Tag Archives: Europe News

TOP STORIES, Europe

Vatican envoy Luigi Ventura faces sexual assault claim”:


Archbishop Luigi Ventura is Italian by birth

The Vatican’s ambassador to France is under investigation for sexual assault.

Luigi Ventura, 74, allegedly molested a junior official at a mayoral address to diplomats at Paris town hall on 17 January.

The city mayor’s office filed a complaint on 24 January and a judicial investigation opened the next day.

Archbishop Ventura has served as ambassador for 10 years. The allegations come amid a wave of sexual abuse accusations in the clergy.

AFP

Luigi Ventura met President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace earlier in January

It is traditional for ambassadors to attend the Paris mayor’s New Year address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures

A City Hall official told Reuters that Archbishop Ventura “caressed in an insistent and repeated manner” the buttocks of the young man who welcomed him to the event.

Last week, Pope Francis acknowledged sexual abuse of nuns by priests and in December two cardinals were demoted following abuse allegations.

Mr Ventura’s representatives have declined to comment on the allegations.

Spain PM Sánchez sets snap election for April”:


The PM has been governing in a very fragmented political landscape

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called a snap general election for 28 April, after Catalan nationalist MPs withdrew support for the Socialist government’s budget.

It is just eight months since Mr Sánchez took office, heading a minority government reliant on Catalan support.

Opinion polls suggest that no single party would win a clear majority. But conservatives and the far-right Vox party are expected to do well.

The Catalan crisis is still simmering.

Catalan separatist MPs rejected Mr Sánchez’s budget bill after the government refused to discuss the region’s right to self-determination.

Divisions were highlighted on Tuesday, when 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists went on trial accused of rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.

The Socialists (PSOE) have 84 seats in the 350-seat lower house (Congress of Deputies), and their main allies, anti-austerity Podemos, have 67. But the biggest party is the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), with 134.

In his announcement, Mr Sánchez complained that the right-wing parties – the PP and Ciudadanos – had blocked numerous bills in parliament, including important measures to reduce inequality.

Is this snap election unusual for Spain?

Yes. Since the return of Spanish democracy, with the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, it is only the second time that a government’s budget bill has been defeated in parliament.

The previous occasion was in 1995, when the Socialists under Felipe González were forced to call an election.

Turbulence and shifting alliances

By the BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid

While the end of Pedro Sánchez’s tenure looked inevitable, following his parliamentary budget defeat, this adds further uncertainty to a fragmented Spanish political landscape.

His PSOE is leading many polls and could win this election, but might find it hard to form a majority and govern.

The leftist Podemos, the PSOE’s natural ally, is riven by infighting and struggling in polls.

With the Catalonia issue likely to dominate the upcoming campaign, the hardline pro-unity stance of parties on the right – the PP and Ciudadanos – could see them benefit. If the numbers add up, they could try and form a majority, possibly with the support of far-right Vox, which has enjoyed a surge in polls, due mainly to its uncompromising policy on Catalan independence.

French cash delivery man arrested after a van with €3m vanishes”:


File photo: The Loomis security van driver vanished during a delivery, along with the cash

Two cash delivery workers in France got a shock when they found their money-filled van had vanished – along with the third member of their team.

The van was soon found nearby but there was no sign of the 28-year-old driver or €3.4m (£3m) in cash.

He was eventually tracked down to a flat in Amiens, along with some of the missing money.

The suspect, named as Adrien Derbez, was arrested in the city on Tuesday evening.

According to news agency AFP, an estimated €1.5m is still missing.

The sudden vanishing act happened early on Monday morning. At about 06:00 (05:00 GMT), the team of three were making a routine cash delivery in their security van to a Western Union branch in Aubervilliers, on the outskirts of Paris.

Two of them took the ordered amount of cash inside, leaving the third man to watch the vehicle.

“When they came back out, the van and the driver were gone,” a police source told AFP.

