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Posts tagged ‘Iberian Peninsula’

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.

Soccer coach Guardiola leads Catalan independence rally

June 11, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Soccer great Pep Guardiola has called on the international community to support a referendum on Catalan independence that Spain’s government considers illegal. Guardiola read a manifesto at a rally of several thousand supporters of Catalan independence who gathered at a fountain in Barcelona on Sunday. He said “democracies in Europe and around the world to stand by us as we defend our rights of freedom, political expression and the right to vote.”

Guardiola, a former coach and player for Barcelona soccer club, is now Manchester City’s manager. On Friday, Catalonia’s regional president Carles Puigdemont announced that his government would hold the independence referendum on Oct. 1.

Spain’s government has promised to stop the vote on grounds that it is unconstitutional since the matter would affect all Spaniards.

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.

Eurovision winner greeted by ecstatic Portuguese nation

May 14, 2017

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Eurovision winner Salvador Sobral was greeted as a national hero upon his return home to Portugal on Sunday, a day after winning the song contest in Ukraine’s capital. The 27-year-old Sobral was a virtual unknown before his triumph in Kiev, but around 2,000 jubilant fans cheered his arrival at Lisbon’s airport.

“Without wanting to sound presumptuous, this win is very important for Portuguese culture,” Sobral said. “But I’m not a hero. That’s (local soccer star) Cristiano Ronaldo.” A visibly tired Sobral added: “I’m exhausted and just want to rest. I know this won’t last. I want to be known as a musician. Not as the Eurovision winner.”

His gentle romantic ballad Amar Pelos Dois (Love For Both) conquered all in Saturday night’s extravaganza, which was watched by millions of spectators around the world. “I’m happy my romantic song won, and I hope the gala stops being a popularity contest,” Sobral said at a news conference, while thanking Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso for his support.

The weekend was a busy one in Portugal, with Pope Francis’ visit to Fatima and Lisbon soccer team Benfica winning its fourth straight Portuguese league title, also on Saturday. But Sobral was the man of the hour on Sunday, after the Lisbon native with a heart condition put an end to the southern European country’s long misery in the famed Eurovision contest, which he took in a landslide.

Sobral won easily, giving Portugal its first Eurovision win since it started competing in the international competition in 1964, and prompting congratulatory messages from the country’s highest authorities.

“When we are very good, we’re the best of the best. Congratulations Salvador Sobral,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wrote in a message Saturday night. Prime Minister Antonio Costa followed the lead with a tweet of his own.

“A page of history has been written in Portuguese this evening at Eurovision. Bravo Salvador! Bravo Portugal,” Costa said. The previous best Portuguese Eurovision ranking was 6th place, back in 1996. Unlike the 25 other competitors who performed on a wide stage backed by flashing lights, bursts of flames and other special effects, Sobral sang from a small elevated circle in the middle of the crowd, an intimate contrast to others’ bombast.

“Music is not fireworks, music is feeling,” he said while accepting the award. The feeling was never more mutual than Sunday afternoon, when Sobral was embraced by his countrymen and women upon arrival, as hundreds physically swarmed him at the airport concourse, chanting his name while being escorted by police.

Among them was Claudia Zellen, a 39-year-old social worker who, like many others across the country, praised the winning song, which Sobral performed in Portuguese next to his sister, Luisa, who wrote the tune and sat beside him at the welcoming news conference.

“It is a very emotional and different song, that sends a message of love and peace,” Zellen pointed out. “I think that Salvador is unique and that he is able to transmit beautiful things to all of us, even those that do not understand our language.”

Neighboring Spain, meanwhile, finished last after a poor performance by its representative, Manel Navarro. With Portugal rallying around its new national musical hero, even recently-crowned soccer champion Benfica took the time to congratulate Sobral.

“We aren’t the only winners this evening…! Well done Salvador Sobral!” the team posted on its official Twitter account. But one of the most surprising tweets came further north, from British novelist J.K. Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter book series.

“Yay Portugal!” Rowling wrote. Sobral captured 758 points in the contest, 143 more than second-placed Kristian Kostov, from Bulgaria. His win ensured Portugal would host next year’s Eurovision contest.

“I hope to keep making music that means something and remain happy, playing it. Emotion always prevails,” Sobral said. “The song was meant to be sung in Portuguese, but we need to feel whatever we are singing, no matter the language.”

Catalonia steps up separatist challenge with Oct. 1 vote

June 09, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s regional government has chosen Oct. 1 as the date for a referendum on a split from Spain, stepping up the confrontation with the country’s central government, which sees the vote as illegal.

Regional president Carles Puigdemont said Catalans will be asked if they want Catalonia to be an independent republic. He made the long-awaited announcement in a televised statement, surrounded by members of his cabinet following a brief meeting.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government didn’t comment immediately but has previously said that it won’t allow the vote because it considers it unconstitutional. Puigdemont has said he remains open to dialogue with Madrid but that the vote is nonnegotiable.

Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, accounts for a fifth of Spain’s GDP and has a population of over 7 million.

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.

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