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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Spain: Princess Cristina in court for historic fraud trial

January 11, 2016

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain (AP) — Princess Cristina and her husband arrived at court Monday for the start of an historic trial that marks the first time a member of Spain's royal family has faced criminal charges since the monarchy was restored in 1975.

The 50-year-old Cristina is accused of two counts of tax fraud carrying a maximum prison sentence of eight years for allegedly failing to declare taxes on personal expenses paid by a real estate company she owned with her husband.

She will sit in the dock with 17 others including her husband, Olympic handball medalist turned businessman Inaki Urdangarin. He faces more serious charges of using his Duke of Palma title to embezzle about 6 million euros ($6.5 million) in public contracts through the nonprofit Noos Institute he ran with an associate.

The princess said nothing to dozens of reporters after arriving at a makeshift courtroom in Palma de Mallorca where the trial is being held. Security was tight around the building after thousands of anti-monarchy protesters in 2014 staged noisy demonstrations while Cristina answered questions about the case posed by a investigative judge.

Authorities Monday morning detained one protester with an anti-monarchy flag a short time before Cristina showed up at the court inside a sedan with dark tinted windows. There are so many defendants and lawyers plus reporters covering the case that judicial officials were forced to move the trial from a courthouse to a sprawling building complex on the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca normally used to hold mass training courses for public servants.

The case is being heard in the regional capital of Spain's Balearic Islands because many of Urdangarin's business deals were for the islands. The princess and her husband are not expected to utter a word during the first few days of the trial as judges read out the 89 alleged crimes committed by the suspects, and lawyers including Cristina's make arguments aimed at having their clients removed from the case.

She denied knowledge of her husband's activities during the 2014 closed door court appearance and a prosecutor recommended she should be fined. But a judge decided Cristina could be charged with tax fraud in 2007 and 2008 because Spanish law allows groups to file charges when state prosecutors don't.

Her case was driven forward by the anti-corruption group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands).

Clendenning reported from Madrid.

Portugal eyes political balance in presidential election

January 10, 2016

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — With an alliance of Socialists, communists and radicals holding power, Portuguese voters appear set to seek some balance by electing a center-right politician as their head of state.

A two-week official campaign period for the presidential election started Sunday, and the favorite is Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former Social Democratic Party leader and law professor who until recently had a popular TV show.

Opinion polls suggest he could get more than 50 percent of votes in the Jan. 24 ballot against nine rivals, of which former Socialist minister Maria de Belem Roseira and the independent Antonio de Sampaio da Novoa are closest.

The most recent survey says that Rebelo de Sousa has 52.5 percent support, 34.4 percentage points ahead of second-place De Belem Roseira. The poll was conducted on Dec. 16-21, with 1,515 people interviewed by phone, and it had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. The survey was published Dec. 23 by Expresso newspaper and conducted by pollster Eurosondagem.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the first- and second-place candidates compete in a two-way runoff vote on Feb. 14. In Portugal, the president has no executive power, which is held by the government, but is an influential voice. If the head of state fears the country is going down the wrong path, he or she can fire the government and call a new election.

The election comes amid tension over whether to stick with austerity measures as Portugal battles to emerge from a financial crisis that tormented the 19 countries using the euro currency and forced Portugal to ask for a 78 billion-euro ($85 billion) bailout in 2011.

The center-left Socialist government which took power in November, supported by the Communist Party and Left Bloc, is reversing some of the money-saving cuts introduced by the previous center-right government despite warnings from European leaders that Portugal must reduce its huge debt burden.

With government debt still the third-highest in the 28-nation European Union at 130 percent of annual gross domestic product, some fear a return to reckless spending that could re-ignite market jitters over the eurozone.

Portugal's 9.7 million registered voters will choose a successor to Anibal Cavaco Silva, who has served the maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.

Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

Pro-secession politician named new Catalan regional leader

January 12, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Pro-independence politician Carles Puigdemont has been confirmed as the new regional president of Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia, keeping alive the local parliament's disputed drive to secede from Spain.

