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Archive for the ‘Protests in Europe’ Category

Climate protesters turn out as Europe votes on parliament

May 24, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Protesters — many of them too young to vote — took to the streets Friday across the European Union to demand tougher action against global warming as the 28-nation bloc elects a new parliament.

From Portugal to Finland, from Italy to Britain, students followed the call of Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg to stage ‘school strikes’ against climate change. The issue has come to the fore ahead of the elections that began Thursday and end Sunday for the EU’s 751-seat assembly. The vote is expected to boost the influence of parties that have a strong environmental message.

In Berlin, thousands of mostly young people rallied in front of the German capital’s landmark Brandenburg Gate waving banners with slogans such as “There is no planet B” or “Plant trees, save the bees, clean the seas.”

Clara Kirchhoff said although she’s not yet allowed to vote, she’s been pressing family members and older friends to consider the world’s long-term future when they go to the polls Sunday. “I think, particularly at the European level, it’s an important issue to create a level playing field, because there’s no point in Germany doing a lot for the climate and others not pulling their weight,” the 17-year-old said.

Fourteen-year-old Parvati Smolka said she and her fellow students felt an obligation to attend the Berlin rally on behalf of future generations. “We’ve got a chance to go on the streets here and make our voice heard,” she said.

A few thousands of people, mostly high school and university students, marched Friday in the streets of Paris in a joyful atmosphere to demand action against climate change. Some sang “One, two, three degrees, that’s a crime against humanity” and waved posters reading “No nature, no future.”

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, said she consciously chose he run-up to the EU parliamentary vote to organize another continent-wide protest. “We think that it spreads a message that this is a very important election, and that it should be about the climate crisis,” she told Sweden’s TV4.

Sylvie Corbet from Paris contributed to this report.

Amid highway protest, Greece hikes wages, eyes market return

January 28, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece announced plans to return to bond markets and increase the minimum wage Monday, amid protests against bailout-era measures by farmers who used tractors to block the country’s main highway.

Authorities unveiled plans to issue a 5-year bond, a first market test since the end of Greece’s international bailout in August. In a televised address, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the minimum wage would be increased by nearly 10 percent starting next month — from 586 euros per month to 650 euros. A lower wage category for under-25 year-olds was scrapped.

“This is an essential but also a symbolic action — something owed to the people who bore the brunt of the (country’s) bankruptcy and fiscal adjustment, whose lives, prospects and expectations were immersed into the darkness of the crisis,” he said. “Now that the country is coming out of the crisis, we can gradually begin to heal the wounds.”

The increase, while slightly larger than expected, does not restore the minimum wage to the 751-euro level it was in 2012, when huge cuts were imposed as part of Greece’s bailout agreements. As Tsipras held the cabinet meeting, protesting farmers used more than 200 tractors to block Greece’s main north-south highway outside the central city of Larissa. Drivers were forced to take a detour around the blockade using secondary roads.

The protesters are demanding that the government scrap tax increases and pension measures introduced during the bailout programs, and are seeking intervention to address what they describe as unfair market practices from large buyers.

“The government didn’t listen to us and we need (market) prices that allow us to make a living,” protest leader Rizos Maroudas told the AP. The Greek bond auction, meanwhile, is expected to take place as early as this week and raise up to 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion).

Greece has held off returning to debt markets due to financial turbulence created by a budget crisis in Italy. But borrowing rates eased in recent weeks and the government last week survived the threat of collapse over a vote in parliament to normalize relations with neighbor Macedonia. Representatives of Greece’s international creditors also completed an inspection in Athens last week.

The yield on Greece’s 10-year-bond edged down on Monday to 4.06 percent while shares on the Athens Stock Exchange were unchanged. Tsipras, whose left-wing government is trailing conservatives in opinion polls, is facing local government and European Parliament elections in May and must call a general election before October.

Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece

Thousands protest as Greek lawmakers debate Macedonia deal

January 25, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands demonstrated in Greece’s main cities and along the country’s northern border Thursday against a deal to normalize relations with neighboring Macedonia, a day before lawmakers were expected to approve the agreement that would end a 27-year dispute over a historic name.

Police said as many as 2,500 protesters gathered outside parliament in central Athens as lawmakers debated a government deal that would lift objections to Macedonia joining NATO and potentially, the European Union, after the young country is renamed North Macedonia.

Protesters waved Greek flags and chanted “Hands off, Macedonia” while the session inside continued late in the night. A small number of people launched Molotov cocktails, rocks and flares at riot officers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

The violence broke up the demonstration, and protesters drifted off, further discouraged by heavy rain. Police said they arrested 10 people and detained another 133 on suspicion of committing or planning acts of violence. A new protest has been called outside parliament Friday.

The agreement, strongly backed by western countries that want to limit Russian influence in the Balkans, has stirred patriotic sentiment, incensed nationalists and dismayed many in both Macedonia and Greece who think it gave away too much to the other side. Polls show that at least two in three Greeks are against it.

“Politicians come and go, but Macedonia will always be Greek,” said Thanassis Godis, a speaker at the main Athens rally who is from the northern town of Kavala. “Their country is based on a lie. Our struggle isn’t over.”

Opposition is particularly fierce in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, which borders the former Yugoslav republic that claimed the same name after winning independence in 1991. Critics claim the deal will sign away their Macedonian identity and a cultural heritage dating back to the glorious days of Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago.

The ratification vote in parliament originally was scheduled for Thursday. Debate was extended until Friday to accommodate a large number of registered speakers, as opposition parties accused the government of making unacceptable concessions to Greece’s small, landlocked Balkan neighbor.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged lawmakers to approve the agreement, already ratified by Macedonia’s parliament, saying it was the best possible deal after years of deadlock. “Nationalism in the Balkans has led to disasters,” Tsipras said. “And I believe the time has come to escape nationalism.”

Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose conservative New Democracy party leads in polls ahead of a national election later this year, rejected the deal as a “national defeat.” He threatened to thwart Macedonia’s EU membership drive if his party triumphs with voters.

About 1,500 police officers were on duty in Athens, fearing a repeat of riots during a protest outside parliament on Sunday, when far-right nationalists armed with clubs, gasoline bombs and rocks tried to invade the grounds of the building.

On Thursday, about 4,500 Communist Party supporters protested peacefully against the Macedonia agreement in another part of Athens. At the Evzones border crossing into Macedonia, hundreds of farmers and other local residents blocked traffic with their vehicles for hours.

The town of Polykastro, the closest to the border on the Greek side, shut down all municipal services for two hours in a symbolic show of opposition. “Flags are flying at half-staff, the (church) bells were ringing mournfully, because we don’t want this deal to go through,” said Mayor Christos Gountenoudis.

Several lawmakers from the governing Syriza party and others elected from northern constituencies who committed to backing the deal have faced intense pressure — including arson attacks and death threats — to reject the deal in Friday’s vote.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said she was one of the targets. “I have received photos of dead women, threatening phone calls, threatening messages on my cellphone and on the internet,” she said, urging her political opponents to condemn the threats.

Some protesters Thursday tried to march to the homes of two Syriza lawmakers in the northern towns of Katerini and Drama, but were stopped by police. Also late Wednesday, arsonists tried to set fire to the home of another Syriza lawmaker in the northern town of Yiannitsa. Nobody was injured, and the fire service said damage was minor.

The lawmaker, Theodora Tzakri, said her family had been at home at the time of the petrol bomb attack, which she blamed on far-right activists opposed to the deal with Macedonia. Tsipras’ government is expected to get support from a small number of opposition lawmakers in securing the 151 votes needed in the 300-member parliament for the agreement to be ratified.

