Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Protests in 2012’

Thousands protest Spain’s health care austerity

December 09, 2012

MADRID (AP) — Thousands of Spanish medical workers and residents angered by budget cuts and plans to partly privatize the cherished national health service marched through some of Madrid’s most famous squares on Sunday.

More than 5,000 people rallied in Puerta del Sol, according to police estimates, after marching from Neptuno and Cibeles squares. Organizers estimated attendance at 25,000 protesters, many dressed in white and blue hospital scrubs. The march, called “a white tide” by organizers, was the third such large-scale protest this year.

Fatima Branas, a spokeswoman for organizers, said privatization plans were short-sighted because they did not take into account that savings could be made without selling off services. “What their plans really mean is a total change of our health care model and a dismantling of the system used,” she said.

Madrid’s government, under regional president Ignacio Gonzalez, maintains cuts are needed to secure health services during a deep recession. Health care and education are administered by Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions, rather than the central government, and each sets its own budgets and spending plans. Regions account for almost 40 percent of public spending. The Madrid region is governed by the Popular Party, the center-right alignment also in power centrally under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Many regions are struggling as Spain’s economy contracts into a double-dip recession triggered by a real estate crash in 2008. Some, having overspent and being unable to borrow on financial markets to repay their huge debts, are cutting budgets.

“We face a really difficult situation because the Spanish health service is under threat of being sold off,” said Dr. Gerardo Anton, 58, who said the changes proposed by Gonzalez would likely attract investors more interested in profit than public service.

Spain’s regions have a combined debt of €145 billion ($185 billion) and about €36 billion must be refinanced this year. The country is trying to avoid following Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus in having to ask for international financial bailouts.

Advertisements

Protest in Albania over Serbian minister’s visit

October 22, 2012

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Scores of Albanian nationalists have peacefully protested the first visit in eight years to their country by a Serbian foreign minister.

Supporters of the small Red and Black Alliance party shouted slogans and held banners reading “Kosovo is Albania” at Tirana’s airport Monday as Ivan Mrkic arrived. The nationalists feel an affinity with ethnic Albanians who dominate Kosovo, the former province that infuriated Serbia by declaring independence in 2008. The nationalist party also is unhappy with the Albanian government’s ties to Serbia.

Despite tensions, Serbia and Kosovo are engaging in growing diplomacy. Last week, Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic became the first prime ministers of the two countries to meet since NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to stop the war in Kosovo, forcing Serbia to relinquish control there.

London protesters bash Britain’s austerity drive

October 20, 2012

LONDON (AP) — Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the British capital Saturday in a noisy but peaceful protest at a government austerity drive aimed at slashing the nation’s debt.

Unions, anti-war campaigners, left-wing leaders, community groups and other activists poured down London’s streets in a demonstration against reductions to public sector spending which officials are pushing through in order to rein in the Britain’s debt, which stands at more than 1 trillion pounds ($1.7 trillion).

Although the austerity program has had some modest successes — the country’s deficit has dropped slightly — the U.K. economy has shrunk for three consecutive quarters amid cuts at home and economic turmoil on the continent.

Brendan Barber, whose Trades Union Congress helped organize the march, said that the message of Saturday’s protest was that “austerity is simply failing.” “The government is making life desperately hard for millions of people because of pay cuts for workers, while the rich are given tax cuts,” he said.

Britain borrowed 13 billion pounds in September alone, and with other European countries — including next door neighbor Ireland — struggling to make good on their debt, and there is a general consensus that the U.K. budget needs to be rebalanced.

But the right-leaning government did little to endear itself with ordinary Britons when it reduced income taxes for the country’s wealthiest citizens earlier this year. And its leadership has struggled to fight perceptions of elitism which rankle many in this class-conscious country.

On Friday, the Conservative Party’s chief whip stepped down following a dispute over whether he’d described officers guarding the prime minister’s official residence at Downing Street as “plebs” or warned them to “learn your (expletive) place.”