Puigdemont's appointment, signed by King Felipe VI and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, was published Tuesday in the Official State Gazette. Puigdemont was voted in by pro-independence deputies in the Catalan parliament on Sunday after then-acting president Artur Mas failed to round up enough support.

A low-profile member of the ruling conservative Convergence party, Puigdemont pledges to continue Mas' initiative to lead the region to independence by 2017. His appointment comes as Spanish political parties opposed to independence struggle to make deals to form a new national government following an inconclusive Dec. 20 general election.

Catalan parliament votes in new leader amid secession drive

January 10, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia's parliament voted in a new leader for the powerful northeastern region late Sunday after hearing he would forge ahead with a drive to secede from Spain.

During a pre-vote debate, Carles Puigdemont said he would continue with his predecessor Artur Mas' initiative to push the region bordering France toward independence by 2017. Puigdemont was voted in as Catalonia's 130th president in a 70-63 vote, with two abstentions in the 135-seat chamber.

Puigdemont was selected Saturday to replace Mas as the "Together for Yes" alliance's candidate for leader, a decision that earned him the backing of the radical, anti-capitalist CUP party whose 10 seats were needed for a majority in the chamber.

The CUP refused to back Mas in his bid to retain the presidency. The Spanish government considers the secessionist initiative to be unconstitutional and has used the judiciary to challenge it. Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party won the most votes in a Dec. 20 ballot but has so far failed to get a majority in parliament, said late Sunday that Spain wouldn't allow Catalan leaders to "grant themselves unlimited powers."

With the debate in the Catalan parliament still ongoing, Rajoy spoke on nationwide televison to say he had contacted most of Spain's main political parties and agreed with their leaders that secessionism wouldn't be tolerated.

"We have known how to set aside our differences to defend the unity of the nation," Rajoy said. Rajoy said Spain's courts had already ruled against Catalonia's pro-independence move, declaring it unlawful.

"I want to make it clear that the Spaniards can be calm," Rajoy said.

Spain: Parties in Catalonia agree on new leader

January 09, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia's pro-independence parties agreed Saturday to appoint a new leader to enable the creation of a regional coalition government and reinvigorate a push for independence from Spain by 2017.

Carles Puigdemont was selected to replace Artur Mas as the "Together for Yes" alliance's candidate for regional government leader. Mas announced the decision at a press conference late Saturday, ending months of negotiations.

The Spanish government, that considers the secessionist initiative to be unconstitutional and has used the judiciary to challenge it, appealed to Catalonia's leader to end the strategy of dividing and fracturing Catalan society.

"Dedicate your efforts to seeking solutions to your citizens' problems rather than to generating new tensions," it said in a statement. Polls show that most Catalans support a referendum on independence, but are roughly evenly divided over breaking from Spain.

Mas' ruling conservative Convergence party had joined forces with the Republican Left of Catalonia as "Together for Yes" to win 62 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament last September. However, Mas needed 10 seats held by the radical, anti-capitalist CUP party to form a majority, and its leaders insisted he was not acceptable to them as the region's leader.

The CUP had repeatedly rejected Mas' candidacy because of his past government's austerity policies and his party's links to corruption scandals, but said it would support another alliance candidate. Mas said he had agreed to "step aside" to allow the election of Puigdemont, a move he said "guarantees the parliamentary stability of Catalonia."

He added it was "beneficial and appropriate" in order to secure the secessionist "project." Puigdemont is the mayor of the city of Girona and a member of Mas' Convergence party. His appointment means new regional elections can be averted.

"New elections would have been the worst option for Catalonia," said Mas. He added he would not be retiring from politics, but was considering an ambassador-like role, taking the message that an independent Catalonia is a good idea overseas.

FM: Poland's democracy doing better than it seems outside

January 11, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The shape of Poland's democracy under the new right-wing government is better than some foreign commentators suggest, the foreign minister said Monday, inviting German politicians to visit and check.

The government that took power in November swiftly moved to change some legislation as it wants to introduce sweeping state and social reforms. Witold Waszczykowski spoke after meeting with German ambassador to Poland, Rolf Nikel, whom he had summoned to protest "anti-Polish" statements by some German politicians.