A few blocks away, the white van from the Loomis cash transit company was discovered with its doors open and contents emptied – and no sign of the driver.

On Tuesday, police appealed for witnesses and released a photograph and description of Mr Derbez.

A police handout photo of Adrien Derbez
AFP / POLICE

Mr Derbez had vanished, but was found in Amiens late the following day

Following a tip-off, police raided an apartment in Amiens that evening, French media report.

At around 17:00, officers allegedly found Mr Derbez trying to escape through a window carrying several bags filled with banknotes, French broadcaster BFMTV said.

Three other people have been arrested since as part of the investigation. A large sum of money was also recovered – and was being counted to see how much, if any, was missing, the local prosecutor said.

The theft has similarities to the famous case of Toni Musulin, a Frenchman who stole some €11.6m (£10.2m) from the security van he was driving in 2009.

He vanished, along with the cash, in November that year, briefly becoming an internet superstar in France for his meticulously planned and bloodless heist.

However, most of the cash was found in a garage, and Musulin handed himself in to police in Monaco days later.

He spent four years in prison.

Christophe Dettinger: French ‘yellow vest’ boxer convicted:


Dettinger, here portrayed in a mural alongside the word “freedom”, has become known throughout France

A former French boxing champion has been convicted for assaulting two police officers at an anti-government “yellow vest” protest in Paris.

Christophe Dettinger, 37, was filmed on 5 January throwing punches in footage that was widely shared on social media.

He was sentenced to 30 months in jail.

Eighteen months of the sentence are suspended, and he will be able to serve the 12 months in what is termed “semi-liberty”.

The protests began in mid-November over fuel taxes but broadened into a revolt against President Emmanuel Macron.

Dettinger’s case, and the yellow vest movement, have divided France.

In a separate development on Wednesday, the restaurant of a Michelin-starred French chef was targeted in a suspected arson attack – the second time in two weeks.

Prosecutors are now investigating whether Yannick Delpech’s restaurant L’Amphitryon was set ablaze in retaliation for his criticism of the “yellow vest” movement.

What did the court rule?

The verdict was announced by the Paris Criminal Court on Wednesday.

It said that Dettinger would spend one year in prison in the “semi-liberty” regime.

That means he will serve night times in jail, but will be at liberty during the day.

He is also banned from staying in Paris for six months.

A video grab made on 7 January 2019 shows former boxer Christophe Dettinger broadcasting a message of apology for punching police officers during a "yellow vest" protest in Paris
The former champion handed himself into police last month

Reports from the courtroom suggested Dettinger’s supporters were happy with the sentence. He could have been jailed for seven years.

During the trial, he said he had made a “mistake” after seeing police clashing with protesters.

Why is the case so divisive?

Dettinger, who was France’s cruiserweight champion in 2007-08, handed himself into police custody two days after the 5 January protest.

Following his arrest, more than €114,000 (£102,000) was raised in a fundraiser for the former boxer Thousands left comments in support, including some opposition politicians.

The page was then removed after sharp criticism that it condoned violence against the police.

Dettinger, a father of three, had been working as a public servant in the south of the city before the incident.

Before handing himself in to police, Dettinger posted a video of himself on YouTube explaining his actions.

In it, he described himself as an “ordinary citizen” who had “reacted wrongly” in anger after witnessing police using tear-gas and flash-ball (rubber bullet) rounds against protesters.

Another protester, Gwenaelle Antinori Le Joncour, spoke as a witness in Dettinger’s defence in the one-day trial on Wednesday.

“He was seeing a woman of 47 kilos being hit and seeing my oldest son being hit that he couldn’t stand, because there was too much violence,” she said in court.

Gwenaelle Antinori Le Joncour
During the trial, Dettinger’s lawyer argued he was responding to Ms Le Joncour (pictured) being assaulted by police

The number of gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protesters taking to French streets has been gradually falling – but tens of thousands are still turning out weekly to demonstrate across France.

Their protests have often turned violent, causing damage – including to some of Paris’ most famous monuments.

