TIME Culture

Navajos Buy Back Artifacts at Disputed Auction

France Artifacts Auction
Native American Navajo Nation Vice president, Rex Lee Jim, poses for the media outside of the Drouot's auction house prior to the contested auction of Native American Navajo tribe masks in Paris, Dec. 15, 2014. Francois Mori—AP

The objects for sale included religious masks, dozens of Hopi kachina dolls and several striking Pueblo masks embellished with horse hair, bone and feathers

(PARIS)— When diplomacy and a plea to return sacred ceremonial masks to an American Indian tribe in the United States failed, officials from the Navajo Nation traveled to the Paris auction house selling the items and started bidding for them.

They fended off a French art collector Monday, winning seven masks for more than $9,000. Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim said the Navajo delegation was unable to determine the exact provenance of the artifacts but said they had to face the reality of the auction and buy them.

“They are sacred masks … and unfortunately they end up here. Whether that is legal or illegal … we don’t know,” said Jim, a medicine man who offered prayers to the masks that embody Navajo deities. “What we do know is that they are for sale.”

The Navajo Nation took a different approach than its Hopi neighbor in northeastern Arizona, which has seen losses of ceremonial items at auctions in France that were deemed legal to private collectors.

The objects for sale at the Drouot auction house included religious masks, colored in pigment, that are believed to be used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies. It also included dozens of Hopi kachina dolls and several striking Pueblo masks embellished with horse hair, bone and feathers, thought to be from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris asked Drouot to suspend the sale to allow Navajo and Hopi representatives to determine if they were stolen from the tribes. But Drouot refused, arguing that the auction was in accordance with the law — and that a French tribunal had previously ruled that a similar sale was legal.

Sales from the auction totaled 929,000 euros ($1.12 million).

The Hopi saw the sale as sacrilege and did not travel to Paris for the auction, said Pierre Schreiber, a lawyer representing the tribe. Only a member of the tribe has the right to possess the items that represent the spirits of their ancestors, tribal officials have argued.

“Hopis were opposed to buying back their artifacts as they did not want to engage in the auction,” Servan-Schreiber said.

Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie said he was appalled by the latest sale.

The Navajo Nation delegation was authorized to spend up to $20,000 to retrieve the masks that typically are disassembled after a nine-day ceremony and returned to the earth, said Deswood Tome, a spokesman for the tribe.

Jim said the objects were not art but “living and breathing beings” that should not be traded commercially. He was set to return to the United States on Tuesday, with the masks to be shipped later to the tribe.

French art collector Armand Hui bid for several masks at the auction but told The Associated Press hebacked down when he saw that tribal members had come in person to buy them.

“I wanted to respect that,” he said.

Tome said it would incumbent upon the leaders of the Navajo and Hopi tribes to discuss how to approach any future sales of sacred items in foreign countries.

“If there are religious items that are sacred in the future, the leadership will have to determine what steps they will take,” said Tome. “Buying these masks here today is a precedent that we’ve set.”

The Associated Press is not transmitting images of the objects because both the Navajo and Hopi have strict rules against recording and photographing ceremonies featuring the items that otherwise are kept entirely out of public view. The Navajo Nation initially included a photo of the masks in a news release but later replaced the photo with one of Jim, saying it was a mistake. The Hopi tribe considers it sacrilegious for any of the images of the objects to appear.

TIME apps

France to Ban Uber’s Cheapest Service Next Year

Latest regulatory headache for the ride-sharing app

The French government announced plans Monday to ban Uber’s low-cost service next year, as Paris taxis clogged the capital in a “go slow” or “escargot” protest against the ride-sharing service.

The decision to ban UberPop came after a French court on Friday declined to ban Uber from operating in the country. But Uber’s victory was short-lived.

“Not only is it illegal to offer this service but additionally for the consumer there is a real danger,” French interior ministry spokesperson Pierre-Henry Brandlet told iTELE, questioning drivers’ inadequate insurance. Brandlet said that the ban will begin Jan. 1.

MORE: 5 places where Uber is fighting for its life right now

The decision comes as Uber is facing scrutiny and regulatory pushback around the world. It was banned in Spain, Thailand and parts of India—where an Uber driver was recently accused of raping a passenger — late last week.

Uber did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment, although it tweeted Monday morning that demand in France remains strong.

The company, which was fined 100,000 euros in France this October for fraudulent business practices, called some of the country’s attempts to ban the app “discriminatory” last month.

