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Friday, May 6, 2016

Iraqi protesters breach Green Zone, storm parliament

April 30, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of protesters climbed over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad's highly-fortified Green Zone for the first time on Saturday and stormed into parliament, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government.

The breach marked a major escalation in the country's political crisis following months of anti-government protests, sit-ins and demonstrations by supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Green Zone is home to most ministries and foreign embassies and has long been the focus of al-Sadr's criticism of the government.

Earlier Saturday, al-Sadr accused Iraqi politicians of blocking political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste. While al-Sadr didn't call for an escalation to the protests, shortly after his remarks his supporters began scaling the compound's walls. A group of young men then pulled down a section of concrete blast walls to cheers from the crowd of thousands gathered in the streets outside.

Cellphone video uploaded to social media showed dozens of young men running through the halls of parliament, chanting slogans in support of al-Sadr and calling for the government to disband. "We are all with you (al-Sadr)," one group of men yelled as the entered the building's main chamber.

Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralyzed Iraq's government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices.

A broad-based protest movement last summer mobilized millions and pressured Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to submit a proposal to reduce the size of the Cabinet and replace political appointees with independent technocrats.

But that proposal has been stalled in the face of Iraq's entrenched political blocs, and in recent months al-Sadr's movement has come to monopolize the protests. Earlier on Saturday, a bombing in a market filled with Shiite civilians in Baghdad killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 42 others, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

IS claimed the attack, saying it used a three-ton truck bomb. The extremist group regularly carries out attacks targeting the security forces and the country's Shiite majority.

Egypt journalists stage protest over police raid at union

May 02, 2016

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's journalists' syndicate called for the dismissal of the interior minister and an immediate sit-in at its headquarters in downtown Cairo on Monday, to protest the police detention of two journalists on its premises the night earlier.

After an emergency meeting in the early hours of Monday morning, the group called for the "open-ended" sit-in to run through a Wednesday general assembly meeting and World Press Freedom day on May 3. Later Monday morning, dozens gathered at the steps of the building, chanting "journalists are not terrorists." They plan for a larger demonstration Monday afternoon.

The syndicate described the police's entry into the building as a "raid by security forces whose blatant barbarism and aggression on the dignity of the press and journalists and their syndicate has surprised the journalistic community and the Egyptian people." Some syndicate members have said the raid was heavy-handed, involving dozens of officers and resulted in a security guard being injured.

Police denied they entered the building by force and said only eight officers were involved, who they said were acting on an arrest warrant for the two journalists — accused of organizing protests to destabilize the country. Unauthorized demonstrations in Egypt are banned, and demonstrators subject to arrest.

"The Ministry of Interior affirms that it did not raid the syndicate or use any kind of force in arresting the two, who turned themselves in as soon as they were told of the arrest warrant," the ministry said in a statement.

The two journalists, Amr Badr and Mahmoud el-Sakka, are government critics who work for a website known as January Gate, also critical of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government. It was unclear what size any sit-in at the syndicate could achieve. Police, backed by army troops, on Monday had initially barricaded the entire area and prevented people from approaching the building, but they eventually lifted the blockade. Still hundreds of uniformed and undercover police were deployed across central Cairo in order to prevent any protests.

A day earlier, police prevented hundreds of workers from holding a meeting at the building to commemorate International Workers' Day, prompting independent trade union leaders to urge the government to allow them freedom of assembly.

The syndicate has invited the trade union leaders to join the sit-in to denounce the "raid" and protest restrictions on freedom of assembly for labor organizers. It said the move was illegal and violated its charter, which forbids police from entering the building without the presence of a syndicate official, and is urging police to end their "siege" of the building and stop preventing journalists from entering.

The journalists' syndicate has been a rallying point for demonstrations in the past, and was blocked in a similar manner ahead of planned anti-government protests last Monday. The building drew particular attention because it was from there that some 2,000 demonstrators gathered last month to protest el-Sissi's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. Police fired tear gas and arrested dozens to break up the protests, the first significant wave of street demonstrations since the former army chief became president in 2014.

A second round of mass demonstrations over the issue planned for last Monday were stifled by a massive security presence, with hundreds of arrests and only small flash mobs managing to assemble, drawing tear gas and birdshot from the riot police.

Turkish premier to step down, boosting president's position

May 05, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister announced Thursday that he will stand down, giving the country's increasingly authoritarian president free reign to appoint someone less likely to challenge him —a development that could have implications for Turkey's internal conflicts and external relations.

NATO member Turkey is crucial to the U.S.-led coalition's fight against the Islamic State group and also is playing a pivotal role in stemming Europe's migrant crisis. But Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's announcement that he will step down May 22 comes amid increasing turbulence at home: a resurgent conflict with Kurdish militants, six major suicide attacks in less than a year and an increasingly shaky economy.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was already Turkey's dominant figure, but Davutoglu's resignation effectively deprives the country of a moderating influence. The shake-up is widely seen as the result of irreconcilable differences between Erdogan, who would like to see the country transition to a presidential system, and his once-trusted aide, who declined a backseat role.

