French Farmers Heckle Macron at Agricultural Fair

President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday faced heckles and whistles from French farmers angry with reforms to their sector, as he arrived for France’s annual agricultural fair.

For over 12 hours, Macron listened and responded to critics’ rebukes and questions — only to return home to the Elysee Palace with an adopted hen.

“I saw people 500 meters away, whistling at me,” Macron said, referring to a group of cereal growers protesting against a planned European Union free-trade pact with a South American bloc, and against the clampdown on weedkiller glyphosate.

“I broke with the plan and with the rules and headed straight to them, and they stopped whistling,” he told reporters.

“No one will be left without a solution,” he said.

Macron was seeking to appease farmers who believe they have no alternative to the widely used herbicide, which environmental activists say probably causes cancer.

Mercosur warning

He also wanted to calm fears after France’s biggest farm union warned Friday that more than 20,000 farms could go bankrupt if the deal with the Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, which is the world’s top exporter of beef, plus Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) goes ahead.

Meanwhile, Macron was under pressure over a plan to allow the wolf population in the French countryside to grow, if only marginally.

“If you want me to commit to reinforce the means of protection … I will do that,” he responded.

And he called on farmers to accept a decision on minimum price rules for European farmers, “or else the market will decide for us.”

But it wasn’t all jeers and snarls for Macron at the fair.

He left the fairground with a red hen in his arms, a gift from a poultry farm owner.

“I’ll take it. We’ll just have to find a way to protect it from the dog,” he said, referring to his Labrador, Nemo.

It was a far cry from last year, when, as a presidential candidate not yet in office, Macron was hit on the head by an egg launched by a protester.

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Juncker Heads to Western Balkans to Discuss EU Strategy

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is embarking on a Western Balkan tour to promote the EU’s new strategy for the region.

Juncker’s tour to the six Balkan countries that remain outside the European Union starts in Macedonia, where he will hold talks with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Sunday.

Earlier this month, the European Commission unveiled its new strategy to integrate Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Among the six countries, the commission considers Serbia and Montenegro as current front-runners toward accession and the new strategy says they could be allowed in by 2025 if they meet all the conditions.

Juncker has warned that this was an “indicative date; an encouragement so that the parties concerned work hard to follow that path.” 

“The EU door is open to further accessions when, and only when, the individual countries have met the criteria,” the EU road map said.

It insisted that the six countries still have many obstacles to overcome before joining the bloc, including regarding corruption, the rule of law, and relations with their neighbors.

EU member states Croatia and Slovenia are still locked in a border dispute stemming from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Macedonia and EU-member Greece are engaged in UN-mediated talks to resolve a 27-year-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic.

The EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has produced agreements in areas such as freedom of movement, justice, and the status of the Serbian minority in Kosovo — as well as enabling Serbia to start EU accession talks and Brussels to sign an Association Agreement with Kosovo.

Juncker’ strip to the Western Balkans comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Belgrade this week for a two-day visit aimed at bolstering longstanding ties with Serbia.

During the visit, Lavrov welcomed Serbia’s drive to join the EU, but also vowed that Moscow would remain engaged with the Balkan country no matter what happens.

“We always wanted partners to have a free choice and develop their political ties,” Lavrov said at a news conference with President Aleksandar Vucic, who is leading Serbia through a delicate balancing act.

Although Serbia is seeking to join the EU, it continues to nurture close ties with Moscow and has said it will not join the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia over its aggression in Ukraine.

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Sridevi, Famed Bollywood Actress, Dies at 54

Famed Bollywood actress Sridevi Kapoor, best known as Sridevi, died of a heart attack Saturday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a family member said. Sridevi was 54.

She was known for her roles in the 1990s in Indian Hindi romantic drama films, including Chandni, Lamhe, as well as Mr. India and Nagina. She began working in films as a child.

After word of Sridevi’s death, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra tweeted, “I have no words. Condolences to everyone who loved #Sridevi. A dark day. RIP.”

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‘Years of Lead’ Haunt Italian Election as Political Street Skirmishes Return

Italy has had 64 governments since the World War II and many more prime ministers, but even by its own chaotic standards the country is mired in one of the most divisive and increasingly violent parliamentary elections in recent years.

Rising political violence has prompted comparisons to the 1970s and early 1980s  — the “Years of Lead,” as they were known — when the country was engulfed in political and social turmoil and buffeted by domestic terrorism launched by extremists on the right and left of the political spectrum.

Twenty-one parties — and two highly unstable electoral alliances with shifting allegiances and sharp personal animosities, also darkened by intrigue worthy of the Borgia era — are competing in a race that has become shriller and more menacing with each passing day.

Tribal mood prevails

Politicians haven’t restrained their political rhetoric, hurling accusations with abandon at their rivals, smarting their characters and alleging treachery. The political language matches the grim, tribal mood of an electorate in the grip of anti-migrant fervor and furious with a political system seemingly incapable of grappling with key bread-and-butter issues.