Nikel said that Polish-German relations are a "treasure that should be protected." Later Monday, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that "Germans and Poles are neighbors, partners, friends, and we've never been so close in our history. This is precisely what we want to preserve, continue and where possible deepen."

Waszczykowski said there was a "problem in communicating with some German politicians" and invited his German counterpart, Frank Walter Steinmeier, and other politicians to visit and see that the "shape of Poland's democracy is not as bad as may seem from far away."

On Sunday, European Parliament President Martin Schulz likened Poland's current politics to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin. A member of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats Party, Volker Kauder, recently spoke in favor of sanctions against Poland if the country continues, in his view, to ignore the principles of the rule of law.

The comments were in reaction to new legislation that Poland's ruling Law and Justice party adopted on a constitutional court and on state media. The European Commission is to debate Poland's rule of law on Wednesday. The step could eventually result in the country losing its EU voting rights on matters that concern the entire 28-nation bloc. Poland joined the EU in 2004.

Seibert said it was "right and the usual European route" for the European Commission to ask questions of the new Polish government. The European Parliament is to debate Poland's politics on Jan.19.

Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story

Poles hold another protest against right-wing government

January 09, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of opponents of Poland's new right-wing government held protests in Warsaw and other cities on Saturday against policies which they say threaten democracy and media freedom.

The street protests were organized by a new group calling itself the Committee for the Protection of Democracy that rallied tens of thousands of Poles last month against the ruling Law and Justice party. This time, thousands of people waving national white-and-red flags and European Union flags joined in the capital, as well as in the cities of Wroclaw, Krakow, Katowice, Lodz and elsewhere. They chanted "Free Poland, Free Media" and "Stop Spoiling Democracy." Some had lips sealed with tape, to suggest freedom of speech was threatened.

The protesters say that changes that the government made to bring a constitutional court and state broadcasters under the control of the ruling Law and Justice party threaten media freedom and democracy.

The new media law took effect Friday, cutting short the terms of the state radio and television heads and transferring the authority to appoint successors to the treasury minister, from a separate media commission that reports to the parliament. The minister immediately appointed right-wing politician and journalist Jacek Kurski to head state television.

Last month, the parliament changed legislation concerning the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Tribunal, a top court. The moves have also alarmed some European Union leaders and the European Commission will debate Poland's rule of law on Wednesday.

The government, which took power in November, argues it needs to reform some state bodies because they represent only the interests of the previous liberal ruling team.

Kosovo police use tear gas to disperse opposition protesters

January 09, 2016

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Police in Kosovo used water cannons and tear gas to disperse a group of violent opposition supporters who pelted them with rocks and Molotov cocktails following an anti-government protest in the capital on Saturday.

The violence came at the end of a peaceful rally where several thousand people called on Kosovo's government to resign, arguing the executive has broken the country's constitution in reaching deals with Serbia and Montenegro last year.

At the end of the rally, some opposition supporters pelted police and the government building with rocks and other hard objects, despite calls from organizers to disperse peacefully. Part of a government building was set alight before officers intervened.

Police spokesman Baki Kelani said eight policemen, two citizens and two journalists were injured and 24 protesters were detained, adding two police cars and many other public and private properties were damaged.

In December Kosovo's Constitutional Court decided that part of a deal between Kosovo and Serbia, which would give more powers to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, was not in line with the country's constitution.

The opposition also has opposed a border demarcation with neighboring Montenegro. Since September last year the opposition has blocked Kosovo's parliament with tear gas, pepper spray, whistles and water bottles to protest the deals and their supporters have held violent protests in Pristina.

"To calm citizens Mustafa's government should resign," said an opposition statement. The government says the opposition wants to come to power through violence and has called on it to come to parliament to talk.

The president and the international community have also called for dialogue. The EU office in Kosovo condemned the "spiral of violence" and called for "calm and renouncement of violence" as the way forward for Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, an act that Serbia still rejects. The two countries have been holding European Union-mediated talks to overcome their differences.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.

Reformist lawmaker elected Greek opposition leader

January 10, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's conservative opposition New Democracy party has elected a reformist as its new leader.

