Clashes Erupt in Barcelona as Catalan Separatists Protest Sentences for Leaders

Protesters and police clashed late on Tuesday in Barcelona during rallies against the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders, with the unusually tense confrontations turning into a major challenge for Spanish and regional authorities.

Protesters threw cans, stones and flares at riot police, and set garbage containers and cardboard on fire in the middle of several streets in Barcelona, including a thoroughfare housing designer stores and the stock exchange.

Fences were on fire next to La Pedrera, one of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famous buildings and one of the city’s main tourist attractions.

Police charged several times through the crowd with batons and fired foam projectiles at the protesters. A spokesman for the regional Mossos police said they were trying to make space around the local headquarters of the Spanish government. Four people were detained, the spokesman said.

A Reuters cameraman was hit by police in the leg while filming them charge at protesters. The cameraman, clearly identified as a journalist by a press armband, was hit from behind by a police baton.

This was the second day of protests after the Supreme Court sentenced nine separatist leaders to nine to 13 years in jail over their role in a failed bid to break away from Spain in 2017.

The clashes are a challenge for the regional, pro-independence authorities and the central government in Madrid, both of which are facing a fragmented political landscape and an economic slowdown.

Catalan separatism has long prided itself on being a peaceful movement and its leaders say that has not changed. But there were concerns in Madrid already before Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that heavy jail sentences for the separatist leaders could unleash pent-up frustration among a radicalized fringe, a senior parliamentary source told Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the pro-independence Catalan regional government was quick to say that separatists had proven they were peaceful and that an isolated group behaved violently, sullying their reputation.

“The regional government condemns all violent actions as we always have done,” spokeswoman Meritxell Budo told Spanish national broadcaster TVE.

Spain’s acting government warned in a statement it would step in if needed to guarantee security in the region, without elaborating.

“A minority is trying to impose violence in the streets of Catalan cities,” the statement said. “It is obvious that this is not a peaceful movement,” the government said, while praising coordination between regional and national police Catalonia’s independence drive triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades in 2017 and still dominates much of the country’s fractured political debate. It was a major theme in a parliamentary election in April and will likely be as well for the new, snap election set for Nov. 10.

Security

The leader of Spain’s centre-right People’s Party, Pablo Casado, on Twitter called for acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to activate a national security law and take control of Catalonia’s security forces to “guarantee security and public order.”

Spain’s main parties have consistently refused to hold an independence referendum in Catalonia, although the Socialists say they are open to dialogue on other issues.

Police also charged protesters in the cities of Girona and Tarragona, TV footage showed. Catalan police warned people on Twitter not to approach the epicenter of protests in Barcelona and Girona for safety reasons.

Reuters reporters saw Spanish national police firing blanks in the air from rubber bullet guns in Barcelona. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

Earlier in the evening, thousands of peaceful demonstrators ad taken to the streets of the regional capital. Some lit candles and chanted “Freedom for political prisoners.”

Pro-independence leaders have vowed to keep pushing for a new referendum on secession, saying Monday’s prison sentences strengthened the movement.

Oriol Junqueras, who was given the longest sentence of 13 years for his role in organizing the 2017 referendum which was ruled illegal, told Reuters in his first interview after the sentence that it would only galvanize the independence movement.

“We’re not going to stop thinking what we think, ideals can’t be derailed by (jail) sentences,” he said, adding that a new plebiscite was “inevitable”.

Demonstrators had blocked railways on Monday and thousands descended on Barcelona’s international airport, where some clashed with police. An airport spokesman said 110 flights were cancelled on Monday and 45 more were cancelled on Tuesday.

Diana Riba, wife of convicted leader Raul Romeva, told Reuters the independence drive would prevail over time.

“This is a very long process, but we will see results as we did with the feminist movement, how they grew until becoming massive and achieving the rights that they were seeking,” she said, calling for “everyone to take to the streets.”




Japan Typhoon Death Toll Climbs to 74, Rescuers Search for Missing People

Rescue workers in Japan searched for the missing on Wednesday as the death toll from one of the worst typhoons to hit the country rose to 74, public broadcaster NHK said, many drowned by flooding after scores of rivers burst their banks.

Public broadcaster NHK said 12 were missing and more than 220 injured after Typhoon Hagibis lashed through the Japanese archipelago at the weekend. Throughout the eastern half of the main island of Honshu, 52 rivers had flooded over.

Click to see an interactive graphic plotting the path of Typhoon Hagibis) Residents in Fukushima prefecture, which has seen the highest number of casualties, were busy dumping water-damaged furniture and rubbish onto the streets. Many elderly remained in evacuation centers, unable to clean up their homes.

