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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.

Australia fire survivors join global climate protests

November 29, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Australians affected by recent devastating wildfires in the country have joined young environmentalists kicking off a global protest Friday demanding governments act against climate change.

The “global day of action” was expected to see rallies in hundreds of cities around the world, days before officials gather Monday in Madrid for talks on tackling climate change. Janet Reynolds, who joined a protest in Sydney, said she had lost everything in an “inferno, an absolute firestorm that raced through my property.”

Speaking outside the local offices of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party, student Daisy Jeffrey said “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?”

Further rallies were planned in cities worldwide, including Washington, London, Berlin and Madrid. Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling across the Atlantic by sailboat to attend the climate talks next week, sent a message of support to protesters.

“Everyone’s needed. Everyone’s welcome. Join us,” she said on Twitter. About two dozen environmental activists in the German capital symbolically 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.

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.

Nearly 1,400 detained in Moscow protest; largest in decade

July 28, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Nearly 1,400 people were detained in a violent police crackdown on an opposition protest in Moscow, a Russian monitoring group said Sunday, adding that was the largest number of detentions at a rally in the Russian capital this decade.

OVD-Info, which has monitored police arrests since 2011, said the number of the detentions from Saturday’s protest reached 1,373 by early Sunday. The overwhelming majority of people were soon released but 150 remained in custody, OVD-Info and a lawyers’ legal aid group said Sunday.

Crackdowns on the anti-government protesters began days before the rally. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested and sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling for Saturday’s protest against election authorities who barred some opposition candidates from running in the Sept. 8 vote for Moscow city council.

Navalny was unexpectedly hospitalized Sunday with a severe allergy attack, his spokeswoman said. Kira Yarmysh said Navalny, who did not have any allergies beforehand, was taken from the Moscow jail to a hospital in the morning, arriving with severe facial swelling and red rashes. Hours later, she said Navalny was in a “satisfactory condition.”

Russian police violently dispersed thousands of people who thronged the streets of Moscow on Saturday to protest the move by election authorities. Several protesters reported broken limbs and head injuries. Police justified their response by saying that the rally was not sanctioned by authorities.

Along with the arrests of the mostly young demonstrators, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the Moscow City Duma were arrested throughout the city. Police eventually cordoned off the City Hall and dispersed protesters from the area, but thousands of demonstrators reassembled in several different locations nearby and a new round of arrests began. Russian police beat some protesters to the ground with wide truncheon swings while others tried to push the police away.

Police said the protesters numbered about 3,500 but aerial footage from several locations suggested at least 8,000 people turned out. Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition figure who was barred from running for city council office in Moscow, was detained Sunday afternoon as he delivered food to some of the Moscow protesters still in jail.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Sunday decried the violent crackdown as “use of disproportionate police force” and the Russian presidential human rights council said it was concerned about the police brutality.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stayed away from Moscow over the weekend. On Sunday, he led Russia’s first major naval parade in years, going aboard one of the vessels in the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland. The parade included 43 ships and submarines and 4,000 troops.

Russian police crack down hard on Moscow election protest

July 27, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police cracked down hard Saturday on demonstrators in central Moscow, beating some people and arresting hundreds of others protesting the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for Moscow city council. Police also stormed into a TV station broadcasting the protest.

Police wrestled with protesters around the mayor’s office, sometimes charging into the crowd with their batons raised. OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political arrests in Russia, said 638 people were detained. Moscow police earlier said 295 people had been taken in, but did not immediately give a final figure.

Along with the arrests, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the council were arrested throughout the city before the protest. Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling for the unauthorized gathering Saturday in the heart of the Russian capital.

The protesters, who police said numbered about 3,500, shouted slogans including “Russia will be free!” and “Who are you beating?” One young woman was seen bleeding heavily after being struck on the head.

Helmeted police barged into Navalny’s video studio as it was conducting a YouTube broadcast of the protest and arrested program leader Vladimir Milonov. Police also searched Dozhd, an internet TV station that was covering the protest, and its editor in chief Alexandra Perepelova was ordered to undergo questioning at the Investigative Committee.

Before the protest, several opposition members were detained, including Ilya Yashin, Dmitry Gudkov and top Navalny associate Ivan Zhdanov. There was no immediate information on what charges the detainees might face.

Once a local, low-key affair, the September vote for Moscow’s city council has shaken up Russia’s political scene as the Kremlin struggles with how to deal with strongly opposing views in its sprawling capital of 12.6 million.

The decision by electoral authorities to bar some opposition candidates from running for having allegedly insufficient signatures on their nominating petitions had already sparked several days of demonstrations even before Saturday’s clashes in Moscow.