Former administrative reform minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has defeated party stalwart Evangelos Meimarakis in a leadership contest open to all party members. About 400,000 people were eligible to vote Sunday.

With only partial results available, the 62-year-old Meimarakis, a former minister, parliamentary speaker and New Democracy interim leader from July to November 2015, called 47-year-old Mitsotakis to concede defeat and congratulate him.

New Democracy officials announced that Mitsotakis is leading Meimarakis, 51 percent to 49 percent, with 70 percent of polling precincts reporting. The final results will be announced Monday. In the first round, held on Dec. 20, Meimarakis had led Mitsotakis, 39.8 percent to 28.5 percent. Two other candidates were eliminated.

Judges, prosecutors teach refugees basics of German law

January 12, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Some 800 German judges, prosecutors and judicial officials are starting to teach newly arrived asylum seekers the basics of law in their host country. The legal primer classes for refugees in Bavaria include lessons about freedom of opinion, the separation of religion and state and the equality of men and women.

The drive to teach German legal values was planned before the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne, which deepened tensions about the arrival of more than a million migrants over the past year. Bavaria's Justice Minister Winfried Bausback says "many asylum seekers come from regions where justice doesn't function or is being abused by dictatorships." He says that's why it's important to give newcomers "an understanding of our basic values" early on.

Germany to ease deportation rules after Cologne attacks

January 12, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — The German government wants to ease the rules for deporting foreign criminals in the wake of the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne, two senior officials said Tuesday.

The planned reform of laws on deportation and sexual offenses would "significantly" lower the legal hurdles for expelling foreigners who commit serious crimes, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

"That's a hard but right response by the state to those who are seeking protection here, but think they can commit crimes" without consequences, de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin. Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who announced the plans alongside de Maiziere, said that public pressure following the Cologne assaults had played a role in getting the plan agreed so quickly.

Cologne police say 553 criminal complaints have been filed with them in connection to the New Year's attacks. About 45 percent involve allegations of sexual offenses. Police say most of the suspects are believed to be foreigners, including at least some asylum-seekers. Many were described as being of "Arab or North African origin."

The changes, which have to be approved by the Cabinet and Parliament, would mean that any custodial sentence for crimes against another person's bodily integrity, including sexual assaults, as well as violent thefts, would be grounds for deportation. Youth sentences would be covered too.

Many asylum seekers who commit crimes currently avoid deportation because the danger they face in their home country is considered greater than the reason for deporting them. Separately on Tuesday, a top German police official said he doesn't believe the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne and elsewhere were linked to organized crime.

Holger Muench, the head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, told RBB Inforadio that "the same conditions were in place at different locations," with crowds of people gathering to celebrate the new year.

"I am not saying that there was no organization, but it is not organized crime," he said. "That would have a different quality for me. We would be talking about ... hierarchical groups." However, "what we see here is perpetrators communicating with each other and making arrangements ... and of course we must recognize better where they do this, how they do this," Muench said.

The assaults have heightened tensions over Germany's migrant influx and prompted politicians to consider tougher laws against migrants who commit crimes. Cologne police say they have identified 23 possible suspects. Separately, 32 suspects have been identified by federal police, who are responsible for train station security.

Protests in Cologne after assaults; Merkel pledges new laws

January 09, 2016

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Women's rights activists, far-right demonstrators and leftwing counter-protesters took to the streets of Cologne on Saturday to voice their opinions in the debate that has followed a string of New Year's Eve sexual assaults and robberies blamed largely on foreigners.

Amid the heightened public pressure, Chancellor Angela Merkel's party proposed stricter laws regulating asylum-seekers in the country — some 1.1 million of whom arrived last year. Police said that around 1,700 protesters from the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement were kept apart from 1,300 counter-demonstrators in simultaneous protests outside the city's main train station.

PEGIDA members held banners with slogans like "RAPEfugees not welcome" and "Integrate barbarity?" while the counter-protesters pushed the message "refugees welcome." Specifics of the New Year's Eve assaults and who were behind them are still being investigated. The attackers were among about 1,000 men gathered at Cologne's central train station, some of whom broke off into small groups and surrounded women, groping them and stealing their purses, cell phones and other belongings, according to authorities and witness reports. There are also two allegations of rape.

