Matchali: French-designed beachwear with an Asian heart

KUALA LUMPUR — The women are sipping homemade iced lemonade in
between bites of buttery madeleines while browsing racks, tables, cabinets and baskets filled with fabric products in a myriad vibrant prints.

Pompoms, sequins and tassels in a spectrum of neon shades peek out around the edges, enticing with their playfulness.

Virginie Dupuis is bustling around with a cheerful smile, urging the women to untie the rolled-up bundles and “try it, you don’t know how it looks on you until you try it. Don’t worry, open up what you want and make sure you try!”

Her sunny disposition matches that of her beachwear label, Matchali, which she founded in 2016, two years after moving to Malaysia with her husband and son.

Originally from Paris, she and her family were living in Shanghai for 10 years until the pollution got to them. In wanting greener pastures, literally, and some place more central in Asia, they decided to make Kuala Lumpur their home. “After looking at about 30 houses, we fell in love with this and signed on the dotted line!”

Her home, in Damansara Heights, is also her studio and Matchali’s showroom, where she regularly hosts Open House customers who can browse and shop to their heart’s content in comfort while enjoying light refreshments.

Her inspirations — and the DNA of her brand — can be observed there. Visitors walk past her garden and enter through a side entrance near the swimming pool, fringed by potted plants with large leaves. There’s just about all the trimmings of a tropical beach resort, so Matchali’s collections are certainly in their right element here!

From an initial offering of 15 pareos, the brand has grown to includes kaftans, ponchos, bags, towels, scarves, fans, scrunchies, potpourri, and accessories. There are kids’ versions too, and all are made of handprinted organic cotton that she sources from India, then sewn by her two helpers in Kuala Lumpur.

Matchali is thus a 100 per cent handmade brand and for Virginie, nothing less will do. “Every bit is done by me and in association with people who have strong skills. It’s 100 per cent handmade and I am 100 per cent involved,” she asserts.

“Matchali is me, I must be able to stand behind it 100 per cent. The spirit of the brand is just like me — colourful! It carries my vibe, my choice of colours…”

Virginie’s guiding philosophy is this: “With each item I put out, I ask myself first, will I buy it? I believe that if it’s something I want, other people will want it too. And when people buy something from you, they are buying a part of you.”

For that reason, too, she prefers Open House and private viewings upon appointment. “When you open up your home, you open your heart and show who you are.”

And she is all that Matchali stands for: Happy colours, Nature, the beach, beautiful fabrics, Asia, and in particular, her affinity with India. “My mother’s married to an Indian, so my half-brother is half-Indian,” she explains. “And it was during a trip to India that the idea to build my brand came about.”

After moving to Kuala Lumpur, Virginie met a French woman named Julie Das, a co-ordinator for a charity organisation in Kolkata called Balo, which works to create a better future for children living in the slums.

Virginie decided to sponsor a child through Balo, continuing the philanthropy she has always been partial to. “I’ve been sponsoring kids since I was 17. Back in France, I used to donate to an organisation that supports children in Thailand. When I lived in Shanghai, for 10 years, I sponsored a girl from the Miao minority group who lives in the mountains, through a French association called Couleur de Chine.”

Julie invited Virginie to visit the Balo children in Kolkata. “I love what they’re doing. It’s run by a Christian Italian lady, co-ordinated by a French Jew, with teachers who are Indian Muslim. There is such diversity among them, it’s beautiful.”

Julie then suggested that Virginie put her creative skills into a project that could help the children. “I’ve always loved working with my hands. In Shanghai, I used to make beaded napkin rings with tassels and export them back to France to sell. So home furnishings was what came to mind.”

Virginie also drew on her experience working for Chanel for 10 years, which she says taught her about exclusivity, uniqueness and how small details make all the difference.

The name Matchali was adapted from the Indian word for fish, which came to her during a market visit. The day before, she had purchased a fish hanger, her first link to Kolkata.

Fish is also a significant symbol in Christianity, in Asian culture, and for the city. She decided to name her label as such, and chose blue and purple (inspired by the peacock, another icon of India) as her brand colours.

