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Our ‘Lad in the ZAD’, valiantly defending the rural community

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Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 14.27.14IN AN OCCASIONAL series, The Herald tracks down West Wales people who are living, working and doing extraordinary or even extraordinarily ordinary things abroad.

For more than seven years, Yoann Le Guen was a popular figure in activist circles in West Wales, always busy organising. Originally from France, Yoann worked as an engineer on renewable energy projects in Wales and more widely. And he certainly brought a lot of energy to local and national groups campaigning on climate change and social justice. Having learned Welsh fluently, Yoann was active in the Climate Camp Cymru mobilisation that saw more than 500 people from all over Wales and beyond joining a protest camp against Ffos y Frân opencast coalmine near Merthyr Tydfil in 2009.

More recently, Yoann was a prime mover in the network Ceredigion Against the Cuts, that organised local actions and buses to take people to national demonstrations. As part of Ceredigion Against the Cuts, he was also involved in supporting campaigns to save Park Avenue Day Centre and Bodlondeb residential home. So, with Ceredigion People’s Assembly in full swing, climate breakdown hard upon us, and various local groups, including Aberaid, taking action to help refugees held in wretched camps in France and elsewhere, where is Yoann when we so badly need his commitment, hard work and skills?

AGAINST THE AIRPORT AND ITS WORLD

The Herald visited Yoann at a remarkable experiment in protest action at an autonomous community set up in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France: La ZAD. The ‘zone à defender’ – the defended area – is an occupation of land to stop the development of a second Nantes airport near the village of Notre- Dame-des-Landes. But it’s become much more than a negative protest, because La ZAD is also saying a resounding yes to a different society with a very different economy. Putting the principles of ‘degrowth’ into practice means living within ecological limits, with open, localised economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institution. La ZAD has become a living alternative to the outdated model of development which the airport project represents. For instance, all trade on La ZAD is by donation and there is a weekly free market to distribute any surplus, some of which then goes to homeless people in the nearby city of Nantes. The slogan runs that La ZAD is ‘a struggle against the airport and its world’.

Unlike the case of Heathrow in London, a second international airport near Nantes is not being justified by citing a high volume of air traffic. On the contrary, the proposed airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes is intended to stimulate economic growth in the region that will, in turn, increase air traffic to increase airport profits. However, Yoann agrees that ‘ for more and more people , the airport seems to be just a way to line the pockets of the bosses of the public works and construction industry’.

The airport plan dates all the way back to the 1970s and opposition to it has been mounting for the last 40 years. Clearly, the logic of the plan is sorely outdated, not least when the impact of the aviation industry on the climate is considered. Nevertheless, lobbied by the developers, Vinci, a mega-corporation which has operations in over 100 countries including the UK, the French authorities seem determined to go ahead and evict the more than 300 people who have settled in La ZAD to fight alongside local farmers and the community. The latest deadline for eviction to hang like a sword of Damocles over La ZAD is October this year. Undaunted, the community of La ZAD, some 60 dwelling places occupied by collectives engaged in a wide variety of activities, continues to build for a future. La ZAD is thoroughly imbued with a never-say-die spirit: “Our first victory is that we defend ourselves despite the fact that nothing enables us to foresee victory. “

As well as numerous horticultural ventures, there are two bakeries on La ZAD, a cheese making enterprise, a mechanical engineering workshop looking after the tractors used both in farming and to obstruct the police, a forge, a pottery, a cinema, a bicycle workshop, a radio station… The list goes on and on. Dear to this Herald reporter’s heart , there is both a weekly newspaper – ZAD News – and a brewery.

CALLING ASTERIX AND OBELIX!

Compulsory purchase of farms on La ZAD has already taken place, though the farmers continue to work the land and most refuse to touch the money deposited in their names by the state. With its long history, the drive behind La ZAD resistance almost predates climate change considerations. At the core of the controversy is land, the farmers working on it and the communities who live there. La ZAD is situated on the almost 5,000 acres of wetland earmarked for airport development. With the water-table less than a metre below the surface, through the winter much of the area is a quagmire and is everywhere scarred by deep tractor ruts. Not, you might think, the ideal land on which to build an airport. Rural life is the heartbeat of the struggle and farmers from all over France stand ready to offer their physical support if the government presses ahead with its plans for eviction and developing the airport. Dating back to 2012 and the government’s last attempt to evict La ZAD, there are over 200 support committees across the length and breadth of France.

In October 2012, the government, directed by then Minster of the Interior, now Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, launched ‘Operation Cesar’ to evict La ZAD by force. Two thousand armed and armoured police spent several weeks trying to accomplish this mission, liberally deploying tear gas and demolishing a dozen dwellings in the process, but a reoccupation attracted 40,000 people and Operation Cesar was finally abandoned and the police withdrew. Many people had been injured, however, thirty seriously, mainly by shrapnel from the ‘flashbang’ grenades used by police. In 2014, a young botanist, Rémi Fraisse, was killed by one of these grenades thrown by police at an occupation against the construction of the Sivens Dam in southern France.