Hundreds of injuries and a number of deaths have also been linked to the demonstrations.

Almost 1,800 people have been sentenced in court so far, mostly with destruction of public property and attacks on the police, AFP reports.

Another 1,400 more protesters are still awaiting trial, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.

Eric Drouet, one of the group’s leading figures, is due to appear in court in Paris on Friday on charges of illegally organising a demonstration.

Gay couples sue Japan over right to get married


Ai Nakajima and Tina Baumann are married in Germany, but Japan doesn’t recognise that

Thirteen same-sex couples across Japan are taking legal action on Thursday against the government, demanding the right to get married.

They are suing for symbolic damages arguing that being barred from marriage violates their constitutional rights.

Should the courts agree, it would mean same-sex unions will have to be permitted in future.

Japan is the only G7 country that does not allow gay marriage but surveys suggest strong support for the case.

The country’s constitution says that “marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes” and authorities have until now always read this as not permitting same-sex marriage.

But the lawyers for Thursday’s plaintiffs counter that the text of the constitution was to prevent forced marriages and there isn’t anything in it that explicitly prohibits same-sex marriage.

They argue in turn that the refusal to allow same-sex marriage is a violation of the constitutional right that all people should be equal under the law.

‘A very conservative society’

The 13 couples will all file their case on Valentine’s Day, in different cities across the country.

One of the couples is 40-year old Ai Nakajima from Japan and 31-year old German, Tina Baumann.

The two have been together since 2011 when they met in Berlin. After living a few years in Germany, they then moved to Japan. But living as a same-sex couple was very different in the two countries.

“Japanese society is by nature very conservative,” Ms Nakajima told the BBC.

Many of their friends don’t dare to out themselves as homosexual and hide their partners from families and even friends.

Japan is a very traditional country but polls indicate that the vast majority of younger Japanese support same-sex marriage.

Since 2015, some cities issue certificates for same-sex couples yet those are not legally binding and merely call on businesses to accord equal treatment.

REUTERS

In 2015 the Shibuya ward was the first to issue same-sex certificates

“So while among younger people there is an overwhelming support for gay marriage, politicians tend to be older and are very hesitant when it comes to changing things,” Ms Nakajima says.

The group knows the court cases will of course draw public attention to their struggle but there is genuine hope they might be successful.

“We are prepared to take this to the supreme court,” Ms Nakajima explains. “If we have to take that route, it might take more than five years.”

German marriage rejected

The two got married in Germany and soon afterwards applied for that marriage to be recognised in Yokohama where they currently live.

As they had expected, the German marriage was not recognised.

For the two of them, this means concrete problems – Ms Baumann is currently studying but once she graduates will require a new visa to be allowed to stay in the country.

For a married couple such a visa would easily be issued to a spouse – but that’s not the case for same-sex partnerships.

The problems don’t stop there though, the two women explain.

“In Germany it’s a lot easier to come out and just live the way you choose to as an individual,” Ms Baumann says.

“In Japan however, gender roles are a lot more traditional and a woman is expected to marry and have children. In many cases, it’s even still expected that a woman will stop working once she becomes a mother.”

AI NAKAJIMA

The two say life as a gay couple is very different in Germany and Japan

Many of their friends don’t dare to talk openly to their families for fear of being outcast.

“It’s almost like you’re being banished,” Ms Nakajima says. “And it affects many aspects of your life. If you for instance want to rent a house as a same-sex couple, you might be rejected because of this. Or you might not be able to take out a loan as couple if you want to buy a property together.”

“It’s really like in almost every situation that we are facing problems,” she says.

“We have received some criticism from the public that we should just move to Germany rather than make trouble here in Japan,” the German says.

Yet in the end, they decided that standing up for what they believe in was more important.

Thursday’s lawsuit will likely be only the first step in a long process to eventually allow same-sex couples to get married in Japan.