Erdogan has taken an increasingly hard-line stance on issues ranging from freedom of expression to the peaceful resolution of a three-decade conflict with Kurdish rebels. He has ratcheted up his anti-Western rhetoric, accusing allies of trying to hold back a rising Turkey.

The president has launched nearly 2,000 legal cases against people accused of insulting him. He wants to expand the definition of "terrorist" to include anyone who supports or lends a voice to a terrorist organization, including scholars, journalists and legislators — which has alarmed human rights activists and Western officials.

Erdogan has been emboldened by more than a decade of electoral victories and a long period of economic growth. Part of his appeal to many Turks stems from the strongman persona. The bookish Davutoglu, a former foreign minister whom Erdogan picked to replace him as premier when he won the presidency in 2014, offered Europe and the U.S. an easier and more diplomatic partner. But allies knew well that there were clear limits to his power.

Retired U.S. Ambassador W. Robert Pearson, who was posted in Turkey from 2000 to 2003, says he doesn't expect a "radical change" of direction in U.S-Turkey relations because "Mr. Davutoglu clearly followed Mr. Erdogan's lead in foreign affairs and this split is over domestic affairs."

There is, however, a risk that the political upheaval will add a "new element of confusion" to the relationship, he said — and there is a "greater risk" now that Turkey will focus more on action against the Kurds and less on action against IS.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest praised Davutoglu as a "good partner" for the U.S. who had demonstrated leadership, but said the U.S. didn't anticipate that his resignation would affect the countries' ability to work together.

The shake-up will likely have a greater impact on Turkish-EU relations. Davutoglu was the chief negotiator in a high-stakes deal to stem the flow of migrants to Greece and beyond, and European leaders will be keen to assess Turkey's future intentions.

Davutoglu's announcement came a day after the European Union's executive Commission recommended approval of a deal to give Turkish citizens the right to travel to the EU without visas. Analysts say the next premier will likely try to push forward the constitutional reforms needed for Turkey to move to a presidential system. Erdogan has already overstepped the traditional presidential mandate by chairing Cabinet meetings.

"This development is likely to consolidate Erdogan's power and speed up his authoritarian agenda," said Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Likely candidates to succeed Davutoglu include Erdogan loyalists such as Transport and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, and even Erdogan's son-in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak. The new leader of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, who will also become the new premier, will be chosen at an emergency party convention May 22.

Erdogan has shown no hesitation to eliminate rivals in the past. They include two co-founders of the party that has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, ex-President Abullah Gul and former deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc.

"Despite constitutional constraints that require the president to remain above party politics, Mr. Erdogan remains the de-facto leader of the AKP with unrivalled support within the party and among the public," said Robert O'Daly, lead Turkey analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Davutoglu sought to downplay his rift with Erdogan as he made his resignation announcement, saying he would "continue the struggle" as an AKP legislator and pledging loyalty to the president. However, the political uncertainty has unsettled financial markets. On Wednesday, as rumors swirled that Davutoglu was about to quit, the Turkish lira dropped by more than 4 percent against the dollar. On Thursday, it recovered some of its losses.

 Some observers fear a change in prime minister could hurt the economy. "A key area of concern is the economic policy portfolio," said O'Daly. It is currently held by deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek, closer to Davutoglu than Erdogan.

Divisions between Erdogan and Davutoglu first surfaced over the conflict with Kurdish militants in Turkey's southeast. Erdogan lambasted Davutoglu after he spoke of the possibility of resuming peace talks with Kurdish rebels.

The gulf widened over Davutoglu's opposition to the pre-trial detention of journalists accused of spying and academics accused of voicing support for the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Erdogan spurned his premier and even suggested that anyone deemed to be supportive of extremists should be stripped of citizenship.

But what sealed Davutoglu's demise was his lukewarm support for a powerful presidential system. An anonymous Turkish blog titled "Pelican Brief," which many believe was penned by people close to Erdogan, listed that among the presidential camp's disappointments with Davutoglu.

Announcing his resignation, Davutoglu stressed that he never intended to be a caretaker prime minister. He recalled that when he handed over the party leadership to Davutoglu in 2014, Erdogan said: "This is the era of a strong president and a strong prime minister."

"That was the right approach," Davutoglu said.

Dominique Soguel reported from Istanbul.

Turkish PM meets party leaders, expected to step down

May 05, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with officials of his party on Thursday amid reports that he intends to step down after falling out of favor with the country's all-powerful president.

Davutoglu is expected to step down as premier later this month during an emergency party convention, according to local media reports. His possible departure comes at a time when Turkey is facing turmoil and an array of security threats. The country, which is vying for EU membership, has witnesses several suicide bombings linked to Islamic State or Kurdish militants.