In Date city, not far from the site of the nuclear disaster in 2011, farmer Masao Hirayama piled damp books in the street in front of his house, adding to a mound of rubbish from the neighborhood.

He said the water had reached about 2 meters (6.6 feet) deep in his house, when he and his son were rescued by boat and taken to an evacuation centre. His wife and grandchildren had stayed with relatives through the storm.

“I feel down,” Hirayama, 70, said, adding that the flood had swept away all his green houses and farming equipment. “All that is left is the land.”

Hirayama said he had rebuilt his house in 1989, raising the ground level following a flood in 1986. His family plan to live on the second floor until he can make repairs, which he reckons could take three months.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would spend 710 million yen ($6.5 million) to facilitate disaster relief.




China Says US House Should Stop Interfering in Hong Kong

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Beijing resolutely opposed new measures passed by the U.S. House of Representatives related to the Hong Kong protests and urged lawmakers to stop interfering.

China’s relationship with the United States will be damaged should the legislation become law, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, one of the measures passed by the House, would require the U.S. secretary of state to certify each year that Hong Kong retained its autonomy in order to receive special treatment as a major financial center.




German Security Services Want More Powers to Fight Extremism

Germany’s security services said Tuesday they’re seeking greater powers to fight the kind of far-right extremism behind last week’s synagogue attack, including requiring internet companies to report illegal hate speech to police.

A 27-year-old German man previously unknown to police confessed to carrying out the attack in the eastern city of Halle in which two people were killed Wednesday.

The suspected gunman, identified by prosecutors only as Stephan B. due to privacy rules, allegedly built the firearms he used with the help of online instructions, posted an anti-Semitic screed before the attack and later broadcast the shooting live on a popular gaming site.

In response to the attack and previous incidents, German officials have called for more officers to be devoted to tackling far-right extremism and a greater focus on online platforms they say are increasingly being used as a means of spreading far-right radicalism and linking up with like-minded people in a way already seen with Islamist extremism.

Thomas Haldenwang, who heads the BfV domestic intelligence agency, said the attack in Halle and similar shootings in Texas, New Zealand and Norway showed the need for security services to get better tools to tackle online extremism. In particular, he called for authorities to be given permission to install monitoring software on suspect’s devices so as to read their encrypted communication.

Holger Muench, head of the Federal Criminal Police Office, said online threats and acts of violence are creating a “climate of fear” in Germany that is deterring people from volunteering for public office.

“Right-wing crimes threaten our democracy,” Muench said. “The situation is serious.”

The country is still reeling from the killing of Walter Luebcke, a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, who was shot dead at his home in June. Luebcke had vocally supported Merkel’s welcoming stance toward refugees in 2015 and the suspect in his killing is a far-right extremist with a string of convictions for violent anti-migrant crimes.

Muench said his agency has identified 43 far-right extremists they consider a serious threat, an increase of about a third since the start of the year. Overall, authorities say there are some 12,700 far-right extremists in Germany “prepared to use violence.”

He called for a bundle of measures including greater scrutiny of online hate postings, extending the period of time that security services can store data on possible extremists and prosecutions of those who create and distribute lists of political enemies.

He also proposed that an existing law requiring platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to swiftly remove illegal hate speech should be expanded to force them to report such content to police.

Muench suggested his office could become a central point of contact dealing with online hate crimes in the same way it already does for child pornography.

Further proposals include creating a special unit to investigate possible extremists in the police and other government departments, and a crackdown on known far-right groups.

Opposition lawmaker Martina Renner called for the BfV to stop using neo-Nazis as paid informants , a practice that has in the past resulted in funds flowing to the far-right scene.

Renner, a member of the Left party, instead backed calls for better cooperation among European countries in fighting far-right extremism.

Security officials are particularly concerned that the `new right’ — groups that include factions within the Alternative for Germany party which entered the federal parliament two years ago — are providing the intellectual fodder for extremists. Roland Ulbrich, a regional lawmaker for the party, prompted outrage after the Halle attack for posting on Facebook: “What’s worse, a damaged synagogue door or two dead Germans?”

The suspect had failed to force his way into the synagogue as scores of people inside were observing Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur. He then shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop before fleeing. He was later arrested in Zeitz, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Halle.

Authorities are still investigating whether he had ties to any known groups or individuals. At least five people watched the attack live as it happened, suggesting they may have known it was going to take place.

The suspect has admitted during questioning that he carried out the shooting and had anti-Semitic and right-wing extremist motives.

