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Posts tagged ‘Elections’

Italians stage protests in violence-marred election campaign

February 24, 2018

ROME (AP) — Italians demonstrated Saturday against racism, revivals of fascism, labor reforms, mandatory vaccines and other hotly-debated issues, at some points clashing with police, as antagonism flared between far-left and far-right activists in a violence-marred election campaign.

It was the last weekend for political rallies ahead of Italy’s March 4 national election, and protesters held at least a dozen marches or rallies in several Italian cities. In Milan, far-left demonstrators clashed with police trying to block them from reaching a far-right rally. Police in riot gear wielded batons against the front line of protesters to drive them back.

In Rome, a march drawing Premier Paolo Gentiloni and other ministers in his center-left government, deplored racism and revival of fascist ideology. Across town, another march protested government labor changes that made it easier to lay off workers.

Justice Minister Andrea Orlando warned that fascism “is a danger in Italy and Europe.” “And also dangerous is the underestimation of this phenomenon,” he added. Still elsewhere in the Italian capital, protesters denounced the government’s decision to make several vaccines mandatory for schoolchildren, another issue inflaming campaign debate.

Campaigning officially ends on March 2. Opinion polls indicate a hung Parliament could result, with three blocs, each short of an absolute majority: the center-left, the center-right and the populist 5-Star Movement.

Italy’s election campaign took a violent turn on Feb. 3, when an Italian man in the central town of Macerata opened fire on African migrants, wounding six of them. The suspect, who once ran in a local election for the anti-migrant League party, has said he was avenging the death of an Italian woman allegedly murdered by African migrants.

In Milan on Saturday, League leader and premier candidate, Matteo Salvini, denied that his followers advocate violence. Instead he denounced what he called “this angry anti-fascism” and declared fascism a dead ideology.

The Italian constitution bans revival of fascism, the ideology of dictator Benito Mussolini before and during World War II. League marchers held a banner with Salvini’s slogan “Italians first.” Opinion polls indicate many Italians blame migrants for crime. The League, along with the 5-Star Movement, contends that foreigners, by working for less pay, rob Italians of work.

In Rome, police stopped chartered buses bringing demonstrators to the city, opening participants’ backpacks and searching vehicles to ensure that clubs or other weapons weren’t hidden. Three Milan subway stations were closed as a precaution near Salvini’s rally, near a rally by the far-right CasaPound group and near an anti-fascist gathering.

A few blocks away from Rome’s anti-racism march, thousands of unemployed people from the south, metal workers, far-left youth social clubs and advocates for public housing marched to protest the government’s labor reforms.

Tensions were high in Palermo, Sicily, where days earlier the local leader of the far-right Forza Nuova party was beaten up on a street. Some shops closed early Saturday, fearing participants in an anti-fascist march would clash with those attending a Forza Nuova rally but the anti-fascist march proceeded peacefully.

Forza Nuova national leader Roberto Fiore, leading a campaign rally in Trieste, northeast Italy, blamed “this campaign of hatred” on far-left forces. Fiore rejects the label of neo-fascist, saying instead he is fascist.

In Florence, a 17-year-old boy was fined when police noticed him ripping off campaign posters on the right-wing candidate for premier, Giorgia Meloni. Just days ago, two youths were slashed when they were affixing posters for a tiny, far-left party.


Cambodia’s ruling party has sure lock on Senate election

February 25, 2018

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s ruling party is assured of a sweeping victory in the election of a new Senate after the only real opposition to it was eliminated. The Senate has minor decision-making powers in Cambodian politics, primarily rubber-stamping legislation, but the foregone conclusion of Sunday’s vote will be a foretaste of a general election for the National Assembly. The polls in July are sure to sustain the rule of the Cambodian People’s Party and long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The only opposition party in Parliament, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was dissolved in November after aggressive legal challenges by the government were sustained by the politicized courts. Government supporters then replaced the party’s members of Parliament and its commune councilors — the voters in Sunday’s indirect election.

Hun Sen has been in power for three decades, and while maintaining a framework of democracy, tolerates little opposition. His grip seemed shaken by 2013’s general election, when the Cambodia National Rescue Party mounted a strong challenge, winning 55 seats in the National Assembly and leaving Hun Sen’s party with 68.