While there, she met artisans making organic cotton patterned using hand print blocks and contacted the supplier to place an order. Virginie’s initial plan was to make table cloths but later realised that the fabrics were more suitable as pareos, which she jazzed up with pompoms and sequins.

She shot her first collection while on an island holiday and sold them to friends. From that point on, Matchali just kept expanding its range.

Virginie donates part of her profits to Balo but points out that she is not using the organisation to sell her products. Matchali is not a social enterprise, it’s a business.

It enables her to support more kids through Balo. “What I’ve learned from Asia, I want to give back. I never thought about doing this… Julie and Balo gave me the energy. Everything begins from relationships, it’s about stories that come from the heart.”

Besides her own designs, Virginie enjoys collaborating with other brands, especially those founded by women. A recent partnership with Kuala Lumpur-based Duedinoi resulted in a range of glass bead necklaces with tassels made from her fabrics and adorned with fish charms, that she named Matchali Candy.

You can be certain of more exciting creations in time to come, as Virginie is brimming with ideas. A recent buying trip to India gave her fresh inspirations that have already or will be translated into unique designs.

There are certainly many fish in the ocean for Matchali but Virginie is not rushing to scale up. “People always tell me I need to go bigger. For me, it’s about doing what I love, not doing something bigger.”


Paradise road: A day trip to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park

BANGKOK — As the weather heats up around the region, city folks are escaping to cooler climes at higher altitudes. KL-ites have the Cameron Highlands; if you’re in Jakarta, there’s Bandung for the weekend. For a getaway from Bangkok, the answer is almost always Khao Yai with its pristine national park.

Time for a road trip.

Part of the experience driving to Khao Yai (there are trains and buses too, but these take longer and aren’t as much fun) is the many food stops along the way: from sit-down restaurants to stalls selling snacks such as karipap gai (chicken curry puffs), moo hun (grilled piglet) and bottles of corn milk.

Right before entering Khao Yai National Park, we stop at Khao Sam See, just off the highway, for lunch. With a high roof and no walls, only slender wooden beams, the restaurant is spacious and airy. There are plenty of long tables and benches, most already filled up with diners tucking into their food.

Khao sam see literally means “three coloured rice” in Thai. Here their signature dish is a blend of steamed jasmine rice, organic brown rice and black glutinous rice. The Thais have high regard for this staple, as evidenced by an old saying “Nai nam mee pla, nai na mee khao” which means “There is fish in the water, there is rice in the fields.”

To go with the khao sam see, we order a few dishes such as moo dad deaw (pork jerky), hor mok (steamed fish custard) and gaeng liang (vegetable soup). The moo dad deaw is made in-house: the pork is sliced into strips and marinated in nam pla (fish sauce), soy sauce and sugar before drying in the sun. Grilled to order, these are surprisingly tender, unlike the tougher and chewier versions often found sold at street carts.

Khao Sam See’s rendition of hor mok delights with complex flavours belying its pretty exterior. There are layers upon layers of curried fish paste, succulent chunks of fresh fish, aromatic Thai basil and rich coconut cream, all topped with slivers of kaffir lime leaves and red-and-orange bell peppers. Its banana leaf “ramekin” lends it that final hit of fragrance that makes us sigh when we realise it’s all gone.

Our bellies full, we continue on our journey. Soon we reach the park’s entrance where guards remind us to watch out for wild elephants crossing some parts of the road that winds around the grounds. (However, while elephants do roam in the park, spotting them is a relatively rare occurrence.)

Established on September 18, 1962, Khao Yai National Park was the first national park in Thailand. The best place to enjoy a panoramic view of the entire park, we discover, is the Pa Deo Die cliffs. The green splendour of Khao Yai stretches before us. Lush and wild, the way Nature is meant to be.

Everything looks untouched but we know it takes dedicated work by park rangers to maintain this. There is always the danger of poachers or forest fires. Its Unesco World Heritage Site status (collectively with other parks in the Dong Phaya Yen Mountains further north) has helped raise environmental awareness.

Wildlife is abundant here though many may prove elusive. Besides wild elephants, the park is home to gaurs, civets, freshwater crocodiles, porcupines, gibbons and black water monitor lizards.

