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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Credit: PA)


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Gavin Williamson must come to the Commons next week to explain what the government is doing to tackle the Covid university crisis, Labour says.

Thousands of students have been forced into lockdown across the country as universities battle to contain outbreaks of the virus, with some unable to leave even to exercise or shop for food.

There are fears many will also be prevented from spending Christmas at home with their families if government measures imposed so far fail to bring cases back under control.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said the education secretary must appear in parliament on Monday to set out “exactly what he is doing” to help universities put proper testing systems in place for students and staff.

She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “We have to put safety and public health first obviously, but Labour has said we think students should be allowed home for Christmas, and to enable them to do that we need an effective test trace and isolate system.”

More than 6,000 new coronavirus cases were recorded across the country on Saturday, with 34 new deaths bringing the UK total to nearly 42,000.

About 3,000 students were thought to be in lockdown this week, with some prevented from leaving campus accommodation by security guards and police.

One student at Manchester Metropolitan Univeristy told the BBC: “We have had no warning, support or advice from the university about how we get food and instead have been left completely in the dark and practically locked up against our will.”

Ms Stevens said parents and students were facing “incredible levels of anxiety” and that so far there had been “silence” from Mr Williamson.

“[He] should be talking to universities to make sure they can all [test students and staff] and put support in place fo them to do that,” she said.

“We need to see him come to the House of Commons tomorrow to tell us exactly what he’s doing to help universities and to help students through this.”

The Labour frontbencher added: “It’s supposed to be a great time in your life. You go off to university, you’re going to a new city to live, you’re making new friends. [Students] are missing out on all of that experience.

“And if we can get the test and trace and isolate running effectively, that will allow students to come home at Christmas to their families, which at the moment Matt Hancock refuses to say can happen.”

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the government’s test and trace system was “pathetic” and that students had been “done over”.

“They’ve been done over on their A-levels, they’ve been done over on freshers’ week, the government’s now threatening to lock them up at university and very worrying for them, when they graduate we may be looking at long-term youth unemployment,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Asked if they should have their tuition fees refunded, he added: “It’s clear there are lots of universities are struggling financially…there’s a balance to be struck.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green has written to Mr Williamson to ask him to consider a ‘pause in migration’ for students who have not yet travelled to univeristy campuses.

“It is unthinkable that students will be locked in their rooms and unable to return home to spend Christmas with their families,” she said.

“The government must promise that this will not happen, and work with universities to enable every student to access tests so that they can travel home safely.

“The government should also consider a delay to the start of term or a pause in migration for universities where term has not yet begun to allow improvements in testing capacity and remote learning provision.”

The Department for Education said it was “working closely” with universtiies, while culture secretary Oliver Dowden said if everyone followed government guidance it “should be possible” for students to go home for Christmas.  

A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents institutions across the country, said: “The health and wellbeing of students, staff and local communities remains the first priority for universities. 

“Universities will continue to follow government guidance, as they have done throughout the pandemic, as well as drawing on the significant expertise that already exists in universities. The sector has been working hard to put in place multiple safety and health measures – on campus and at provided accommodation – so they can provide some in-person teaching, support and social activities in a safe and engaging way.”

The organisation said any decision to move teaching online would “be taken at an institutional level in conjunction with public health authorities”.

“Universities are also working very closely in partnership with their local authorities, public health bodies and others to ensure that effective and rapid outbreak response plans are in place and clearly understood,” they added.

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France teacher attack: Macron urges Russia to boost anti-terror fight

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image copyrightReuters

image captionA silent march was held in honour of Samuel Paty on Tuesday in the Paris suburb where he was killed

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Russia to boost co-operation in fighting terrorism after the beheading of a teacher by a Russian-born man.

Mr Macron’s comments came in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who described Friday’s attack near Paris as a “barbarous murder”.

Samuel Paty, 47, was killed after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils.

The attacker was named as Abdullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old ethnic Chechen.