News of Andrew Mitchell’s resignation broke just as word was getting around that Treasury Chief George Osborne had been spotted by a journalist sitting in a first class train carriage with a second class ticket. Osborne paid for an upgrade, but the story’s humor was irresistible. Newspapers lavished coverage on what many nicknamed “The Great Train Snobbery,” and Osborne’s misadventure was a popular talking point at the rally, which marched through the city beneath huge red and purple balloons emblazoned with union logos.

Even opposition Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, known for his close ties with unions, was booed when he told protesters gathered in London’s Hyde Park that some cuts would have to be made one way or the other.

“It’s right that we level with people,” he argued. The cheers returned after he criticized what he described as “self-defeating austerity.” Jeers and booing aside, the protests were good-natured. One group of children dressed up as government workers, including a nurse and a traffic warden. Another child, dressed as a chef, held up a sign warning that Prime Minister David Cameron was “a recipe for disaster.”

Following the rally a splinter group of demonstrators — some wearing the Guy Fawkes masks associated with the Anonymous movement — ran through the streets of London with officers in tow. There were disruptions along London’s busy Oxford Street shopping area throughout the day as police and protesters played cat and mouse, but no property damage was reported. A Scotland Yard spokesman said there had been no arrests.

Official crowd estimates were not immediately available, although Associated Press journalists at the scene said the protesters were tens of thousands strong. Organizers said that more than 250 buses were booked to bring people to London.

Similar protests were also held in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, and Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city.

AP photographers Matt Dunham and Alastair Grant contributed to this report.

Protests as Ireland’s 1st abortion clinic opens

October 18, 2012

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — The first abortion clinic on the island of Ireland opened Thursday in downtown Belfast, unleashing angry protests on the street and uniting Catholic and Protestant politicians in calls to investigate the new facility.

The clinic, run by the British family planning charity Marie Stopes, will be permitted to provide abortions only in exceptional circumstances to women less than nine weeks pregnant. But the opening caught Northern Ireland’s socially conservative politicians off guard, and they vowed to launch an investigation into how the clinic operates. About 400 protesters who lined the sidewalk outside the facility all day said they were certain that public pressure would force authorities to shut it.

“I expect the heads of government to run Marie Stopes out of Northern Ireland,” the protest leader, Bernadette Smyth of the pressure group Precious Life, told supporters through a bullhorn. “Those who have come … storm heaven with your prayers!”

Abortion is one of few issues that unites Northern Ireland, a predominantly Protestant corner of the United Kingdom, and the mostly Catholic Republic of Ireland. Both jurisdictions keep abortion outlawed except in cases where doctors deem the woman’s life at risk from continued pregnancy.

Both effectively export the controversy to Britain, where abortion on demand has been legal since 1967. An estimated 4,000 women from the Irish Republic, and 1,000 from Northern Ireland, travel there for abortions annually, often lying to family, friends and colleagues about their absence.

Inside the clinic on Thursday, doctors and counselors dealt with several women in crisis pregnancies. They reported being deluged with calls from women, including Republic of Ireland residents, seeking appointments.

Outside, protesters displayed posters with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, sang hymns and sparred verbally with passing pedestrians, who made clear they want liberalized access to abortion in Northern Ireland. Protesters didn’t directly heckle people entering or leaving the clinic, which is inside a much larger building with several offices.

Directors of Marie Stopes emphasized they would comply fully with Northern Ireland’s law permitting abortions only when the woman’s life or long-term health is endangered. They said while such exceptional abortions are already carried out in secrecy in Northern Ireland hospitals, between 30 and 50 a year, many more eligible women travel to Britain rather than confront stern anti-abortion attitudes at home.

Tracey McNeill, director of Marie Stopes clinics across the United Kingdom, said some of the approximately 1,000 women who travel each year to Britain for abortions “would have been entitled to have that care within Northern Ireland, but they didn’t know where to go, they didn’t know who to talk to.”

The Belfast clinic, she said, “is not about increasing the number of terminations of pregnancies in Northern Ireland. It’s about providing it to that small number of people who will be eligible for it within their own country.”