Birdwatchers can look out for over 300 species of birds including great hornbills, red-headed trogons, white-rumped shamas, moustached barbets and chestnut-headed bee-eaters.

Not all the animals are so shy though. The two least timorous creatures are the sambar deer and northern pig-tailed macaques. It’s not difficult to spot a herd of the former resting by the roadside or under the trees.

Some sambar are so tame and used to humans that they would allow you to pet them, not unlike sika deer in Nara’s renowned city park.

The macaques, naturally, are even more adventurous to the extent of stealing food from less-than-watchful visitors! It’s quite a sight: the way these monkeys would feed on fallen fruit, grasping a ripe rambutan with both hands.

Others engage in a bit of grooming; who needs a salon when another member of your troop will happily check you for juicy nuggets of ticks and fleas?

There are rivers and ravines and waterfalls too. Perhaps the most famous waterfall is Heo Suwat. It tickles us to realise we are at the same spot where Leonardo DiCaprio jumped off the waterfall in the movie The Beach. (Well, not quite the same spot; we have no plans of taking a leap.)

That was almost two decades ago but today the 20-metre waterfall is just magical. We can almost believe Tilda Swinton is waiting at a secluded beach nearby (though there are no beaches inside Khao Yai, of course).

Tiny fish flit here and there in the streams. There is a mysterious limestone cave not far from the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Dead branches lie in orderly rows against the walls of the cave. Are these left behind by ancient ones, in some sacred ritual? Or simply tourists with itchy fingers and too much time on their hands?

Other waterfalls in the park include Heaw Narok, Heaw Sai, Heaw Pratoon and Wang Heaw. The latter is only for serious trekkers, requiring a two-day trek to the east side of the park!

These outdoor enthusiasts can be seen at open-air camping grounds near the grasslands. There is an entire ecosystem here — jungle and grasslands, rivers and waterfalls — and we are, however temporarily, grateful to be a small part of it.

On our way back to Bangkok, as the temperatures rise in the afternoon, we make a pit stop at the Dairy Home Farm Shop. Located within a farm where the dairy cows are grass fed, the shop specialises in organic dairy products such as organic milk, yoghurt and freshly-made ice cream. There is a bit of a theme park atmosphere, what with the red “barns” and a tree house for the kids.

The ice cream flavours steer clear of being overly conventional. Local nods include cha yen (Thai tea) and dok anchan (butterfly pea flower) while boozier flavours such as red wine & strawberry and white wine & lychee make for more sophisticated pairings.

Our ice cream is served in adorable ceramic cups that we get to bring home with us as souvenirs.

There are plenty of other kitschy sights along the way, from replicas of Italian piazzas (no, seriously) to faux European castles adored by couples for their wedding photoshoots. Perhaps for another weekend. This round, it is enough for us that Khao Yai is a paradise road filled with wondrous nature and tasty treats.

Khao Sam See

72 M6, Thanon Mittraphap, Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Open daily 7am-4pm

Tel: +66 64 446 3457

Khao Yai National Park

Hin Tung, Mueang Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Entrance fees: Thai residents 40 baht (RM5); non-Thai residents 400 baht (RM50)

Open daily 6am-6pm

Tel: +66 86 092 6529

Dairy Home Farm Shop

100/1 M11, Thanon Mittraphap, Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Open daily 8am-5pm

Tel: +66 81 991 0271

pearlbank singapore afp_AM

Singapore’s Brutalist beauties

Three of Singapore’s most distinctive and iconic buildings — People’s Park, Pearl Bank and Golden Mile — are set to be sold and likely demolished in the near future.

It appears that all three of the Brutalist Sixties- and Seventies-era towers will be sold to a private developer shortly, paving the way for their demise.

People’s Park was among the first residential and shopping complexes in the country.

It was built by local architects according to the principles laid down by the “father” of modern architecture — Le Corbusier.

Golden Mile, integrating office space, apartments, restaurants and shopping, was lauded in its heyday as the embodiment of a fully-functional vertical city.