Before most of them return to their homes and jobs, the 40,000 people in La ZAD, running on solidarity and the adrenaline of victory, built a small village to replace the homes that the police had destroyed. Farmers protected the new settlement from police incursion by circling their tractors around it and chaining them together. Yoann points out that Operation Cesar may have been a poor choice of name in the region where the indomitable rebel Gauls Asterix and Obelix regularly defeated and embarrassed the Romans Legions which attempted to occupy their land! On the downside perhaps, La ZAD certainly cannot count the humiliated Manuel Valls among its friends and supporters in the future process of political decisionmaking about the land and its people. The communal feeling on La ZAD is that the Prime Minister may be committed to revenge rather than reason.

The idea of La ZAD has spread, and the philosophy and practices as well as the ‘zad’ prefix has been adopted by other occupations. In France, as elsewhere, the widespread rise of the degrowth movement in various forms is clearly worrying for the political establishment. Bruno Retailleau, a member of the Senate of France who represents the Vendée department, has described La ZAD as ‘this territory lost to the republic’. Indeed, the slogan ‘La ZAD partout!‘ – ‘the ZAD everywhere!‘ – has become a rallying call for protesters and social movement worldwide as well as in France.

We end up discussing the possibilities of a zad in Ceredigion, in the wake of the Brexit referendum result that leaves the county so out of tune with much of the rest of the UK and even Wales, particularly some urban areas. In that vein, Niall Griffiths’ letter in the Guardian (Aug 6) protests against commentators who lump rural Wales together with rural England as ‘the bedrock of the Brexit vote’. With the UK facing an extended period of economic recession, and social unrest already evident, the Ceredigion zad idea didn’t seem so daft to Yoann and myself. Mind you, we had sampled the fine produce of the local brewery. That said, the prospect of making degrowth everyday practice did excite the imagination. La ZAD par tout? It’s worth thinking about, at least.

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Our responsibility to follow the new Wales coronavirus measures in order to Keep Ceredigion Safe

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The Welsh Government is bringing in new coronavirus measures to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.

To help further prevent the spread of coronavirus, new measures were announced by the First Minister which will come into force at 6pm on Thursday, September 24, 2020:

· Hospitality businesses in Wales will have to close at 10pm and provide table service only.

· All off-licences, including supermarkets, will have to stop selling alcohol at 10pm.

We are also being asked to think carefully about making journeys: only travel where it is essential to do so. The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.

The Welsh Government have also introduced the following measures:

· A new £500 payment to support people on low incomes who are asked to self-isolate if they have coronavirus;

· Strengthened regulations to ensure employers support people who need to self-isolate.

The new measures are part of a package of co-ordinated actions to control the spread of coronavirus and it is essential that we all play our part in order to keep Ceredigion safe.

These new measures are to be introduced alongside those that are already in place:

· Keep a 2m social distance from each other when out and about.

· Wash your hands regularly.

· Wear a mask in indoor public places, shops and on public transport

· Only meet 6 people indoors from your extended household (not including children 11 and under).

· Do not meet with more than 30 people outdoors.

· Work from home, wherever possible.

· Think carefully about making journeys: only travel where you need to do so. The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.

We need everyone to follow the rules and guidance and to take the steps to protect them and their loved ones.

Together, we can keep Ceredigion safe.

All the latest information and advice regarding the coronavirus can be found on Ceredigion County Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/Coronavirus. The Council’s Corporate Contact Centre number is 01545 570881.

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NHS COVID-19 app launches across Wales

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People are being urged to download the NHS COVID-19 app to help stop the spread of coronavirus and protect themselves and their loved ones as case numbers rise.

The app launches today [Thursday 24] after positive trials and will be a useful tool when used alongside Wales’ successful manual contact tracing system.

It will be available to those aged 16 and over, and forms a central part of the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme identifying contacts of those who have tested positive for coronavirus.

The roll-out of the app in Wales coincides with a national campaign around how people in Wales can best support the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme, including only getting a test if they are showing symptoms; self-isolating when required; and working with local contact tracers if they are contacted.

Wales’ contact tracing system – which is a publicly-run service and locally delivered – is working well and has seen a very high contract and trace rate. Latest stats show 94% of cases are being successfully contacted.

The app works by logging the amount of time you spend near other app users, and the distance between you, so it can alert you if someone you have been close to later tests positive for COVID-19 – even if you don’t know each other.

The app will advise you to self-isolate if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case. It will also enable you to check symptoms, book a test if needed and get your test results.

Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething said:

“The launch of the NHS COVID-19 app is an important part of Wales’ coronavirus response, supporting the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme. The more people who download and use this app, the more it will help us to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We have worked closely with the app development team to ensure it works seamlessly across Wales and England, providing people with the right advice based on where they live. In Wales, the app will complement our existing contact tracing and testing services and will further support our co-ordinated response to COVID-19 at both a local and national level.