The opposition also made a strong showing in last year’s commune council elections, capturing 5,007 of the 11,572 councilor positions. Hun Sen’s ruling party then stepped up its steady offensive against critics and opponents. Media outlets seen as critical of the government were forced to shut down, and most senior members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party fled abroad.

“Without the presence of the main opposition that has 55 MPs and 5,007 commune councilors representing the will of the people, there will be no real free and fair competition as determined by the principles of free, fair and inclusive elections,” said a statement on the Senate election from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, emailed by Mu Sochua, its former deputy president, now in exile.

“We urge the United Nations and the international community to denounce the holding of the Senate election this week-end and to take immediate and stringent measures including sanctions as a signal that it will not condone dictatorship,” it said.

The United States, and last week, Germany, have banned issuing visas to certain Cambodian officials considered responsible for the deterioration of democracy. Rights groups have also been highly critical.

“Unfortunately, the Cambodian Senate will continue to stand as yet another sad reminder of Cambodia’s unmitigated descent into outright dictatorship,” said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, comprising Southeast Asian lawmakers.

Only three small parties with no national following are running Senate candidates against the Cambodian People’s Party. The commune councilors elect 58 senators, the National Assembly chooses two, and King Norodom Sihamoni, who wields no political power, names two. Senators serve six-year terms.

National Election Committee spokesman Dim Sovannarum said preliminary results are expected to be announced on Sunday after ballots are counted and the official results are to be announced on March 3.

Catalan parliament postpones re-election of fugitive leader

January 30, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s parliament speaker on Tuesday postponed a session intended to re-elect the region’s fugitive ex-president, saying the planned meeting would not take place until there were guarantees Spanish authorities “won’t interfere.”

The decision comes after Spain’s top court ruled Saturday that Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium and faces arrest if he returns, could only be re-elected if physically present in the parliament in Barcelona. The court also ordered that he must obtain permission to appear at parliament from the judge investigating him over Catalonia’s independence bid.

Puigdemont is one of more than a dozen Catalan political figures facing possible rebellion and sedition charges following the previous parliament’s illegal and unsuccessful declaration of independence in October, which brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades to a head.

The decision leaves the future government of the prosperous region in something of a limbo. Spain seized control of the region by firing Puigdemont and his government and dissolving parliament following the independence declaration. It says it will keep control until a new government takes office following elections held Dec. 21. The parliament was initially scheduled to have a first investiture vote by Wednesday.

Puigdemont’s party has appealed to the top court to annul Saturday’s ruling, arguing that their leader, as an elected lawmaker, has political immunity and is entitled to be become regional president. The court was expected to rule later Tuesday.

Earlier, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged the Catalan parliament to drop Puigdemont’s candidacy and opt for a lawmaker not entangled in legal proceedings. Rajoy said the “most sensible” thing for the parliament speaker would be to propose a “clean candidate” who is willing to obey the law and work for the return of normality in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million inhabitants and which represents a fifth of Spain’s GDP.

“I am not going to propose a candidate other than Puigdemont,” Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent said Tuesday. “President Puigdemont has all the right to be elected.” “The Spanish government and the Constitutional court aim to violate the rights of millions of Catalans and this we will not accept,” he added.

Nonetheless, Torrent said the session to hold the vote would be postponed. The Spanish government welcomed that decision. An official speaking anonymously in line with government rules said that pressure applied by the government and the country’s top court “have prevented a mockery of our democracy.”

Giles contribute from Madrid. Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.


US Soccer reboots, elects Carlos Cordeiro president

February 11, 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Carlos Cordeiro insists he’s the right choice to lead the U.S. Soccer Federation, which must chart a new course after its men’s national team failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.

The 61-year-old business executive won the governing body’s presidential election Saturday. He succeeds Sunil Gulati, who led the organization since 2006. Cordeiro was Gulati’s right-hand man the past two years. Now, he’s charged, among other things, with running the U.S. end of a bid with Mexico and Canada for the right to host the 2026 World Cup.

Other priorities include the hiring of a general manager for the men’s team, a position Cordeiro said must be filled before launching a coaching search. He reiterated the ultimate goal is to help soccer realize its vast potential in the United States.

