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Farmer discontent spreads in EU as France seeks to quell protests

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Angry French farmers are keeping up the pressure
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Protests by angry farmers spread across the European Union on Tuesday, as the French government scrambled to placate agriculture workers who have been moving towards Paris in long convoys of tractors, blocking key motorways.

Their litany of complaints range from rising costs to meet carbon-cutting targets, fuel prices, inflation, bureaucracy, and Ukrainian grain imports.

The French mobilisation has blown up into a serious crisis for Prime Minister Gabriel Attal only weeks into the job.

Addressing parliament Tuesday, Attal promised that his government stood ready to resolve the crisis “without ambiguity”, and praised the agriculture sector as “our force and our pride”.

President Emmanuel Macron, speaking during a state visit to Sweden, said he was opposed to a trade deal between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur, which has emerged as a key grievance for farmers worried about foreign competition.

But Macron also said that it was “too easy” to blame all the farmers’ woes on the EU.

“We did a lot in the last years to help,” he said.

Macron said “we will try to simplify the rules in order to assist the agricultural sector” and vowed to show “flexibility” on certain rules, but added that “we also cannot… say that we can do like we did before”.

– ‘Not like before’ –

After more than a week of intensifying French protests, disgruntled farmers elsewhere in the EU have joined the movement in numbers.

Dozens of Italian farmers staged a protest with tractors near Milan Tuesday, the latest in a series of small demonstrations across the country.

Spanish farmer unions said they would join the EU movement with a number of “mobilisations”, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered to speed up financial aid to farmers to stave off protests engulfing other countries.

Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and Romania have all seen farmers protesting.

Much anger is directed at environmental requirements included in the EU’s updated Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the bloc’s forthcoming “Green Deal”.

In France, protests have spread to the capital where tractors, hay bales and other objects have prevented motorists from entering Paris along several key routes.

The government has so far promoted a softly-softly approach with the protesters, while making clear that any attempts to block Paris’s main airports or the vast Rungis wholesale food market to the south of the city would be a red line.

– ‘Feed not starve’ –

A convoy of producers who left on Tuesday morning from the southwestern town of Limoges heading for Rungis briefly changed route after being blocked by gendarmes, organisers said.

Armoured vehicles of the gendarmerie have been deployed around Rungis to ensure food supplies are not disrupted.

Arnaud Rousseau, the leader of the biggest farmers’ union FNSEA, said he was against any disruption of food distribution.

“Our objective is not to starve French people, but to feed them,” he told the Europe 1 broadcaster.

“We have told rival unions since the start that heading to Rungis in a show of force is not a good idea,” he said.

Farmers unions have judged that a first battery of measures announced on Friday did not go far enough.

“The watchword is to stay as long as we do not have an answer to the main issues”, Thomas Robin, a cereals farmer producer and also of the FDSEA, told AFP.

French farmers are angry about incomes, red tape and environmental policies they say undermine their ability to compete with other countries and have left France increasingly dependent on imports.

“Obviously we want to be treated better, but more than anything we want fewer free-trade agreements,” Thierry Bonnamour, a farmer from the Savoie region, told AFP at a roadblock near the south-eastern city of Lyon.

The Mercosur deal as well as Ukrainian grain imports into the EU are on the agenda of talks scheduled between Macron and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen Thursday.

France is the EU’s biggest beneficiary of farming subsidies under the CAP, receiving more than nine billion euros ($9.8 billion) per year.

Once the bloc’s biggest agricultural exporter, it is now third the Netherlands and Germany.

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn

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Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker

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Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs

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Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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