Evening Update Thursday 26th January 2023

A woman has been jailed for seven years, and banned from driving for 10 years, for a hit-and-run in the Var which killed a seven-year-old boy and left his nine-year-old brother permanently disabled. The incident happened in Fréjus in August 2021. The boys and their parents were on a pedestrian crossing when the speeding driver lost control of her 4x4, crashed into a barrier and rebounded into the family, who were on holiday from the eastern French city of Metz. Seven-year-old Amine died a few hours later. Nine-year-old Naïm was airlifted to hospital where he had to have a leg amputated. Their mother was also seriously injured and has to use crutches to walk. Blood tests found the driver was drunk and under the influence of drugs. She and her passenger, who were 24 at the time, tried to flee the scene but were stopped by passers-by. The crash led to an outpouring of emotion in Fréjus at the time, with locals organising a vigil for the young boy.

The Alpes-Maritimes department has made an urgent appeal to the French government for help, saying it can no longer cope with the surge in the number of migrants entering France from Italy. The departmental council's president Charles-Ange Ginésy said local reception centres were beyond saturated - and the state needed to do more to help unaccompanied minors in particular. His comments come after it was revealed this week that 18 young migrants were being detained by French border police in a 25-square-metre portakabin in Menton due to a lack of reception space.

A Paris-Saint-Germain fan who stirred up violence ahead of OGC Nice's Europa League match against Cologne has been put under house arrest for six months. The 34-year-old man, a bus driver for the Paris public transport operator RATP, became involved in a clash between Nice and Cologne fans in the stadium in the run-up to last September's match. He ended up being hospitalised after suffering a five-metre fall from the grandstands. Rival fans threw smoke bombs and bottles at each other while they waited for the match at the Allianz Riviera to begin. Kick-off was delayed because of the violence. A judge has banned the man from visiting the Alpes-Maritimes department for two years. He was also handed a two-year ban from visiting any football stadium. His six-month jail term will be served at home with an electronic tag. In the immediate aftermath of last September's football violence, the prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes said he wanted a meeting with management at the Allianz Riviera stadium to discuss security issues. But stadium management say that the meeting has still not happened, and nothing has changed since. 

A large part of Nice was left without street lighting on Wednesday evening due to a power outage. The blackout affected the old town, the port and other districts to the east of the city. Technicians from electricity supplier Enedis were called out to resolve the problem, while municipal police helped direct traffic at some junctions where the lights were out. The power cut only applied to public street lighting. Energy supplies to individual homes and businesses were unaffected.

The Alpes-Maritimes departmental council has set aside a €48 million budget to help fund reconstruction projects following Storm Alex. The Roya and Vésubie valleys were among the worst-hit by the storm in 2020, which cut off vital road links and caused major damage to infrastructure. The extra budget has been set aside to speed up all the ongoing repair works - with the aim of completing most of them by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, phone operator Orange is testing out a new emergency communication system in several villages in the Alpes-Maritimes, that can be used to get messages out to people during a meteorological disaster. Storm Alex in 2020 saw several villages lose communications access to the outside world as power and telephone lines came down. Since then, several communes have been working with telecoms providers to come up with technical solutions in case it ever happens again. Orange's experiment is called the SafetyCase - it's a box containing a battery-powered wifi network, with an autonomy of up to 10 hours. Stored away securely in a town hall, it can be quickly deployed in an emergency and allow residents to make contact with relatives to tell them they're safe. In Breil-sur-Roya, the municipal council has voted to invest in a network of solar-powered radio transmitters and receivers that will make it possible for officials in the town hall to communicate with residents in the outlying hamlets in the event of an emergency.

And a major clean-up operation is under way to remove shipwrecks from the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer. It's the third consecutive year that authorities have carried out a wide-scale clean-up of the seabed. For years, sailors anchored for free in Villefranche's deep harbour. And over the years, some of those boats have ended up abandoned or damaged in storms. The first task was to map and carry out an inventory of what lies below the sea surface - using the help of professional divers. Fifteen shipwrecks have been identified for this year’s clean-up, which will take three weeks to complete and is being funded by the French state at a cost of €140,000.

BUSINESS

A proposed reunion of two parts of Rupert Murdoch's empire has been abandoned by the media tycoon. The 91-year old and his son Lachlan had floated the idea of bringing together News Corp, the US company behind the Wall Street Journal, Harper Collins and The Times newspaper, and Fox News owner Fox Corp. The two companies were split in 2013 in a move designed to draw a line between the publishing businesses, which was struggling at the time, and its entertainment division. The board of News Corp said last year it had formed a committee to independently assess whether the reunification of the two businesses would be in shareholders' interests. Several top investors had since spoken out against the idea, suggesting it could have undervalued News Corp. The Murdoch family controls about 40% of the entities. The proposed tie-up was perceived, in some quarters, as potential succession planning by Murdoch Sr to consolidate power behind his son.

Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry are among celebrities calling on the five of the UK's biggest High Street banks to stop financing new oil, gas and coal projects. It follows criticism that banks are funding "fossil fuel expansion" despite making green pledges. Businesses and charities like Greenpeace also back the campaign. The Make My Money Matter campaign points to research by environmental charity Rainforest Action Network, which claims that between 2016 and 2021, the five banks funnelled almost $368bn towards the fossil fuel industry. It added that in the same time period, the lenders financed the 50 companies making the biggest investments in oil and gas projects to the tune of $141bn.

Also in the UK, Royal Mail's parent firm has raised its estimate for the cost of industrial action so far to £200m and claimed that up to 12,500 union members have worked on strike days. International Distributions Services (IDS) said 18 days of walkouts at Royal Mail helped push the division to a £295m operating loss in the first nine months of its financial year to the end of December.

SPORT

Athletics - Russian and Belarusian athletes could be free to compete as neutrals at the 2024 Olympics after the International Olympic Committee said it will "explore a pathway" for their  participation. The IOC called on federations to exclude athletes from the countries following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This week Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian athletes should have "no place" at the Paris Games. But the IOC's statement on Wednesday could clear the way for their return. It said "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport". The move has been criticised in a joint-statement from Athletes for Ukraine and athlete association Global Athlete. It said the decision shows the IOC "endorses Russia's brutal war and invasion of Ukraine".

Also in athletics, British shot putter Amelia Strickler says plans by World Athletics to allow transgender women to continue to compete in female international track and field events "would leave women at a serious disadvantage". World Athletics has said its "preferred option" was to tighten the sport's eligibility rules, but still use testosterone limits as the basis for inclusion. A policy document suggesting the amendments has been sent to World Athletics' member federations as part of a consultation process before a vote in March. It comes despite other sports banning transgender women from participating in elite female competition, if they have gone through any part of the process of male puberty, amid concerns they have an unfair advantage.

Football - Chelsea are reportedly ready to drop their interest in Everton and England Under-21 winger Anthony Gordon, 21, while Newcastle also do not want to become embroiled in a bidding war. Gordon has not handed in a transfer request at the Toffees despite missing the last two days of training. It's understood that Newcastle are looking at Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech, 29, as an alternative to Gordon as they are unwilling to pay Everton's £60m asking price. Everton are also interested in the Morocco forward and could make a move if Anthony Gordon does leave. Everton's talks with Argentine Marcelo Bielsa about being their new manager have reportedly reached an impasse with former Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl another option.

And in other transfer news, Chelsea are reportedly ready to compete with Liverpool to sign Wolves' Portugal international midfielder Matheus Nunes, 24. Chelsea have also stepped up their interest in 21-year-old Everton and Belgium midfielder Amadou Onana.

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