BARCELONA: Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona today (15th of April) to protest the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders facing trial on “rebellion” charges.
Chanting “Freedom for the political prisoners”, they marched along Parallel Avenue, a main thoroughfare, many waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag.
The protest comes six months after the first incarcerations of top Catalan separatist leaders for misuse of public funds, sedition and rebellion – which carries a prison sentence of 30 years and implies that a “violent uprising” took place – over their separatist push. “Since they could not decapitate separatism, they are trying to do it through the courts,” Roser Urgelles, a 59-year-old teacher held.
“They need to demonstrate that there was violence to execute the sentences that they want, so they invent it,” Roser Urgelles said, adding: “But we will continue to protest peacefully.”
Like thousands of others at the march, she wore a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the jailed leaders, whom Catalan separatists consider to be “political prisoners”.
Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catala, has called the use of yellow ribbons “insulting”, arguing that Spain has no political prisoners but “politicians in prison”. The Guardia Urbana, a Catalan municipal police force, said 315,000 people turned out.
France: Yellow Vests stage 10th protest!
PARIS: France’s yellow vests took to the streets today for a 10th straight weekend of anti-government protests, despite attempts by President Emmanuel Macron to channel their anger into a series of town hall debates.
In Paris, several thousand people, many waving placards calling for Macron to resign or condemning police violence, marched peacefully through the Left Bank in freezing temperatures.
“Parisians, rise up!” they chanted, urging residents of the capital to join the movement which has been led by rural and small-town France.
At the end of the march, clashes broke out around the Invalides war museum, with police using tear gas and water cannon to disperse hooded protesters who threw paving stones and bottles.
Demonstrations were also held in other major cities, with clashes reported in the western city of Rennes and the eastern city of Lyon.
The interior ministry estimated the number of protesters at 27,000 by the early afternoon – down from 32,0000 at the same time a week ago — with 7,000 in the capital.
Turnout was being closely watched for signs of possible fatigue in the movement as it enters its third month and Macron’s “great national debate” gains momentum. Some 80,000 police were deployed to keep the peace.
Sweden: PM Lӧfven elected to 2nd term
STOCKHOLM: Sweden ended a four-month political vacuum today when lawmakers elected Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to a second term after he elbowed out the far-right to save one of Europe’s few left-wing governments.
Lofven’s new minority centre-left government – comprising his Social Democrats and the Greens – won the backing of the Centre and Liberal parties, until now members of the four-party center-right opposition Alliance.
Nordic countries crying for kids
COPENHAGEN: “Norway needs more children! I don’t think I need to tell anyone how this is done,” Norway’s prime minister said cheekily, but she was raising a real concern.
Too few babies are being born in the Nordic region. The Nordic countries were long a bastion of strong fertility rates on an Old Continent that is rapidly getting older. But they are now experiencing a decline that threatens their cherished welfare model, funded by taxpayers.
“In the coming decades, we will encounter problems with this model,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned Norwegians in her New Year’s speech. “There will be fewer young people to bear the increasingly heavy burden of the welfare state.”
In Norway, Finland, and Iceland, birth rates dropped to historic lows in 2017, with 1.49 to 1.71 children born per woman. Just a few years earlier, their birth rates hovered close to the 2.1 level required for their populations to remain stable. From Copenhagen to the North Cape, from Helsinki to Reykjavik, demographics across the Nordics reveal two things: there are fewer large families, and women are waiting longer before having their first child.
There’s no single explanation, but financial uncertainty and a sharp rise in housing costs are seen as likely factors. Experts present differing diagnoses and prescriptions to remedy the situation. In Norway, one economist concerned about the effect the slowing demographics will have on economic growth has suggested giving women 500,000 kroner (50,000 euros, $58,550) in pension savings for each child born.
Another has suggested that, on the contrary, women in Norway who reach the age of 50 without having had a child should be paid one million kroner, since children also cost society a lot. Finnish municipalities have already decided to loosen their purse strings to encourage locals to get busy under the covers. The town of Miehikkala, home to 2,000 people, is offering 10,000 euros for each baby born and raised in the municipality.
“The number of childless individuals is growing rapidly, and the number of women having three or more children is going down. This kind of fall is unheard of in modern times in Finland,” said Anna Rotkirch, a family sociologist at the umbrella organization Finnish Family Federation. The Nordic region already boasts a wealth of family-friendly initiatives, such as flexible working hours, a vast network of affordable daycares and generous parental leave systems.
But when all that is still not enough to encourage people to have more children, immigration can be a lifeline — or a threat, depending on the point of view. Sweden may have a falling birth rate, but it still comes in second in the EU behind France with 1.85 children born per woman in 2016.
That is largely due to Sweden’s decades-long history of immigration: immigrant women tend to have more children than the average Swede. With 2.6 children per woman in recent years, the town of Aneby in southern Sweden has one of the highest rates in the country, a phenomenon attributed to the fact that it opened its doors to immigrants two decades ago.
“Aneby welcomed around 225 Eritreans in the early 1990s and just after that (it took in) refugees from the Balkans. 1994 was a demographic record for the town,” local official Ola Gustafsson told the Media. But population growth among minorities has also fuelled fears. A former justice minister in Norway, Per-Willy Amundsen of the populist far-right, made headlines, his stated goal was to stop Somalis who, he said, had a higher “birth production” rate than “ethnic Norwegians”.