He recently lost his parliamentary majority after his junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks party, pulled out of the government due to objections over the name deal. The agreement will come into force once Greece ratifies it and then underwrites Macedonia’s NATO accession application.

Costas Kantouris reported from Evzones, Greece. Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

Greek protesters angry over Macedonia deal clash with police

January 20, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Protesters clashed with police outside Greece’s parliament during a rally that drew tens of thousands of people Sunday against the Greek-Macedonia name deal. At least 25 police officers were injured and seven people arrested, police said.

Demonstrators threw rocks, flares, firebombs, paint and other objects at riot police who responded with repeated volleys of tear gas. Some protesters jumped over a fence and tried to scale the steps, but officers chased them back down. One man draped in a Greek flag attacked police with a large stick, while others swung big flags on wooden poles and struck officers.

People attending the rally said large clouds of tear gas led many to abandon the protest. The square in front of parliament had nearly emptied out by early evening, though small groups of protesters continued to clashed with officers.

Some protesters also attacked photographers, injuring four, one of whom was hospitalized and also had his camera stolen. Greece’s parliament is expected to start a debate Monday on ratifying the deal and vote on it by Friday. Macedonia’s parliament has already approved it, agreeing that the country would go by the name North Macedonia.

Macedonia and Greece struck the deal in June to end a decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name, which Greece says harbors territorial claims on its northern province of the same name. Protesters are against the deal because they believe that any use of the name Macedonia in the neighboring country’s name is a usurpation of ancient Greek heritage and implies territorial claims on Greece.

A statement from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office blamed “extremist elements and members of Golden Dawn” – an extreme-right, anti-immigrant party – for the clashes on Sunday. “In our democracy, citizens’ free expression is an inalienable right, even for those who want to abolish democracy … It is also the duty and obligation of those of us who do believe not to allow them. Let’s isolate and condemn them,” the statement said.

Police said in a statement that officers had been attacked by “organized groups of individuals with special ferocity, (using) rocks, iron bars, wooden clubs, firebombs, etc. … Police forces acted according to operational plans and orders, showed restraint and professionalism and, using the appropriate methods, repelled the attacks.”

Protest organizers said they hoped to attract more than 600,000 people. Police released an official estimate of 60,000. While organizers had said about 3,000 buses would travel from northern Greece alone, police said that a total of 327 had arrived from across the country Sunday afternoon.

Among the people who addressed the protest were former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a member of the Mount Athos monastic community and a Greek-American former politician, Chris Spirou, once a member of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives.

In northern Greece, farmers temporarily blocked the highway leading to the Macedonian border in solidarity. It later reopened. About 300 anarchists staged a counter-demonstration Sunday. Police erected barriers to prevent clashes. After their otherwise peaceful rally, anarchists burned a car with official license plates.

Costas Kantouris contributed reporting from Thessaloniki.

French yellow vest protesters back on the streets

February 02, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest protesters are taking to the streets to keep pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron’s government, for the 12th straight weekend of demonstrations. Multiple protests are planned Saturday in Paris and other cities to denounce Macron’s economic policies, seen by critics as favoring the rich.

This week, demonstrators in the French capital are planning to pay tribute to the yellow vests injured during clashes with police. The government says around 2,000 people have been injured in protests since the movement began Nov. 17, including at least four serious eye injuries. Separately, 10 people have died in road incidents related to yellow vest actions.

France’s Council of State has ruled Friday that security forces have a right to use controversial high-velocity rubber ball launchers for crowd control.

Day and night, yellow vest protests keep pressure on Macron

January 26, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest movement kept up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron with mainly peaceful marches and scattered skirmishes Saturday, its 11th straight weekend action despite internal divisions and growing worries about protest violence.

Multiple anti-government protests took place in Paris and other cities, centered on Macron policies seen as favoring the rich. France deployed about 80,000 police officers to patrol the events and to disperse trouble.

