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Archive for the ‘Iberian Land of Spain’ Category

Police, protesters clash outside Barcelona-Real Madrid game

December 18, 2019

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Riot police clashed with protesters in the streets Wednesday night outside a soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, as authorities sought to keep Catalonia’s separatist movement from disrupting the game viewed by 650 million people worldwide.

The match in Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium began without incident and was halted only briefly when some fans threw balls onto the field bearing a message for the Spanish government to open a dialogue with the separatists.

The game, which drew nearly 100,000 spectators, ended in a scoreless draw. Thousands of police and private security guards were deployed in and around stadium. In the street clashes, riot police used batons to force the crowd back, some threw objects at officers lined up behind shields and other protesters fought among themselves. Authorities said nine people had been arrested, and Spain’s national news agency Efe reported that 12 were injured.

At least four plastic trash cans were set on fire, and a smell of smoke wafted into the Camp Nou. When the game ended, fans were directed to leave on the stadium’s south side to avoid the clashes outside.

The separatists sought to promote their independence bid by using the media coverage of the game between Barcelona, the Spanish league leader, and its fierce rival Real Madrid. Known as El Clásico, the game was postponed from Oct. 26 amid violent protests by the separatists.

As crowds entered Europe’s largest soccer stadium Wednesday night, security guards confiscated masks of Barcelona’s Argentine star Lionel Messi from supporters, apparently to ensure they could be identified on closed-circuit cameras if they broke the law.

As the game began, some fans held up blue signs saying ‘Spain, Sit and Talk” and “FREEDOM.” Others chanted, in Catalan, “Freedom for the Political Prisoners.” Those messages referred to the Spanish government’s refusal to discuss the wealthy northeastern region’s independence, as well as the recent imprisonment of nine of the movement’s leaders convicted for their roles in a failed 2017 secession bid.

A shadowy online group called Tsunami Democratic, which was behind the protest, had posted a message on social media saying: “Hello, world! Tonight Tsunami has a message for you.” Protest organizers said over 25,000 people signed up to demonstrate near the stadium in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, although it was hard to distinguish between protesters and fans.

There was a festive atmosphere before the game, though some protesters briefly blocked main roads to the stadium. The Barcelona team asked its fans to behave with civility and not to affect the match.

Francisco Sánchez, a 60-year-old mechanic, was outside Camp Nou hours before the match. He did not have a ticket, but was one of several protesters who distributed small blue banners with the message urging Spain to begin a dialogue.

“I hope this movement will make our leaders realize that they have to lay off the law and start taking,” he said. “This can’t be solved with violence, but through words.” Miguel Ángel Giménez, a 42-year-old policeman in a Barcelona shirt and scarf, drove with a friend over 700 kilometers (430 miles) from the southern region of Murcia to attend the match.

“Our friends back home told us we were crazy to cross half of Spain to go to a game that might not be played,” he said, adding that “everything is quite calm. There is lots of security.” The U.S. Consulate in Barcelona advised people to avoid the area or use caution if near it.

Henrik Noerrelund, a 55-year-old electrician from Denmark, flew in with his wife to attend his first Barcelona match after a lifetime supporting the club. “In my parts, they used to say politics and football don´t mix, but today you have to accept it,” Noerrelund said. “It’s there, you cannot separate it, you have seen it for many years, and I don’t think they can manage to separate it and just play football.”

Separatist sentiment grew sharply in Catalonia during the global recession that hit Spain hard. The 7.5 million residents of Catalonia are about equally divided by the secession question, according to polls and election results.

Separatists have used the Camp Nou stadium as a protest platform for years. They shout “Independence!” at a set time during matches and sometimes unfurl banners. The Barcelona team has walked a fine line between supporting its fans’ right to free expression and aligning itself with the greater interests of Catalonia. Many feel it does not fully support secession so as not to anger its Catalan fans who are not separatists or its millions of supporters across Spain.

With its slogan “More than a club,” it presents itself as a Catalan institution, aligned with the region’s proud cultural traditions and language, which is spoken along with Spanish in the semi-autonomous region.

Its rivalry with Real Madrid has a decades-old political undercurrent, with many Catalans seeing the capital’s team as a symbol of domineering, central power and a hallmark of Spanish unity and authority.

Madrid supporters, in turn, see Barcelona as representing a traitorous region that wants to break up Spain. For many years, some Barcelona fans held up a massive banner at games that read “Catalonia is not Spain.”

