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Archive for the ‘Protests in Europe’ Category

Tensions mar Paris protest as Floyd outrage goes global

June 03, 2020

PARIS (AP) — Tear gas choked Paris streets as riot police faced off with protesters setting fires Tuesday amid growing global outrage over George Floyd’s death in the United States, racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics around the world.

French protesters took a knee and raised their fists while firefighters struggled to extinguish multiple blazes as a largely peaceful, multiracial demonstration degenerated into scattered tensions. Police said at least 20,000 people joined the demonstration, defying a virus-related ban on protests to pay homage to Floyd and Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.

Electric scooters and construction barriers went up in flames, and smoke stained a sign reading “Restaurant Open” — on the first day French cafes were allowed to open after nearly three months of virus lockdown.

Chanting “I can’t breathe,” thousands marched peacefully through Australia’s largest city, while thousands more demonstrated in the Dutch capital of The Hague and hundreds rallied in Tel Aviv. Expressions of anger erupted in multiple languages on social networks, with thousands of Swedes joining an online protest and others speaking out under the banner of #BlackOutTuesday.

Diplomatic ire percolated too, with the European Union’s top foreign policy official saying the bloc was “shocked and appalled” by Floyd’s death. Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America — and now, beyond.

As demonstrations escalated worldwide, solidarity with U.S. protesters increasingly mixed with local worries. “This happened in the United States, but it happens in France, it happens everywhere,” Paris protester Xavier Dintimille said. While he said police violence seems worse in the U.S., he added, “all blacks live this to a degree.”

Fears of the coronavirus remain close to the surface and were the reason cited for banning Tuesday’s protest at the main Paris courthouse, because gatherings of more than 10 people remain forbidden.

But demonstrators showed up anyway. Some said police violence worsened during virus confinement in working class suburbs with large minority populations, deepening a feeling of injustice. As the Paris demonstration wound down, police fired volley after volley of tear gas and protesters threw debris. Police were less visible than usual at the city’s frequent protests. Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille.

The demonstrations were held in honor of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death. The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports about what happened.

The lawyer for two of the three police officers involved in the arrest, Rodolphe Bosselut, said the Floyd and Traore cases “have strictly nothing to do with each other.” Bosselut told The Associated Press that Traore’s death wasn’t linked with the conditions of his arrest but other factors, including a preexisting medical condition.

Traore’s family says he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics — and that his last words were “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe” were also the final words of David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

As 3,000 people marched peacefully through Sydney, many said they had been inspired by a mixture of sympathy for African Americans and to call for change in Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, particularly involving police. The mostly Australian crowd at the authorized demonstration also included protesters from the U.S. and elsewhere.

“I’m here for my people, and for our fallen brothers and sisters around the world,” said Sydney indigenous woman Amanda Hill, 46, who attended the rally with her daughter and two nieces. “What’s happening in America shines a light on the situation here.”

Even as U.S. President Donald Trump fanned anger by threatening to send in troops on American protesters, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refrained from directly criticizing him and said the protests should force awareness of racism everywhere.

“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” he said after pausing 21 seconds before answering. “But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges, that black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day. There is systemic discrimination in Canada.”

More protests in various countries are planned later in the week, including a string of demonstrations in front of U.S. embassies on Saturday. The drama unfolding in the U.S. drew increasing diplomatic concern.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s remarks in Brussels were the strongest to come out of the 27-nation bloc, saying Floyd’s death was a result of an abuse of power. Borrell told reporters that “like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd.” He underlined that Europeans “support the right to peaceful protest, and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind, and for sure, we call for a de-escalation of tensions.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said peaceful protests in the U.S. following Floyd’s death are “understandable and more than legitimate.” “I can only express my hope that the peaceful protests do not continue to lead to violence, but even more express the hope that these protests have an effect in the United States,” Maas said.

More African leaders are speaking up over the killing of Floyd. “It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, the United States, this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism,” Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement, adding that black people the world over are shocked and distraught.