The slightly less well-known and more residential Pearl Bank was among the densest living spaces in the world when it was created with spacious apartments folded into a 3/4 cylinder (horseshoe shaped) 36-story tower.

Now all these buildings are showing signs of age and the rigid, geometric and concrete heavy Brutalist style does make for quite a contrast with the glass-fronted, soft-edged edifices that now dominate our skyline.

Still, is it really time to knock them down? An article on a popular online forum asked the same question — it explored why the buildings were going en bloc (being sold for redevelopment) but I think I might have a more accurate answer:

1. There are just such vast amounts of money to be made from rebuilding on these prime sites.

2. An entrenched position in our city state that the utility of land and space derives principally from how much profit it yields means the priority is rarely conservation.

The authorities have made no moves to list or protect these structures though all three have a distinct visual appearance, striking histories and clear architectural pedigrees.

Again the online commentary attempted to defend the impending demolition by arguing that the buildings’ architectural style was at odds with the present.

I think no more preposterous argument could be made.

Any architectural style from the past will be at odds with the present (that’s how the past works). Should the Istana or the Fullerton hotel be knocked down because they look different from contemporary buildings?

Of course, the Brutalist style is a little unusual (even initially jarring to look at) but that’s the key to its appeal.

In a city that’s increasingly uniform, these three icons stand out: glitches in the matrix.

People’s Park looks like it fell out a retro future rendition of 22nd century Hong Kong (think Ghost in the Shell) while Golden Mile’s “pyramid” is pure Blade Runner (really, these buildings are cool).

They are also unique. Brutalism was a movement that took hold in Europe and North America; as tropical examples of the style emblazoned with Chinese characters and bright colours, these buildings don’t resemble much else.

The second argument posited online is that the buildings are halfway through their lease, making resale for the apartment owners difficult and making them keen to sell to developers.

There may be some truth to this but on that basis, every condo in Singapore would be sold off every 40 to 50 years and our skyline would be an apocalyptic mess of cranes and construction sites in no time.

Finally, the case is made that the buildings are old and increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain but that is true of any old building including, say, the Raffles Hotel, but the solution isn’t demolition.

Refurbishment and redesign can solve a great many problems without having to erase these structures from the landscape.

Of course, it’s understood that not everything can or should be preserved and Singapore’s essence is its endless modernising.

The willingness to demolish is a characteristic of our unsentimental, pragmatic and competitive city.

However, leaving three structures to record an architectural movement and an era doesn’t seem like conservation overkill.

While the buildings would have to be repurposed, they could certainly be put to use without being levelled. With some creative planning and willingness to provide incentives and support, Golden Mile could be made a creative work and living space for artists, designers and musicians — I suspect a design campus or university faculty could also be housed in there.

People’s Park could surely become a trendy hotel and entertainment complex. Of course, doing this sort of conversion will not be as profitable or easy as a simple sale, demolition and rebuilding but with the correct incentives these projects might still make sense for investors.

Brutalist buildings have been successfully redeveloped and preserved across Europe. In England, the gargantuan Commonwealth Institute has emerged as a design museum while the shamelessly brutal Royal Docks building has become a creative work space.

Again a bit of lateral thinking and slightly less focus on profit and we can save a few pieces of our heritage. Something that fosters shared memory, history and identity and something that’s clearly part of our lived-in and visual history.

The reality is Singapore’s skyline, though packed with tall buildings, is pretty conservative. Our skyline is nowhere near as renowned globally as the cityscapes of Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York or even contemporary London or Dubai.

The number of internationally iconic Singaporeans buildings outside of Marina Bay Sands is near nil.

Meanwhile, these three Brutalist beauties are some of the most visually distinctive structures in the country so why flatten them in favour of more uniformity?


Mother Courage: Iraqi widow saved recruits from slaughter

WASHINGTON — Aliyah Khalaf Saleh had already lost a husband, a son and a nephew to the terror that engulfed northern Iraq in 2014.

But when a group of military cadets fled to her community near Tikrit to escape killers from the Islamic State group, she risked all to save them.

In June 2014, the militants slaughtered hundreds of mainly Shiite Muslim recruits from the nearby Speicher military base.