The premier is scheduled to give a news conference later. Davutoglu already met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan face-to-face late on Wednesday in an apparently failed bid to smooth things over. The rift between the president and the premier became painfully obvious last week when the executive committee of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which is dominated by figures close to Erdogan, seized Davutoglu's powers to appoint local and provincial leaders, further weakening his grip on the party.

But the biggest hint that Davutoglu's days are numbered came late Sunday when an anonymous Turkish blog titled "Pelican Brief" and believed to have been authored by people close to Erdogan, aired the presidential camp's alleged grievances with Davutoglu, including not advocating a presidential system — favored by the president — strongly enough.

Erdogan had hand-picked Davutoglu to succeed him as premier and AKP leader after he was elected president in 2014. Davutoglu was expected to play a backseat role as Erdogan pushed ahead with plans to make the largely ceremonial presidency into an all-powerful position.

Instead, the former professor, adviser to Erdogan and foreign minister, tried to act independently on a range of issues and the two men reportedly grew apart. Davutoglu proved to be a more moderating force to Erdogan, who has adopted an increasingly authoritarian style of government.

The premier had at best offered half-hearted support to an all-powerful presidential system, which Erdogan has said should be introduced "rapidly." The two leaders also differed over the pre-trial imprisonment of academics and journalists, which Davutoglu opposed, and over the possibility of the resumption of a peace process with the Kurdish rebels — which Erdogan ruled out.

Soguel reported from Istanbul.

100th anniversary of historic Ottoman victory

30 April 2016 Saturday

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday extolled a historic Ottoman army victory over British forces a century ago, during World War I.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the battle of Kut al-Amara, which took place during between the Ottoman Army and British-Indian forces in the town of Kut, now in modern Iraq.

Speaking at an event in Istanbul commemorating the victory’s centenary, Erdogan declared his opposition to versions of history that begin with 1919, the start of the War of Independence that led to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

“I reject an understanding of history that starts our nation’s, our civilization’s millennia of history with 1919,” he said.

Erdogan said that the country’s history stretches back long before the Republican Era and includes past Turkish civilizations.

“Books or libraries would not be enough to tell the richness of the history of such a country,” Erdogan said.

“But what we have done -- we have almost tried to cover up our own history with black cloth. We tried to bury our own history,” he said.

“Those who mention our successes in our own past briefly as if they have nothing to do with us or never mention them at all both disrespect our forebears and harm our future generations,” he said.

“Kut al-Amara Victory is a striking example of this,” he added.

Erdogan added that during the siege of Kut al-Amara, Arabs in Kut fought as members of the Ottoman Army and were martyred for the cause.

Speaking at the same event, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Kut al-Amara was an indelible victory.

“The understanding of the Old Turkey did not want to remember this victory -- they wanted to forget it systematically, so to speak,” he said.

Davutoglu said that the “epic” victory at Kut al-Amara had served as an “elixir of life” at a time of decline and desperation not only for the Turkish nation, but for all other oppressed nations in the region.

“It gave ‘soul and meaning’ to the Turkish Republic which was to be established following the War of Independence,” he said.

Davutoglu also said that Turks had always obeyed the laws of war, and treated its prisoners in a humane manner.

“It is easy to be polite in times of peace. What is important is to be able to be magnanimous towards those who seek your life in conflict and war zones.

“Today Turkey is treating oppressed people fleeing from war and death in the same manner as it treated prisoners of war -- without discriminating against anyone based on their religion, language, ethnicity, identity, or sect,” he said.

This year the victory at Kut al-Amara is being remembered through special events such as an exhibition and a new book with the memoirs of an Ottoman officer.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haber&ArticleID=172144.

Third wave of migrants returned to Turkey from Greece

April 26, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Dozens of migrants arrived in Turkey on Tuesday, Turkish officials said, as part of a migration deal with the European Union meant to stem the flow of people heading to Europe's prosperous heartland.

Ferries carrying a total of 49 migrants from the Greek islands of Kos, Chios and Lesbos reached the Turkish port towns of Gulluk, Cesme and Dikili, according to Turkish news agencies and an official at Dikili, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

According to the deal finalized last month, Turkey will take back migrants who reached Greece after March 20, unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. For every Syrian among those returned, Europe has pledged to take a Syrian refugee directly from Turkey to be resettled in an EU country.

Tuesday's group, from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Myanmar, was the third wave of migrants to be returned to Turkey. As part of the deal, some refugee camps on the eastern Aegean Greek islands have been turned into closed detention centers holding those who face potential deportation.

One of those is Moria camp on Lesbos, where a protest broke out Tuesday during a visit there by the Greek migration affairs minister and a Dutch official. A Greek official said Ioannis Mouzalas was visiting the camp with Dutch junior justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff when migrants began shouting "freedom" and "open the borders," and banging metal objects. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department regulations.

Police said the unrest began in the section housing unaccompanied teenagers, with protesters starting fires by burning trash. Riot police were on standby outside the camp, police said, adding that the situation was tense but under control.