Players from both teams usually get along. The Spanish national team that won the 2010 World Cup and two European Championships was packed with players from both sides. Security is always high whenever they play — just like at many soccer matches between fierce rivals — but there is no history of violence at the games.

Tsunami Democratic carried out its first major action in October when it organized a large protest after several of the secession movement’s leaders were sentenced to jail for their role in a failed secession bid in 2017.

A call by Tsunami Democratic led to thousands of angry protesters gathering at Barcelona’s airpor t. A street battle broke out between the most radical protesters and police inside and outside the terminal, and about 150 flights were canceled as ground transport was halted for hours. Protests by separatists left more than 500 people injured, half of them police.

Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Associated Press writers Joseph Wilson in Barcelona and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed.

Thunberg accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at climate talks

December 11, 2019

MADRID (AP) — Activist Greta Thunberg on Wednesday accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s “climate emergency.”

In a speech peppered with scientific facts about global warming, the Swedish 16-year-old told negotiators at the U.N.’s climate talks in Madrid that they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.

“The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR,” said Thunberg, who later Wednesday was named Time magazine’s ”person of the year.”

“Finding holistic solutions is what (this meeting) should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition,” she added, to wide applause.

About 40 climate activists, including indigenous people from several continents, briefly joined Thunberg after her speech on the conference’s main stage, holding hands and demanding “Climate Justice!” through slogans and songs.

Time magazine said Thunberg won its 2019 award “for sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads.”

Climate negotiators in Madrid also had one eye on Brussels, where the European Union announced a 100-billion euro ($130-billion) plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal” would “give the discussions here a boost.”

“It’s a really important signal if the EU puts protecting the climate center stage in this way,” she told reporters in Madrid. The European Commission hopes the fund will help the regions that stand to be hit the hardest financially by the transition to cleaner industries — namely Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, which rely heavily on coal-fired power plants. Those nations have yet to commit to the EU’s goal of having net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

The climate talks in Madrid entered choppier waters Wednesday with ministers struggling to agree on rules for a global carbon market and possible ways to compensate vulnerable countries for disasters caused by global warming.

World leaders agreed in Paris four years ago to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F) by the end of the century. Scientists say countries will miss both of those goals by a wide margin unless drastic steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions next year.

Saying that the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to governments, more than 100 activists led by representatives of indigenous peoples from Latin and North America made their way to the talks’ venue, briefly blocking the entrance to a plenary meeting where U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was to speak.

After a brief discussion, U.N. security personnel escorted the protesters outdoors. In a statement, more than a dozen NGOs accused the U.N. of silencing their voices instead of kicking out the “rich industrialized countries who refuse to meet their commitments” and “corporate polluters.”

U.N. climate officials didn’t offer an immediate comment. But some experts echoed the activists’ concerns about a lack of progress. “In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing here in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientist, a U.S.-based nonprofit group.

Speaking at the summit, the U.N.’s Guterres said that the 1.5 C limit was “still within reach” if countries, starting with the main emitters, step up emission cuts over the next 12 months. Earlier, he suggested that negotiators in Madrid stop listening to those who oppose more ambitious measures for reducing emissions.

“I call on anyone who is still lobbying their governments for a slow transition – or even in some cases no transition – to end those activities now,” he said. The U.N. chief said governments were slowing down businesses action on the climate front by keeping “bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, including perverse fossil fuel subsidies.”

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Postdam Institute of Climate Studies, said for 20 years “we have underestimated the pace of change and we have underestimated the risks we are facing.” Addressing the heads of delegations, activists and non-governmental organizations at the climate talks, Rockstrom said the planet is heading to warming by 3-4 C in only 80 years. He said that could create an environment unseen in Earth for more than 4 million years and could trigger disastrous domino effects for human life.

“We stand on an unprecedented mountain of truth,” he said. “If nature fails, we fail as well.” Following him, Thunberg cited the same reports, insisting that national pledges to reduce emissions weren’t enough. She said carbon needs to remain underground and that the greenhouse gases responsible for rising temperatures need to be zeroed.

“This is not leading, this is misleading,” she told the plenary, adding that “every fraction of a degree matters.”

AP journalists Bernat Armangue and Helena Alves contributed to this report.

Ministers arrive to tackle climate talks’ hot issues

December 10, 2019

MADRID (AP) — U.N. climate talks in Madrid are kicking into high gear Tuesday, with ministers arriving to tackle some of the tough issues that negotiators have been unable to resolve over the past week.

