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Archive for December, 2016

Romanian president nominates regional politician as next PM

December 30, 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s president on Friday nominated a regional politician as the next prime minister, after turning down an economist who could have become the country’s first female Muslim premier.

President Klaus Iohannis endorsed Sorin Grindeanu, 43, to become premier. Grindeanu is a member of the Social Democratic Party that won Dec. 11 elections, and chairman of the Timis county council. Parliament needs to approve him.

Grindeanu said he hoped the new government would be approved by Jan. 4. He said he hoped that the government would be able to “put in practice” the government’s program which includes hiking the minimum salary, reducing the sales tax, increasing students’ grants and scrapping taxes for retirees who have low pensions. It is unclear where the government will find the funds to cover the extra expenditure.

Grindeanu said he found out he’d been nominated, after the president sent him a text message wishing him “success.” The nomination came after Iohannis declined to endorse Sevil Shhaideh. As well as her lack of political experience, Shhaideh sparked concerns due to reports about her Syrian-born husband’s support of Syrian President Bashar Assad on his Arabic-language Facebook page.

However, Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea — who cannot become premier himself because he was convicted this year of election fraud — complained Friday that the president had not publicly said why he declined to nominate Shhaideh.

Polish lawmakers occupy parliament in holiday protest

December 24, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmaker Michal Stasinski arrived at parliament pulling a suitcase and carrying a bag filled with his mother’s homemade cabbage-and-mushroom stuffed dumplings. While most lawmakers were home for Christmas, Stasinski on Friday was joining a group of opposition lawmakers hunkering down in the dimly lit and chilly building to protest what they consider backsliding on democracy by a populist government whose anti-establishment and nationalistic views echo those of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

The protesting lawmakers have vowed to stay in the main assembly where laws are voted on, taking turns in shifts, until parliament returns on Jan. 11. In its 13 months in power, the ruling Law and Justice party has moved to weaken the Constitutional Tribunal — the country’s highest legislative court — tried to limit certain press freedoms, supported criminalizing abortion and approved some restrictions on public gatherings. Opponents fear that the constitution and free elections might be next.

“What they are doing is building a kind of velvet dictatorship, step by step,” Stasinski, a member of Modern, a pro-business party involved in the protest, told The Associated Press. “I cannot agree to what they are doing and this is why I have decided to spend Christmas here.”

The way the ruling party is cementing power has unleashed off-and-on street protests in Warsaw and other cities. However, the party’s support remains strong in small towns, boosted by cash bonuses paid monthly to families with at least two children and poorer families that have only one child. The party also lowered the retirement age to 60 for women and 65 for men, a popular change but one economists say the aging society can’t afford.

Stasinski’s family in Bydgoszcz were sorry he wouldn’t be home for Christmas, but even his ailing 86-year-old father supports his decision to protest. The 48-year-old lawmaker planned to get through the holiday on his mother’s pierogi, along with food from his fellow lawmakers and supporters, and some warm clothing. Anti-government activists were planning to organize a meal outside the parliament for the protesting lawmakers on Christmas Eve, the most important moment in three days of Christmas celebrations in Poland.

Poland has been in a state of tension since Law and Justice swept to power, winning first the presidency and then a majority in parliament — the most power any party has had in the democratic era. Party leaders argue they have a mandate to rebuild Poland in line with their traditional, Catholic and patriotic worldview. They say they have had to exert greater control over some institutions to remove the continued influence of political opponents who would stifle their agenda — including former communists and members of Civic Platform, the party led by the former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, now the president of the European Council.

The European Union, while accusing the government of eroding the rule of law, has proven powerless to reverse the course of a nation long seen as one of the most successful democracies to emerge from the ashes of Eastern European communism.

Many of the ruling party leaders accuse the protesting opposition of trying to destabilize the state, saying that they represent an establishment that will not accept its loss of privileges. The reason for the sit-in goes back to events Dec. 16, after news broke that the ruling party planned to impose some restrictions on media access in parliament.