Voters have become angrier as the election campaigning has unfolded, as well as more violent. This was demonstrated this week as police in several towns scuffled with bottle-throwing far-left protesters to block them from closing in on provocative anti-migrant and far-right rallies, where speakers call for the mass expulsion of the more than 600,000 migrants who have arrived in the country in the past two years.

On Friday, political violence plunged the center of the coastal city of Pisa into chaos and sent shoppers scurrying as left-wing protesters mounted a violent demonstration against Lega leader Matteo Salvini, who was speaking at a public rally and repeating his pledge to fight Brussels to ensure that “Italians come first.” Protesters threw smoke bombs, stones and bottles at blue-helmeted riot police.

In Turin, six police were hurt Thursday as they battled anti-fascists trying to reach a rally mounted by CasaPound, a neo-fascist grassroots group turned political party. The skirmish was described by local officials as “very serious.” They said the protesters clearly “intended to hurt” the police.

Anti-migrant fever

CasaPound itself has been eager in recent weeks to goad reaction from leftwing adversaries. It has been mounting highly provocative patrols in the multi-ethnic Esquilino neighborhood of Rome. This week group members in the district waved Italian flags and unfurled an anti-migrant banner emblazoned with the words: “Rape, theft, violence, enough degradation in this area.”

“Italians can no longer walk around this area peacefully, because of all the foreigners that continue to arrive end up here,” Carlomanno Adinolfi, a group member told reporters.

On Saturday police imposed a major security clampdown on Rome as political tensions mounted in the final days of the March 4 elections. A Mai piu fascismo (fascism never again) march drew thousands, and beforehand police warned demonstrators from carrying “blunt objects and rigid flag poles” and from wearing helmets and hard hats.

The tone for violence was set earlier this month when a onetime regional candidate for the right-wing populist Lega party, a key group in a right-wing alliance with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, shot and wounded half-a-dozen migrants in a central Italian town 200 kilometers from Rome.

Street skirmishes between neo-fascists and leftists — as well as racially motivated attacks on migrants — have increased ever since. In the central town of Perugia, a campaigner was reportedly stabbed and wounded midweek while putting up campaign posters for Potere al Popolo (Power to the People), a coalition of communist parties.

Politicians targeted, abducted, beaten

And politicians have been singled out for attack.

Candidates receive death threats on social media. Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the Italian Parliament, who has been a vehement opponent of racism, has received more than most — she also received a bullet in the mail. She is competing for reelection in Milan but is living in a secure house, the whereabouts of which are a closely-guard secret. Effigies of her and the country’s current left-wing prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, were burned last month by youth members of the Lega in the northern town of Varese.

On Wednesday, a regional leader of Forza Nuova, a stand-alone far-right party that blames migrants themselves for anti-migrant attacks, was abducted in Palermo, Sicily, by leftwing activists wearing balaclavas, who bound and beat him. The activists sent a video of the assault to news stations, accusing their victim, Massimo Ursino, of spreading hate and racism across Italy.

“We tied him up and beat him to show that Palermo is anti-fascist and there is no place for men like him here,’’ they said.

Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, said the attack was a sign of the “shameful and disgraceful” state of Italian politics. “We can’t beat fascism with violence. We can’t beat fascism with fascist behavior,” he added. The rise of the far-right has prompted the rise of a new far-left, which appears determined to be muscular.

Homegrown dangers

The day before the Palermo attack, the Italian intelligence services released their annual security report detailing potential hazards to the country. They identified radical Islamic terrorism as the greatest of the security challenges facing Italy, but the agencies also noted that home-grown extremism and the increased presence in Italy of far-right groups, and “fierce Neo-Nazi networks” promulgating racism and intolerance, posed a grave risk, too.

The Italian security services also raised the possibility of cyber-campaigns aimed at influencing public opinion and the country’s political orientation in the run-up to the March 4 election, worrying such campaigns would seek to introduce “destabilizing elements” by exacerbating online Italy’s political, economic and social divisions.

Although Russia wasn’t mentioned by name, U.S. and Italian analysts have warned that European elections have been targets for Russian meddling. But La Stampa newspaper in an investigation has found scant evidence of Russian actors using social media and cyber-attacks to try to shape this election cycle in Italy.

The country’s domestic political actors have proven all too capable of poisoning the political atmosphere without a helping hand from overseas, analysts note.

“Political violence must be stopped,” said Pietro Grasso, leader of Free and Equal (LeU), a leftwing party contesting in the elections. A former anti-mafia prosecutor and Senate speaker, Grasso told a Facebook forum this week, “I condemn violence, from whatever side it comes. It must be condemned and it must be stopped, and we must try to nip in the bud all manifestations of violence linked to political ideology.”