Officials from almost 200 nations haven’t managed to finalize the rules for international carbon markets that economists say could help drive down emissions. Another contentious issue is poor countries’ demand for aid to help them cope with the damage and destruction wrought by natural disasters blamed on climate change.

Unlike at many past climate summits, few heads of government will join the talks. Most are sending environment ministers or other senior officials instead.

Too much of a Greta thing? Activist urges focus on others

December 09, 2019

MADRID (AP) — With dozens of cameras pointing at her across a room full of reporters, celebrity teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg had an unexpected message: Look the other way. “Our stories have been told over and over again,” the 16-year-old Swede said, explaining why she and prominent German activist Luisa Neubauer would be handing over the stage at the U.N. climate meeting in Madrid to other young activists.

“It’s really about them,” Thunberg added of the young activists from developing countries already facing the effects of climate change, including violent storms, droughts and rising sea levels. “We talk about our future, they talk about their present.”

Thunberg has become the face of the youth climate movement, drawing large crowds with her appearances at protests and conferences over the past year and a half. Veteran campaigners and scientists have welcomed her activism, including her combative speeches challenging world leaders to do more to stop global warming. But some say that it’s time to put the spotlight on other young activists who also have a strong story to tell about climate change.

“Greta and other youth leaders have been an incredible inspiration and catalyzed a whole group of young people,” said Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace International. “And I think that the media needs to do a better job at covering that.”

Thunberg and those close to her appeared to agree. Neubauer, a 23-year-old who has become the face of the Fridays for Future student movement in Germany, said the focus on her and Thunberg was “incredibly disproportionate.”

Thunberg was met by a crowd of cameras as she arrived in Portugal last week, having sailed back to Europe to avoid air travel for environmental reasons. On Friday, she left a protest march through the Spanish capital early after being mobbed by crowds of protesters and reporters.

“We want to break this up,” Neubauer told The Associated Press. Thunberg said she felt a “moral duty” to use the media’s attention to promote others who have struggled to get the limelight. “It is people especially from the global south, especially from indigenous communities, who need to tell their stories,” she said before handing the microphone to young environmentalists from around the globe.

Among them was Kisha Erah Muaña, a 23-year-old activist from the Philippines, who called on global leaders to take “robust and lasting action” against climate change. “We are talking about lives and survival here,” she said.

Some stressed the risks they are exposing themselves to for speaking out on climate change. “I am from Russia, where everyone can be arrested for anything,” said Arshak Makichyan, a 25-year-old violinist from Moscow. “But I am not afraid to be arrested. I’m afraid not to do enough.”

Thunberg’s angry accusations that world leaders are failing the younger generation have made headlines, including her shouts of “How dare you?” at the U.N. General Assembly earlier this year. However, politicians have, by and large, praised Thunberg and her movement as an important voice of her generation.

“We have all of the youth around the world that are marching and calling to our conscience. And they have moral authority,” said former Vice President Al Gore, calling Thunberg “an absolutely fantastic leader.”

Other young activists now being propelled to the fore may find more push-back for their views. Rose Whipple, 18, a community organizer from Minnesota who has taken part in the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, linked the issue of climate change to broader political concerns, including racism and long-standing grievances among indigenous groups.

“We deserve to be listened to and we also deserve to have our lands back,” said Whipple, wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Destroy white supremacy.” Morgan, of Greenpeace, said she hoped attention would shift “to others who are living on the front line of climate impacts, who are trying to mobilize and push their governments as well.”

“And I hope that can be the beginning of showing the world the very, very diverse set of young people who are desperate for leadership coming from their governments,” she said.

Global climate protests ahead of Madrid meeting

November 29, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Protesters in cities across the world staged rallies Friday demanding leaders take tougher action against climate change, days before the latest global conference, which this year takes place in Madrid.

The rallies kicked off in Australia, where people affected by recent devastating wildfires joined young environmentalists protesting against the government’s pro-coal stance. Janet Reynolds said she had come to the rally in Sydney after losing everything in an “inferno, an absolute firestorm that raced through my property.”

“It’s so unnatural that I started investigating, reading science and really exploring what’s happening with climate change,” she told Australian television. Student Daisy Jeffrey said protesters had come to help raise money for those affected by the fires and to demand action from the government

“People have lost their homes, people have lost their lives. We have to ask: How far does this have to go before our government finally takes action,” she said. Teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling across the Atlantic by sailboat to attend the climate talks, sent a message of support to protesters. “Everyone’s needed. Everyone’s welcome. Join us,” she said on Twitter.