Dijkhoff, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, was visiting Greece to check on progress of implementing the EU-Turkey deal. The agreements "offer perspective, but their success can't be taken for granted. It is of the utmost importance that member states live up to their side of the deals," Dijkhoff said in a statement released before the protest.

"That means we have to help Greece deal with asylum applications and the return of migrants. Member states also have to accept Syrians from Turkey in return for the migrants being sent back to Turkey."

Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

Turkey hails 'effective' migrant deal as EU leaders visit

April 23, 2016

GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister said Saturday the number of migrants crossing into Greece illegally has dropped considerably, as proof that a much criticized migration deal between Turkey and the European Union is working.

Ahmet Davutolgu was speaking at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top European Union officials who traveled near Turkey's border with Syria in a bid to promote the troubled deal with Turkey as they face increasing pressure to reassess the agreement. The group toured a refugee camp and inaugurated a child support center funded by the EU.

European Union Council President Donald Tusk said the EU plans to spend 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) on projects this summer to improve the lives of Syrian refugees in Turkey and Davutoglu said the bloc has already launched projects worth 187 million euros ($211 million).

Human rights groups criticized the trip to what they call a "sanitized" refugee camp — and said EU officials should look further at the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees that are now blocked from entering Turkey.

Many have questioned the legality of the March 20 EU-Turkey deal allowing for the deportation of migrants who don't qualify for asylum in Greece back to Turkey. Davutoglu said the number of migrants crossing illegally into Greece had dropped from around 6,000 per day in November to around 130 daily since the beginning of this month.

"This drop shows the effectiveness of this joint mechanism," Davutoglu said. "Our priority was to stop the baby Aylans from washing up on the shores, and we have made great strides in this aim," Davutoglu said, in reference to drowned 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose images helped galvanize world attention on the plight of the migrants.

In return for the deal, the EU has earmarked 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) to Turkey over the next four years to help improve conditions for the 2.7 million Syrian refugees inside Turkey. The EU is also set to allow visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

Rights groups, EU legislators and the U.N. refugee agency have questioned the moral and legal implications of expelling people from Greece back to Turkey — a country that many consider unsafe on grounds of security and human rights.

Despite insisting that it has an open-door policy for Syrian refugees, Turkey in the past few months has blocked several thousand refugees who were fleeing northern Syria at the border, providing aid to them at displaced persons camps near the border instead. Human rights groups say some of the camps have been attacked and are pressing Ankara to give the refugees shelter inside Turkey.

Amnesty International says Turkish authorities have also for the past three months been expelling around 100 Syrians a day back to their war-ravaged country — an accusation Turkey has denied. The country has also rejected claims that Turkish soldiers have sometimes shot at refugees trying to cross the border illegally.

Davutoglu reacted angrily to the Amnesty claim Saturday, saying not a single Syrian had been returned to his or her homeland without consent. Tusk backed Turkey, saying the country — which is host to the worlds' largest refugee population — was "the best example in the entire world of how to treat refugees."

On Syria, Merkel said she was in favor of the creation of "areas that are under special protection of the cease-fire, where as much safety as possible can be offered." Merkel said: "The safer people can feel, the less they have to leave their homeland."

Earlier, New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch urged EU leaders to understand the whole refugee picture at the Turkish border. "Instead of touring a sanitized refugee camp, EU leaders should look over the top of Turkey's new border wall to see the tens of thousands of war-weary Syrian refugees blocked on the other side," said Judith Sunderland, Human Rights Watch's acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director. "Then, they should go to the (Turkish) detention center for people who were abusively deported from Greece. That should make them rethink the flawed EU-Turkey deal."

Merkel's visit also comes amid controversy over her decision to grant Turkey's request to let German prosecutors and courts decide whether German comedian Jan Boehmermann had insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Critics have accused Merkel of kowtowing to Turkey because of the country's important role in stopping the influx of migrants to Europe.

Merkel denied that Germany was no longer raising the question of freedom of expression with Turkish leaders. "I can assure you that the fact we speak with each other so often — much more often than we used to — leads to our addressing all these issues," she said.

Turkey's leaders have warned that the entire migrant deportation deal will collapse if the EU fails to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free stays for tourism or business by July. On Saturday, Davutoglu said the issue was "crucial" for Turkey and said his country was working to fulfill its commitments on the issue.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama also weighed in on the issue in comments to German daily Bild that were published Saturday. He praised Merkel's "political and moral leadership" in the migrant crisis, but also stressed the need to uphold human rights.

"The recent agreement between the EU and Turkey is a step toward a more equitable way of sharing this responsibility," he said. "As the agreement is implemented, it will be essential that migrants are treated properly and that human rights are upheld."

Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Geir Moulson in Berlin and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.

Jordan's parliament blocks Israeli delegation from conference in Amman

May 4, 2016

The Jordanian Parliament Speaker Atef Tarawneh has said that the Lower House has rejected the participation of an Israeli delegation in the 2016 Women in Parliaments Global Forum (WIP) which is scheduled to begin in Amman on Wednesday.