The senior legal adviser to Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant government, Attorney General John Larkin, said he would be happy to aid any legislative investigation into the clinic. Lawmakers quickly accepted the suggestion and said they would summon clinic officials to fact-finding hearings, with Larkin free to ask questions, too.

“Given the contentious nature of their support for abortion, it is necessary that the law is fully complied with and that we are assured by Marie Stopes,” said Alban Maginness, a Catholic member of the legislature’s justice committee.

“There is huge public interest. It’s only appropriate to examine (the clinic). The public expect us to do something,” said Jim Wells, a Protestant member of the health committee. Clinic directors say the only form of abortion they will provide are pills that induce miscarriages in women up to nine weeks pregnant. Such pills are already easily ordered from British suppliers on the Internet, though receipt of such pills in Ireland could be treated as a criminal offense.

Suzanne Lee, a 23-year-old student from Northern Ireland who had a pill-induced abortion last year in Dublin after ordering it off the Internet, said she would have liked to be able to go to a Marie Stopes clinic for medical support, because taking the medication was “quite an ordeal to go through.”

She said it involved “severe cramping, a lot of bleeding. I bled for four weeks after it, but because I terminated my pregnancy at six weeks, it was nothing worse than a very bad period.” She expressed disgust that many people in Northern Ireland “believe I should spend life in prison for what I did.”

Protesters warned that the clinic, if not closed, would become a beachhead for expanding abortion rights in Northern Ireland and, eventually, the Republic of Ireland. “For Marie Stopes, this is only a first step,” said Liam Gibson from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, a predominantly Catholic pressure group.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland this week launched a monthlong campaign to press the Irish government to strengthen its constitutional ban on abortion. It has denounced the Belfast clinic’s opening but shied away from calling for protests.

“We are in the middle of a struggle for the soul of Northern Ireland,” said Bishop Donal McKeown, the senior Catholic in Belfast, who didn’t attend the protest. He said directors of Marie Stopes were seeking “to promote the acceptability of abortion.”

Only one of Northern Ireland’s 108 legislators, Anna Lo, has expressed support for the clinic. While opinion polls indicate public opinion is split roughly 50-50 on the issue, taking a pro-choice stand is seen as a vote-loser. As a result, Northern Ireland has failed to produce legally binding guidelines for doctors explaining the precise circumstances when abortions can be performed legally here.

Doctors and nurses have asked repeatedly for clearly written government rules to guard them from protests or lawsuits if they’re identified as abortion providers. This inaction means that the only legislation dates to 1861, outlawing the “procurement of a miscarriage,” and a 1945 amendment creating the exception that permits abortions to preserve the mother’s life or health.

The law is even messier in the Republic of Ireland, which won independence from Britain in 1922. Its constitution bans abortion, but in 1992 the Irish Supreme Court ruled it was legal to receive abortions there, if the woman’s life was in danger — including from her own threats to commit suicide if denied one. Successive governments have refused to pass legislation in line with that judgment.

Protesters block roads in Lebanon after car bomb

October 20, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Protesters burned tires and set up roadblocks around Lebanon on Saturday in a sign of boiling anger over a massive car bomb that killed a top security official and seven other people a day earlier — a devastating attack that threatened to bring Syria’s civil war to Lebanon.

The Lebanese Cabinet was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Saturday as the country’s opposition called for Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign. The state-run National News Agency said security commanders would attend the meeting to discuss how to keep the peace.

The government declared a national day of mourning for the victims, who included Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence division of Lebanon’s domestic security forces. Dozens were wounded in Friday’s blast in Beirut’s mainly Christian Achrafieh neighborhood.

Many observers said the attack appeared to have links to the Syrian civil war, which has been raging for 19 months. Al-Hassan, 47, headed an investigation over the summer that led to the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most loyal allies in Lebanon.

Samaha, who is in custody, is accused of plotting a campaign of bombings and assassinations to spread sectarian violence in Lebanon at Syria’s behest. Also indicted in the August sweep was Syrian Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s highest aides.

Lebanon’s fractious politics are closely entwined with Syria’s. The countries share a web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, often causing events on one side of the border to echo on the other. Lebanon’s opposition is an anti-Syrian bloc, while the prime minister and much of the government are pro-Syrian.

