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Posts tagged ‘Iberian Land of Spain’

Thousands in Madrid back no-confidence vote against PM Rajoy

May 21, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of Spaniards have rallied in Madrid to support a no-confidence vote against conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy brought by the far-left Podemos party. Podemos organized the gathering Saturday to bolster its no-confidence vote against Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party, which has been hit by a series of corruption scandals.

The rally under the slogan “We have to throw them out” was held in the Puerta del Sol, a large square in the heart of Spain’s capital. Many protesters held signs that read “Enough!” or “Corruption!” “We are governed by a party that is not a party but is a corrupt institution that has robbed the country,” said Jose Ramon de la Valencia, a 45-year-old unemployed worker. “If we don’t take over the streets and the parliament, the Popular Party is going to do whatever they want.”

Podemos registered its intent Friday to bring the no-confidence vote to Parliament. It is presenting the party’s ponytailed leader, Pablo Iglesias, as an alternative candidate to replace Rajoy. No date has been set for the no-confidence vote but the move appears designed to fail. With only 71 members in parliament, Podemos would need help from other parties to reach the majority needed of 176. No other major party says it will back the move to topple Rajoy.

Iglesias struck a defiant tone at the rally, calling the Popular Party “a mafia-like party.” “The people are not afraid. They are telling the corrupted to ‘get lost, we want a Spain of the 21st century,” Iglesias said. “This country is better than its parliament and we are showing the way to the future.”

Rajoy has been dragged into the most damaging of the corruption cases involving the Popular Party, an alleged kickbacks-for-contracts scheme to finance party activities. Spain’s National Court has called Rajoy as a witness in the case. Like his party, Rajoy has denied any wrongdoing.

On Monday, Podemos will present a motion for a separate no-confidence vote against Madrid’s regional leader, Cristina Cifuentes, for another corruption investigation involving the Popular Party.

AP television producer Iain Sullivan contributed from Madrid.

Thousands in Madrid demand end to bullfighting in Spain

May 13, 2017

MADRID (AP) — Thousands of animal rights activists protested Saturday in Madrid to demand an end to Spain’s long tradition of bullfighting. The march went through the Spanish capital’s city center, with several groups united under one clear-cut message: “Bullfighting is violence and you can stop it.”

Animal rights activists say the gory fights are among the planet’s most blatant forms of animal cruelty, with bulls lanced and finally stabbed through the heart. Matadors are praised for killing with a single stab, though some don’t succeed in finishing off the animal with repeated thrusts.

The march, scheduled during the famed San Isidro weeklong fair featuring numerous bullfights in Madrid’s famous Las Ventas bullring, is part of a growing divide between those who see bullfighting as a blatant form of animal cruelty and others who defend it as part of Spain’s traditional culture.

Protesters also demanded a change in legislation under which animal cruelty would be subject to Spain’s criminal code. Spokeswoman Laura Gonzalo called for an immediate halt to all bullfights. “It’s time for all of society to unite and say ‘enough,'” she said, while questioning the motive behind recent governmental tax cuts to bullfighting events.

Spain’s deep tradition of bullfights was named part of the country’s cultural heritage in a law passed in 2013. Madrid’s leftist Mayor Manuela Carmena hasn’t banned bullfighting events, but she has eliminated annual subsidies for their promotion.

Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, Salvador

May 21, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named new cardinals for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden. “Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth,” Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The five churchmen chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali, where he has been involved in peace efforts amid Islamist extremism; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, who became a Catholic at the age of 20; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop who works as a parish pastor in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Francis will formally elevate the five to cardinal’s rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new “princes of the church,” as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.

Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has made a point of visiting his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as of working to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.

His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.

Arborelius, who is 67, converted to Catholicism when he was 20. In 1998, when he was consecrated as a bishop in Stockholm’s Catholic cathedral, Arborelius became Sweden’s first Catholic bishop, of Swedish origin, since the times of the Reformation,

In Mali, a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority. Zerbo’s clerical resume reveals him to be a churchman working for reconciliation in society, a virtue repeatedly stressed by Francis. The Vatican noted that Zerbo, 73, who was named an auxiliary bishop of Bamako in 1998 and 10 years later was made that city’s archbishop, has played a role in peace negotiations.