Tarawneh told reporters on Tuesday that the chamber has called on the conference organizers not to allow any Israeli representation in the event.

Tarawneh said the WIP, which will be held under the patronage of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, is an important global event held for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa.

The two-day world summit, which hundreds of political and parliamentary women leaders from 89 countries will participate in, highlights the Kingdom’s international status and the important role of its diplomacy, he added.

Tarawneh expressed hope that the forum’s results will be focused towards the empowerment of women in the decision making process.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160504-jordans-parliament-blocks-israeli-delegation-from-conference-in-amman/.

Spain misses deadline for new government, June election set

May 03, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spain has missed the deadline for its politicians to form a new government following inconclusive elections held Dec. 20 so King Felipe VI must now dissolve parliament before a new election on June 26.

Since no political party had enough support to form a government and all parties failed to reach coalition agreements by midnight Monday — the deadline — the stage is set for an unprecedented repeat of general elections, six months after the previous ballot ended Spain's two-party system.

The king will sign a decree dissolving parliament Tuesday. Spain has been in a political stalemate, governed by a caretaker government with Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy as prime minister since Dec. 20, when newcomer parties Podemos and Ciudadanos upset the longstanding dominance of the Popular Party and Socialists.

Park workers in Spain discover huge Roman coin trove

April 29, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Workers laying pipes in a southern Spanish park have unearthed a 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) trove of Roman coins in what culture officials say is a unique historic discovery. The Seville Archaeological Museum said the construction workers came across 19 amphoras containing thousands of bronze and silver-coated coins dating from the end of the fourth century. The coins are believed to have been recently minted at the time and had probably been stored away to pay soldiers or civil servants.

Museum director Ana Navarro said the discovery Wednesday in the southern town of Tomares outside Seville is unique for Spain and of incalculable value. She said the coins studied so far bear images of emperors Constantine and Maximian, with a variety of pictorial images on the reverse.

She told reporters the museum had contacted counterparts in Britain, France and Italy and that the find appeared to be one of the most important from the period. The regional cultural department said Friday that construction work in the park had been halted while archaeologists investigate further.

The clay pots, 10 of which were said to be intact, were found just over a meter (yard) underground. The cultural department said the museum had no similar coins in its collection. Once the find has been fully investigated the pieces will be put on display in the museum.

The Romans began to conquer Spain in 218 B.C. and ruled until the fifth century.

Spain heads to new election after talks fail to form govt

April 26, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spain's King Felipe VI decided Tuesday that none of the country's political parties has enough support to form a government, setting the stage for an unprecedented repeat election in June, six months after voters ended the nation's traditional two-party system.

Felipe announced his decision in a statement after spending two days meeting with party leaders — including those in charge of the conservative Popular Party, the center-left Socialists, the far-left Podemos party and the business-friendly Ciudadanos party.

His decision means that no party will be able to cobble together a minority or coalition government that would assume control of the 350-member lower house of Parliament by May 2, triggering a new election for June 26.

Spain has been politically paralyzed since its national election on Dec. 20 that saw the entry of Podemos and Ciudadanos as strong No. 3 and No. 4 parties following decades of alternating rule between the Popular Party and the Socialists.

The upstarts were voted in by Spaniards angry about years of high unemployment, seemingly endless corruption cases affecting the Popular Party and the Socialists plus unpopular austerity cuts hitting cherished national health care and public education.

Polls suggest a repeat election — a first for Spain since democracy was restored in 1978 — is unlikely to break the stalemate and could mean a political impasse stretching into the summer, possibly ending with yet another election.

Spain has never had a coalition government at the national level. The Socialists rejected Rajoy's proposal for a grand coalition similar to those that have been negotiated in many other European countries.

Analysts predict that Rajoy's party, known as the PP, will again take 1st place in the June election but remain incapable of getting the votes it needs to win back the parliamentary majority it enjoyed from 2011-2015.

The Socialists came in second, Podemos took third place, Cuidadanos was fourth and a handful of small parties also won seats in the 350-member lower house of Parliament. The breakdown of legislative seats made it crucial for the parties for the first time in Spain's history to negotiate alliances for a coalition or form a minority government, but they were incapable of doing so despite months of negotiations.

"At this stage, polls suggest a very similar picture to the one that emerged after the 20 December elections, with the PP dominating the vote and, crucially, an equally fragmented Parliament," said Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consultancy.

Brazil's high court suspends house speaker, foe of president

May 05, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil's top court voted unanimously Thursday to suspend the scandal-tainted leader of the lower house of Congress from his duties. Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha, one of the most powerful politicians in Brazil, is accused of corruption and obstruction of justice.

A nemesis of President Dilma Rousseff, Cunha began the impeachment case that now has the Senate considering whether to put her on trial. Justice Teori Zavascki stripped Cunha of his duties early in the day, then the 10 other justices voted to back that move.