A smaller group of young men tried to escape by crossing a river but Aliyah, now 62 and known at home as Umm Qusay, stepped in.

“They were moving from Camp Speicher to Baghdad” when they came upon IS killing their comrades, she said.

The young men retreated 20km to an area where Umm Qusay’s neighbours were clashing with the militants, and she took them in.

“There were Kurds and Iraqis, Muslims, Yezidis and Christians,” she recalled. “I got them to my home.”

She gave women’s clothes to some of the young men and hid them in the women’s quarters on her farm. Others dug holes in a forest.

IS fighters were hunting for the recruits, so Umm Qusay obtained university identity cards for some of them, giving them local names.

She taught those who were Shiite how to say their prayers like a Sunni to protect them from sectarian suspicions.

And, over five months, she smuggled them to safety in Kurdish-held Kirkuk, hiding them in trucks surrounded by female relatives.

“At first, the terrorists did not bother women,” she said.

In all she got 58 young men to safety before the Islamic State’s spies got wind of what she had done and she had to flee.

Her family — her surviving sons plus their wives and children, 25 people in all — fled on foot through the night, she said.

They remained displaced, living in a single room, for a year before Iraqi government forces recaptured their home and they could return.

Now, the government is triumphant, the Islamic State is on the run and Umm Qusay’s bravery and love has made her a beacon of hope.

A Sunni, she has received a high Shiite religious honor and a national medal, but that is not her greatest satisfaction.

“God took my husband, my son and my nephew but he has given me in return these young men to console me,” she said of the recruits.

After the fighting, many of the young men returned to thank their saviour, and to tell her story to a nation in need of hope.

“They come to visit me, I come to visit them. Whenever there’s a conference in Baghdad, they come with me,” she said.

“Two of them got married, I attended their weddings. I was the happiest person there,” she said, blinking back tears.

Umm Qusay was honoured again on Friday at the US State Department in Washington, where she was named an International Woman of Courage.

Alongside nine other brave women, each with a story of their own, she received her award from First Lady Melania Trump.

“In recognising the International Women of Courage, we stand for what is right,” Trump told the guests.

“In telling their stories, we can teach young women and girls all over the world what it means to have courage and to be a hero.” — AFP


Peru’s president quits to avoid impeachment

LIMA — Martin Vizcarra was sworn in as Peru’s new president on Friday, catapulted to the post when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned to avoid impeachment.

Vizcarra, who had been serving as both vice president and his country’s ambassador to Canada, took the oath of office and donned the red-and-white presidential sash before the Peruvian Congress.

The ceremony came shortly after lawmakers voted to accept Kuczynski’s resignation, rather than push ahead with impeaching him over corruption allegations.

“We will stand firm in the fight against corruption. Transparency will be a pillar of our administration,” said Vizcarra, a former cabinet minister known for his meticulous management and unflashy style.

“Better times will come,” he told his fellow Peruvians in his first address
as president.

Just a day before, the engineer and technocrat was far removed from the political hornet’s nest that brought down Kuczynski, leading a relatively placid diplomat’s life in Ottawa.

He flew home on Thursday night, on his 55th birthday, and now takes over the remainder of Kuczynski’s term, until 2021 — though early elections are still possible.

Kuczynski, 79, had a short tenure as president: the former Wall Street banker was elected by a razor-thin margin in June 2016, and took office the following month.

But he lacked a majority in Congress, and was almost immediately embroiled in a messy conflict with the main opposition party, Popular Force, led by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced ex-president Alberto Fujimori.

When reports emerged linking Kuczynski to Brazil’s scandal-plagued construction giant Odebrecht — accused of paying massive bribes to politicians around Latin America for juicy public works contracts — Popular Force mounted a relentless push to remove him from office.

Odebrecht revealed in December that it had paid nearly US$5 million (RM19.6 million) to consulting companies linked to Kuczynski when he was finance minister.

The former president survived a first impeachment vote that month. Three days later, he granted a pardon on medical grounds to former president Fujimori, who had been in jail for corruption and human rights violations.