“I think we have an opportunity to really transform it into a No. 1 sport. I think the demographics favor that,” Cordeiro said. “There’s a reason why the millennials identify with soccer, so I think that’s very much in our favor. We have to do a number of things ourselves to make it happen, and make it happen more rapidly.”

Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs partner, was elected on the third ballot with 68.6 percent of the vote. The field initially featured eight candidates. Cordeiro pulled away from Kathy Carter, who is on leave as president of Major League Soccer’s marketing arm.

Carter had the backing of MLS Commissioner Don Garber and narrowly trailed Cordeiro on the first ballot. MLS, as well as the National Women’s Soccer League and United Soccer League, shifted their support to Cordeiro after the second ballot.

The other candidates were: former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Kyle Martino and Eric Wynalda, lawyers Steve Gans and Michael Winograd and former U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo. All the challengers to Cordeiro and Carter — both with close ties to Gulati — campaigned for change within the organization. All eight were given five minutes to address delegates before voting began.

“The two establishment candidates, Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter, haven’t just been part of the system, they have created and shaped into what it is today,'” Solo said. “A vote for either one of them is a vote for the status quo.”

Cordeiro, however, said he was the only candidate with the experience and plan to “hit the ground running on day one and deliver the change we need.” “We have made progress, but we need to make more. Today, the status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “U.S. Soccer needs to change, transformational change. This vote comes down to one simple question: Who can actually deliver that change?”

Cordeiro immediately takes over for Gulati, who decided against seeking a fourth four-year term after the U.S. was unable to make the 32-team World Cup field in Russia. Gulati will retain a role as a member of the USSF board and the FIFA executive council, and as chairman of the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

Carter’s support among delegates attending USSF’s annual general meeting slipped each round — from 34.6 percent to 33.3 on the second ballot, to 10.6 on the third, when the field had shrunk to five. Cordeiro’s percentage increased each round of the body’s first contested election in nearly two decades, rising from 36.3 to 41.8 on the second ballot.

To win election, Cordeiro needed a majority of the weighted vote. Under U.S. law, 20 percent of the vote is from the athletes’ council while the professional, adult and youth councils have 25.8 percent each.

The remaining 2.6 percent represents other constituents, such as board members, life members and fan representatives. Caligiuri withdrew after receiving less than 1 percent on the first ballot. Winograd and Gans bowed out after the second ballot, leaving Wynalda (10.8), Martino (10.2) and Solo (1.5) in the race with Cordeiro and Carter. Martino drew 10.6 percent on the final ballot, while Wynalda and Solo received 8.9 and 1.4, respectively.

“I said winning this election is going to be about building a coalition,” Cordeiro said. “It’s not about any one council. It was the youth, the adult, the athletes and the professionals. No one council has enough votes to get you across the line. You need really a coalition of support. I think my numbers speak to that.”


Rising racism taints Italian electoral campaign

February 09, 2018

VERONA, Italy (AP) — When hundreds of hardcore Verona soccer fans chanted “Adolf Hitler is my friend” and sang of their team’s embrace of the swastika, Italian Jewish communities complained, and waited.

Local officials initially dismissed the incident — which was filmed and circulated on social media by the so-called “ultras” themselves — as a “prank.” Condemnation only came several months later, after another video from the same summer party, this time profaning Christian objects, also went viral.

“These episodes should absolutely not be dismissed,” said Bruno Carmi, the head of Verona’s tiny Jewish community of about 100, speaking at the Verona synagogue, which is flanked by two armed police patrols. “In my opinion, whoever draws a simple swastika on the wall knows what it means.”

Racist and anti-Semitic expressions in Italy have been growing more bold, widespread and violent. Anti-migrant rhetoric is playing an unprecedented role in shaping the campaign for the country’s March 4 national election, which many say is worsening tensions and even encouraging violence.

Hate crimes motivated by racial or religious bias in Italy rose more than 10-fold, from 71 incidents in 2012 to 803 in 2016, according to police statistics. The five-year period corresponded with an explosion in migrant arrivals.

The latest violence came Feb. 3 when a right-wing extremist shot and wounded six African immigrants in the small central Italian city of Macerata. Police say the suspect claims to have been acting out of revenge after a Nigerian immigrant was arrested on suspicion of killing and dismembering an 18-year-old teen whose remains were found three days earlier. The shooting drew widespread, but not universal, condemnation.