Spain budget failure puts snap election on the cards”:


Prime Minister Sánchez failed to get his budget through, which could prompt early elections

Spain’s Socialist government is widely expected to call a snap general election after failing to get its budget through parliament.

Catalan separatists rejected Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s bill after the government refused to discuss the region’s right to self-determination.

They voted with the conservatives, despite their different agendas.

Mr Sánchez, in power since June, will announce a date for the vote after a cabinet meeting on Friday, reports say.

The government’s budget was rejected by 191 members out of the 350-seat parliament, with votes from the People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos as well as Catalan separatists.

What’s the political situation?

Mr Sánchez leads a minority government, with just 84 seats in parliament. He is supported by a confidence-and-supply agreement and the support of a handful of smaller parties with competing interests.

The PP is the largest party with 134 seats.

Mr Sánchez became prime minister after his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, from the PP was pushed out in a no-confidence vote over a corruption scandal,.

A new general election will be the third in five years in Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy. Citing unnamed sources, Reuters news agency says 14 or 28 April are the most likely dates.

Why did Catalans pull their support?

Catalan pro-independence parties had insisted on a dialogue over independence for their region as the price for supporting the budget, but talks broke down last week.

The government’s stance remains that, according to the country’s constitution, the nation is “indissoluble”, and no part of it can secede from the whole.

Outside the court, rival groups offered support – or scorn – for the accused

Divisions were highlighted on Tuesday, when 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists went on trial for rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.

Mr Sánchez left parliament immediately after his defeat, smiling but silent.

Why did Sánchez refuse Catalan demands?

Mr Sánchez came under political pressure for his attempts to reach out to the Catalan politicians he needed to pass his budget.

On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators marched in Madrid in a pro-unity demonstration called by parties of the right, demanding fresh elections.

Protesters angered by the government’s outreach to Catalan separatists call for new elections in Spain

Long hours of negotiation and parliamentary debate failed to break the deadlock.

Ahead of the vote, Finance Minister María Jesús Montero tried to appeal to economic sensibilities, labelling the budget’s provisions for Catalonia as generous.

But she also called the insistence on independence talks a form of “blackmail”.

Who’s likely to benefit from a snap election?

Mr Sanchez’s party still leads opinion polls but a possible result could be a right-wing majority formed by the PP, Ciudadanos and a newly-emerged far-right party, Vox.

Discontent in Spain over the Catalan issue was one of the key factors behind the Socialists’ defeat in regional elections in Andalusia in December to a right-wing coalition supported by Vox.

French mayor issues ban on ‘excessive dog barking’


Dog owners in Feuquières face a €68 (£60) fine for any barking which “disturbs the rest or relaxation of people.”

The mayor of a town in northern France has issued a ban on excessive dog barking in a bid to curb canine noise pollution.

From Monday, dog owners in Feuquières face a €68 (£60; $77) fine for “prolonged or repeated barking”.

Mayor Jean-Pierre Estienne says the ban is in response to dogs “barking day and night” and creating “an unbearable situation” in the village.

The decree has been criticised by animal rights activists.

“The aim is not to ban dogs and we won’t be fining people for the slightest hint of a yap,” Mr Estienne told French newspaper Le Parisien (in French).

“The town has nothing against dogs but when you decide to have them, you educate them.”

Passed by the local council earlier this month, the decree forbids dogs from being left in enclosed areas without owners being nearby to stop “prolonged or repeated barking”.

Yappy dogs must also be kept inside if their behaviour “disturbs the rest or relaxation” of Feuquières’ 1,400 residents.

Offenders (or more specifically, their owners) will receive a fine for each complaint made against them.

Barking is a common form of communication which dogs use to express their feelings and gain the attention of those nearby.

The decree follows a petition by villagers against one particular resident.

“She has several dogs, some large,” said Mr Estienne. “We have made several attempts to establish a dialogue with her, to no avail.”

“If I took this decision, it is because we found no other way out. I couldn’t sit idly by,” he said.