The PEGIDA demonstration Saturday was shut down early by authorities using water cannons after protesters threw firecrackers and bottles at some of the 1,700 police on hand. Police said four people were taken into custody but no injuries were immediately reported.

Earlier, hundreds of women's rights activists gathered outside Cologne's landmark cathedral to rally against the New Year's Eve violence. "It's about making clear that we will not stop moving around freely here in Cologne, and to protest against victim bashing and the abuse of women," said 50-year-old city resident Ina Wolf.

In response to the incidents, Merkel said her CDU party on Saturday had approved a proposal seeking stricter laws regulating asylum seekers. Merkel said the proposal, which will be discussed with her coalition partners and would need parliamentary approval, would help Germany deport "serial offenders" convicted of lesser crimes.

"This is in the interests of the citizens of Germany, but also in the interests of the great majority of the refugees who are here," Merkel told party members in Mainz. However, she also reiterated her mantra on the refugee issue, insisting again "we will manage it."

Bonn University political scientist Tilman Mayer said he doesn't see the CDU proposal as either a change of course, nor one likely to dispel many Germans' concerns. "This is just a building block in a chain of statements from the government and also the chancellor," he said on Phoenix television.

Though Merkel has decried the assaults as "repugnant criminal acts that ... Germany will not accept," they provide fodder for those who have opposed her open-door policy and refusal to set a cap on refugee numbers.

Influential Hamburg broadcaster NDR said in an opinion piece posted online Friday that such crimes threaten to push xenophobia toward the "middle of the population" — which could lead to a backlash against refugees.

"And who is to blame mainly?" the editorial asked. "These young, testosterone-driven time bombs with their image of women from the Middle Ages." Despite the harsh rhetoric, the case is not yet that clear and the investigation is ongoing.

Of 31 suspects temporarily detained for questioning following the New Year's Eve attacks, there were 18 asylum seekers but also two Germans and an American among others, and none were accused of specifically committing sexual assaults.

Cologne police on Saturday said more than 100 detectives are assigned to the case and are investigating 379 criminal complaints filed with them, about 40 percent of which involve allegations of sexual offenses.

"The people in the focus of the criminal investigation are primarily from North African countries," police said. "Most are asylum seekers or people living illegally in Germany. The investigation into if, and how widely, these people were involved in concrete criminal activity on New Year's Eve is ongoing."

Witness Lieli Shabani told the Guardian newspaper the attacks appeared coordinated, saying she watched from the steps of the city's cathedral as three men appeared to be giving instructions to others.

"One time a group of three or four males would come up to them, be given instructions and sent away into the crowd," the 35-year-old teacher was quoted as saying. "Then another group of four or five would come up, and they'd gesticulate in various directions and send them off again."

National broadcaster ARD called the attacks a "wake-up call" that illuminates the difficulty that lies ahead for Germany of integrating the newcomers. "But we must not give in to our fears," ARD said. "If we now take all the refugees into custody, if we erect fences around our homes and country, if we join the swing to the right that some of our neighbors have, then we give up all we have achieved."

Cologne's police chief was dismissed Friday amid mounting criticism of his force's handling of the incidents, and for being slow with releasing information. Speaking in Mainz, Merkel said local authorities must not be perceived to be withholding information and urged that the case be "fully clarified."

"Everything has to be put on the table," she said. The proposal passed by her CDU party's leaders would strengthen the ability of police to conduct checks of identity papers, and also to exclude foreigners from being granted asylum if they have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to terms even as light as probation.

"Serial offenders who consistently, for example, return to theft or time and again insult women must count on the force of the law," Merkel said.

Rising reported from Berlin.

Cologne police chief dismissed over New Year's Eve assaults

January 09, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — The police chief of the German city of Cologne was dismissed Friday amid mounting criticism of his force's handling of a string of New Year's Eve sexual assaults and robberies blamed largely on foreigners.