Opposition lawmakers, seeing an attack on democratic freedom, occupied the area around the speaker’s podium in parliament, blocking work on legislation. Ruling party lawmakers then moved the session to another room and voted on the 2017 budget.

Authorities, amid the uproar, have since backed away from the plans for media restrictions in parliament. But the opposition parties are demanding a repeat of the budget vote, arguing that the procedure was highly irregular and that there is no evidence there was a quorum.

Ryszard Petru, leader of the Modern party, said if that vote is allowed to stand, it could set a dangerous precedent for the ruling party to hold other votes that violate procedures, “perhaps even changing the constitution.”

“If this illegal vote is repeated, then they’ll be able to pass whatever they want. It’s dangerous. This is a real political crisis, and to some extent a constitutional crisis,” Petru told the AP. “We are going to stay here and show that this is unacceptable.”

Poland’s president talks with opposition, protests spread

December 18, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Police removed several protesters blocking a prominent Polish governing party member’s car Sunday in a southern city as the president met in the capital with opposition leaders to help solve a growing political crisis.

The demonstrators sat in a street in Krakow trying to prevent Law and Justice party member Ryszard Terlecki from entering Wawel Castle. He was joining party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was on a private visit to the tomb of his twin brother, the late President Lech Kaczynski.

Police officers dragged the protesters away and ensured safe passage. Later, people chanted “Shame! Shame!” at the car that was carrying Kaczynski out of the castle. Political tension is rising between Poland’s conservative government and the pro-European Union opposition over the ruling party’s plan to restrict journalists’ access to lawmakers in parliament. The wider conflict started building last year after the Law and Justice party took power and began introducing sweeping reforms.

The steps that the government has taken to gain influence over a top court have also put it at odds with EU leaders, who say Poland’s democracy and rule of law are threatened. On Sunday, a few thousand Warsaw residents rallied in front of the court, the Constitutional Tribunal. They were supportive of its outgoing head, Andrzej Rzeplinski, for having opposed changes that critics say are against the rule of law. The appointment of Rzeplinski’s successor is expected to create further tension in the coming days.

Carrying Polish and EU flags, the crowd then marched to parliament, where Poland’s most serious political crisis in years began Friday. Some protesters were still there late Sunday. “We have lost confidence in the government and only the media can watch the government, the lawmakers and tell us what they are really doing,” 56-year-old economist Ewa Cisowska said.

Former President Lech Walesa said that there was no easy way out of the crisis unless the Law and Justice party resigns from power. But the government has remained defiant. Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski told a huge crowd of supporters in front of the Presidential Palace that the government was defending democracy.

President Andrzej Duda, aligned with the ruling party, expressed deep concern over the crisis and held talks with four opposition leaders Sunday. He will meet Kaczynski on Monday. The ruling party has increased welfare spending and still remains popular with many Poles, particularly those outside of the cities and on modest incomes. But its declarations that some social groups have been unjustly privileged under previous governments have angered many, especially after government backers started chanting “thieves,” in reference to the opposition.

EU’s Tusk, Poland’s PM differ on nation’s democracy

December 17, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two days of anti-government protests have exposed clashing views on the shape of Poland’s democracy, with a European Union leader and the protesters saying it is threatened by the government, and the prime minister insisting the threat is coming from the opposition’s actions.

European Council President Donald Tusk and Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo made separate comments Saturday on the rising political tension between Poland’s conservative government and the pro-EU opposition.

They spoke after protesters rallied outside the presidential palace and the parliament building in Warsaw for a second day over a ruling party’s plan to restrict journalists’ access to lawmakers in parliament.

Tusk, Poland’s former prime minister, invoked the word “dictatorship” and reminded his audience of protests in Poland under communism that ended in bloodshed. “I appeal to those who hold real power in our country to respect the people, the principles and values of the constitution, the standing procedures and good practices,” Tusk said in Wroclaw, southwest Poland, where he was attending a cultural event.