TIME France

France Wants to Sedate the Terminally Sick Until Death

President Francois Hollande delivers his speech about reform of end-of-life treatment at the Elysee Palace in Paris Dec. 12, 2014.
President Francois Hollande delivers his speech about reform of end-of-life treatment at the Elysee Palace in Paris Dec. 12, 2014. Jacky Naegelen—Reuters

French President calls for "the right to deep, continuous sedation until death" for the terminally ill

PARIS — France’s president wants to allow doctors to keep terminally ill patients sedated until death comes, amid a national debate about whether to legalize euthanasia.

Francois Hollande stopped short of recommending lethal injections, avoiding the terms euthanasia and assisted suicide, highly sensitive issues in this majority-Catholic country.

Instead, he called Friday for a law that would give people “the right to deep, continuous sedation until death” — at patients’ request, and only when their condition is life-threatening in the short term. Doctors are divided about this kind of terminal sedation.

Debate over end-of-life legislation resurfaced this year over the case of comatose Frenchman Vincent Lambert. His wife wants doctors to stop life support but his parents disagree. The case is pending at the European Court of Human Rights.

TIME Ireland

The Irish Parliament Looks Set to Recognize a Palestinian State

Irish Parliament in Dublin John Harper—Getty Images

Ireland would be joining the U.K., France, Spain and other countries in extending symbolic recognition

The Irish government accepted a motion Tuesday calling for the symbolic recognition of Palestinian statehood “on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in U.N. resolutions.”

On Wednesday, members of the lower house of the Oireachtas, or Irish Parliament, will continue debating the nonbinding bill, which is being put forward by the opposition, Reuters reports. A government spokesman said it would not oppose the motion.

“Recognizing the independent state of Palestine would be a symbolically important expression of Ireland’s support for the people of Palestine’s right to self determination,” said member of Parliament Dominic Hannigan, according to the Irish Examiner.

The Irish upper house passed a similar resolution in October.

Spain, the U.K. and France, have also passed symbolic votes of recognition, however some European countries have gone a step further and officially recognize a Palestinian state, with Sweden recently becoming the largest European nation to do so.

TIME France

Mystery Surrounds Disappearance of North Korean Student in France

French officials believe the young man was escaping North Korean agents at Paris airport

One day in early November a young North Korean student passing through Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris suddenly bolted away from his travel companions and vanished into the crowds. It seemed to be a last-ditch effort to save himself from imprisonment or execution, according to French government officials.

Officials believe the man, whom they have identified only as Han, was escaping from North Korean agents who French authorities believe had abducted him. “He was taken to the airport but he escaped,” says a French official who did not want to be named because she was not authorized to speak about the case. “This is a young guy who is the son of an important man in the North Korean regime. His dad was executed a few months ago so that is why, I suppose, he was targeted.”

Han’s father was an aide to Jang Song-thaek, a powerful figure under former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the son and successor of Kim Jong-il, ordered Jang executed in December 2013 after Jang was charged with treason.

About two weeks before Han fled his captors he had disappeared from his campus at l’Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Architecture in Paris, according to school officials and French police. A group of North Korean students began studying at the school in 2012 as part of a cultural exchange program between France and North Korea, aimed at improving relations between the two countries.

When Han vanished from the university French police quizzed faculty members and students about where he was, but no one had seen him for about two weeks, according to Yonhap, a South Korean news agency.

Han now appears to be in hiding. The French official who spoke to TIME said Han’s location was being kept secret “for his own safety,” but suggested that the government knows where he is. Pascal Dayez-Burgeon, a North Korea expert who served as a French diplomat in Seoul between 2001 and 2007, believes that after escaping from his captors Han might have headed to South Korea’s embassy in Paris to find refuge and claim asylum. He points to the fact that reports of Han’s escape appeared in South Korea in late November, suggesting that journalists in Seoul had waited until they knew Han was safe before publishing the news.

The alleged kidnapping of Han was the second North Korea-related incident in France in just under a year. Last December another young student, Kim Han-sol, vanished from his university campus in the French coastal city of Le Havre, where he was studying at the Institute of Political Science. Kim, 19, is a nephew of Kim Jong-un and apparently feared he was in danger because of a political purge that was underway in North Korea. The young student stayed out of sight for a week and then reappeared on campus guarded by French police. He now has two bodyguards, “to make sure he will not be abducted by the regime,” according to Dayez-Burgeon.

Kim Han-sol’s family had been closely connected to Jang Song-thaek. The student had another reason to worry: In a Finnish television interview two years ago, when he was 17, he described his grandfather, former leader Kim Jong-il, as having been a “dictator” whom he had barely known growing up.

North Korean students abroad rarely defect. North Korea experts say that could be because possible defectors fear that the government would retaliate against their relatives back home. “They all belong to the elite of the regime, so if they do break away their whole family back home could be held hostage,” says Dayez-Burgeon.