Wolfgang Albers had faced mounting criticism for the police response to New Year's Eve attacks on women by groups of men within a 1,000-strong crowd described by police as predominantly Arab or North African in origin.

Albers' dismissal comes amid a flurry of disconcerting allegations over the behavior of foreigners at time when large groups of migrants, mostly from Syria, are flooding into Europe. Government spokesman Georg Streiter said the chancellor wants "the whole truth" about the events in Cologne and "nothing should be held back and nothing should be glossed over."

He said the trouble in Cologne "doesn't just harm our rule of law but also the great majority of completely innocent refugees who have sought protection." Reports of the harassment have fueled calls for tighter immigration laws in Germany, particularly from politicians opposed to Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy that allowed nearly 1.1 million people fleeing war and poverty to enter the country last year.

The German government said 31 suspects were briefly detained for questioning after the New Year's Eve trouble, among them 18 asylum-seekers. The 31 included nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, five Iranians, four Syrians, two Germans and one person each from Iraq, Serbia and the United States.

None of the 31 has been accused of specifically committing sexual assaults, the aspect of Cologne's disturbances that attracted most public outrage at home and abroad. Cologne police say they have received 170 criminal complaints connected to the New Year's festivities, 120 of them sexual in nature.

Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said those detained were believed to have been members of the crowd in front of the Cologne railway station on New Year's Eve. Plate said authorities were investigating whether the assaults were connected to reports of similar offenses in other German cities.

Police in other European nations reported cases of similar trouble in public places, particularly near train stations, fueling speculation the events might have been coordinated. In Sweden, police said at least 15 young women reported being groped by groups of men on New Year's Eve in the city of Kalmar. Police spokesman Johan Bruun said two men, both asylum-seekers, have been told via interpreter that they are suspected of committing sexual assaults. He said police are trying to identify other suspects.

In Finland, police said they received tipoffs on New Year's Eve that about 1,000 predominantly Iraqi asylum seekers were intending to gather near the main railway station in Helsinki and harass passing women. Police there said they received three complaints of harassment and detained several asylum-seekers at the scene for alleged inappropriate behavior.

Police failed to mention the attacks around Cologne's main train station in their initial morning report on New Year's Day, describing overnight festivities as "largely peaceful." Albers, the former police chief, acknowledged that mistake earlier this week, but he dismissed widespread criticism that his officers reacted too slowly in response to reports of assaults and harassment of women.

However, an internal police report published in German media Thursday characterized Cologne's police as overwhelmed and described how women were forced to run through gantlets of drunken men outside the station.

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker suggested Friday that police had withheld information from her, including on the origin of suspects. She said that her "trust in the Cologne police leadership is significantly shaken."

Associated Press reporter Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.

Germany publishes 'Mein Kampf' for 1st time since WWII

January 08, 2016

MUNICH (AP) — An annotated edition of "Mein Kampf," the first version of Adolf Hitler's notorious manifesto to be published in Germany since the end of World War II, went on sale Friday in an effort to demystify the book and debunk the Nazi leader's writing.

The Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History worked for several years on the plain-covered volume, officially titled "Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition." It launched the book days after the copyright of the German-language original expired at the end of 2015 — 70 years after Hitler's death.

Over the years, Bavaria's state finance ministry had used its copyright on the book to prevent the publication of new editions. The book wasn't banned in Germany, though, and could be found online, in secondhand bookshops and in libraries.

The new edition is 1,948 pages, roughly double the original, and sets Hitler's text amid extensive comments by historians that are meant to contradict and deflate his writing. The new edition "sets out as far as possible Hitler's sources, which were deeply rooted in the German racist tradition of the late 19th century," said Andreas Wirsching, the Munich institute's director. "This edition exposes the false information spread by Hitler, his downright lies and his many half-truths, which aimed at a pure propaganda effect."

Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" — or "My Struggle" — after he was jailed following the failed 1923 coup attempt known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The rambling tome set out his ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-communist ideology, which would culminate in the Holocaust and a war of conquest in Europe. It is considered an important source for understanding the history of the Nazi regime.