“I strongly encourage everyone in Wales to download and use the app to keep Wales safe.”

The app has been designed with user privacy in mind, so it tracks the virus, not people and uses the latest in data security technology to protect privacy. The system generates a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices via Bluetooth. These unique random IDs regenerate frequently to add an extra layer of security and preserve anonymity.

The app does not hold personal information such as your name, address or date of birth, and only requires the first half of your postcode to ensure local outbreaks can be managed.

Today the UK’s major mobile network operators, including Vodafone, Three, EE and O2, Sky and Virgin, have confirmed that all in-app activity will not come out of customers’ data allowance.

In a joint statement Apple and Google said:

“We built the exposure notifications system to enable public health authorities in their efforts to develop apps to help reduce the spread of the virus while ensuring people can trust in the privacy-preserving design. We are committed to supporting the government’s effort to launch an app based on this technology.”

Whilst the app will be a major support for the contact tracing system, Welsh residents are being reminded to continue to keep Wales safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by:

• Always keeping a distance
• Washing hands regularly
• Working from home wherever possible
• Following local restrictions
• Following the rules about meeting people
• Staying at home if you or anyone in your extended household has symptoms.

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Man jailed for revenge porn against teenage ex-girlfriend

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A ‘PREDATORY OFFENDER’ who targeted young girls online and shared indecent images of them on pornographic websites has been jailed for more than two years.

Robin Edwards Jones, formerly of Lampeter, came to police attention after tracking down his former girlfriend – a teenager 26 years his junior – and sending a threatening email containing indecent images of her to her boss a year after their relationship ended.

The 48-year-old then uploaded hundreds of images of the then 17-year-old to pornographic websites, creating a personal bio for each site that allowed her to be identified through her Facebook account.

Jones has been jailed following a two-year investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police, which saw the force’s digital crime unit prove he had supplied the websites with these images.

Officer in case Detective Sergeant Steve Barry said: “This was a thorough investigation into what has become known as revenge porn.

“Two other police forces were initially involved in the investigation before passing it to Dyfed Powys Police, and our investigation spanned two years, with the safeguarding of the teenage victim at its heart.

“What we were faced with initially was a suspect who was alleged to have circulated indecent images of a teenage girl with the intent of causing her distress following the break-up of a six month relationship.

“As the investigation progressed, it transpired that Jones was a predatory offender, targeting young children online to obtain indecent images of them for his sexual gratification and desire to control them.”

The offender and victim met online in November 2015, when Jones claimed he was 28 years old in an attempt to instigate a relationship with a teenage girl.

Over the following six months, the victim sent a number of indecent images of herself to the offender on his request. He also created his own images from intimate video chats, increasing the library of images for his use.

The relationship ended in April 2016 when the teenager’s father became aware of the situation and notified the police.

There was no contact between the pair for 12 months after they separated.

DS Barry said: “It wasn’t until the following April when the victim started a new job, that Jones tracked her down and began his campaign against her.

“He set up an email account under a false name and sent the victim’s employer eight indecent images that she had taken during their relationship in a bid to get her fired from her job.

“Around the same time, the victim received a message asking if she was aware that these photos had been uploaded to a pornographic website – for a young girl, this was extremely traumatic.”

Enquiries linked the email account to Jones’s home address, and a warrant was carried out with the support of Dyfed-Powys Police’s Digital Communications and Cybercrime Unit.

A number of digital devices were seized and the suspect was interviewed in relation to the offences, strongly denying any wrongdoing – a position he maintained throughout the investigation.

“In the meantime, the victim received two messages on Facebook asking if images on another website were of her,” DS Barry said.

“She believed it was Jones further taunting her, but enquires revealed it was a man who had identified her through a false profile and hoped to start a sexual relationship.

“Applications were made to the sites to ensure these images were removed swiftly, to prevent further distress to the victim.”

As digital investigators analysed a computer belonging to Jones, they discovered he was also in contact with a 14-year-old American girl, with sexual messages exchanged between the pair.

“Evidence from the computers seized showed that Jones began his relationship with a girl in the US when she was just 12 years old,” DS Barry said.

“Contact was made through Interpol, but she and her family were unwilling to support our investigation.”

As the investigation was completed, officers found that Jones had more than 500 indecent images of the victims – 52 of which were the most serious classification – and that he had shared 162 private photos without consent of the victims.

He was charged with two counts of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress; two counts of possessing indecent photographs of a child; and three counts of distributing indecent images of a child – with images spanning classes A, B and C.

Even with the weight of evidence against him, Jones maintained his innocence and opted for trial, however he admitted the offences on the day the trial began at Swansea Crown Court.

On September 17, he was sentenced to 27 months in prison. He must also register as a sex offender for 10 years, and was given a restraining order against contacting the victim.

DS Barry said: “This conviction was as a result of a team effort between forces and departments, but the effort and dedication from the digital cybercrime unit was outstanding and should be particularly commended.”

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