The attack also had a political taint. The alleged gunman, Luca Traini, was a failed candidate for the right-wing, anti-migrant Northern League last year and had previously flirted with more extreme neo-fascist movements. Police seized Nazi and white supremacist propaganda from his bedroom.

The night before the shooting, the leader of the rebranded League, Matteo Salvini, had cited the teen’s murder in a campaign appearance in Verona, pledging to send home 150,000 migrants if elected. He only dug in further after the attack.

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who is competing with Salvini for leadership of the center-right coalition, significantly upped the political ante after the shooting. He claimed that 600,000 migrants were in Italy illegally, calling them “a social bomb ready to explode because they are ready to commit crimes,” and threatened to deport many.

“The facts of Macerata in some ways show that in recent years there has been a process of cultural, social and political legitimization of racism that is creating enormous damage, most of all at the expense of people’s lives,” said Grazia Naletto, president of Lunaria, a Rome-based non-governmental agency that compiles a database of racist incidents in Italy.

Lunaria counts 84 cases of racist violence against individuals in the past three years, including 11 racially motivated murders, a statistic that Naletto called unprecedented in Italy. A report on hate for the Italian parliament last summer reported that 40 percent of Italians believe other religions pose a threat, especially the Muslim faith. It also said anti-Semitism is shared by one in five Italians. The IPSOS MORI polling company found that Italy is the least informed country in the world regarding immigration, with most people overestimating by more than three times the number of immigrants living in Italy.

Findings by the swg research institute based in Trieste published in January said the demographic most vulnerable to neo-Nazi ideals are those aged 25-34, and that among Italians overall, 55 percent of those in the lowest income range either indulge in or oppose combating neo-Nazi and neo-fascist ideals.

Experts cite many reasons for the spread of extremism and racist expressions that until recently were mostly relegated to the margins of society. They include a superficial understanding of history, as well as an economy weakened by a long crisis that sidelined many ordinary workers and barred many young people from entering the work force.

More recently, there is the added pressure of migrants arriving from across the Mediterranean, with arrivals nearing 120,000 last year and topping 180,000 the year before. The head of the immigration office at the Verona diocese concedes that many Italians have not accepted that theirs has become a multicultural society, despite the fact that about 9 percent of the nation’s residents are foreigners. The diocese where he works hosts 11 foreign Christian communities, but resistance to integration is entrenched, he said.

“Romanian youths have less trouble integrating than ones from Ghana or Sri Lanka,” the Rev. Giuseppe Mirandola said. “That is to say, we still have difficulty with the color of the skin.” He said even Pope Francis’ calls to welcome migrants in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation have fallen on some deaf ears.

“The theme of immigrants and the fact that Pope Francis insists on their welcome touches very sensitive nerve in some people who refuse this message,” Mirandola said. “While they appreciate the simple style of the pope, on this issue they find themselves ill at ease.”

The audience of some 500 for Salvini’s Verona appearance included farmers, families with children, university students, artists and political activists. Many spoke out against migrants, even before the candidate took the stage.

Luisa Albertini, whose family owns eight orchards in the province, echoed Salvini’s rhetoric of a migrant invasion “because not all are escaping from war. There are people who are taking advantage because they know that they can find everything they want here.”

Alessandro Minozzi, a city councilman from the town of Bolvone, said migrants being housed in the town pose a threat to order. “A person can’t go around peacefully if there are these 100 people who don’t know what to do during the day,” he said.

In the countryside around Verona, it is still possible to read inscriptions of Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s most infamous mottos on the sides of buildings, with some seemingly recently re-painted. Photographs of Mussolini can be readily found at flea markets and newly minted calendars bearing his image sell in newsstands.

And while such items may fall short of an apology for fascism — a crime in Italy — their public display without context can fuel a misunderstanding of history, said Carmi, the Verona Jewish leader. “It was not a golden period for everyone in Italy,” said Carmi, whose great aunt and uncle were among the 8,000 Italian Jews deported to Nazi death camps, where most perished. “For some it was. Certainly not for us.”