A memorial service for the younger victim of the shooting, an avid fan of Halle’s third-tier soccer club Hallescher FC, is planned Friday.

“An inconceivable act of horror took away my son, our grandson, uncle, nephew and friend,” the man’s family wrote in an obituary notice published in regional daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

“Our hearts are broken.”




Thousands Pack Hong Kong Rally for US Support

Thousands of Hongkongers rallied this week to show support for the U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, up for a vote in Congress as early as this week. The Act, if passed, would require the U.S. to annually review Hong Kong’s special economic status and impose sanctions on officials who undermine its autonomy — a move that could further complicate the U.S.’ trade war with China, and overall relations between the world’s two largest economies. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Hong Kong.




More Victims, More Damage Found in Japan Typhoon Aftermath

The toll of death and destruction from a typhoon that tore through central and northern Japan climbed Tuesday, as the government said it was considering approving a special budget for the disaster response and eventual reconstruction.
 
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary session that the number of deaths tied to Typhoon Hagibis had climbed to 53 and was expected to rise, as at least another nine people are presumed dead. Kyodo News agency, citing its own tally, put the death toll at 69.

 Abe pledged to do the utmost for the safety and rescue of those missing or those who had to evacuate.
 
 “We put the people’s lives first,” he said.

 Hagibis hit Japan’s main island on Saturday with strong winds and historic rainfall that caused more than 200 rivers to overflow, leaving thousands of homes flooded, damaged or without power. Rescue crews on Tuesday were still searching for those missing, thought to number about 20.

Some 34,000 homes were without power and 110,000 lacked running water. More than 30,000 people were still at shelters as of late Monday, according to the Cabinet Office’s latest tally.

Business appeared nearly back to normal in central Tokyo, and residents in areas where floodwater subsided started cleaning up. Lives, however, remained paralyzed in Nagano, Fukishima and other hard-hit areas that were still inundated.

Some residents in Nagano returned to their homes, only to find they not be habitable.

Retired carpenter Toshitaka Yoshimura, who grew up in the Tsuno district of Nagano, was stunned when he returned to his home after staying at an evacuation center during the storm. His house was a mess. Doors were knocked out, his handmade furniture was tossed around and damaged, and everything from a futon to electronics were broken and covered with mud.

 “I put a lot of effort in this house. I made all the furniture with my wife. Now look what happened in one day,” he said, with his voice trembling with emotion. “Now this makes me want to cry.”

At least some of his memorable photos with his family and relatives were intact, along with toys and games that his younger relatives played when they gathered at his house.

 “I’m glad they survived at least,” said his nephew Kazuki Yoshimura. “Perhaps we can still do something about the house, but nothing can be more precious than life.”

In Fukushima, 11 bags containing possibly radioactive soil and debris removed as part of decontamination efforts from the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, were washed from two outdoor temporary storage sites and found downstream, the Environment Ministry said. Most of the remaining 5,000 bags stacked up at the two sites _ one in Tamura City and another Iitate _ remained in place.

 There was no risk to the environment because the waterproof bags were intact and hadn’t leaked, the ministry said. It said, however, officials will take preventive measures ahead of future rainstorms.
 
A massive number of such bags are still being kept at 760 similar sites across Fukushima. Their transfer to a longer-term storage facility near the plant is expected to be completed by March 2022.

 Speaking in parliament, Abe said there are concerns of lasting effects of the storm in hard-hit areas. He pledged speedy support for residents.

Abe said the government is funding the disaster response from the 500-billion yen ($4.6 billion) special reserve from the fiscal 2019 budget and may compile a supplementary budget if needed.

West Japan Railway Co. said its Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train services connecting Tokyo and Kanazawa in the central north were reduced because of flooding of six trains at its railyard in Nagano. The trains sat in a pool of muddy water that was up to their windows.

 Questions have been raised about the site of the railyard, which sits in an area noted on a prefectural hazard map as a flood area. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the operator’s preparedness should be investigated later but the priority is to get the trains out of the water. Some water has been pumped out, but more than half of the railyard is still underwater.

 




Warren Joins Buttigieg in Nixing Threat to Church Tax Status

Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign says she would not seek to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches or other religious entities that decline to perform same-sex marriages.

The Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign spokeswoman addressed the issue after former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said religious institutions should lose their tax exemption for opposing same-sex marriage – drawing criticism from conservatives.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and (Warren) does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax-exempt status,” campaign spokeswoman Saloni Sharma said when asked about O’Rourke’s remarks.

Warren is the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to create distance from O’Rourke’s suggestion. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., criticized the idea to CNN on Sunday.