Extremists attacked a hotel in Bamako in 2015, killing 19 people. Last month, the U.N. peacekeeping chief for Mali called the security situation there alarming, warning that extremist groups operating under the al-Qaida banner were carrying out more sophisticated attacks and Islamic State militants were slowly making inroads.

There has been slow progress in implementing a peace deal reached in June 2015 between Mali’s government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups in the north. In Laos, the tiny Catholic community has often struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule. Mangkhanekhoun, 73, was ordained a priest in 1972 and has served as a bishop since 2001. The Vatican paid tribute to his work in visiting faithful in mountain villages. Since early this year, he has served as apostolic administrator in Vientiane.

Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.

The resume of Chavez, 74, also includes credentials valued by the pope, who has made serving the poor a key focus of the Catholic church’s mission. Chavez heads the Latin American division of Caritas, the Catholic charity. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop in 1982 for San Salvador, where he now will be based as a cardinal after serving as a parish pastor in the city.

Chavez worked closely with the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who during El Salvador’s civil war was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while saying Mass in 1980. Pope Francis has denounced Catholic clerics who “defamed” Romero after the slaying, a campaign that delayed Romero’s eventual beatification.

Francis’ pick for the Spain cardinal’s post, Omella, 71, worked as a missionary in Zaire earlier in his career and serves on the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of Bishops office. Since December 2015, he has been archbishop of Barcelona.

In announcing his selections, Francis expressed hope that the new cardinals with their work and “their advice will sustain me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, universal pastor of the church.” In other remarks to the faithful in the square, Francis referred to the situation of another Catholic minority — Chinese whose loyalty to the pope has put them at odds with authorities of the state-sanctioned Catholic church in China, and sometimes brought persecution.

He prayed that Catholics in China would be able to bring their “personal contribution for the communion among believers and harmony in the entire society.” Francis is eager to see improved Vatican-China relations. Both sides have for decades been at odds over Chinese authorities’ insistence that they have the right to appoint bishops, a prerogative the Vatican says only belongs to the pope.

He urged Catholics in China to “stay open to meeting and dialogue, always.”

Spain saves 73 migrants from 5 boats crossing from Africa

April 14, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish rescue ships saved 73 migrants, including one pregnant woman, from five different smuggling boats trying to cross the sea from Africa to Europe during the previous 24 hours.

The pregnant woman and 25 other migrants were aboard a vessel that was taking on water in the Atlantic Ocean when reached by the rescue boat Salvamar Gadir before daybreak Friday. They were found 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of the Atlantic coastal town of Barbate, which lies between Cadiz and Gibraltar. Emergency services for Spain’s Andalucia region said the 20 men and six women were all of North African descent.

Another four boats carrying migrants who told Spanish authorities they were from Algeria were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea. The civil guard based on the island of Mallorca said their ships had found two boats with 14 men each both on Thursday and Friday. Closer to the mainland, civil guard boats patrolling near Cartagena intercepted another two boats — one on Thursday with 11 men, a second craft on Friday with eight more men.

All the migrants were in good health, according to authorities. Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries, try to reach the shores of Spain and Italy by boat each year. On Wednesday, a 10-year-old girl and two adults died when their boat capsized while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain.

Spain’s King Felipe VI meets with Japanese Emperor Akihito

April 05, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Spanish King Felipe VI has met with Japanese Emperor Akihito in his first visit to Japan since ascending to the throne. King Felipe walked on a red carpet Wednesday during a welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace. A group of Japanese children waved both countries’ national flags.

The countries mark their 150th anniversary of bilateral ties next year. The king ascended to the throne in 2014. During his four-day visit, the king and his wife, Queen Letizia, will also meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They are scheduled to visit an earthquake disaster prevention center in Shizuoka, central Japan, before departing on Friday.

Activist: Basque separatist group ETA to disarm by April 8

March 17, 2017

MADRID (AP) — Basque civil society groups will fully disarm the separatist group ETA by April 8, a French environmental activist with ties to the Basque community promised Friday. The militants announced a permanent cease-fire in 2011, but the governments of Spain and France have so far refused to take part in its disarmament because ETA tied it to the future of its militants, both in and out of jail. The two countries have demanded that ETA lay down its weapons without conditions and disband.

Txetx Etcheverry, a prominent figure in the French Basque community who tried to arrange a disarmament in 2016, told The Associated Press that the new initiative was agreed upon with the ETA and will be carried out whether French authorities agree to receive the weapons or not.