Cunha said at a news conference that he will appeal the decision and won't resign. He called the decision "strange" and "a political retaliation" for his opposition to Rousseff and her Worker's Party.

"It is obvious that there is a political process behind this," Cunha said. "But, God willing, we will end this next Wednesday. God willing the president will have to step away." The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to put Rousseff on trial for possible removal from office, which would result in her suspension during the proceeding.

The Supreme Court's decision was based on a request made in December by chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot. Janot, who called Cunha "a criminal" in his accusation, alleges the speaker used his position to obstruct investigations against him involving corruption at state-run oil giant Petrobras and at the lower house's ethics committee.

Justice Luis Roberto Barroso said the decision to interfere in another branch of government was harsh, but needed. "I don't want to live in a different country. I want to live in a different Brazil," he said while casting his vote.

Outside the Supreme Court, fireworks erupted as the majority vote needed to suspend Cunha was reached. Zavascki said that because the speaker is under investigation, he is unfit to be in line for the presidency should Rousseff be impeached.

If the Senate accepts charges against the embattled leader next week, Vice President Michel Temer, an ally of Cunha's, is set to take over. The speaker is next in line, but the Supreme Court's ruling prevents Cunha from filling in if needed.

Cunha has been leading the effort to oust Rousseff over allegations she used budget tricks to hide government deficits that have contributed to the worst recession in decades for Latin America's largest economy.

An impeachment measure passed overwhelmingly last month in the Chamber of Deputies, much thanks to Cunha's lead, and is now before the Senate. The speaker's suspension has no direct impact on the vote, but Solicitor General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said he would cite it as the basis for a new appeal to the Supreme Court seeking to annul the impeachment process. Cardozo said he will argue that Cunha abused his office to seek revenge against adversaries, including Rousseff.

Speaking earlier at a dam inauguration in the Amazon state of Para, Rousseff called Cunha "shameless" for leading the impeachment process against her. "Better late than never," she said of his suspension.

While the decision might have come too late for supporters of Rousseff and her Worker's Party, it's sure to be celebrated in many circles. "Cunha is the only person that brings Brazil together" in shared contempt, said Francisco Fonseca, a political analyst at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas think tank.

A poll by the respected Datafolha institute in April found 77 percent of Brazilians wanted Cunha to step down or be stripped of his mandate. That was even more than the percentage of Brazilians who wanted to see Rousseff (61 percent) or Temer (58 percent) impeached.

A group of Cunha-allied lawmakers signed a letter of support saying the speaker's suspension caused "a great institutional crisis." But other legislators celebrated the suspension in a raucous session.

A few have started talking about Cunha's succession, since his deputy Waldir Maranhao is also accused of corruption. Besides obstruction of justice charges, Cunha faces several corruption allegations. In March, prosecutors accused him of corruption and money laundering for his role in negotiating contracts for drill ships, including a payment of $5 million.

Swiss prosecutors say Cunha owned secret bank accounts at Julius Baer bank, which he has never declared to Brazilian officials. In December, those accounts had 2.4 million Swiss francs, according to local reports.

Brazilian investigators say they believe those funds are connected to corruption with a Petrobras oil field operation in Benin. Cunha has said the funds came from selling canned meat in African countries in the 1980s and he is only the beneficiary of the account, not its owner.

Brazilian investigators say Cunha also has held undeclared accounts in the United States since 1990, with funds of more than $20 million. A senator-turned-government witness said Cunha and the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party were paid more than $10 million by BTG Pactual bank to get an executive order approved by the lower house.

In court testimony from a lobbyist who pleaded guilty in the case, Cunha is accused of being paid bribes worth more than $12 million from constructors Odebrecht, OAS and Carioca to renovate Rio's port area ahead of the Olympic Games.

Despite all these charges, Cunha managed to stall the Chamber of Deputies' ethics committee, which has not gone far in investigations against him.

Ukrainian city marks 2nd anniversary of fire that killed 43

May 02, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Demonstrators have gathered in the Ukrainian city of Odessa to mark the second anniversary of the street clashes that culminated in a fire that killed 43 people as they took shelter from opponents.

In all, 48 people died in the May 2, 2014, violence. It began with fights between two factions marching in the city, one supporting the recent overthrow of the pro-Russia president and the other calling for autonomy for Ukraine's heavily Russian east.

The autonomy supporters eventually took shelter in a trade union building. Their opponents threw firebombs at the building, which caught fire. However, official accounts say those who took shelter in the building could have set it on fire by throwing firebombs from the roof.

Monday's demonstrators were blocked from the immediate area outside the building.

Thousands claim vote rigging by Serbia's ruling populists

April 30, 2016

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Chanting "Thieves! Thieves!," thousands of opposition supporters protested Saturday in front of Serbia's state electoral commission over what their leaders said was widespread vote rigging by the ruling populists.

The center-right Serbian Progressive Party of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won last weekend's general election by a landslide, but has demanded a vote recount after several smaller opposition parties won seats in Parliament.