Since starting her one-woman “climate strikes” in Sweden more than a year ago, Thunberg has drawn a huge following around the world and inspired thousands more students to regularly skip school on Fridays and join climate protests.

Further rallies took place in Germany, Hungary, Belgium, South Korea, Poland, England, Turkey, Italy, Spain and France — where environmental protesters took a swipe at Black Friday. In Berlin, about two dozen environmental activists jumped into the chilly waters of the Spree river in front of parliament to protest a government-backed package of measures they say won’t be enough to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The package was blocked Friday by Germany’s upper house, which represents the country’s 16 states.

Later, tens of thousands of students rallied in front of the Brandenburg Gate. “The generations before us messed it up,” said 17-year-old Robin Ebelt. “And we’re the ones that will feel the consequences. I would like to spend another 60 years on this planet, grow old and have grandchildren.”

Quang Paasch of the activist group Fridays for Future said governments attending next week’s annual climate conference should keep in mind the goals of the 2015 Paris accord, which set a target of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). “We need to keep taking to the streets, we need to defend Paris.”

Thousands of demonstrators also marched in Skopje, the capital city of North Macedonia, protesting high levels of air pollution, among the worst in Europe. Organizers blamed the government for the weak implementation of safety standards that has led to some 3,500 deaths annually due to the exposure to harmful chemicals in the environment, according to United Nations health data.

In South Africa, a few dozen people holdings signs saying “Not Cool” and “Stop Pollution Now” protested outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in the summer heat of the Southern Hemisphere. One protester lay on the ground faking death, holding a sign saying “Black Friday Reason to Grieve.”

Africa contributes least to climate change and is the least prepared to deal with it. Temperatures in parts of the continent are projected to rise more quickly than the global average. “The reality is that we have a climate change emergency,” protest organizer Elana Azrai said. She noted water shortages in parts of the country amid a drought in southern Africa.

Elsewhere, officials have raised the alarm over unusually severe rainfall in East Africa and a pair of cyclones that ripped into Mozambique within weeks of each other early this year. Scores of young Nigerians marched in downtown Lagos displaying messages such as “There is no planet B” and “Stop Denying the Earth is Dying” as passing vehicles slowed and honked in support.

“Mother nature is lamenting and we are grieved,” declared one of the Lagos marchers, Omobolanle Eko. “The rise in temperature is real. The rise in sea level is real.” Student Folashade Gbadeola listed several possible solutions, some of them challenging, in Nigeria, whose economy is still deeply dependent on oil production.

“We should stop the use of fossil fuel,” Gbadeola said. And in a city of some 20 million people and epic traffic jams, the student suggested that people live near their place of work, ride bikes and share car rides.

The megacity is Africa’s most populous and is among its coastal cities threatened by rising sea levels.

Lekan Oyekanmi in Lagos, Nigeria, and Rob Celliers in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

A look at alleged raiders of North Korean Embassy in Madrid

March 27, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The 10 people who allegedly raided the North Korean Embassy in Madrid last month belong to a mysterious dissident organization that styles itself as a government-in-exile dedicated to toppling the ruling Kim family dynasty in North Korea.

Their leader appears to be a Yale-educated human rights activist who was once jailed in China while trying to rescue North Korean defectors living in hiding, according to activists and defectors. Details have begun trickling out about the raid after a Spanish judge lifted a secrecy order Tuesday and said an investigation of what happened on Feb. 22 uncovered evidence that “a criminal organization” shackled and gagged embassy staff before escaping with computers, hard drives and documents. A U.S. official said the group is named Cheollima Civil Defense, a little-known organization that recently called for international solidarity in the fight against dictatorship in North Korea.

Here’s a look at the group and its apparent leader.

THE GROUP

Details about the creation of the Cheollima Civil Defense group are hazy. The word “Cheollima” — spelled “Chollima” in the North — refers to a mythical winged horse that the government often uses in its propaganda.

In March 2017 the group said it had arranged the escape of Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport earlier that year.

A man claiming to be Kim Han Sol appeared in a YouTube video at the time and said he was safely with his mother and sister.

“My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family,” the man said in English in the 40-second video clip. “My father has been killed a few days ago.”