A few cars were set ablaze in the Normandy town of Evreux. In Paris, crowds gathered at the columned headquarters of France’s lower house of parliament. Police used tear gas on demonstrators at the iconic Bastille Plaza who hurled items within reach.

Armored vehicles circled the Arc de Triomphe monument as a group of protesters weaved down the elegant Champs-Elysees, the site of recent rioting. Some yellow vest leaders want to maintain momentum by holding protests after dark as well as during the day. Two groups planned Saturday events at Place de la Republique in eastern Paris, and some protesters threatened to try to defy police and stay overnight.

Macron has sapped some support for the movement by taking an active role in recent days in a national debate in towns across France, launched to address the protesters’ concerns. Participants at the Champs-Elysees march called Macron’s national debate a “smoke screen” to distract the French from his pro-business policies. They expressed views from the far left to the far right, or a middle-ground, middle-class malaise. Many want Macron to restore France’s wealth tax and allow the public to propose national referendums on anything from pulling France out of the euro to rewriting the constitution.

“We are forgotten,” said protester Mervyn Ramsamy, a hospital employee from north of Paris lamenting recent closures of maternity wards and other medical services in already struggling areas. “We won’t give up.”

It’s unclear how long the movement can maintain its momentum. Macron scrapped the fuel tax hike that initially sparked the protests and offered widespread tax relief when the protest violence hit a peak in December.

A 52-year-old home care worker who identified herself only as Nadine says the measures aren’t enough, so she’s still protesting. “I have a salary of 1,200 euros. I don’t run out of money by the 15th of the month, I run out of money by the 6th of the month. I can no longer manage to survive. That’s why I’m here, because nothing is moving, nothing is changing,” she said on the Champs-Elysees.

One branch of the movement launched a bid this week for the European Parliament elections in May, but other protest leaders disagree with the idea. In another challenge for the yellow vest movement, rival groups calling themselves the “red scarves” plan demonstrations Sunday to condemn violence unleashed by recent protests.

Police armed with guns firing non-lethal rubber balls — which have seriously injured several — are equipped with body cameras Saturday for the first time, in an experiment to record use of the weapons, providing context and eventual evidence if needed.

In between the Saturday protests, yellow-vested crowds occupy scattered roundabouts and tollbooths around France , disrupting traffic to express a sense of neglect by the central government. The movement began Nov. 17, named after the fluorescent garments French motorists must carry in case of emergency.

Milos Krivokapic contributed.

Belgian climate minister resigns after protest march scandal

February 05, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — A Belgian environment minister resigned Tuesday after claiming she had confirmation from state security services that massive climate demonstrations in recent weeks were staged as a plot against her.

Though regional environment minister Joke Schauvliege initially failed to step down after admitting she had no such information from intelligence officials, she resigned after talks with her party leadership.

“I said something that was not correct,” Schauvliege said, but insisted it didn’t amount to lying. The opposition said it was outrageous to lie and abuse the name of the state security organization for personal purposes and also said she sought to discredit a just cause that is widely shared in the nation.

“This way, it is tough to continue on as climate minister,” she said at an emotional news conference. Over the past two months, tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated across Belgium for better climate protections and have often targeted Schauvliege’s policies, which they consider woefully insufficient.

At first she welcomed the marches, but over the weekend, she said “a lot of people in these marches don’t realize that they are part of a system which is a setup.” She added that “state security has told me about this.”

In her apology, she said she overreacted because of social media criticism and lack of sleep. Anuna De Wever, the 17-year-old driving force behind the Thursday student protests that gathered up to 30,000 demonstrators, said she was dumbfounded when she heard it. “At first, I had to laugh really hard,” she told VRT network, denying she was a pawn in a plot against anyone.

A new march of schoolchildren and students is set for Thursday. Two weeks ago, 70,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Brussels for the biggest march up to now. Schauvliege was the environment minister for northern Belgium’s Flanders, the biggest, most populous and richest area of Belgium.

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