Research by Greek professor Frosso Motti-Stefanidi suggests that children do best when schools and parents together help them adapt to a new culture while integrating familiar values.

But Walach and other educators say they often struggle to explain to parents — many of them illiterate — the basic importance of schooling as a pathway to a better life.

"Nobody asks if (their kids) have been to school, did do your homework, when is your next test?" Walach said.

Psychologists on 25 "mobile intercultural teams" deployed across Austria in the wake of the refugee influx were trying to close gaps between schools and parents, but they expect to be disbanded when the school year ends due to budget cuts.

For both the new arrivals and the many teens born in Austria to migrant families, integration remains a daily challenge.

In Simmering, a diverse neighborhood on Vienna's outskirts, 16-year-old Seray Aytar and Melek Karakoc are thriving in their academically-oriented school, despite belonging to the 65 percent of students there who speak languages other than German at home, according to principal Claudia Valsky.

The two best friends, born in Austria, were raised by women who, despite coming from Turkey as teens, still can't manage basic German. Whether in class in Austria or on vacation in Turkey, Seray and Melek feel caught between two uncomprehending worlds.

"We don't know where our home is anymore," Seray says in flawless English, and Melek nods.

Lilas and her mother decided to flee Damascus when a car bomb went off in front of her school. After that, Syria no longer feels like home, the 16-year-old says. But it remains a "second mother," she adds — so she insists on speaking Arabic at home, while her mom would like Lilas to speak more German so her own fluency can improve.

Lilas' ease with languages and her academic talent have been her ticket to the demanding school she attends, along with only 8 percent of Vienna's refugee school kids.

She recalls how in her first Austrian school, when she tried to answer a teacher's question in halting German, a boy laughed at her.

"I can't talk German, but I can talk English and you can't, so what are you laughing at?" she retorted in English.

She was so talented in English at that her classmates started asking for help.

"I helped them, and then they were nice to me," she says.

Even though he had had no formal education, Hassan knows that going to school is the key to his dream of working with robots and buying a car and a house in the Austrian countryside. He arrived with his mother and the younger sister he carried piggyback through Iran, Turkey and into Europe, and he is leveraging that dangerous ordeal to produce success at school.

"Our teacher has assigned me (to compete) in the fast running contest. I always win first place. My teacher encourages me," he says proudly in his native Dari language. "Because we were walking all the way, our bodies got hardened."

Hassan's physique makes him stand out in a classroom. Now he figures improving his German will get him more friends, so he always comes to school, even when he doesn't want to.

"Sometimes I have a lot of fun with the boys and I play with them very much. Sometimes I'm really very serious," he says, before excusing himself to get back to class.

Paris tries to clean up after protests; French officials call for unity

Paris tried to regain a sense of normalcy Sunday, a day after battles between riot police and Yellow Vests protesters left 71 people injured and caused widespread property damage.

Tourist sites were reopened and workers took to the streets to clean up broken glass.

Demonstrators drop flat to the ground on the Champs-Elysees avenue during a protest Saturday in Paris. (Associated Press)

French officials called for unity after days of unrest that saw demonstrators protesting French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed fuel tax hike and other economic policies amid high living costs.

"No tax should jeopardize our national unity. We must now rebuild that national unity through dialogue, through work, and by coming together,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

"No tax should jeopardize our national unity. We must now rebuild that national unity through dialogue, through work, and by coming together.”

— French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe

Macron, who was conspicuously absent last week, broke his silence with a tweet of appreciation to police for their "courage and exceptional professionalism,” the BBC reported.

He still faces pressure to propose solutions to calm the anger. The leaderless Yellow Vests have called for him to resign.

Protesters on the Rue Marceau, in front of the Place de l’Etoile, during demonstration of the "Yellow vests", in Paris, Dec. 8, 2018.

In a failed bid to deter demonstrators France deployed 89,000 police – and 12 armored vehicles – on Saturday. About 125,000 Yellow Vests protested across the country and around 1,220 people were taken into custody, the Interior Ministry said.

Several tourist areas, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, were closed out of fear of the rioting. Video footage showed protesters being hit by rubber bullets and police using water cannons at the Arc de Triomphe.

French President Emmanuel Macron was nowhere to be seen as protests raged through France and Paris locked down fearing new riots. (Associated Press)

In response to the demonstrations, the government said it would abandon the unpopular fuel tax hike and froze electricity and gas prices for 2019. Macron’s about-face has damaged his credibility with climate defenders and foreign investors.