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New Toys Help Cultivate Emotional Intelligence in Children 

There was plenty of slime and llamas in red pajamas at the International Toy Fair earlier this week in New York. Hidden among these popular playthings were a number of toys that cater to the modern-day kid, with plenty of technology built in.

Educational toys are a mainstay in the industry, and S.T.E.M. toys, those that incorporate principles of science, technology, engineering and math, have garnered attention in recent years. But now, toymakers are addressing children’s emotional intelligence as well, with toys that not only cultivate their IQ but their EQ, or emotional quotient.

PleIQ is a set of plastic toy blocks that use augmented reality technology to showcase a variety of words, numbers and lessons to children. PleIQ CEO Edison Durán demonstrated how virtual characters and miniature storybook scenes pop up on the blocks when they’re held in front of a tablet camera. 

“Every side of a block, every letter, every number and every symbol becomes a 3-D interactive learning experience especially designed to foster the multiple intelligence of preschoolers,” Durán said.

Intelligence here includes intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, and PleIQ builds on these by having kids play the role of teacher or guide. 

“The children have to help the companion character in (a) difficult situation. So they have to give them advice to solve these situations that are common,” Durán said.

‘A kid’s Alexa’

On the other side of the convention center, Karen Hu was demonstrating the workings of an educational robot called Woobo. 

“You can think of this as a kid’s Alexa,” said Hu, Woobo’s strategic partnerships and business development manager. “We have a lot of expressions that’s built into it.”

Hu posed a question to the furry green Woobo, “Hi, what’s your name?”

It responded in a childlike voice with, “Are you trying to trick me? My name is Woobo.”

Woobo comes programmed with educational games and activities that children can access via its touchscreen face. Toys that function as companions also aid in social development. Hu described how Woobo can help an autistic child. 

“He can communicate with Woobo and he can follow some of the instructions Woobo is giving,” said Hu, noting that kids see Woobo more as a companion than a parent or authority figure “telling him to do certain things.”

Stress-relieving animals

A more low-tech companion is Manimo, toy animals weighing 2.2 to 5.5 pounds that can help with hyperactivity and concentration. Whether it’s a snake, salamander, dolphin or frog, Manimos can be draped across a child’s arm, chest or neck.

Like the use of weighted blankets or vests in occupational therapy, Manimos alleviate anxiety and stress and can be particularly helpful to kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or those on the autism spectrum.

Karine Gagner, president and founder of Manimo, explained that applying deep pressure to one’s body can help calm kids before bedtime, while simultaneously increasing their concentration and focus. 

“It works very well at school, you can use it on your lap or you can put it over your shoulder or just hold it in your arm,” Gagner said.

Social intelligence

At the EQtainment booth, sales director Jonathan Erickson was explaining the company’s toy lineup: “The purpose of all of our products is to develop emotional and social intelligence in kids — so that’s impulse control, manners, any skill sets relating with other people.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a genius when it comes to IQ, you still need to be able to relate with the world around you,” Erickson said.

Erickson was displaying a board game called “Q’s Race to the Top,” in which players try to advance a monkey named “Q” to the top of his treehouse while engaging in an interactive mix of physical activity and conversational prompts. Kevin Chaja, EQtainment’s CTO, says the game got his 4-year-old daughter to open up. 

“The biggest thing, is her talking. And that’s the key of all this, is getting her to talk, getting her feelings expressed out. Like, ‘Hey, what does it feel like to be sad? Or how does it feel like to be happy?’” Chaja said.

Whether a board game can ultimately improve a child’s emotional intelligence remains to be seen, but in parents’ ongoing quest to raise well-rounded children, toymakers are making sure to cover all their bases.

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ДСНС попереджає про сильне похолодання найближчими днями: до -25 вночі

Державна служба з надзвичайних ситуацій попереджає про значне зниження нічної температури найближчими днями, посилаючись на дані Українського гідрометцентру.

Зокрема, за даними ДСНС, у неділю температура опуститься до 17-22 градусів морозу у Житомирській, Київській, Чернігівській, Полтавській, Сумській та Харківській областях, а у південній частині країни та на Закарпатті до 8-13 градусів зі знаком «мінус».

А на початку наступного тижня на Київщині очікується до 17-22 градуси морозу (у Києві – 16-19 градусів), місцями по області до -24. До 25 градусів морозу вночі може бути в цей періоду Волинській, Львівській, Тернопільській, Рівненській, Житомирській, Київській, Черкаській, Чернігівській, Сумській, Полтавській та Харківській областях.

Сніг у південних, західних, Кіровоградській, Черкаській, Вінницькій, Житомирській та Київській областях йтиме до кінця доби 24 лютого, зазначає відомство. 

Окрім того, Державна служба України з надзвичайних ситуацій попереджає про небезпеку сходження лавин у горах на Івано-Франківщині.