The move has been condemned as “completely barking” by Stéphane Lamart, president of the Association for the Defence of Animal Rights.

“You may as well stop church bells ringing on Sunday morning,” Mr Lamart told Le Monde newspaper (in French).

“If dogs have mouths, it’s so they can bark.”

Mr Lamart said he intended to launch an appeal with the local court. “I’ve never seen a dog bark from morning to evening,” he said.

This is not the first time French authorities have tried to dampen doggy decibels.

In 2012, Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in southwest France passed a ban on any excessive dog barking that disturbed “public order”.

Can you stop a dog from barking?

Barking is a regular form of communication for most dog breeds, but loud and regular yapping is a common complaint by owners and their neighbours.

Whilst noise levels vary, some barks can bite 100 dB – louder than factory machinery.

An Australian golden retriever named Charlie holds the world record for the loudest bark, measuring 113.1 dB.

Canine companions bark for many reasons: to get attention, to fend off perceived danger or express anxiety, to name a few.

Jenna Kiddie, Canine Behaviour Manager at charity Dogs Trust, warns against using anti-bark collars and other aversive training methods.

“It is vital to investigate why and address the underlying motivation rather than just address the behaviour itself,” says Ms Kiddie.

“Although it can be very frustrating, especially if you have neighbours to consider, telling your dog off might make them more anxious or confused, and could make the situation worse

Hammond’s Brexit ‘dividend’ claim rejected as UK economy stalls,”


Philip Hammond’s claim that Britain can reap an economic dividend from Theresa May’s Brexit

deal has been flatly rejected by MPs, as official figures confirmed the UK has suffered its worst year for GDP growth since 2012.

In a highly critical report, the Treasury select committee warned that the chancellor’s claims of a “deal dividend” if Britain avoided a no-deal exit lacked credibility.

The criticism came after data on Monday showed the economy grew by just 0.2% in the final three months of 2018, down from 0.6% in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter figures contained signs of an even sharper slowdown, with the economy posting a decline of 0.4% in December amid signs that Brexit uncertainty is taking hold.

For 2018 as a whole, GDP growth slipped to its lowest since 2012, at 1.4%, down from 1.8% in 2017.

Nicky Morgan MP, the Conservative chair of the committee, said 

Hammond’s “dividend” claim, at the Conservative party conference last year, had already been undermined by the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR had told the committee the dividend was not an economic boost so much as “avoiding something really very bad” in the form of a no-deal departure.

“The OBR already assumes an orderly Brexit, so there won’t be a ‘deal dividend’ beyond the forecast just by avoiding no-deal. Business confidence may improve with increased certainty, but it’s not credible to describe this as a dividend,” said Morgan.

The OBR has made a smooth departure from the EU a key part of its forecasts, which prompted the Treasury committee to state there is no evidence of an economic boost from supporting the deal over and above those central estimates.

Hammond has repeatedly suggested that, should parliament throw its weight behind Theresa May’s Brexit plan, it would generate a dual economic boost for the country by lifting the fog of uncertainty blocking businesses investment, while also allowing him to spend public funds held in reserve for a no-deal scenario.

Reacting to Morgan’s comments, Treasury insiders dismissed the suggestion that Britain would not see a deal dividend from MPs supporting the prime minister’s Brexit plan, as it would give firms more clarity about the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

“The chancellor has been clear that when we agree a good deal we will harvest a deal dividend. This is because businesses will have the certainty they need to invest, grow and create jobs which will improve the public finances,” the source said.

Most economists believe that Britain agreeing a Brexit deal with Brussels would help to give firms clarity for the future, potentially unleashing projects that have been put on hold due to the uncertainty.

Amit Kara, the head of UK macroeconomics research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: “It could be a dividend as all we’re saying is we’re moving from an acute phase of uncertainty to remaining within the EU for at least the next two years.”

He added: “The dividend is just because of the mess at the moment.”