He warned that whoever was undermining the “European model of democracy” in Poland was “exposing us all to strategic risks.” A few hours later, Szydlo said in a nationwide televised address that Poland was a firm democracy and that the opposition was guided by a sense of “helplessness and frustration” over having lost power and was hurting Poland’s interest with its actions.

“Noise, perturbation, destabilization have, alas, become the tools of the opposition parties,” Szydlo said, appealing for dialogue, responsibility and calm. The crowd of a few thousand in Warsaw chanted “Freedom! Equality! Democracy!” and waved Polish and European Union flags, a reflection of the pro-European views of many liberal, urban Poles who oppose the ruling party. Protests were held in Krakow and Lodz, too.

“I feel terrified when I see what is going on around,” said Maria Krykiel, a retired bookkeeper. “Only divisions and no calm. Where will that take us?” President Andrzej Duda, who is allied with the ruling party, expressed deep concern and declared a readiness to mediate in the dispute.

The ruling party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has increased welfare spending and still remains popular with many Poles, particularly those outside of the cities and on modest incomes. Some protesters held up copies of the constitution, to show they believe it was not being observed by the ruling party. They also chanted “Solidarity!” reflecting how many link today’s protests to the anti-communist opposition of the past.

Ryszard Petru, head of the Modern opposition party, told the crowd in Warsaw that Poles would not accept the “dictators” who are trying to restrict the access of journalists to parliament. He even suggested an early election.

In Poland’s biggest parliamentary crisis in years, opposition lawmakers protested the government media plan Friday, blocking a vote on the budget. Governing party members then voted in another hall, but the opposition says the vote was flawed and illegal.

Opposition lawmakers are now demanding a repeat vote on Tuesday. The Senate speaker was to meet with media representatives to discuss the new rules for reporters.

Macedonian conservatives secure win after rerun

December 26, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s conservatives, led by former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, secured victory on Sunday in a bitterly contested national election after a poll rerun in a single station did not give the leftist opposition enough votes to overtake their rivals.

The rerun, in the northwestern village of Tearce, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital of Skopje, gave the opposition, led by the Social Democrats, 245 votes to 149 for the conservatives, led by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party. There were 402 people voting out of 714 registered.

The rerun had been ordered following complaints about voting irregularities from the opposition Social Democrats. The result has not been officially announced but has been posted on the website of Macedonia’s Election Commission.

With the rerun result in, VMRO-DPMNE wins 454,577 votes and 51 seats in the 120-member Parliament to 436,981 votes and 49 seats for the Social Democrats. The latter needed to secure 307 votes over the conservatives in a rerun to gain a 50th seat at the conservatives’ expense.

What is certain is that Gruevski will need to form a coalition government with onee or more of the Albanian-minority parties, as he has done in the past. But, this time, coalition-building will be complicated by the emergence of two new Albanian-minority parties. The largest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, has been a reliable Gruevski partner in the past.

In the annulled vote in Tearce, on Dec. 11, 404 registered voters had cast ballots. VMRO-DPMNE won 91 votes to 87 for the Social Democrats, while the rest were split among four Albanian-minority parties.

In the lead to the rerun, Gruevski’s party had been spreading rumors that the Albanians would vote massively for the opposition and had even claimed it would not recognize the result. Antonio Milososki, a VMRO-DPMNE senior official, has blamed the leftist opposition of trying to “falsify the electoral will of the citizens”.

“They (the opposition) are trying with some reruns to manipulate or to create conditions for falsifying the will of the people,” he said. The national election was called two years early as part of a Western-brokered deal to defuse a two-year political crisis sparked by a massive wiretapping scandal. The left-wing opposition blamed Gruevski for an illegal wiretapping operation targeting more than 20,000 people.