The city council, which has 45 seats, is responsible for a large municipal budget and is now controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its seats, which have a five-year-term, are up for grabs in the Sept. 8 vote.

Kazakh protesters dispute legitimacy of presidential vote

June 09, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of protesters held unauthorized demonstrations in Kazakhstan to oppose an early presidential election Sunday, drawing riot police and arrests. Police roughly broke up the demonstrations in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, the country’s main commercial city. Deputy Interior Minister Marat Kozhayev said about 100 protesters were detained in all, news reports said.

The protesters complained the snap election was illegitimate, staged as a show to hand over power to a loyalist of the longtime president who resigned in March. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the upper house speaker who became acting president when President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down, is expected to win Sunday’s contest easily.

Seven candidates are on the ballot, including a genuine opposition figure for the first time since independence. The resignation of the 78-year-old Nazarbayev, who had led Kazakhstan since it separated from the Soviet Union to become an independent country in 1991, came as a surprise to many who expected him to run for re-election next year.

The opposition candidate, Amirzhan Kossanov, said Sunday he had no complaints about violations during the campaign. “But the most important result, the peak of the election political process, is counting of the votes,” Kossanov said.

Preliminary results were expected early Monday. Kazakhstan has experienced rising opposition sentiment recently. Anti-government rallies were held in the spring to protest what opponents saw as an orchestrated handover of power and to call for a boycott of the early presidential vote.

One of the most prosperous former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan stands at a crossroads between neighbors China and Russia.

Protests choke communities in Haiti as aid, supplies dwindle

October 06, 2019

LEOGANE, Haiti (AP) — Gabriel Duvalesse squatted slightly as he prepared to push 50 gallons (190 liters) of cooking oil in an old wheelbarrow to an outdoors market an hour away so he could earn $1. It was his first job in seven days as deadly protests paralyze Haiti’s economy and shutter businesses and schools. Opposition leaders and thousands of supporters are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse amid anger over government corruption, ballooning inflation and scarcity of fuel and other basic goods.

Seventeen people have been reported killed and nearly 200 injured in the protests. The political turmoil is hitting cities and towns outside the capital of Port-au-Prince especially hard, forcing non-government organizations to suspend aid as barricades of large rocks and burning tires cut off the flow of goods between the city and the countryside. The crisis is deepening poverty in places such as Leogane, the epicenter of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

“We are starving,” said 28-year-old Duvalesse, who has been unable to work. “I had to make $2 last one week.” The United Nations said that before the protests even began, some 2.6 million people across Haiti were vulnerable to food shortages, adding that roadblocks have severely impacted some humanitarian programs. On Sept. 16, the World Food Program was forced to suspend all food deliveries to schools as demonstrations started.

Meanwhile, cash transfers to some 37,000 people in need were postponed. U.N. officials also said that private transporters are reluctant to deliver goods given the security situation, a problem that Leogane business owner Vangly Germeille knows well.

He owns a wholesale company that sells items including rice, soap, cooking oil and cereal to small markets. But his warehouse is nearly empty and he struggles to find truck drivers willing to go to markets to deliver the goods because of thieves and barricades.

“It’s an enormous economic loss,” said Germeille, a father of two who is thinking of moving to the Dominican Republic if things don’t improve soon. “If there’s no way to make a living here, I can’t stay.”

Rice, coconuts, milk and diapers are among the dozens of goods that people in this coastal community of more than 200,000 inhabitants say are hard to find since the protests began in mid-September. On Saturday, a grocery store near the town’s center opened briefly to sell rice, said 40-year-old IT engineer Sony Raymond.

“In less than three hours it was gone,” he said. “Leogane is basically paralyzed.” The protests and barricades are increasingly isolating already struggling communities across Haiti, including those like Barriere Jeudi, where amateur bull fights on weekends provide some distraction from people’s financial problems.

Bruinel Jean-Louis, who repairs refrigerators and stoves, said he hasn’t been able to find much work because he can’t travel to find the parts he needs. “It takes a very long time, and that also makes me suffer,” he said as several bulls brayed behind him.

To make up for the financial shortfall, he sells halters for horses. Haitian economist Kesner Pherel noted that Haiti is a country of nearly 11 million people where 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% make less than $1 a day. He said the problem is worsening now that food is not going to Haiti’s capital nor manufactured goods to rural areas, causing a stoppage to the economy.

The situation angers 62-year-old Carolle Bercy, who moved back to Haiti last year after working in financial services for 30 years in Connecticut, both in Stanford and Bridgeport. She said she has seen people fighting over fuel on the rare instances that a gas station opens, and she worries about the future of Haitians.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “No country on earth should go what Haitian people are going through.”

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