Anzorov was shot dead by police shortly after the attack close to the teacher’s school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, north-west of the French capital.

image copyrightAFP
image captionSamuel Paty, a well-liked teacher, had been threatened over showing the cartoons

The brutal murder has shocked France.

  • Beheading of teacher deepens divisions in France

On Wednesday evening, Mr Macron will attend an official memorial at the Sorbonne University to award Mr Paty posthumously the Légion d’honneur – France’s highest order of merit.

What did Macron and Putin say?

Mr Macron said he wanted to see a “strengthening of Franco-Russian co-operation in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration”, the French presidency said.

It provided no further details about Tuesday’s phone call with President Putin.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin published a brief statement quoting Mr Putin as saying that both parties “reaffirmed their mutual interest in intensifying joint efforts in the fight against terrorism and the propagation of extremist ideology”.

What is known about Anzorov?

Anzorov was born in Moscow but had lived in France since 2008. His family is from Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechnya region in the North Caucasus.

He arrived in France with his family as refugees, French media report.

His grandfather and 17-year-old brother have been questioned and released in the aftermath of the attack.

Russia has played down any association with the attacker.

“This crime has no relation to Russia because this person had lived in France for the past 12 years,” Sergei Parinov, a spokesman of the Russian embassy in Paris, told the Tass news agency on Saturday.

Mosque closed amid mass raids

Meanwhile, French media reported that the father of a pupil accused of launching an online campaign against the teacher had sent messages to the killer before the attack.

The father – who has not been named – is accused, along with a preacher described by the media as a radical Islamist, of calling for Mr Paty to be punished by issuing a so-called “fatwa” (considered a legal ruling by Islamic scholars).

media captionFrench minister: Lessons on freedom of expression will continue

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the two men had been arrested and were being investigated for an “assassination in connection with a terrorist enterprise”.

Police have raided some 40 homes, following the attack. Sixteen people were taken in custody but six were later released.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron said the Sheikh Yassin Collective – an Islamist group named after the founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas – would be outlawed for being “directly involved” in the killing.

He said the ban was a way of helping France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest, from the influence of radicalism.

The government also ordered a mosque to close for sharing videos on Facebook calling for action against Mr Paty and sharing his school’s address in the days before his death.

The Pantin mosque, which has about 1,500 worshippers and is situated just north of Paris, will close for six months on Wednesday. The mosque expressed “regret” over the videos, which it has deleted, and condemned the teacher’s killing.

Why was Samuel Paty targeted?

On Monday, anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said Mr Paty had been the target of threats since he showed the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class about freedom of speech earlier in October.

The history and geography teacher advised Muslim students to leave the room if they thought they might be offended.

Mr Ricard said that the killer had gone to the school on Friday afternoon and asked students to point out the teacher. He then followed Mr Paty as he walked home from work and used a knife to attack him.

The issue is particularly sensitive in France because of the decision by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

A trial is currently under way over the killing of 12 people by Islamist extremists at the magazine’s offices in 2015 following their publication.

media captionRallies in Paris, Toulouse, Lyon and other French cities in support of Samuel Paty

France’s Muslim community comprises about 10% of the population.

Some French Muslims say they are frequent targets of racism and discrimination because of their faith – an issue that has long caused tension in the country.

Related Topics

  • Emmanuel Macron

  • France
  • Paris
  • Vladimir Putin
  • Islamist extremism
  • Freedom of expression
  • Samuel Paty: Beheading of teacher deepens divisions over France’s secular identity

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Nigeria protests: Eyewitnesses say security forces fired at protesters

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Demonstrators have taken part in daily protests across the country for nearly two weeks over widespread claims of kidnapping, harassment, and extortion by a police unit know as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Tuesday saw the state governor impose a 24-hour curfew and deploy anti-riot police to the city.

One witness at the protests, Akinbosola Ogunsanya, said the shooting began after the lights were turned off at the Nigerian city’s Lekki tollgate. “Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing,” he said. “They were shooting, they were firing straight, directly at us, and a lot of people got hit. I just survived, barely.”

Ogunsanya added that barricades on either side of the scene were blocking ambulances.