Recently the group declared on what appears to be its website the establishment of “Free Joseon,” which it described as “a provisional government” that would fight against “the criminal incumbents of the north.” The Joseon Dynasty ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than 500 years until 1910, when Japan colonized Korea, which was later divided at the end of World War II.

The group also recently posted a video showing an unidentified man destroying glass-encased portraits of North Korea’s two late leaders. South Korean media reported that the group was behind the writing of “Let’s topple Kim Jong Un,” the current North Korean leader, on the wall of the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia.

After the Spanish judge released documents about the Feb. 22 incident, the Cheollima website said it had been responding to an urgent situation at the embassy and was invited onto the property, and that “no one was gagged or beaten.” The group said there were “no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event.”

The Spanish court report said the intruders urged North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, So Yun Sok, to defect.

The Cheollima website said the group shared “certain information of enormous potential value” with the FBI, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.

The FBI said its standard practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.

If Cheollima was behind the embassy break-in, it indicates the involvement of North Korean defectors who have experience working for North Korea’s military or security authorities, said Nam Sung Wook, a former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea’s main spy agency.

“There are many young North Korean men who come to the South with more than 10 years of military experience,” said Nam, who now teaches at Korea University in South Korea. “People would be surprised at what they are capable of doing, and they aren’t always being closely watched by the South Korean government.”

THE ALLEGED LEADER

A Spanish court document identified the leader of the group that entered the embassy as Adrian Hong Chang.

This is likely to be Adrian Hong, who in 2005 co-founded Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an international activist group devoted to rescuing North Korean refugees, according to North Korean defectors and activists who spoke with The Associated Press.

Hannah Song, CEO of LiNK, said Hong has had no involvement with the organization for more than 10 years. “We have no knowledge of his recent activities,” Song said.

The Spanish judge, Jose de la Mata, described Adrian Hong Chang as a Mexican national and resident of the United States. According to the Spanish court report, the man flew to the United States on Feb. 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos. The report didn’t say what type of information the items contained or whether the FBI accepted the offer.

An online message by AP to a verified Twitter account linked to activist Adrian Hong wasn’t immediately answered.

Hong is known for his work helping North Koreans flee their homeland and resettle in South Korea and elsewhere. LiNK said it has helped more than 1,000 North Koreans reach safety. Fellow activists and North Korean defectors said Hong was detained in China briefly in the 2000s because of his work.

Kang Chol-hwan, a prominent North Korean defector-turned-activist, said he was close to Hong and helped him with LiNK.

Kang, an ex-inmate of North Korea’s notorious Yodok prison camp, said Hong became passionate about North Korean human rights after reading his detention memoir. He said Hong visited Seoul and rallied against what he believed were pro-North Korea sympathizers and those silent on North Korean human rights issues.

Kang, who said he last saw Hong about five years ago, said Hong wanted to “muster anti-government forces (in North Korea) and bring down North Korea from the inside.” Kang said Hong even went to Libya to study the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi so he could explore ways to topple the Kim government.

“He has great capacity for organization because of his experience establishing LiNK,” Kang said. “He’s a very smart guy.”

Fellow defector-turned-activist Heu Kang Il, who met Hong around 2005, recalled him as a “passionate young man.”

Testifying before the Canadian Senate in 2016, Hong said: “North Korea is not a normal nation with the government seeking to serve and protect its citizens. It is a brutal totalitarian regime, ruled by a royal family and a class of vassals, both in tenuous concert with one another. It does not care for the welfare of its people.”

In an op-ed for The Christian Science Monitor in 2014, Hong said the international community must support “efforts to strengthen meaningful opposition and civil society in the country, training exiles to one day assume leadership positions, educating younger refugees, and creating more robust programs to help defectors adjust to life on the outside.”

“A class of Korean technocrats must be capable of stabilizing and rebuilding on a national scale,” Hong wrote.

Associated Press writer Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Spanish rescuers recover dead baby, save 520 migrants at sea

October 28, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s maritime rescue service says a baby has died despite efforts by rescuers to save it after a small boat carrying migrants sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. The death came as over 500 others were rescued.

The service says Sunday that the bottom of the rubber boat gave out, tossing 56 migrants into the water when its rescue craft reached it Saturday east of the Strait of Gibraltar. Rescue workers were able to save 55 men, women and children, but could not reanimate the baby.

In all, Spanish rescue workers saved 520 people trying to cross from North Africa to Spain on Saturday. In addition, one boat with 70 migrants arrived at the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,960 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year.

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