"The problem with this book is that it isn't just a historical source — it's also a symbol," said Christian Hartmann, who led the team putting together the annotated edition. "And our idea was to lay bare this symbol once and for all."

Millions of copies were printed after the Nazis took power in 1933, and it was published after the war in several other countries. "At a time when the well-known formulae of far-right xenophobia are threatening to become ... socially acceptable again in Europe, it is necessary to research and critically present the appalling driving forces of National Socialism and its deadly racism," Wirsching said.

German authorities have made clear that they won't tolerate any new editions without commentary, though none is known to be in the works. Incitement laws are likely to be used against any such publications.

Germany's main Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews, said it has no objections to the critical edition but strongly supports ongoing efforts to prevent any new "Mein Kampf" without annotations. Its president, Josef Schuster, said he hopes the critical edition will "contribute to debunking Hitler's inhuman ideology and counteracting anti-Semitism."

Jewish opinion has been divided, however. One of Schuster's predecessors, Charlotte Knobloch, has said she worries the new edition will simply awaken interest in the original, not the commentary. The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, said it's right to study the book, but he underlined his opposition to a new edition.

"I don't see the need for a critical edition," he said. "Unlike other works that truly deserve to be republished as annotated editions, 'Mein Kampf' does not. Already, academics, historians and the wider public have easy access to this text."

German authorities are broadly supportive of the annotated edition. "I think one shouldn't pretend the book doesn't exist," Education Minister Johanna Wanka told n-tv television. "Such taboos can sometimes be counterproductive. It's important that people who want to debunk this book have the appropriate material."

Ian Kershaw, a Briton who is a leading biographer of Hitler, joined Friday's book presentation and said it was "high time for a rigorously academic edition of 'Mein Kampf'" to be made available. "For years, I have considered the lifting of the ban on publication long overdue," Kershaw said. "Censorship is almost always pointless in the long term in a free society and only contributes to creating a negative myth, making a forbidden text more mysterious and awakening an inevitable fascination with the inaccessible."

Michael Lemling, the manager of the Lehmkuhl bookshop in Munich, said "Mein Kampf" was "probably the worst thing we've ever had here — the text is anti-Semitic, racist and militarist." However, he said it was important to him to stock the annotated edition — priced at 59 euros ($64) — because "it takes apart all Hitler's lies, propaganda tricks and rhetorical tricks with 3,500 footnotes, so that in the end not much is left of them."

Moulson reported from Berlin.

Thousands of UK doctors walk off the job in pay dispute

January 12, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of junior doctors walked off the job Tuesday in England in a dispute over pay and working conditions — the first such strike in 40 years.

Some 50,000 junior doctors —those who are training and have between one and 10 years of experience — were on strike for 24 hours protesting government plans to change pay and work schedules. The striking doctors argue patients will be put at risk by the government's policies, while the government says the National Health Service needs more flexibility to deliver services on weekends.

The strike has forced cancellation of some 4,000 operations and outpatient procedures. Prime Minister David Cameron pleaded with doctors on Monday to call off the action, but officials were notably silent Tuesday as protests unfolded across England. The health service is considered a treasured institution here and enjoys widespread public support despite its many problems.

Britain's government has insisted that the health service has been ring-fenced from the cuts hitting other government agencies as part of austerity plans meant to control the budget hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis. But with medical costs rising, the government insists changes are needed, particularly in staffing on weekends.

Waving banners saying "The NHS needs saving and they're not listening but we've got something to say," demonstrators formed picket lines outside hospitals beginning in the early morning. Nadia Masood, 34, who organized the picket at Great Ormond Street Hospital, accused the government of not negotiating in good faith with public sector workers. Masood said support for the strike among the doctors was overwhelming.

"This isn't the first time we have been mistreated by the government though, that just tells you how bad these changes are," she said. Singers serenaded the strikers, and cab drivers honked horns in support.

Canadian held by Taliban released in remote Afghan district

January 12, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan official described on Tuesday the dramatic scene surrounding the release the previous day of a Canadian hostage held by the Taliban for five years — a scene that involved a helicopter landing to scoop the captive to freedom as fighter jets flew overhead in a remote district in Afghanistan.