It’s done nothing to calm the "gilets jaunes," the nickname for crowds wearing the fluorescent yellow vests that all French motorists must keep in their cars.

TRUMP TAUNTS MACRON AFTER THOUSANDS OF PROTESTERS VIOLENTLY CLASH WITH POLICE IN PARIS; ALMOST 1,000 ARRESTED

Now the movement is making other demands, such as taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage.

Video

Citing France's commitment to fighting climate change, President Donald Trump suggested in a tweet that “maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Armenians vote for parliament; PM looks to bolster support

YEREVAN, Armenia – Armenians cast ballots Sunday in an early parliamentary election that was expected to further consolidate the power of the nation's new prime minister.

The charismatic 43-year-old Nikol Pashinian took office in May after spearheading massive protests against his predecessor's power grab which forced that politician to step down. Pashinian has pushed for early vote to win control of a parliament that was dominated by his political foes.

Pashinian, an ex-journalist turned politician, has won broad popularity, tapping into public anger over widespread poverty, high unemployment and rampant corruption in the landlocked former Soviet nation of 3 million that borders Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran.

Opinion polls indicate that Pashinian's My Step alliance is set to sweep the vote, while the Republican Party that controlled the old parliament is trailing.

Pashinian exuded confidence after casting his ballot in Yerevan, saying that he was sure that his bloc will win a majority in parliament.

During the monthlong campaign, Pashinian has blasted members of the old elite as corrupt and pledged to revive the economy, create new jobs and encourage more Armenians to return home.

"An economic revolution is our top priority," Pashinian told reporters Sunday.

Armenia has suffered from an economic blockade stemming from the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a six-year separatist war in 1994. Attempts to negotiate a peace settlement have stalled and fighting has occasionally flared up between ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan's soldiers.

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have closed their borders with Armenia over the conflict, cutting trade and leaving Armenia in semi-isolation. The country has direct land access only to Georgia and Iran.

About one-third of Armenia's population has moved to live and work abroad and remittances from those who have left account for around 14 percent of the country's annual GDP.

New Zealand police find body they believe is British tourist

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand police said Sunday they found a body they believe to be that of missing 22-year-old British tourist Grace Millane.

Police said the body was in a forested area about 10 meters (33 feet) from the side of the road in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland.

Tourist Grace Millane has been missing since Dec. 1, and failed to contact her family on her birthday Dec. 2.

On Saturday, a 26-year-old man was charged with murder in her case after he was detained for questioning. He is due to make his first court appearance on Monday.

Millane was on a planned yearlong trip abroad that began in Peru. She arrived in New Zealand last month and was last seen entering a central Auckland hotel with a man on the evening of Dec. 1.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard told reporters near the crime scene in the Waitakare Ranges that police believe Millane's body was taken to the area in a rental car that was later left in the town of Taupo.

Police spent several hours searching the area, which they cordoned off and where they put up a tent, before making the announcement.

"This area was identified late last night as a location of interest as a result of our investigative work," Beard said. "I can now advise that a short time ago, we located a body, which we believe to be Grace. A formal identification process will now take place, however, based on the evidence we have gathered over the past few days, we expect that this is Grace."

Millane's father David Millane traveled from Britain to New Zealand last week.

"It is an unbearable time for the Millane family, and our hearts go out to them," Beard said.

Before she vanished, Millane had been staying at a backpacker hostel in Auckland, and she left some of her belongings there. Beard said she met a man for a couple of hours on the evening of Dec. 1 before surveillance cameras showed them entering the CityLife hotel at about 9:40 p.m.

Her family was surprised and worried when she didn't contact them on her birthday or get in touch over on the days that followed.

After arriving in New Zealand on Friday, David Millane spoke with media.

"Grace is a lovely, outgoing, fun-loving, family-oriented daughter," he said, adding that she was usually in touch with her family every day.

"She arrived here on the 20th of November, and has been bombarding us with numerous photographs and messages of her adventures," Millane said. "We are all extremely upset, and it's very difficult at this time to fully describe the range of emotions we are going through."

Minister: UK could try Norway model if Brexit deal rejected

LONDON – Britain could consider a so-called "Norway-plus" deal with the European Union if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to win lawmakers' approval for her Brexit deal, a senior British Cabinet minister said Saturday.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd was the first minister to publicly discuss a "Plan B" should May be defeated in a key parliamentary vote scheduled for Tuesday.