Another witness, Temple Onanugbo, said he heard what he believed were bullets being fired from his home nearby and that the sound lasted “for about 15 to 30 minutes.”

Speaking to CNN from the scene of the shooting, Onanugbo said he saw “multiple bodies laying on the ground,” when he arrived to help those injured.

CNN has not yet been able to confirm casualties.

The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident, according to the Lagos Governor’s spokesman, Gboyega Akosile. According to a tweet by Akosile, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has also “advised security agents not to arrest anyone on account of the curfew.”

The protests at the Lekki toll gate have been mostly peaceful, with demonstrators singing the national anthem, staging sit-ins, and praying.

Earlier in the day, Sanwo-Olu had imposed a 24-hour curfew, including the closure of all Lagos schools. Only essential service providers and first responders have permission to be on the streets of Lagos, which has an estimated population of more than 20 million people.

“Dear Lagosians, I have watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society,” Sanwo-Olu tweeted as he announced the 4 pm (local time) curfew.

SARS was disbanded on October 11 and a new police unit to replace it will be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Reuters reported Monday. Protesters are demanding further protections against the police, including independent oversight and psychological evaluation of officers.

Death and severe injuries amid the protests have been reported since the weekend.

Amnesty International said on its Twitter account Tuesday that it has received “credible but disturbing evidence” of “excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters.”

A 17-year-old died in police custody on Monday in Kano, a city in the north of the country, after allegedly being tortured, according the human rights group. Many protestors and journalists were assaulted by police and thugs in the capital Abuja on the same day. Videos on social media show dozens of cars belonging to protestors burning and Amnesty International said three people died.

“While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury,” Amnesty also tweeted.

Other videos show a mass breakout of hundreds of prisoners from the Benin Correctional Center in Edo state in southern Nigeria. It is uncertain who is to blame for the breakout, with protestors claiming it was staged by police. The Nigeria Police Force said in a tweet that protestors carted away arms and ammunition from the armory before freeing suspects in custody and setting the facilities alight.

Edo state governor Godwin Obaseki imposed a curfew on Monday, tweeting about “disturbing incidents of vandalism and attacks on private individuals and institutions by hoodlums in the guise of #EndSARS protesters.”

Riot police have been deployed across the country. According to a tweet from the Nigerian Police Force on Tuesday evening, the Inspector-General of Nigeria’s Police has ordered the immediate nationwide deployment of anti-riot police officers “to protect lives and property of all Nigerians and secure critical national infrastructure across the country.”

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Judge tosses lawsuit challenging DeVos’ sexual misconduct rule for schools, colleges

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Background: The ruling comes as a major victory for DeVos, whose Title IX policies will be a key part of her legacy as secretary. She has said the rule officially codifies protections to hold schools accountable by ensuring survivors are not brushed aside and no student’s guilt is predetermined.

The ACLU had charged that DeVos’ Title IX rule, which took effect in August, violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the provisions “were arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.” The lawsuit had sought to vacate the rule.

On behalf of four plaintiffs, the ACLU argued that the rule will reduce the number of sexual assault and harassment complaints requiring a response from schools.

The lawsuit took aim at the rule’s definition of sexual harassment, as well as provisions that allow institutions to use a “clear and convincing evidence standard.” The groups that brought the lawsuit also take issue with the fact that DeVos’ rule only holds institutions accountable under Title IX for “deliberate indifference” and only requires a school or school official to respond to sexual harassment if there is “actual knowledge.”

Other legal challenges: The lawsuit was one of four ongoing cases challenging the Title IX rule. The other three are still pending but have been largely unsuccessful. All argue that the Education Department violated the law with its new rule by acting beyond its authority, and that the rule is arbitrary and capricious.

A circuit court judge in the District of Columbia denied a request from attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia to stop the new rule and to block it as legal action continues. Another judge also denied a motion to block the rule from taking effect in New York while the litigation is ongoing. Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl said state officials failed to show they are likely to win in their argument that the Trump administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it finalized its rule.

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