The hostage, Colin Rutherford, was released at 11 a.m. on Monday in Ghazni province's remote Giro district, local police chief Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil said. Rutherford was seized in November 2010 and accused of being a spy. At the time, Rutherford said that he was a tourist.

The Canadian Embassy in Kabul did not divulge his current whereabouts and it wasn't immediately clear if he had been flown out of Afghanistan. A Taliban statement said Rutherford's release was brokered by Qatar.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion in a statement late Monday thanked the Qatari authorities for their help. "Canada is very pleased that efforts undertaken to secure the release of Colin Rutherford from captivity have been successful," Dion said. "We look forward to Mr. Rutherford being able to return to Canada and reunite with his family and loved ones."

The Taliban released a video of Rutherford in 2011 and accused him of being a spy. Rutherford, who was then 26, insisted he was not a spy and had travelled to Afghanistan to study historical sites and shrines. He said in the video that he was an auditor from Canada and that he came to Afghanistan as a tourist.

Rutherford's brother, Brian, called the release incredible news and said he was deeply grateful to all those who aided in the release. "We're obviously overjoyed," he said. The Canadian Circulations Audit Board said in an email that Rutherford was working for them in Toronto when he went on vacation to Afghanistan.

"This is great news," Tim Peel, the company's vice-president, said in an email. "We wish him a safe and speedy return and would like to thank all the parties involved in securing his freedom."

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto.

Putin grants Italian judo coach citizenship

January 08, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — After Russian President Vladimir Putin and national judo team coach Ezio Gamba took each other to the mat in a practice, Putin followed up with a smooth move — granting the Italian a Russian passport.

Putin and Gamba squared off in a training session on Friday in the resort city of Sochi, portions of which were shown on state television, where Putin likes to show off his athleticism. Afterward, Putin announced Gamba had been awarded Russian citizenship. He praised Gamba for leading Russia's judo team to "surprising results and remarkable success" in the Olympics.

Under Gamba, Russia led the judo medal count in the 2012 Olympics with three golds, one silver and one bronze.

Iran's needy get winter clothes from 'Walls of Kindness'

January 10, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — As a brutal winter set in across Iran, anonymous philanthropists throughout the country painted "Walls of Kindness" and installed rows of hooks, inviting passers-by to leave warm clothes if they could spare them or take clothes if they need them.

The unique variation on the take-a-penny, leave-a-penny jar provides winter clothes to the homeless while sparing them the shame that can come from having to beg for help. Pictures of the brightly painted walls have been circulated on social media, helping to spread the initiative.

Dozens of walls have popped up across Iran, and at least one philanthropist has taken things a step further, setting up a refrigerator outdoors and inviting people to leave or take food. "This signifies compassion toward one another," Mehrangiz Tavassoli said after hanging a wool sweater on a wall in central Tehran. "In the past, I did not know what to do with donations. Now, those who need can take what they want."

Tehran has a homeless population of around 15,000 people, a third of them women, according to government figures. Winters can be brutally cold, with snowstorms sweeping in from the surrounding mountains. This year has been particularly icy, with temperatures frequently dropping to below freezing.

"The Wall of Kindness is a beautiful gesture," Saghar Maliani said as she left a long women's coat. "It keeps those who are in need from begging at the doors of homes. This way, their reputation is not harmed."

Mohammad Javad Lakzaie, a university student, said many Iranians have suffered from the international sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program, which are set to be lifted soon under a landmark agreement with world powers reached last year.

"Some people have very low salaries and cannot make ends meet," he said as he left a shirt on the wall. "There are also some students who are not relying on anyone financially and are really in need, but at the same time do not feel comfortable asking others for help because they think their dignity will be ruined."

In a wealthy neighborhood in northern Tehran, residents have left out coats, trousers, socks, sweaters, hats and even bags. Downtown, near a park frequented by homeless people and drug addicts, someone set up a refrigerator and a kiosk filled with blankets, shoes and books.

"Food for your body," reads a sign on the refrigerator. "Food for your soul," is written above the books.