Cyprus president re-elected, defeats same opponent again

February 04, 2018

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades vowed to push on with attempts to reunify the ethnically divided island nation and to improve the economic fortunes of its people after he was re-elected by a wide margin Sunday.

Anastasiades defeated left-leaning independent challenger Stavros Malas in a runoff election. Anastasiades received 56 percent of the vote, compared to 44 percent for Malas, in the final returns. Malas telephoned Anastasiades to concede defeat about an hour after polls closed, when half of the ballots had been counted and Malas trailed badly.

Speaking to supporters, Malas said he told Anastasiades to “take care of our Cyprus.” It’s the second consecutive time that Anastasiades, 71, a conservative veteran politician, won a head-to-head contest with Malas, 50, for the presidency.

“Tomorrow, a new day, a new era dawns, where people demand cooperation from all of us,” Anastasiades told throngs of jubilant supporters at his campaign headquarters. Malas campaigned as the candidate who would bring change to a tired political system that short-changes ordinary Cypriots, who have seen salaries and benefits slashed in the wake of the national economy’s near-meltdown.

But voters appeared to heed the incumbent’s campaign message, which blamed the left-wing economic policies of previous administrations for bringing Cyprus close to bankruptcy. Malas also struggled to separate himself from the party that supported him, the communist-rooted AKEL. Anastasiades accused AKEL of crushing the economy during the presidency of former leader Demetris Christofias.

“I know that the result has disappointed you, but we must respect it, and above all else for all of us to recognize that this was a worthy battle that neither begins nor ends with an election,” Malas told his backers.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

Voters remain skeptical about whether a reunification deal can be reached any time soon. The latest round of talks at a Swiss resort in July collapsed amid finger-pointing about who was responsible for the failure.

To buoy public hopes, Anastasiades said he would reach out to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to try and resuscitate their negotiations. “I call on all Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to understand the current state of affairs can be a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he said.

Anastasiades repeated that he would seek a peace deal that doesn’t include Turkey’s demands for a permanent troop presence and the right to intervene militarily in a federated Cyprus. One of the president’s first orders of business will be to oversee ongoing exploratory drilling for gas off the island’s southern coast — an enterprise that could help the economy but also complicate efforts to heal Cyprus’ ethnic divide.

Italian energy company ENI is currently drilling an exploratory well and Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said indications of another find are “very encouraging.” The hydrocarbon search undergirds alliances Cyprus has forged with Egypt and Israel, which have located their own sizeable offshore gas reserves.

The exploration has raised the ire of Turkey, which has characterized the work as an attempt to cheat Turkish Cypriots. Results showed that 74 percent of eligible voters cast ballots Sunday, slightly more than the first round of voting last week, but 7 percent less than in the 2013 election.

Anastasiades has said a second term would be his last.


Finland’s president skates to overwhelming re-election win

January 28, 2018

HELSINKI (AP) — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto crushed his competition with a landslide election victory Sunday that saw him receiving more than five times as much voter support than his closest challenger.

With all ballots counted, Niinisto had 62.7 percent of the vote, while his leading rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens, had 12.4 percent. Haavisto, the runner-up in the 2012 election, conceded the race long before the vote-count was completed, telling Finnish national broadcaster Niinisto “is the republic’s new president with this result.”

None of the other six candidates received more than 7 percent of the vote. Niinisto, 69, a former finance minister and parliament speaker, has been a highly popular president since he took office in 2012. He needed a majority to prevent a runoff and to win re-election outright.

He ran as an independent with no association to the conservative National Coalition Party that he earlier chaired. Finland’s president designs the blueprint for the country’s foreign and security policy together with the government. As head of state, the president is the key foreign policy player, particularly on issues outside the European Union.

The president also acts as the supreme commander of military forces and can veto legislation. To most Finns, the president’s key task is to assure friendly ties with both neighboring Russia, which shares a 1,340 kilometer (833-mile) border with Finland, and the West, particularly the United States.

Judged by his vast popularity, Niinisto seemingly handled the balancing act well. Finland joined the EU in 1995, but doesn’t belong to NATO. Recent polls predicted Niinisto would get between 58 and 63 percent of the vote and Haavisto of the Greens would garner some 14 percent.


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