The committee’s intervention undermines one of Theresa May’s key arguments to persuade MPs to back her withdrawal agreement with less than 50 days to go before Brexit. It also comes as the British economy shows increasing signs of stress as the deadline for the article 50 process looms ever closer, causing more business to put their plans to invest in Britain on hold.

Growth figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that business investment in the final three months of 2018 declined sharply. Corporate spending tumbled for the fourth successive quarter – falling by 1.4% in the final quarter of 2018 alone – for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.

Companies have intensified their contingency planning to cope with the possibility of a disruptive Brexit. Car manufacturers are stockpiling parts, banks have moved employees to Ireland and continental Europe and two Japanese electronics firms, Panasonic and Sony, have moved their EU headquarters to mainland Europe.

Labour and trade unions called on the prime minister to remove no-deal Brexit as an option in order to shore up confidence in Britain, something which May has so far refused to do in negotiations with Brussels.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “The prime minister’s failure to rule out a no-deal Brexit is harming confidence in the economy and holding back growth. With our manufacturing sector in recession, the prime minister must act now to remove the threat of crashing out.”

GDP growth in December plunged into reverse, with a broad-based slump across each of the key sectors for the economy. The manufacturing sector, which makes up about a tenth of the economy, fell into recession, with six months of negative growth in the longest negative run since September 2008 to February 2009, the depths of the financial crisis.

The monthly decline GDP of 0.4% helped drag down quarter-on-quarter GDP growth to a rate of 0.2% in the three months to the end of the year, slightly below the Bank of England’s expectations and down from a rate of 0.6% in the third quarter.

While the slowdown mirrors a loss of momentum in the world economy, including a deterioration in the eurozone, most analysts believe that unique challenges from Brexit have further hindered UK growth.

Ben Brettell, a senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “There’s little doubt Brexit uncertainty is responsible for the disappointing numbers, though concerns over global trade will also have played a part.”

The committee also warned that Hammond’s deficit reduction target – to eliminate the gap between government spending and income by the early part of the next decade – now lacked credibility. Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal is expected to come with significant negative consequences for the public finances, with potential for the deficit to widen.

Hammond opted at the last budget to raise public spending, with a £20bn a year increase for the NHS by 2023-24, without making significant tax increases to balance the books.

Referring to that decision, the committee said: “The government’s fiscal objective has no credibility and should be replaced.”

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Madrid mass protest over talks policy, Spain Catalonia:


Supporters of Spanish conservative and centrist parties have held a protest in Madrid against government plans to hold talks with Catalan separatists.

The centre-right Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens) say Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to appoint an intermediary for the talks amounts to treason.

The separatists have rejected the offer – they want a new independence vote.

Like the right, the ruling Socialists also oppose Catalan independence.

Far-right groups including the Vox party are also present at the protest, held under the slogan “For a united Spain. Elections now!”

Protesters filled the Spanish capital’s Colon Square and nearby streets, many of them chanting “long live Spain”. Police put the total number of demonstrators at 45,000.

What are the protesters saying?

They say the government’s offer to separatists to hold round table talks and appoint a special rapporteur amounts to a capitulation and they want elections scheduled for 2020 brought forward.

Woman at the protest
Vox President Santiago Abascal at the rally
The far-right Vox party is also part of the protest – its president Santiago Abascal seen here

One protester, Mabel Campuzano, told Reuters news agency that Mr Sánchez was “betraying Spain and we think that Spaniards don’t deserve him as the president of the government”.

In a speech, PP leader Pablo Casado denounced Mr Sánchez’s policies as “Socialist surrender” and “deals under the table”, Efe news agency reports.

“Sánchez’s time is over,” Mr Casado said, adding that the protests were a turning point and the beginning of a return to “harmony and legality” in Spain.

What does the government say?

Speaking shortly afterwards at a local election campaign meeting, Mr Sánchez said his Socialist party had always been on the side of dialogue, and was now attempting to resolve a crisis made worse by the PP while it was in power.

On Friday the government said the separatists had rejected its framework for talks.