Kenyan opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga offered a prayer for the U.S., “that there be justice and freedom for all human beings who call America their country.” Like some in Africa who have spoken out, Odinga also noted troubles at home, saying the judging of people by character instead of skin color “is a dream we in Africa, too, owe our citizens.”

Associated Press writers Rick Rycroft in Sydney, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Peter Dejong in The Hague contributed.

Trump baby blimp flies in London as protests greet president

June 04, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of protesters greeted President Donald Trump’s U.K. visit with anger and British irony Tuesday, crowding London’s government district while the U.S. leader met Prime Minister Theresa May nearby.

Feminists, environmentalists, peace activists, trade unionists and others demonstrated against the lavish royal welcome being given to a president they see as a danger to the world, chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, Donald Trump’s not welcome here.”

“I’m very cross he’s here,” said guitar teacher Katie Greene, carrying a home-made sign reading “keep your grabby hands off our national treasures” under a picture of one of Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis.

“I find him scary. My sign is flippant and doesn’t say the things I’d really like to say.” A day of protests began with the flying of a giant blimp depicting the president as an angry orange baby, which rose from the grass of central London’s Parliament Square.

One group came dressed in the red cloaks and bonnets of characters from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is set in a dystopian, misogynist future America. Demonstrators filled Trafalgar Square and spilled down Whitehall, a street lined with imposing government offices, before marching half a mile to Parliament.

Many paused to photograph a robotic likeness of Trump sitting on a golden toilet, cellphone in hand. The robot caught the attention of passers-by with its recitation of catchphrases including “No collusion” and “You are fake news.”

“It’s 16 feet high, so it’s as large as his ego,” said Don Lessem from Philadelphia, who built the statue from foam over an iron frame and had it shipped by boat across the Atlantic. Lessem, a dinosaur expert who makes models of prehistoric creatures, said “I’m interested in things that are big, not very intelligent and have lost their place in history.”

“I wanted people here to know that people in America do not support Trump in the majority . and humor is my weapon,” he said. Police erected barricades to stop protesters marching past the gates of Downing St., though the shouts and chants could be heard as Trump met May for talks inside the prime minister’s official residence.

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd, criticizing the “hatreds that are being fueled by the far-right in politics in Britain, in Europe and the United States.” Corbyn declined an invitation to Monday’s banquet for the president at Buckingham Palace, but sought a meeting with Trump — which was refused.

“He wanted to meet today or tomorrow and I decided I would not do that,” said Trump, calling Corbyn “somewhat of a negative force.” Labor confirmed that Corbyn had proposed a meeting. Emily Thornberry, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, said Trump was “a sexual predator” and a racist who did not deserve the honor of a state visit hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Thornberry told the BBC that the leader of Britain’s most important ally should be stood up to “the way you deal with a bully” because “if you bow down in front of them you just get kicked harder.” There were occasional scuffles as some of the protesters confronted small pockets of Trump supporters. Police moved in to separate the groups, and bundled some of the combatants into a nearby pub.

One counter-protester, Lewis Metcalfe, said he had traveled from his home in northern England to show support for the president. “I’m obviously going to be a minority today,” said Metcalfe. “I don’t agree with all his policies. He’s not the greatest president in the world, but he does get things done.”

Trump has dined with the queen at Buckingham Palace, took tea with Prince Charles and held talks with May during his three-day state visit, which ends Wednesday with commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The president said he was delighted with his reception in Britain, and said he had seen only “a small protest … very small.” He also claimed, exaggeratedly, that there had been “thousands of people on the streets cheering” as he left Buckingham Palace.

Serbia opposition stage curfew protest against government

April 30, 2020

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A group of Serbian opposition leaders on Thursday staged a protest during an evening curfew to voice their criticism of the populist government’s measures against the new coronavirus.