The civil war in Syria has laid bare Lebanon’s sectarian tensions as well. Many of Lebanon’s Sunnis have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Shiites have tended to back Assad. Al-Hassan was a Sunni whose stances were widely seen to oppose Syria and the country’s most powerful ally in Lebanon, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

On Friday, protesters in mostly Sunni areas closed roads with burning tires and rocks in Beirut, the southern city of Sidon, the northern city of Tripoli and several towns in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

The highway linking central Beirut with the city’s international airport was closed, as well as the highway that links the capital with Syria, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Rafik Khoury, editor of the independent Al-Anwar daily, said the assassination was an attempt to draw Lebanon into the conflict in Syria, which has been the most serious threat to the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty.

“The side that carried the assassination knows the reactions and dangerous repercussions and is betting that it will happen. Strife is wanted in Lebanon,” Khoury wrote.

Backers, critics of Egypt president clash in Cairo

October 12, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt’s new Islamist president clashed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago, as liberal and secular activists erupted with anger accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to take over the country.

The two sides hurled stones and chunks of concrete and beat each other with sticks for several hours, leaving more than 100 injured, according to the state news agency. Two buses used by the Brotherhood to bring in supporters were set aflame behind the Egyptian Museum, the repository of the country’s pharaonic antiquities, and thick black smoke billowed into the sky in scenes reminiscent of last year’s clashes between protesters against the regime of then-leader Hosni Mubarak and his backers.

The melee erupted between two competing rallies in Tahrir. One was by liberal and secular activists to criticize Morsi’s failure to achieve promises he had made for first 100 days in power, the other had been called by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The clashes come as criticism among leftists, liberals and secularists against Morsi has been growing since he was inaugurated more than three months ago as Egypt’s first freely elected president. Opponents accuse Morsi, the Brotherhood and other Islamists of trying to impose their dominance and Islamize the state, including through the writing of a new constitution.

Some Egyptians are also frustrated that Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood figure, has not done more to resolve the multiple problems facing the country — from a faltering economy and fuel shortages to tenuous security and uncollected piles of garbage in the streets.

Morsi boasted earlier this week in a nationally televised speech that he had carried out much of what he had promised for his first 100 days, and his supporters say he needs time in the face of overwhelming difficulties inherited from Mubarak’s authoritarian and corruption-riddled rule.

One anti-Brotherhood protester in Tahrir, Abdullah Waleed, said he had voted for Morsi in this year’s election to prevent his opponent — a longtime Mubarak loyalist — from winning. “Now I regret it because they are just two faces of the same coin,” Waleed said. “Morsi has done nothing for the revolution. I want to say I am so sorry for bringing in another repressive regime.”

Violence also broke out in the industrial city of Mahalla el-Kobra, a hotbed of regime opponents and labor activists in the Nile Delta renowned for its history of revolts against Mubarak. Protesters torched headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city and set fire to Morsi posters.

Days ago, liberal and leftist groups had called for Friday’s protest in Tahrir to demand accountability over Morsi’s three-month rule. They also demand greater diversity on the panel tasked with writing Egypt’s new constitution, which is packed with Brotherhood members and other Islamists who have proposed provisions opponents say greatly suppress civil liberties.

The Brotherhood called for a separate rally to denounce the acquittals earlier this week of 24 former senior figures from Mubarak’s regime who had been accused of organizing a deadly attack on protesters during last year’s Jan. 25-Feb.11 wave of protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster.

The Brotherhood rally was to call for judicial reforms and to support a move by Morsi on Thursday to remove the prosecutor-general, who has been widely criticized for preparing shoddy cases against Mubarak-era politicians and police. Buses organized by the Brotherhood had brought in supporters from the provinces for the rally.

But the secular camp accused the Brotherhood of holding the gathering to “hijack” the square from their anti-Morsi protest. The violence erupted when Morsi supporters stormed a stage set up by the rival camp, angered by chants they perceived as insults to the president. The Islamist backers smashed loudspeakers and tore the wooden stage down, witnesses said.