What happened to Catalonia? One year on

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the situation had “stalled”, as separatist calls for an independence referendum were “not acceptable”.

Meanwhile the separatists accused the government itself of abandoning dialogue.

What’s the background?

Mr Sánchez heads a minority government that relies on the support of other parties including Catalan nationalists.

His government faces a key vote on Wednesday on its proposed 2019 budget – failure to approve it could lead to a snap election.

Catalan nationalist parties have said that their support for the budget depends on whether Mr Sanchez’s proposed talks with separatists include the issue of independence.

Mr Sánchez has, however, ruled out the possibility of a Catalan independence referendum.

Polls show that the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox would together win a majority in a general election. In December the three parties together won power in the southern region of Andalusia ousting the Socialists, who had been in power there for 36 years.

What has been happening in Catalonia?

Catalan nationalists regained power in Barcelona in May, after a seven-month period of direct rule by Madrid.

Mr Sánchez became prime minister the following month, making negotiations with the pro-independence movement his priority.

Tensions remain high, as many Catalans resent Madrid’s show of force last year, when it charged pro-independence leaders with sedition.

Some of them are due to go on trial on Tuesday and face up to 25 years in prison.

In December Catalan premier Quim Torra irritated the Spanish government by praising Slovenia’s successful path to independence. It broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, after a 10-day war.

Pie chart showing more people didn't vote in the referendum than voted in favour of independence

Catalonia in numbers

  • 16% of Spain’s population live in Catalonia, and it produces:
  • 25.6% of Spain’s exports
  • 19% of Spain’s GDP
  • 20.7% of foreign investment

Source: Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, Eurostat, Bank of Spain.

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Yellow vest’ protester loses fingers in violent unrest’ in France


A “yellow vest” protester in France had his fingers ripped off during clashes at the parliament building in Paris, as the protests went into their 13th week.

The protester attempted to pick up a rubber pellet grenade and it exploded in his hand, French media reported.

There was also an arson attack on the home of the head of France’s National Assembly, though it was not clear if the attack was linked to the protests.

The “yellow vest” protests began in mid-November over fuel taxes.

They have since broadened into a revolt against the President, Emmanuel Macron, and a political class seen as out of touch with common people.

According to French government figures, 51,400 people joined the protests on Saturday, 4,000 of them in Paris. That was down from the previous week, when official figures put the number at 58,600, 10,500 in Paris.

Representatives for the yellow vests disputed the previous week’s numbers, claiming the turnout was higher.

In Paris on Saturday, the protesters marched from the Champs-Elysees to the city’s parliament buildings, where a violent contingent broke down barriers and threw projectiles at police. Police responded with tear gas and anti-riot munitions.

Yellow vest protester gesturing at a burning car
Cars have been set on fire close to the yellow vests’ protest in Bordeaux

According to an eyewitness, the person who lost their hand was a photographer attempting to take pictures of people breaking down barriers around the National Assembly building.

“When the cops went to disperse people, he got hit by a sting-ball grenade in the calf,” 21-year-old Cyprien Royer told AFP news agency. “He wanted to bat it away so it didn’t explode by his leg and it went off when he touched it.

“We put him to one side and called the street medics. It wasn’t pretty: he was screaming with pain, he had no fingers – he didn’t have much above the wrist.”

Paris police confirmed that a demonstrator was injured in the hand and been treated by paramedics, but did not identify the victim.

France recalls ambassador to Italy as diplomatic row deepens”:

Tens of thousands of protesters turned out in other parts of France, including the port cities of Marseille and Montpellier and also in Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest.

Eight police officers were lightly injured during clashes with protesters in Bordeaux, local police said.

Red scarves’ march in Paris against yellow-vest violence

Politicians came together to condemn the arson attack on the home of Richard Ferrand, a close ally of Mr Macron, in Motreff, Brittany.

Mr Ferrand published pictures on Twitter of his scorched living room, writing: “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic.”

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