Voting in the rerun went generally smoothly. It was halted for 15 minutes due to problems with the ultra-violet lamps used in the voting verification process. Election authorities use invisible spray on voters’ thumb to mark them as having cast votes and check all voters with UV lamps to make sure they will not try to vote again.

Police said Sunday they got a report that two individuals allegedly tried to bribe an unidentified number of residents, offering them from 100 to 500 euros, in order not to vote. The bribers allegedly asked for identity documents from voters as proof they would not vote. Authorities are investigating the allegations.

According to the monitors of civic organization “Civil”, attempts were made to bribe about 40 residents.

Brazilian police: Greek ambassador killed by wife’s lover

December 31, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Police in Brazil believe that Greece’s ambassador to the country was killed by his wife’s lover under her orders in a house in the Rio area and have detained three suspects, authorities said Friday.

Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis went missing on Monday in Nova Iguacu, a city just north of Rio de Janeiro, where the ambassador had been vacationing. The couple lived most of the time in the capital of Brasilia.

On Friday, police investigator Evaristo Pontes Magalhaes said that 29-year-old police officer Sergio Gomes Moreira Filho had confessed to killing Amiridis, alleging self-defense. He said the policeman was having an affair with the ambassador’s 40-year-old wife, Francoise.

Filho’s cousin, Eduardo de Melo, acknowledged taking part in the killing as a lookout, Magalhaes said. The cousin accused Francoise of offering him the equivalent of $25,000 to participate. A judge ordered the detention of Francoise, her lover and his cousin, and the three were in custody.

Francoise has denied any role in the alleged plot. According to Magalhaes, Francoise said she couldn’t stop Filho from killing her husband and insisted she was not at home at the time of the crime. But the police investigator said in a press conference late Friday that the “evidence clearly puts the ambassador’s wife as a co-author of the crime.”

He said she started plotting with her lover to kill the ambassador after the couple had a serious fight three days before Christmas. “All our evidence suggests that her motivation was to use the financial resources left by the ambassador so she could enjoy life with Sergio,” the police officer, Magalhaes said.

The first signs the ambassador had been murdered emerged late Thursday, when police found blood spots believed to be his on a sofa inside the house the couple kept in Nova Iguacu, where the wife’s family lives.

Filho told police that he strangled the ambassador during a fight, but the blood evidence found on the scene makes his claim unlikely, Magalhaes said. Neighbors said they did not hear any shots, leading police to believe the policeman stabbed Amiridis.

The investigation showed that Amiridis’ body was removed from the house in a carpet at the same time that Francoise arrived with their 10 year-old daughter, who did not see the body of her dead father, Magalhaes said.

Police believe a body found in a burned-out car that Amiridis had rented on Dec. 21 belongs to the ambassador, but forensics experts are still working to confirm that it is him. Brazil’s government has offered its condolences to Greece over his death.

The Greek Embassy website in Brazil says Amiridis started his career as diplomat in 1985 in Athens and became Greece’s top diplomat in Brazil in 2016. He earlier was Greece’s ambassador to Libya and worked as consul in Rio from 2001-2004.

Greek ambassador murdered in Rio; body found in burned-out car

By Andrew V. Pestano

Dec. 30, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Police in Rio de Janeiro said a body found inside of a burned-out car is that of Kyriakos Amiridis, Greece’s ambassador to Brazil who has been missing for days.

Amiridis, 59, had been missing since Monday. He was last seen in the city of Nova Iguacu, near Rio de Janeiro, where the car was found underneath an overpass on a main road.

Amiridis was not heard from after he spoke to his wife to let her know he was going out. No ransom was sought.

Brazilian investigators said Amiridis was killed at home and his body was then transported in the car he rented, which was later burned. A blood-stained sofa was found at his home, O Globo reported.

Investigators urged a court to arrest Brazilian military police officer Sergio Gomes Moreira Filho and two alleged accomplices over Amiridis’ death.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


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