Also Thursday, thousands banged pots and blew whistles from their windows and balconies, even as authorities eased a previously announced 83-hour curfew planned for the upcoming weekend. Serbia’s populist government in mid-March introduced some of the harshest measures in Europe, imposing a state of emergency, banning people over 65 years old from leaving their homes and imposing daily and weekend curfews.

Government critics have insisted that the authorities of autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic have used the state of emergency to curb democracy and media freedoms. Vucic has denied this. Leaders of several opposition parties on Thursday gathered at the start of the curfew at 6 p.m., holding speeches outside the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade. They wore masks but didn’t fully respect social-distancing measures.

No opposition supporters were invited to the protests, but some supporters of the government showed up, shouting at the opposition leaders. No major incidents were reported. The curfew initially was meant to last until Monday morning to prevent people from socializing during the brief May Day holiday, but the government earlier on Thursday shortened the ban following public pressure.

Fueling tensions, pro-government protesters and apparent soccer hooligans on Wednesday lit flares in support of Vucic on top of several buildings in the new part of town, drawing sharp public criticism.

Serbia has reported 9,009 infections while 179 people have died. The Balkan country has started easing the measures, but experts have warned that the situation is still volatile.

Parliament’s suspension before Brexit protested across UK

August 31, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s provocative decision to suspend the British Parliament for a time before the country’s deadline for leaving the European Union came under fire Saturday in London and other cities where protesters took to the streets.

The demonstrations were called ahead of what is expected to be a pitched debate in Parliament this week as Johnson’s opponents scramble to try to pass legislation that would block him from carrying out Brexit on Oct. 31 without an approved withdrawal agreement.

An estimated 10,000 people gathered in central London, while others protested in in Belfast, York and others cities to show determination to block a “no deal” Brexit. Protesters in London briefly blocked traffic on a downtown bridge and in Trafalgar Square.

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who had urged his supporters to come out in large numbers, told thousands of people at a rally in Glasgow, Scotland that the message to Johnson was simple: “No way. It’s our Parliament.”

Corbyn said Johnson, who became prime minister through a vote of Conservative Party members instead of a general election, does not have a mandate for shutting down Parliament or for leaving the EU without a deal in place. Many economists and academics think a no-deal Brexit would lead Britain into a prolonged recession.

“It’s not on, and we’re not having it,” Corbyn said. Johnson’s decision to shutter Parliament for several weeks when a debate about Brexit plans had been expected galvanized angry crowds of protesters on Saturday.

Organizers said protests were held in more than 30 locations throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In London, they chanted: “Boris Johnson, shame on you.” Some carried signs saying: “Stop the Coup” in reference to what they say is a move that threatens democracy.

The protests were organized by the anti-Brexit group Another Europe Is Possible and by Momentum, which is allied with the opposition Labor Party. The group is urging its membership to “occupy bridges and blockade roads.”

In Exeter in western England, pharmacist Bridie Walton, 55, said she was attending the first demonstration of her life. “Nobody voted for a dictatorship,” she said, condemning Johnson’s suspension of Parliament. “These are the actions of a man who is afraid his arguments will not stand scrutiny.”

Johnson’s plan is also being opposed by some in Parliament who plan to introduce legislation this week to try to prevent a disorderly departure from the European Union. Their task will be made more difficult if Johnson’s plan to shut Parliament for part of the time period before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline is carried out.

Johnson’s supporters may well be able to delay any proposed legislation from being enacted in time. Tactics could include introducing a variety of amendments that would have to be debated, or the use of filibusters to stall the process.

The shutdown of Parliament is also being challenged in three separate court cases scheduled to be heard next week. Former Prime Minister John Major has joined one of the lawsuits, raising the likelihood that he will argue in court that the current prime minister, a fellow member of the Conservative Party, is acting improperly by shutting Parliament.

Johnson, who helped lead the successful Brexit referendum campaign, says his government is actively pursuing a new deal with EU leaders and claims opposition to his policy will make it harder to wring concessions from Europe.

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.

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