The uproar ensued as more supporters of the liberal-secular rally poured into the square. Young men from both sides tore up chunks of concrete and paving stones to hurl while others hit each other with sticks. Gunshots were heard. Youths making V-for-victory signs with their hands set fire to two empty buses of the Brotherhood.

“My conclusion here is that Morsi is just the president of the Brotherhood, that’s all. We are back to square one,” since Mubarak’s fall, said Sayed al-Hawari, who carried a plank of wood as a shield against the volleys of stones.

A liberal protester, Rania Mohsen, said, “We are here against turning the state to a Brotherhood state …. We do not want to replace the old regime with a new like the old one.” A Morsi supporter, in turn, accused the other camp of being “thugs” who chanted against the leader of the Brotherhood and harassed the Islamists during noon prayers in Tahrir.

“We have to give Morsi a chance,” 19-year-old Moez Naggar, said. “The more protests we have, the less we can expect from him.” A schoolteacher who said he belongs to the Brotherhood expressed dismay over the violence, saying he was surprised by the other camp’s anger at Morsi. Sherif Mahmoud pointed to Morsi’s attempt to remove the prosecutor-general, who many across the ideological spectrum have said should be sacked.

“The prosecutor general is a corrupt man,” Mahmoud said. “The president is moving step by step.” Around nightfall, fighting stopped as the Brotherhood supporters left the square in buses. Rashad Bayoumi, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, told The Associated Press that the scene around Tahrir Square “is something everyone is ashamed of.”

He said Brotherhood members did not take part in the clashes and that the group was there simply to demand judicial independence. Still, the clashes stopped at the time when the Brotherhood’s party ordered its members to leave the square at 6 p.m.

Morsi was in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, for Friday prayers where he pledged that former regime figures would be brought to justice despite Wednesday’s verdicts. The 24 were acquitted of organizing the so-called “Camel Battle,” an incident on Feb. 2, 2011, when a crowd of Mubarak supporters —including assailants on horses and camels — attacked protesters holding a sit-in in Tahrir to demand his ouster. Two days of fighting ensued, leaving nearly a dozen dead.

“All segments of Egypt’s society were deprived of many rights” under Mubarak, Morsi told a crowd of supporters. “And the biggest right deprived of us was the right to freedom.” Following the acquittals, Morsi on Thursday moved to dismiss the country’s Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general by moving him to the position of ambassador to the Vatican. However, the prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, refused to step down and vowed to remain in his post, as law gives immunity to the prosecutor general from being ousted by the president.

Morsi’s move also angered judges, who held overnight an emergency meeting denouncing the attempt to remove Mahmoud. Many blame the prosecutor for frequent acquittals of police and Mubarak-era officials over the past year, saying he put together shoddy cases. Egyptians were also disappointed in what they saw as a weak verdict in the trial against Mubarak. He is serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of protesters last year, but prosecutors did not prove he ordered killings and he was cleared of corruption charges.

Thousands march to protest austerity cuts in Spain

October 06, 2012

MADRID (AP) — Several thousand people marched in downtown Madrid on Saturday to protest austerity measures they say will lead to cuts in cherished national health care and the privatization of public services.

Marching under banners reading “Neither cuts nor privatizations,” many protesters were civil servants hit with a wage freeze next year. Spain is experiencing its second recession in three years, is burdened with an unemployment rate of nearly 25 percent and social unrest is on the rise. The number of people registered unemployed rose to 4.71 million in September as the tourism season ended and businesses let workers go.

“I work in a hospital, but I’m about to end up unemployed,” 58-year-old nurse Victoria Gutierrez said. “On Oct. 30, my temporary contract will finish and it won’t be extended. “We have minimum cover on every floor at every hospital,” she said. “This is affecting not just hospitals, also education and civil services, everything.”

The government has pushed through nine straight months of tough austerity measures which have prompted Spain’s 17 regional governments, some of which are heavily indebted, to slash spending in health care and education.

Tag Cloud