The Progressives won 48 percent of the seats in the 250-seat Parliament, but that is 27 seats fewer than in the previous vote in 2014. The ruling party complaint led to the annulment of votes from several polling stations and the failure of one nationalist party, DSS-Dveri, to pass the 5 percent threshold to enter Parliament by the slightest margin — one vote. That would mean that the ruling Progressives would add seven more parliamentary seats to their tally.

In a rare show of unity, opposition party leaders addressed the protesters Saturday, claiming numerous irregularities during the vote, including intimidation and the bribing of voters. "We gathered here today to defend freedom. To defend justice. To defend free Serbia. To defend the will of the Serbian people so Serbia doesn't become, step by step, another North Korea," said Sandra Raskovic Ivic, a leader of the DSS-Dveri coalition. "We will not let that happen."

Vucic called the vote two years early, saying he wanted a clear, new mandate to steer Serbia further toward European Union membership. Critics say Vucic's real intention was to consolidate his authoritarian rule while his popularity was still high.

Pressure mounts on Polish government to save WWII museum

May 05, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's conservative government is coming under growing pressure to permit the opening next year of a major new museum on World War II — an ambitious project with an international approach that the country's nationalistic new leaders dislike.

Work on the Museum of the Second World War has been underway for eight years and it was due to open early next year in Gdansk, the northern Polish port city where some of the opening shots of the war were fired. It aims to be the first museum in the world that tells the story of the war in its entirety, focusing on the suffering of civilian populations across Europe and Asia.

But the country's ruling party, Law and Justice, has put the fate of the museum in question. Party leaders have made clear they prefer to create a museum that focuses exclusively on the Polish experience and are threatening to cancel the current project.

An organization representing Polish wartime resistance fighters wrote to Culture Minister Piotr Glinski this week expressing "deep concern" about the fate of the museum. The World Union of the Home Army Veterans said it had put "great hope in a dignified commemoration" that the museum promised of the wartime experience of Poles and others who came under Nazi and Soviet occupations.

Meanwhile, some 200 historians from the United States and Europe, including some of the world's most distinguished experts on the war and 20th-century history, sent a separate appeal to Glinski on Wednesday asking him to allow the museum to open, saying "any interruption in its work will count as tragedy in the eyes of all who study the past and all who care about Poland's future."

"A huge exhibition is almost ready for visitors, reflecting years of hard work as well as expenditures of many millions of dollars. To close it now would constitute a grave injustice, unprecedented in the democratic western world," the scholars wrote. Among those who signed the letter are John Gaddis from Yale, Charles Maier from Harvard and Istvan Deak from Columbia.

Some government supporters oppose the idea of the museum because they fear that Polish suffering and military resistance will get short shrift if set alongside the wartime history of other nations. The government says it is considering replacing the museum as originally conceived with one focused only on the German attack on Poland in 1939.

The creators of the original museum argue that placing the Polish experience in the global context will instead help non-Polish visitors gain an even better understanding of Poland's wartime tragedy, when it was subject to two brutal occupations — German and Soviet.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who also signed the letter and has been an adviser on the project, wrote a piece in support of the museum that was published on Tuesday by the New York Review of Books. "The collapse of democracy, the museum's first theme, could hardly be more salient than it is right now. And the presentation of the conflict as a global tragedy could hardly be more instructive," Snyder wrote. "The pre-emptive liquidation of the museum is nothing less than a violent blow to the world's cultural heritage."

The Culture Ministry's press office said Thursday that there is still no final decision about the museum's future.

UK votes in local elections expected to deal blow to Labor

May 05, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Britons voted Thursday in local and regional elections that will choose a new mayor for London — and are expected to deal a blow to Britain's main opposition Labor Party. Voters are electing a Scottish Parliament and legislatures in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as choosing members of many English local authorities, including a new London mayor to replace flamboyant Conservative Boris Johnson.

The mayoral race pits the Labour Party's Sadiq Khan against Conservative Zac Goldsmith. Pollsters and bookies make Khan the favorite to win and become the city's first Muslim mayor, after a bitter campaign that saw Goldsmith accuse his rival of sharing platforms with Islamic extremists.

Khan, a former human rights lawyer and the son of a bus driver from Pakistan, accused wealthy environmentalist Goldsmith of trying to divide voters in one of the world's most multicultural cities, home to 8.6 million people — more than 1 million of them Muslims.

Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, said the introduction of a directly elected London mayor 16 years ago has "brought into politics an American form of government" that differs from traditional British Parliamentary and local government structures.

"Now intriguingly this time — and we've seen a bit of it before — it appears to have brought with it some of the harder American campaign tactics," he said. A victory for Khan would be a bright spot in what looks set to be a grim day for Labor, which has been out of office nationally since 2010.

Opposition parties usually gain seats in mid-term elections as voters punish the sitting government. But Labor under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn is divided and beset by a controversy over allegations of anti-Semitism within its ranks. The furor erupted when former London mayor Ken Livingstone — a Corbyn ally — claimed that Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism before he came to power.