That sparked speculation of a back-room deal with an opposition faction led by Keiko Fujimori’s brother and rival Kenji.

Facing a new impeachment vote, he announced his resignation on Wednesday, proclaiming his innocence but saying it was best for the country if he quit. — AFP


UK regulators search Cambridge Analytica offices

LONDON — British regulators on Friday began searching the London offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA), the scandal-hit communications firm at the heart of the Facebook data scandal, shortly after a judge approved a search warrant.

Around 18 enforcement agents from the office of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham entered the company’s London headquarters at around 8pm to execute the warrant.

The High Court granted the raid request less than an hour earlier, as Denham investigates claims that Cambridge Analytica may have illegally harvested Facebook data for political ends.

A full explanation of the legal ruling by Judge Anthony James Leonard will be issued on Tuesday, according to the court.

“We’re pleased with the decision of the judge,” Denham’s office said on Twitter.

“This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data and analytics for political purposes,” it added in a statement.

“As you will expect, we will now need to collect, assess and consider the evidence before coming to any conclusions.”

The data watchdog’s probe comes amid whistleblower accusations that CA, hired by Donald Trump during his primary campaign, illegally mined tens of millions of users’ Facebook data and then used it to target potential voters.

Fresh allegations also emerged on Friday about the firm’s involvement in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.

Brittany Kaiser, CA’s business development director until two weeks ago, revealed it conducted data research for Leave.EU, one of the leading campaign groups, via the UK Independence Party, according to The Guardian.

Kaiser, 30, told the newspaper she felt the company’s repeated public denials it ever worked on the poll misled British lawmakers and the public.

“In my opinion, I was lying,” she said. “In my opinion I felt like we should say, ‘this is exactly what we did’.”

CA’s suspended chief executive Alexander Nix told MPs last month: “We did not work for Leave.EU. We have not undertaken any paid or unpaid work for them, OK?”

Nix was suspended this week following the Facebook revelations and a further media sting in which he boasts about entrapping politicians and secretly operating in elections around the world through shadowy front companies.

He has already been called to reappear before British lawmakers to explain “inconsistencies” in past testimony about the firm’s use of the data.

Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been forced to issue a statement outlining his firm’s role in the scandal and apologised on Wednesday to its billions of users for the breach.

Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing, and said on Friday it was undertaking an independent third-party audit to verify that it no longer holds any of the mined data. — AFP

Facebook crisis prompts Silicon Valley soul-searching

SAN FRANCISCO — With Facebook mired in its worst-ever crisis, the rest of Silicon Valley is looking to come to terms with the dark side of its data-driven business model where tech titans have mined fortunes from what people reveal online.

There are signs the crisis could spread to other Internet firms that have made no secret about using what they glean from digital data for targeted advertising.

That same personal data can be used effectively by those with malicious intent when it comes to influencing people.

“It is Facebook this week but it could be others,” tech industry analyst Rob Enderle said of the crisis of confidence laying siege to the social network.

“At the very least, this is the common problem across the tech industry.”

The tumultuous week ended with Facebook losing 14 per cent of its market value, wiping out more than US$50 billion (RM195 billion) from one of the biggest and most powerful companies.

A public apology by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg failed to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people by Cambridge Analytica.

Belatedly speaking out about the harvesting of Facebook user data by the British firm linked to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, Zuckerberg admitted to betraying the trust of its more than two billion users, and promised to “step up”.

But some point out that Facebook is just one of many firms which mine data for profit – albeit the most successful, along with Google – as digital lifestyles take root around the world.

“Phones, apps, and the Internet are so indispensable to our daily lives, a testament to the benefits they give us, that we’ve become a captive audience,” the non-profit Centre for Humane Technology said, adding that two billion people are plugged into these devices.

Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee argued in a USA Today opinion piece that “Russia would never have been able to conduct information warfare against the United States” in 2016 without the social network as well as Twitter and Google.

Some users are joining the #deleteFacebook movement, but it remains unclear if advertisers will abandon the platform.

Elon Musk joined the critical chorus, saying in an exchange on Twitter that he was shutting down the Facebook accounts of his Tesla and SpaceX enterprises.