French Vote Urges Recognition of Palestinian State

General view of the hemicycle as deputies applaud after the results of the vote on Palestine status at the National Assembly in Paris
General view of the hemicycle as deputies applaud after the results of the vote on Palestine status at the National Assembly in Paris on Dec. 2, 2014. Charles Platiau—Reuters

The vote, approved with 339 votes to 151, is non-binding

(PARIS)— France’s lower house of Parliament voted Tuesday to urge the government to recognize a Palestinian state, in the hope that it would speed up peace efforts after decades of conflict.

The vote, approved with 339 votes to 151, is non-binding. But it is a symbolic boost for the Palestinians, amid growing support in Europe for two states. The measure asks the government “to recognize the state of Palestine in view of reaching a definitive settlement to the conflict.”

The French government supports a Palestinian state but has said it’s too early for recognition. France, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, wants peace talks to restart first.

Israel is committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state under a peace agreement, but says such resolutions encourage the Palestinians to avoid negotiations.

On Oct. 30, Sweden’s government became the first western European nation in the EU to recognize Palestinian statehood. Since then, lawmakers in Britain, Spain and Ireland have approved non-binding motions urging recognition.

Last week members of the European Parliament began debating whether they can agree on a common approach for the European Union’s 28 member states.

France — which has western Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations, and has seen tensions erupt between them — has sought to keep good ties with Israeli and Palestinian authorities in recent years.

Israel’s ambassador to France spoke out against the proposed resolution last week, saying it was destructive for the peace effort.

TIME France

France Considers Backing Palestinian Statehood

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a debate on the recognition of the Palestinian at the French Parliament in Paris on Nov. 28, 2014.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a debate on the recognition of the Palestinian at the French Parliament in Paris on Nov. 28, 2014. Michel Euler—AP

France would join Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain

France may recognize Palestinian statehood if international attempts to broker a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians fall through.

If France’s parliament passes the non-binding motion on Tuesday, the nation would join Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain in pushing for a two-state solution to the long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict by recognizing a Palestinian state, Reuters reported Friday.

“If this final effort to reach a negotiated solution fails, then France will have to do what it takes by recognizing without delay the Palestinian state,” said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius before parliament. “We are ready.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the move as a “grave mistake.”


TIME France

French Farmers Bring Sheep to the Eiffel Tower to Protest Wolf Attacks

A sheep stands at the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris during a protest by farmers demanding an effective plan by the ecology ministry to fight against wolves following an increasing number of attacks on flocks on November 27, 2014. PATRICK KOVARIK—AFP/Getty Images

Not a "baaaaaad" way to get your point across

French farmers, protesting wolf attacks against their sheep, decided to place the issue at the government’s doorstep on Thursday — by bringing their flocks to graze at the Eiffel tower.

The farmers claim French environmental policies do not provide their livestock with enough protection from predators, the Associated Press reports.

The government, on the other hand, says the protection and compensation measures already in place are good enough considering that it is also trying to protect the wolf population.

The sheep, meanwhile, were not as vocal about their predicament, idly munching on grass in front of the iconic Parisian monument while their owners do all the talking.


TIME France

Priceless Ancient Egyptian Antiques Smuggled Into Paris Are Returned

France Egypt
French National Assembly President Claude Bartolone, left, welcomes Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi before their talks in Paris on Nov. 27, 2014 Bertrand Guay—AP

The antiques date back as far as 2,000 B.C.

Some 250 ancient Egyptian artifacts that were found in the luggage of passengers arriving in Paris four years ago were returned Thursday.

French customs handed the trove over to the Egyptian embassy, Associated Press reports.

The items, including rings, amulets, clay posts, funeral statues and other objects, come from different periods during the Egyptian empire, with some dating back as far as 2,000 B.C.

Other antiques hail from the Roman and Byzantine eras and as late as the 7th century.

The smuggled items were seized in 2010 at Charles de Gaulle Airport in the French capital. Their return came at the close of a visit to Paris by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.


TIME France

France Considers Scrapping Its 35-Hour Working Week

The French 35-hour working week might be under threat in light of the country's economic woes

France has long had the reputation of taking a lax approach to working life. But now, the New York Times reports that the country is reconsidering the official 35-hour working week amid reports that the policy is abused by employers and creating financial hardships for employees.

The shorter working week was implemented in 2000 by the then-Socialist government as a way to stimulate job creation. But according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, French employees work an average of 39.5 hours per week, just shy of the eurozone average of 40.9 hours per week. According to the Times, the shorter working week hasn’t kept unemployment down — which is at 10.2 percent in France — and might even have led to the rise in part-time contracts, which employers increasingly use to avoid having to pay full-time staff overtime.


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