Livingstone, Labor lawmaker Naz Shah and several local party officials have been suspended over comments or social media posts about Israel, and Corbyn has faced renewed pressure over his links to pro-Palestinian groups.

Corbyn predicted last week that Labor would not lose seats, but later said that "predictions are not that important." A poor showing would bolster discontented Labor lawmakers who believe the party is heading for a third straight general election defeat in 2020 if Corbyn — a rumpled life-long socialist with strong support among the party's grass roots — is not replaced.

Some voters were turned away from polling stations in the north London borough of Barnet early Friday after being told their names did not appear on a list of electors. The council said the problem had been fixed by late morning, and urged voters who had been turned away to try again.

Sophie Walker, mayoral candidate for the Women's Equality Party, said some voters would be unable to return, and she would make a formal complaint about the glitch. "These are vital votes, particularly for smaller parties," she said.

In Scotland, the pro-independence Scottish National Party is on course to win a majority of seats in the Edinburgh-based parliament and retain governmental power, with Labor at risk of sinking to third place behind the Conservatives.

The SNP oversaw an unsuccessful 2014 referendum on leaving the U.K., but has said it could make a fresh independence bid if British voters choose to leave the European Union in a June 23 poll. In Northern Ireland, which has its own set of political parties reflecting the Catholic-Protestant divide, rivals are competing to see whether the Catholic side can overtake the territory's dwindling Protestant majority for the first time.

The outcome of the Northern Ireland Assembly election will determine who serves as first minister atop the surprisingly durable, nine-year-old coalition government, which has overseen relative calm following four decades of conflict that claimed 3,700 lives.

The party with the most assembly seats always receives the top post. The incumbent is Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland's first female leader. Polls suggest the Irish nationalists of Sinn Fein will narrow the gap with the Democratic Unionists, but fall short of overtaking the Protestant side of the house.

Polls are open until 10 p.m. (2100 GMT, 5 p.m. EDT), and results of all the races are due Friday. Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

Black woman who defied Swedish neo-Nazis inspired by Mandela

May 05, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A black woman who stood up to 300 neo-Nazis in Sweden hopes her gesture will draw attention to the fight against racism in the Scandinavian country. Tess Asplund tried to block the path of the Nordic Resistance Movement as the right-wing extremist group marched in the town of Borlange on May 1.

An image of Asplund facing the neo-Nazis up close with a clenched fist has been shared thousands of times on social media in Sweden and internationally. The 42-year-old anti-racism activist told Swedish Radio her defiant gesture was inspired by the late Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid in South Africa.

"I felt when they arrived that they shouldn't be here and spread their hate," Asplund said. "I don't think I was even thinking. I just jumped out. Things happened quite quickly. Then a police officer pulled me away."

A video of the incident from the Dala-Demokraten newspaper shows Asplund walking backward as she faces men with shaved heads at the front of the procession. One of them tries to shove her aside while another counter-demonstrator is forcefully pushed out of the path of the parade.

Asplund said she was stunned by the attention she got after images of her defiant gesture spread in Sweden and beyond. "I have fought against racism for 26 years. I am 42 now. And if this is a thing that makes people pay attention to the fight against racism and xenophobia, then that's very good," Asplund told Swedish Radio. "But I don't want people to see me as a symbol. There were a lot of others who were there against the racists in Borlange."

David Lagerlof, the photographer who took the most shared photo of Asplund, said he was getting ready to take photos of the approaching march when Asplund suddenly walked out into the middle of the street.

"I thought, 'how is this going to end?' She got out there and stared into the eyes of the leader of the demonstration," Lagerlof told The Associated Press. "They continued going forward, stone-faced."

Swedish anti-racism organization Expo published his photo on its website, and Lagerlof also posted it on social media. Many people shared the image and expressed support and admiration of Asplund's defiance.

J.K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series, tweeted "Tess Asplund, you are magnificent" and shared Lagerlof's image. "I don't know if it gets any bigger than that," Lagerlof said. Swedish security service SAPO has described the Nordic Resistance Movement as a white supremacist group with a strict hierarchy and military influences. Several of its members have been convicted of violent crimes including manslaughter, assault and attempted murder.

Dozens of billboards honoring Stalin put up in Russian city

May 05, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Billboards honoring Soviet dictator Josef Stalin have appeared across Russia's third-largest city ahead of Monday's celebration of victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The Communist Party branch in Novosibirsk said it put up dozens of the billboards ahead of Victory Day to honor Stalin as commander in chief of the Soviet forces that defeated the Nazis.

A party statement said war veterans were pleased the party "is restoring historical justice." Scholars estimate that under Stalin more than 1 million people were executed in political purges. Millions more died in the vast prison camp system or as a result of mass starvation and deportations.

But an increasing number of Russians now admire Stalin as a strong leader who led their country to victory and stood up to the West.