charles platiau

ROMANIA. Bucharest. December 22, 1989. Bucharest’s residents protect themselves from the crossfire between an army tank and pro-Ceausescu troops during clashes in the Republican square.

On December 22, 1989, my mind was still full of memories of covering the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was ready to celebrate Christmas with my family, but the Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu changed my plans.

My boss and I were watching Ceausescu leave Bucharest by helicopter live on TV. I rushed to the airport and was lucky to board a flight chartered by the Medecins du Monde humanitarian organisation.

We landed at in Bulgaria and took a taxi to the Romanian border. Luckily the border was not closed and I hitch-hiked a ride to the capital on a truck. At noon I simply took the metro to arrive in downtown Bucharest in the middle of heavy gunfire. No helmet, no bullet proof jacket, only the enthusiasm of youth and the joy of witnessing a historical event: a revolution.

With my 300 mm 2.8 and an extender, I shot residents protecting themselves in the crossfire between an army tank and pro-Ceausescu troops during clashes in Republican square. No time for more pictures, just enough time to process and send a lone colour print to reach Sunday newspaper deadlines.

There were only two phone lines at the hotel, and scores of reporters arriving to file their stories. I kept the phone line open and did not hang up for 10 days in order to transmit pictures and stories.

The picture made the front page of most international papers. It was not the best picture of the revolution but one of the first colour pictures to hit the media market. It reminds me how hard it was to get around with cases of heavy equipment (80 kg of gear including an enlarger, photo paper, a transmitter, a typewriter).

Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Compagni Davanti al liceo Turgot di Parigi, uno dei sei licei del centro di Parigi bloccato ieri dagli studenti per protesta contro l’espulsione di Leonarda, 15 anni, studentessa di etnia rom e nazionalità kosovara prelevata i 9 ottobre dalla polizia durante una gita scolastica, portata all’aeroporto, dove già si trovava la famiglia, e rimpatriata a Mitrovica.

Gli studenti chiedono anche il ritorno di un loro compagno armeno, Khatchik Kachatryan, 19 anni, arrestato a settembre per furto in un grande magazzino ed espulso il 13 ottobre. Il ragazzo doveva essere espulso il 10 ottobre, ma l’equipaggio dell’aereo diretto in Armenia, avvertito dagli studenti e dall’associazione Réseau éducation sans frontières, si era rifiutato di decollare, racconta Le Figaro.

(Charles Platiau, Reuters/Contrasto - Internazionale)

Simone Veil dies at 89: The legacy of the French Auschwitz survivor and women's rights icon

Simone Veil, the French campaigner and activist, has died at her home on Friday at the age of 89.

Mrs Veil survived Auschwitz and went on to become one of France’s most respected politicians, steering through landmark laws to liberalise contraception and abortion.

Sending condolences to her family, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “May her example inspire our fellow citizens, as the best of what France can achieve.”

Tributes for the former European Parliament president also poured in from Brussels, with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker acclaiming her for “helping build sustained peace in Europe”.

Mrs Veil is credited with securing peace for Europe Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Born Simone Jacob in the Mediterranean city of Nice on July 13, 1927, she was arrested by the Gestapo in March 1944 and deported to Auschwitz with one of her sisters and her mother Yvonne.

The two girls, who were put to work in a concentration camp, survived - as did another sister who was deported for her part in the French Resistance.

Mrs Veil’s mother died of typhoid in Belsen just before the camp was liberated in 1945 and her father and brother were last seen on a train of deportees bound for Lithuania.

“Sixty years later I am still haunted by the images, the odours, the cries, the humiliation, the blows and the sky filled with the smoke of the crematoriums,” Mrs Veil said in a TV interview broadcast in 2005.

After the war, she studied law at Sciences Po, the elite school of political science in Paris, where she met her husband Antoine Veil, who died in April 2013.

The couple had three sons, one of whom, Claude-Nicolas, died in 2002.