Rudd, who backs May's Brexit deal, said "anything could happen" — including a second referendum — if the government is defeated in Parliament, and predicted a chaotic period.

She told the Times on Saturday that while none of the possible alternatives is better than the current Brexit deal, she would prefer a model similar to that of Norway, which is not an EU member but is part of the European Economic Area. That means it is part of the single market.

Such an alternative "seems plausible not just in terms of the country but in terms of where the MPs are," she added, although "nobody knows if it can be done".

The divorce agreement that May struck with the EU is widely opposed by British lawmakers across the spectrum, and her Conservative government must convince skeptical lawmakers that the deal is a good one ahead of Tuesday's vote. A defeat would sink the agreement, leaving the U.K. facing a messy "no-deal" Brexit, and could topple May and her government.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal keeps Britain bound too closely to the EU, while pro-EU politicians say it erects barriers between the U.K. and its biggest trading partner and leaves many details of the future relationship undecided.

An analysis by Britain's Press Association showed that just 27 of the 163 lawmakers who have spoken out indicated they would back the deal, compared with 122 — including 29 from May's own Conservative Party — who say they will vote against it.

Pressure is mounting on May to delay the vote and ask for more concessions from the EU at a Brussels summit at the end of next week. EU officials have insisted that May's Brexit deal is the best and only one on offer.

Italy’s migrants fear new law deprives them of protections

ROME – Thousands of migrants in Italy are anxiously waiting to see if they will lose their housing and benefits following approval of a government-backed law that aims to reduce the number of migrants granted humanitarian protections.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has denied speculation that he is "about to kick out pregnant women, children and elderly people on Christmas Eve" from state-run reception centers. Rather, he stressed last week, the new law eliminates the category of "humanitarian protection" for migrants in the future, not retroactively.

But aid groups say eventually the law could affect as many as 20,000 people as their humanitarian permits expire. It was passed at the same time that Italy's populist, anti-migrant government announced it wouldn't attend the signing ceremony in Morocco next week of the U.N. Global Compact on migration.

"This government felt that Italy is offering humanitarian protection to too many people, so it changed the rules on who will receive it," Matteo Villa, an expert on migration with Italy's Institute for the Study of International Politics, told The Associated Press this week.

The law, dubbed the "Salvini Decree," is the latest measure taken by Italy's government to crack down on the more than 640,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy since 2014, most fleeing Libya aboard smugglers' boats.

Many have applied for refugee status. But others have obtained a lesser status granting them special humanitarian protections given the possible risks they might face if returned home. The two-year humanitarian permits enable migrants to live in state-run reception centers and access training and educational programs and find work.

Ultimately, Salvini aims to repatriate those who don't qualify. But sending migrants home is a costly and time-consuming process that requires negotiations with their home countries. According to Eurostat, Italy sent home only 7,045 "irregular" migrants in 2017.

The new law, approved Nov. 28, does still allow for certain migrants to obtain "special" residency permits if they have serious health conditions, are victims of domestic violence, work exploitation or sex trafficking, and those who have escaped from a natural calamity in their home countries or those who have carried out heroic acts in Italy.

But migrants are worried. Barry Tierno, a 19-year-old from Conakry, Guinea, is trying to convert his humanitarian visa into a different status before it expires next October. "I can't stay here without papers," he said.

Emanuela Adeboga, a 21-year-old who arrived from Lagos, Nigeria, with her mother and two sisters in 2016, has similar fears. Her humanitarian permit expires at the end of the month. The family lives in a shared apartment with other humanitarian beneficiaries; the younger girls are in school and mother Elizabeth was given a sewing machine for her tailoring training course.

"I have heard that those who don't have a work contract for at least one year cannot have their visas renewed," Emanuela Adeboga said. "Where should we go?"

There have been sporadic cases of centers kicking people out already, fueling fears that as their residency permits expire, migrants will be out on the street.

Filippo Miraglia, deputy president of ARCI, a prominent Italian non-profit working with migrants, said the law clearly has political aims: to increase the number of "illegal" migrants in Italy while reducing the number of integrated foreigners who can work legally and pay taxes.

"Obviously the more illegal migrants we have on our territory, the more our minister of interior will be able to tell a distorted narrative about migration," he said.

Salvini says he merely wants only legitimate, deserving refugees and migrants to access public housing and benefits.

In addition to removing humanitarian protection, the new law makes it more difficult to acquire Italian citizenship, increases the funds allocated for repatriation, and lengthens the list of crimes that will allow the revocation of protection status.