“If the French government doesn’t take responsibility, the Basque civil society will take a step forward. We can’t imagine five more years of inaction,” Etcheverry said, pledging that “ETA will be disarmed by midnight on April 8.”

ETA, which in Basque stands for “Basque Country and Freedom,” was founded in 1959 during the Spanish dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. It has killed 829 people in its nearly four-decade campaign to create a Basque homeland in a region straddling northern Spain and southwest France.

The group was most violent in the 1980s, staging hundreds of shootings of police, politicians and businesspeople. One year after its last deadly attack, the killing of a French police officer near Paris in March 2010, the ETA announced it was renouncing violence.

In recent years, police operations have weakened the ETA. If the disarmament was completed, would primarily be symbolic, given that the group’s reduced arsenal is believed to be obsolete. ETA has linked its total dissolution to allowing imprisoned members to serve their sentences closer to home in northern Spain, among other demands.

But on Friday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected any concessions. “ETA has chosen to disarm unilaterally. It should do it and should also disband,” Rajoy, who leads Spain’s conservative Popular Party, said at a party meeting. “The government of Spain will do what it has always done — to apply the law, which is the same for everybody.”

Etcheverry, member of the Basque environmental organization Bizi, was among five Basque activists arrested in December in the southern French town of Louhossoa after police said they had discovered a suspected ETA weapons trove. They were charged with possession of explosives and weapons, released on bail and are awaiting trial.

The activists said the arrests by French and Spanish police targeted peace activists who were managing ETA’s disarmament. Etcheverry said the group would disclose details of the disarmament on Saturday in the southern French town of Biarritz.

He said the group was aiming to “unblock other important issues in the Basque peace process,” such as the future of imprisoned ETA members and the reconciliation in the Basque society. He didn’t mention the ETA disbanding.

Basque regional leader Inigo Urkullu said its government is ready to assist in the disarmament process and asked the governments of Spain and France to work to reach a permanent solution. Groups representing ETA victims in Spain urged the government not to make any concessions.

Mari Mar Blanco, who represents the victims’ group FTV and whose brother was kidnapped and murdered by ETA in 1997, said the ETA should cooperate with the judicial system in shedding light on the more than 300 unresolved killings.

“It’s time for the relatives to close their mourning by identifying the assassins of their loved ones,” Blanco said. The economically powerful Basque region, which has a strong cultural identity and its own Basque language, is one of 17 semi-autonomous regions in Spain.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy re-elected as Popular Party leader

February 12, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was re-elected as the leader of the conservative Popular Party for a fourth term, sweeping 95 percent of the vote at a party congress in Madrid.

“It’s an honor because I have spent all my life in this party,” the 61-year-old Rajoy said Saturday night as he thanked party members. He ran unopposed. Hours later on Sunday, his political rival Pablo Iglesias likewise won a vote to maintain his leadership of the left-wing Podemos (“We Can”) party at its congress in the Spanish capital. The pony-tailed former political science professor fended off a challenge by the party’s No. 2 leader, Inigo Errejon, then called for party “unity and humility.”

“This is a party of the 21st century that advances alongside the people, while other parties are entrenched in the institutions,” Iglesias said in a fiery speech. Podemos erupted onto the political scene three years ago, harnessing the widespread discontent caused by the hard economic times and major corruption cases involving Spain’s traditional political parties. It became the third largest political force in the Spanish parliament last year.

Rajoy maintained most of the Popular Party’s leadership, including Maria Dolores de Cospedal, Spain’s minister of defense, as the party’s second-in-command. Rajoy has been Spanish prime minister since 2011, when he took power during a severe economic recession. He is credited with helping Spain avoid an international bailout. He has led a minority government since October when he won support from other parties to end 10 months of deadlock following two indecisive elections.

“Spain today doesn’t resemble the Spain when we took charge, not in growth, general welfare, employment, and, above all, confidence,” Rajoy said in a speech Sunday to close the party congress. “Some might think that our job is now easier because Spain is recovering, but it is also true that our (party’s) strength has weakened. We don’t have the majority. We must talk” with other parties in parliament.

Rajoy also addressed efforts by the regional government of Catalonia to secede from the rest of the Spain, which is the biggest challenge facing his government besides his party’s ongoing corruption scandals.

“We are not going to accept a referendum (on independence) that seeks to tear Spain apart,” Rajoy said.

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