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Philippines Students Gather for Art – and Shot at Guinness Record

Nearly 17,000 students in the Philippines gathered in a park in the capital, Manila, on Saturday in a bid to set a record for the world’s biggest art class.

Middle school students from about 200 schools listened for about an hour as a teacher taught them how to draw a mask.

“I learned a lot,” said one of the students, Kathleen Pareno.

Organizers said 16,692 students joined the lesson and the figure would be sent to Guinness World Records for an evaluation.

India holds the record for the largest art lesson with 14,135 people taking part in one in 2014, Guinness World Records said on its website.


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Nanette Fabray, Award-Winning Star of Stage, Film and TV, Dies at 97

Nanette Fabray, the vivacious, award-winning star of the stage, film and television, has died at 97.

Fabray’s son, Dr. Jamie MacDougall, told The Associated Press his mother died Thursday at her home in Palos Verdes Estates.

Fabray launched her career at age 3 as Vaudeville’s singing-dancing Baby Nanette.

On Broadway she won a Tony in 1949 for the musical “Love Life” and was nominated for another for “Mr. President.”

She starred opposite Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the hit 1953 film “The Band Wagon.”

Her television roles included playing Bonnie Franklin’s mother in the hit 1980s sitcom “One Day at a Time.”

She also played the mother of Shelley Fabares, her real-life niece, in the 1990s sitcom “Coach.”

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Shiffrin Jokes About Whether Vonn’s Olympic Career Is Over

Mikaela Shiffrin is not quite convinced Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic career is done.

“Whenever I hear anybody say something about this,” Shiffrin said Friday, “it’s like, ‘most likely,’ ]’probably,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘we’ll see,’ ‘not sure.’ I’m like, ‘Knowing Lindsey, I don’t believe her.’ ”

And with that, Shiffrin let out a big laugh.

She is, without a doubt, the heir apparent to Vonn as the leader of U.S. ski racing. They were the only two members of the country’s Alpine team to earn medals at the Pyeongchang Games — and the only two to hold news conferences a day after the sport’s last two individual events.

First came Vonn, 33, wearing her downhill bronze medal. After she left the room, it was time for Shiffrin, 22, whose gold from the giant slalom and silver from the combined dangled from her neck.

Vonn spent much of her session taking questions about her, um, extensive experience — “You’re not getting any younger,” was the way one reporter put it, to which the skier replied with a smile, “Come right out and say it, why don’t you!” — and the emotions of her (presumably) last Olympics.

Then Shiffrin discussed what she called the frustration of dealing with schedule changes that contributed to a fourth-place finish in her top event, the slalom, and forced her to enter only three of five races.

Tribute to Vonn

When asked about being Vonn’s successor, she was deferential.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I’m taking over something for the sport. I don’t know if I could fill Lindsey’s shoes, the way that she has worn them,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to do my best to help the sport grow in whatever way that I can. The best way that I can do that, as far as I see right now, is just to ski my best and to keep taking ski racing to a new level.”

Shiffrin also was asked about what sort of advice she might have received from Vonn about taking over as the face of Alpine skiing in the United States.

“I haven’t had a lot of advice about what to do because, first of all, I don’t think Lindsey sees herself as being done yet or passing the baton,” she answered. “And I don’t see myself as taking the baton.”

Shiffrin is now what Vonn once was: a multiple Olympic medalist in her 20s with a bright future.

After Vonn won a gold and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the assumption was she would go on to add medal upon medal to her career total. Instead, she was forced to miss the 2014 Olympics after tearing knee ligaments.

So after an eight-year wait, Vonn stepped back on the stage, but has said this would be her last Olympics. As it is, she became the oldest woman to win an Alpine medal.

Vonn said the woman who took the gold in the downhill, good friend Sofia Goggia of Italy, wrote a note trying to lobby for a return in 2022.

“I told her … if I physically could continue for four years, then I probably would, as long as I considered myself still a competitor,” Vonn said. “But four years is a really long time. I told her that. She said she’s going to keep trying to convince me.”

Career record

In the meantime, there are other goals Vonn will pursue before retiring. She reiterated she is “not going to stop ski racing until I break” Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record for most career race wins. She has 81; he had 86.

“I think next season,” Vonn said, “I can get it done.”

She also intends to pursue a chance to compete against men, something she’s sought for years.

The sport’s governing body is supposed to consider her request in a few months, but if that doesn’t work out, Vonn said she would think about trying to set up an exhibition race.

All of that will be put on hold for a bit, though.

Instead of joining the skiing circuit when it resumes in Switzerland next weekend, Vonn will wait until the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on March 14-18, to try to overtake Goggia for the season downhill title.

“I need a break,” Vonn said. “I need a moment to breathe. I’ve never actually had time after an Olympics to enjoy it, so I’m going to.”

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