Evening Update Wednesday 29th March 2023

A court in Nice has handed down prison sentences to five people involved in a vast drug-trafficking operation between Spain and the French Riviera. Judicial police in Nice identified about a dozen return trips by car between the Spanish border and Nice before the operation was dismantled in February last year. On each trip, the defendants were thought to be carrying between 10 and 20 kilos of cannabis resin to be sold here on the Riviera. The gang's suspected ringleader, who is believed to be based in Morocco, has yet to be identified. Prosecutors say he had a knack of identifying vulnerable people living locally to act as his accomplices - ranging from a 35-year-old gambling addict to a 55-year-old separated mother of three living on the poverty line. Three men were jailed for between two and four years. Two women, who were jailed for 10 and 15 months, were able to walk free from court as they've already served their time in pre-trial detention.

Two OGC Nice football supporters have been sentenced for their involvement in last September's violence against Cologne supporters at the Allianz Riviera. The Europa Conference League match was delayed an hour after fights broke out in the grandstands. A 28-year-old man has been sentenced to a year's house arrest with an electronic tag. He's also been banned from OGC Nice matches for two years and must report to a local police station during match times. Another man was handed a 10-month suspended prison sentence and a one-year stadium ban. Both supporters must also pay €3,000 in damages.

France's transport minister has presented plans to introduce stricter rules on the use of electric scooters. Clément Beaune wants to raise the minimum age for riding a scooter from 12 to 14 - and also ban two people riding together on the same vehicle. Fines for misuse will increase from €35 to €135. Scooter hire firms will also be required to sign a charter of commitment, guaranteeing good maintenance and user safety. Wearing a helmet is unlikely to be made compulsory under the new rules, but strongly recommended.

The city of Nice is planning to create a temporary detention centre to deal with the current influx of migrants from the Italian border. The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has written to the interior ministry, offering to make available empty municipal premises to temporarily house migrants who have been served with an order to leave French territory. France is severely lacking in administrative detention centres. Three possible buildings have been identified - although their locations have not been made public. The current detention centre, in the Auvare police station in Nice, has just 40 places and is saturated. The facility is used to detain migrants whose application to stay in France has been rejected, before they are deported. They can be held there for no more than 48 hours.

Shared scooter hire firm Cityscoot is leaving Nice on Friday after its contract wasn't renewed. Now it's emerged that the firm has been fined €125,000 by France's data protection watchdog. The CNIL found that Cityscoot was gathering too much data from users, by collecting the precise location of each scooter at 30-second intervals during every ride, and storing it. The regulator said the historic data about every ride made on the platform was not essential to the proper functioning of the company.

A demonstrator who created an effigy of Emmanuel Macron for last week's protest against the French pension reforms was held for seven hours in police custody before being released without charge. The trade unions that organised last Wednesday's protest inside Nice-Ville railway station have condemned what they call an arbitrary arrest. The man's home was also searched by police. Police arrested the puppet's creator for "contempt towards a person holding public authority" - namely the French president - and "public provocation to commit crimes". The straw figure, called a paillassou, is a Nice carnival tradition. During carnival parades, the effigy is placed on an outstretched bedsheet and flung repeatedly into the air.

The Nice metropolitan area looks set to grow in size. Another two municipalities in the hills above the city are looking at joining the metropolis, bringing the number of communes within the Nice region from 51 to 53. Revest-les-Roches and Tourette-du-Château, with a combined population of just 370, are currently part of the Alpes d'Azur group of municipalities, which is centred around Puget-Théniers. Local officials say they have more in common with Nice than with Puget - and that growing numbers of residents around Nice are being priced out of living by the coast and choosing to find homes further inland. According to officials in Nice, several other small villages have also shown an interest in becoming attached to the Nice metropolitan area.

A mysterious spate of road-sign thefts has hit the little Var village of Barjols. Since the beginning of this year, at least seven road signs have gone missing. The Barjols sign at the entrance to the village was the first to disappear - conceivably as a collector's item that can be resold online. But the other stolen signs are more mundane: speed limits, a ban on heavy vehicles, or parking restrictions. The town hall has lodged a complaint against persons unknown with the local gendarmerie.

And if you head down to the beach in Antibes this weekend you'll have a chance to see the Riviera's first-ever competition for lifeguard dogs. A local association is organising a canine water rescue competition on the Salis beach. 21 dogs will be jumping into the water to show off their rescue skills, including searching for a body and a swimming and endurance test. The tests will take place on Sunday from about 9am, with the award ceremony at 4.30pm, ahead of the French championships in the Loire-Atlantique in October. The dogs taking part will be training on the Salis beach in Antibes every second Sunday until June.

BUSINESS

British high street retailer Next has said it will put up its prices by less than expected this year. It said it now expected prices to rise by 7% in the spring and summer of 2023, and 3% in the autumn and winter - slightly less than the increases it warned of in January. The retailer credited falling shipping and production costs for the change. It came as Next reported a 5.7% rise in pre-tax profits to £870.4m for the year to January. Next has about 500 stores and trades online. It is often considered a good indicator of how the British High Street is doing. The retailer had already put up its prices in 2022, blaming rising production costs and a weaker pound. Despite the strong results, Next said it predicted 2023 would be bumpy, with sales and profits falling due to high wage and energy costs.

Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of failed crypto firm FTX, has been accused of bribing at least one Chinese official. In new charges unveiled in the US, officials accuse the entrepreneur of authorising a bribe of "at least $40m" (£32.5m) to try to gain access to trading accounts frozen by Chinese authorities. The allegations add to the fraud case filed last year after FTX's collapse. Mr Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty to those claims earlier this year. He is currently under house arrest at his parents' home in California while awaiting trial. The updated indictment says Mr Bankman-Fried authorised the bribe after Chinese authorities froze accounts holding roughly $1bn (£811m) worth of cryptocurrency that belonged to his trading firm, Alameda Research.

SPORT

Football - Argentina captain Lionel Messi passed 100 international goals as he scored his seventh international hat-trick in a friendly win at home to Curacao. The 35-year-old forward reached the landmark when he opened the scoring on 20 minutes in Santiago del Estero. He added two more before the break to complete a quickfire treble. Chelsea midfielder Enzo Fernandez also scored, before Argentina paraded the World Cup trophy in front of more than 42,000 supporters. It was Argentina's second match on home soil since beating France in Qatar on penalties in December to win the World Cup.

A new study into habits in women's sport in the UK has shown attendances and viewership records were set in 2022, with more than two million people attending women's sport for the first time. In addition to attendances, 2022 saw more people watching women's sport for more than two hours than ever recorded. A total of 574,875 tickets were sold during last year's European football championships, while the competition reached a record global audience of more than 365 million people, with the final breaking the all-time record attendance for a men or women's Euros final with 87,000 inside Wembley Stadium for England's victory over Germany. The study was launched by the Women's Sport Trust, providing new research into women's sport fandom, and was supported by UK Sport, The FA, The ECB and The RFU. The study also revealed fans want to watch more women's sport, but habits are currently less fixed. Women's sport was also shown to be becoming mainstream and the amount and depth of consumption is increasing rapidly.

And in local sport, this evening, AS Monaco Basketball are away to Lithuania's Zalgiris Kaunas with a 6pm match-time. It's being broadcast locally on Monaco Info.

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