Hero French cop dies after militant shooting spree

TRÈBES (France) — A French policeman who was shot and stabbed after swapping himself for a hostage in a rampage and siege died of his wounds yesterday, becoming the gunman’s fourth victim.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 45, was among a group of officers who rushed to the scene here in southwest France on Friday after the attacker, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, stormed a supermarket and fired at shoppers and staff.

Beltrame offered to take the place of a woman the gunman had taken hostage and was shot and badly wounded before anti-terror police moved in to kill the attacker and end the siege.

“Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame has passed away. He died for his country. France will never forget his heroism,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on his Twitter account.

Macron earlier paid tribute to the bravery of the police officer. “He saved lives and honoured his colleagues and his country,” Macron said.

With the death of the officer, the assailant, identified as 25-year-old Radouane Lakdim, killed a total of four people in France’s first major militant attack since October.

“Our country has suffered an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron said in a televised address following the rampage in the medieval town of Carcassonne and nearby Trèbes.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack was in response to its call to target Western enemies — as is customary when the assailant has pledged allegiance to the militants.

The shootings come as France remains on high alert following a string of deadly attacks that have killed more than 240 people since 2015. Top anti-terror prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman had convictions for carrying a banned weapon and for drug use.

“He had been on a watchlist for his radicalisation and links to the Salafist movement,” Molins said in Carcassonne, adding that Lakdim had been tracked for his online contacts with extremists.

Security sources said Lakdim was born in Taza in northern Morocco and held French nationality. Police arrested a second person overnight believed to be linked to the attack, a judicial source said yesterday.

Another source said the man, a minor born in 2000, was a friend of Lakdim.

Lakdim started his rampage in Carcassonne at around 10.30am, hijacking a car and shooting the two people inside, Molins said. The passenger was killed, and the driver remains in critical condition.

Lakdim then shot and wounded a police officer who was out jogging with colleagues before driving to nearby Trèbes where he burst into the Super U supermarket.

“The attacker entered the store shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest) and saying he was a soldier of the Islamic State, ready to die for Syria,” Molins said.

He demanded “the release of his brothers” from prison before shooting a customer and an employee dead.

Beltrame offered to take the place of a woman Lakdim was using as a human shield while his colleagues negotiated with the gunman, the interior minister said.

The officer “left his telephone on the table” to allow police who had surrounded the building to listen in, Collomb added.

When special forces heard shots they stormed the store, killing the gunman and recovering Beltrame, who had been seriously wounded. He was shot twice and stabbed several times by the attacker.
— Agencies


Rap mogul Simmons hit with another rape suit

LOS ANGELES — Hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons was slapped on Friday with a US$10 million (RM39 million) rape lawsuit filed by a woman here, the latest in a string of accusations against him ranging from harassment to rape.

The unidentified woman said in the complaint filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court that the mogul raped her in a hotel after the two met at a concert and then went to a club.

At least nine women have now come forward with misconduct allegations against the 60-year-old Simmons.

In January, aspiring filmmaker Jennifer Jarosik sued him for alleged rape, seeking US$5 million (RM19.5 million) as she called for a reckoning in the hip-hop industry on the mistreatment of women.

In light of the most recent suit, Simmons released a statement saying “I vehemently deny all the allegations made against me.

“They have shocked me to my core as I have never been abusive or violent in any way in my relations with women,” he said in the statement, noting that he had submitted to and passed several lie detector tests concerning such allegations.

In the latest complaint, the woman said Simmons lured her into his hotel room, threatened her, and then threw her on the bed and raped her.

She said she first met the rap impresario at a concert she had attended with her son, and that Simmons had invited her to an after-party.

Filmmaker Jarosik alleged in her suit that Simmons – who stepped down from all of his business roles after the first allegations against him surfaced – propositioned her for sex. When she said no, he allegedly hit and raped her.

The recent spate of allegations against him surfaced as the #MeToo movement gained steam, with scores of women speaking out over harassment, assault and rape in the wake of disgraced film tycoon Harvey Weinstein’s downfall. — AFP

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