 




Protests Erupt After Spain Sentences Catalan Separatists Leaders

Spanish riot police have clashed with protesters outside Barcelona’s airport Monday after the Supreme Court sentenced nine former Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy prison terms for their attempt to declare independence from Spain in 2017.

Witnesses say police with batons charged at the protesters who were blocking the entrance to El Prat airport.

Spain’s airport operator says that at least 20 flights were canceled.

Protesters in the Catalan region also stopped some train service in the region by placing wood on the tracks and blocking roads.

The protesters converged on the transportation hubs Monday after Spain’s high court sentenced Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in pushing for the region’s independence.

The former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, received the longest prison term of 13 years behind bars for sedition and misuse of public funds.

The court found three other defendants guilty only of disobedience and did not sentence them to prison.

The court, however, acquitted all defendants of the most severe charge, rebellion.

The former head of Catalonia’s regional government called the Monday ruling an “atrocity.”

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, speaks to the media at a sports center, assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government and where Puigdemont was originally expected to vote, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Oct. 1,

Carles Puigdemont wrote on Twitter: “100 years in prison in total. An atrocity. Now more than ever … It is time to react like never before. For the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”

Puigdemont was not a defendant in the landmark ruling over the banned referendum and short-lived independence declaration because he fled to Belgium, where he now lives in self-imposed exile.

After its ruling, the Supreme Court issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont.

Catalan’s current regional leader, Quim Torra, called the court’s ruling an insult to democracy.

Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said in a statement broadcast on live television that the sentences of the Catalan separatists must be carried out.

He also said he hoped that the sentences will help to “turn the page” in relations between Catalonia and greater Spain.

 




Sudan’s Government, Rebels Start Peace Talks in Juba

Sudan’s new transitional government met with rebel leaders on Monday, kicking off peace talks aimed at ending the country’s yearslong civil wars.

The peace initiative was built into a power-sharing deal between Sudan’s army and its pro-democracy movement. That deal was reached after the overthrow of longtime autocrat President Omar al-Bashir in April. The transitional authorities have six months to make peace with the rebels, according to the agreement.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir is hosting the talks in its capital, Juba, where some rebel groups signed a draft agreement last month that detailed a roadmap for the talks, trust-building measures and an extension of a cease-fire already in place.
 
South Sudan gained independence from the north in 2011 after decades of civil war. But in the 2000s, Sudan was most known for al-Bashir’s brutal repression of an uprising in the western Darfur region.

Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebels in order to revive the country’s battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.

Sudanese authorities have introduced good-will signals. They dismissed death sentences against eight rebel leaders and released more than a dozen prisoners of war. They have also delayed the formation of the parliament and the appointment of provincial governors to allow time for the rebels to come on board.

The government delegation, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan’s sovereign council, arrived in Juba late Sunday. Rebel leaders arrived earlier this month.

Rebel leader Malik Agar of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Darfur rebel groups, told The Associated Press that they would start “the official opening” of the talks Monday in Juba.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, also arrived in Juba to attend the opening session, along with other African leaders including Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, according to the official SUNA news agency.

Ahmed said the start of the negotiations was a “demonstration of the will for peace and reconciliation.” He encouraged “all stakeholders to reach a consensus and redirect their focus to building an inclusive and prosperous Sudan,” his office said.

Ethiopia and the African Union mediated the power-sharing agreement in August which ended months of violence and faltering talks between Sudan’s generals and protesters following the uprising against al-Bashir.

On Sunday, Sudan’s newly appointed top judicial officials were sworn in before Burhan.

Neamat Kheir, a veteran female judge, took the oath as chief of the judiciary. She’s the first woman to rise to Sudan’s highest judicial post. Taj al-Ser al-Hebr, a lawyer, was sworn in as the country’s public prosecutor.

Last month, thousands of Sudanese took to the streets demanding the two original appointees be sacked. Those two had been chosen by the military council that ruled Sudan after ousting al-Bashir.

Protesters insisted that independent judges be appointed before prosecuting members of the old regime, as well as those responsible for a deadly crackdown on protesters in June.

Unlike many judges, Kheir was not known to compromise her integrity to serve the interests of al-Bashir’s government. However, she was widely criticized for not having supported the Sudanese uprising since its inception.




Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>FILE - US gymnyst Simone Biles poses with her gold medal for artistic gymnastics during the victory ceremony at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2016.
Olympic Champ Simone Biles Says She was Abused by Doctor

Simone Biles watched as her friends and former Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.Biles, who won five medals overall at the 2016 Olympics, released a statement via Twitter outlining that abuse.

BEAM BRILLIANCE

Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.