As a young judge she lobbied for improvements in prison conditions, and, in 1970, became the first female general secretary of the Council of Magistrates.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2005 with Jacques Chirac  Credit: PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images

It was the springboard for a political career that fundamentally changed France.

In 1971, feminists began a campaign to overturn France’s ban on abortion, attacking the stigma of pregnancy termination and women’s deaths in backstreet operations.

Mrs Veil threw herself into the battle, setting up an organisation to defend women who were prosecuted for abortion.

A member of the centre-right Union for French Democracy, she was named health minister under president Valery Giscard d'Estaing and led a battle that marked her generation: the legalisation of abortion.

Mrs Veil led the charge in the National Assembly, where she braved a volley of insults, some of them likening terminations to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.

In a chamber where there were just nine women and 481 men, the 25-hour debate is remembered for Veil’s calm, measured opening speech as much as for the hostility of some of her opponents.

One lawmaker accused Mrs Veil of “genocide” and another spoke of embryos “thrown into the crematorium ovens”.

“I did not imagine the hatred I would stir up,” Mrs Veil said in a 2004 interview.

“There was such hypocrisy,” she said. “The assembly was mainly filled with men, some of whom were secretly looking for contacts to arrange an abortion for a mistress or a member of their family.”

Mrs Veil and Mr Chirac leaving the Elysee Palace in 1974 Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The legislation - named the “Loi Veil” (Veil Law) - is today considered a cornerstone of women’s rights and secularism in France.

A staunch believer in European integration, Veil went on to become the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979, a position she held for three years.

She last held major public office between 1998 and 2007, as a member of France’s Constitutional Council.

Her experience left her with no tolerance for the far-right National Front, and in 1983 she condemned fellow conservative politicians for seeking electoral arrangements with the anti-immigration party.

Among other posts she served from 2000 to 2007 as president of the French Foundation for preserving the memory of the Shoah, or Holocaust.

In the early 1990s she was a member of a delegation which investigated detention camps during the war in the former Yugoslavia.

In 2010, Veil joined the Academie Francaise, the elite intellectual guardians of the French language, becoming only the sixth woman to join the “immortals”, as the 40 members of the academy are known.

Mrs Veil, Mr Chirac and her ceremonial epee Credit: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Each “immortal” is given a ceremonial sword. Veil’s was engraved with the three things that had imprinted her life.

They were the mottoes of the French Republic and the European Union - and the number 78651, which was tattooed on her arm at Auschwitz.


Thousands evacuated as floods batter Paris region

French media say that thousands have been evacuated as floods continue to threaten homes and businesses across the Paris region. French authorities say that areas along the Loing River, a tributary of the Seine, had seen waters rise to levels unseen since 1910, when a massive flood swamped the French capital.

Media reported of evacuations in the town of Nemours, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Paris. The iTele broadcaster said 400 firefighters and police were at work there removing people from flood-hit homes. France’s meteorological service said Thursday that severe flood watches are in effect in two Paris-area departments: Loiret and Seine-et-Marne. Eight more departments, including three on the German, border, face flood warnings as well. (AP)

Photo credits: (from top) Pascal Rossignol/REUTERS, Charles Platiau/REUTERS, Jerome Delay/AP

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Views from America’s National Parks

The United States has 59 protected areas known as national parks that are operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. National parks must be established by an act of the United States Congress.

The first national park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, followed by Mackinac National Park in 1875 (decommissioned in 1895), and then Rock Creek Park (later merged into National Capital Parks), Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890. The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Many current National Parks had been previously protected as National Monuments by the President under the Antiquities Act before being upgraded by Congress. Seven national parks (including six in Alaska) are paired with a National Preserve, areas with different levels of protection that are administered together but considered separate units and whose areas are not included in the figures below.

Photo credits: Jim Urquhart/Reuters (4), Phil Hawkins/Reuters, Charles Platiau/Reuters, Erin Whittaker/Reuters, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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