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A worker places an electoral poster of Spain's Socialist leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in La Fresneda
FILE PHOTO – A worker places an electoral poster of Spain’s Socialist leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in La Fresneda, Spain April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Eloy Alonso

April 20, 2019

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Socialists led in a poll published on Saturday in newspaper El Pais with 28.8 percent of votes, equivalent to 129 seats in the 350-seat parliament, but fell short of a majority with its main ally ahead of a general election on April 28.

A coalition of three right-wing parties – People’s Party (PP), Ciudadanos and far-right Vox – would get 44.4 percent of votes, equivalent to 156 seats, but this would also be short of the 176 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority, according to the poll conducted by 40dB.

Socialist Pedro Sanchez could be reelected as prime minister if he manages to form another parliamentary majority with the support of the array of parties, including far-left Podemos and Catalan pro-independence parties, that backed him last June when he won a vote of confidence against PP’s government at the time.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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Algerian Prime Minister Ouyahia awaits arrival of French President Macron at Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers
FILE PHOTO – Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia awaits the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron at Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers, Algeria December 6, 2017. Picture taken December 6, 2017 REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

April 20, 2019

ALGIERS (Reuters) – An Algerian court has summoned former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, two associates of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in a probe into wasting of public money, state TV said on Saturday.

They are being investigated over “dissipation of public money” and “illegal privilege,” state TV said.

No more details were immediately available.

The move comes after army chief, Lieutenant General Gaid Salah, said last week he expected to see members of the ruling elite in the major oil and natural gas-producing country prosecuted for corruption.

Bouteflika stepped down after 20 years in power two weeks ago, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations mainly by young people seeking change in the country.

But the protests, which began on Feb. 22 and have been largely peaceful, have continued as many want the removal of an elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962 and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt.

Ouyahia served several times as prime minister under Bouteflika and is also head of the RND party, the coalition partner of Bouteflika’s ruling FLN party.

Loukal was central bank governor under the former president.

Bouteflika has been replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election on July 4.

Hundreds of thousands protested on Friday to demand the resignation of Bensalah and other top officials.

Bensalah appointed Ammar Haiwani as acting central bank governor, state TV earlier said. The position had been vacant since Loukal was made finance minister by Bouteflika before he had resigned.

(Reporting by Hesham Hajali, Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould AhmedWriting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Easter vigil Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

April 20, 2019

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis led the world’s Roman Catholics into Easter at a vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday night, urging the faithful to live not for transient things like wealth and success but for God.

The largest church in Christendom was dark at the start of the long service as the pope carved into a candle the numbers of the year 2019 and the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – Alpha and Omega – signifying that God is the beginning and end of all things.

Easter, the most important day in the Church’s liturgical calendar, commemorates the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Francis, marking his seventh Easter season as pope, wove his homily around the Bible account of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty and the large stone that had sealed it had been cast away.

“God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness,” he said.

“There is another stone that often seals the heart shut: the stone of sin. Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away,” he said.

During the Mass, Francis welcomed eight adult converts into the Church, conferring on them the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. They were from Italy, Albania, Ecuador, Indonesia and Peru.

On Sunday, the 82-year-old leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics is due to say a Mass in St. Peter’s Square and read the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (To The City and The World) message.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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People walk past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim in Istanbul
FILE PHOTO – People walk past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2019. The billboards read: ” Thank you Istanbul “. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

April 20, 2019

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s ruling AK Party submitted a second petition to cancel and re-run Istanbul elections it lost three weeks ago, citing thousands of ballots cast by people it said were ineligible to vote due to previous government decrees, state-run Anadolu news agency said on Saturday.

Based on initial results and a series of recounts, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the mayoralty in Turkey’s largest city, in a defeat for President Tayyip Erdogan who began his political career there and served as its mayor in the 1990s.

The new CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu took office on Wednesday, despite a formal request submitted a day earlier by the AK Party (AKP) to annul and repeat the mayoral elections over what it said were irregularities.

Erdogan had said his AKP would keep up its challenge, and on Saturday it filed an additional petition to the High Election Board because of some 14,000 votes cast by those it said were ineligible due to the decrees, according to broadcaster NTV.

Citing AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz, NTV said the party also found 424 people who had voted illegally.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Central American migrants eat mangoes for breakfast as they walk during their journey towards the United States, in Mapastepec
Central American migrants eat mangoes for breakfast as they walk during their journey towards the United States, in Mapastepec, Mexico April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

April 20, 2019

By Jose Cortes

MAPASTEPEC, Mexico (Reuters) – So many migrants have stopped in the southern Mexican town of Mapastepec in recent months that longstanding public sympathy for Central Americans traveling northward is starting to wane.

Hundreds of migrants have been camped out for weeks in Mapastepec, where locals say six migrant caravans have arrived since last Easter. By far the biggest was a group of thousands in October that drew the anger of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ana Gabriela Galvan, a local resident who helped to provide food to migrants in the October caravan, told Reuters the small town in the impoverished state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, felt overwhelmed by the number of Central Americans.

“It’s really bad, because they’re pouring onto our land,” she said, noting that some locals were reluctant to leave their homes. “They ask for money, and if you offer food, they don’t want it; they want money and sometimes you don’t have any.”

Following a surge in apprehensions of Central Americans trying to enter the United States, Trump last month threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border if the Mexican government did not stop illegal immigration right away.

The administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has stepped up migrant detentions and tightened access to humanitarian visas, slowing the flow of caravans north and leaving hundreds of people in Mapastepec.

The humanitarian visas allow migrants to stay temporarily and get jobs. The documents also make it easier for them to travel through the country or seek longer residence.

According to government social development agency Coneval, Chiapas in 2015 had the highest poverty rate of Mexico’s 32 regions, at 72.5 percent. Some 20,000 people live in Mapastepec, the seat of a municipality of the same name where poverty levels were fractionally higher than the state average in 2015.

A month ago, a large knot of migrants began forming in Mapastepec when the National Migration Institute closed its main office in the nearby city of Tapachula. The closure prompted hundreds to travel north to the sweltering town on the Pacific coast where the agency has a smaller outpost.

Since then, bedraggled groups of men, women and children have been staying in and around a local sports stadium, hoping to be issued humanitarian visas.

Central Americans today make up the bulk of undocumented migrants arrested on the U.S. border.

Southern Mexico has long sent thousands of migrants north and support for them has traditionally been strong there. Concentrations of Central American migrants on Mexico’s northern border caused tensions in the city of Tijuana when caravans arrived late last year.

CONCERNED MEXICANS

Recent studies show that while Mexicans still have sympathy for migrants, many are concerned that Mexico will not be able to cope with the arrival of thousands of people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador fleeing violence and poverty at home.

A survey of around 500 adults in February by the Center of Public Opinion at the University of the Valley of Mexico (UVM) found that 83 percent of respondents believed the Central American migrants could cause problems for Mexico.

Rising crime, increased poverty and a decline in social services were the top risks identified by the poll.

Offered a binary choice on what should be done, 62 percent of those polled said Mexico should be stricter with migrants entering its territory. The other 38 percent said Mexico should help to develop Central America, as Lopez Obrador argues.

The study did not publish a margin of error.

Jesus Salvador Quintana, a senior official at the National Human Rights Commission, said in Mapastepec the body had noticed a decrease in assistance from the public but urged people to keep helping the migrants on their often arduous journeys.

“There are children, pregnant women, whole families that sometimes need this humanitarian aid,” he told Reuters.

Anabel Quintero, a young Honduran mother in Mapastepec, said when her caravan passed through the nearby town of Huixtla some shops closed rather than sell to migrants seeking medicine for sick children.

“It’s a bad feeling,” she said. “They told us they didn’t want us sleeping in the park, and we had to leave.”

Residents of Mapastepec are also running out of patience.

Street vendor Brenda Marisol Ballesteros told Reuters it was time for authorities to move the migrants onward.

“Why?,” she said. “Because things are in a real mess.”

(Additional reporting by Roberto Ramirez in Huixtla; Editing by Dave Graham and Cynthia Osterman)

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Police officers guard women and children who are relatives of Kosovo Jihadists who returned from Syria, at foreigners detention centre in Pristina
Police officers guard women and children who are relatives of Kosovo Jihadists who returned from Syria, at foreigners detention centre in Pristina, Kosovo, April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Laura Hasani

April 20, 2019

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria on Saturday including jihadists who had gone to fight in the country’s civil war and 74 children, the government said.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return.

The population of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook.

More than 300 Kosovo citizens have traveled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

“Today in the early hours of the morning an important and sensitive operation was organized in which the government of Kosovo with the help of the United States of America has returned 110 of its citizens from Syria,” Kosovan Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri said at a press conference.

Tahiri did not specify what role the United States had played but a plane with a U.S. flag on its tail was seen in the cargo area of Pristina airport as the operation was ongoing.

When asked about the return of fighters to Kosovo and the separate return of a fighter to Bosnia, U.S. military spokesman Sean Robertson said, “U.S. assets were used in support of this repatriation operation.”

“At no time did the U.S. take custody of the FTF (foreign terrorist fighter) detainees,” Robertson said. He declined to provide further details, citing security reasons.

Authorities said among those who were returned were four fighters, 32 women and 74 children, including nine without a parent.

The four fighters were immediately arrested and the state prosecutor said indictments against them will soon follow.

After several hours at the airport, two busloads of women and children were transported under police escort to an army barracks just outside Pristina.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and 8 children still remain in the conflict zones.

“We will not stop before bringing every citizen of the Republic of Kosovo back to their country and anyone that has committed any crime or was part of these terrorist organizations will face the justice,” Tahiri said.

“As Kosovo, we cannot allow that our citizens be a threat to the West and to our allies.”

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

The United States commended Kosovo for the return of its citizens and called other countries to do the same.

“With this repatriation, Kosovo has set an important example for all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the international community to follow. We applaud their compassion in accepting the return of this large number of civilians,” the U.S. Embassy in Pristina said in a statement.

There have been no Islamist attacks on Kosovan soil, although more than 100 men have been jailed or indicted on charges of fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were found guilty of planning attacks in Kosovo.

Prosecutors said they were investigating 156 other suspects.

The government has said a form of radical Islam had been imported to Kosovo by non-governmental organizations from the Middle East after the end of its 1998-99 war of secession from Serbia.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra and Cynthia Osterman)

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Members of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces gather around APC at Khallat Farjan area in Tripoli
Members of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces gather around an armoured personnel carrier at Khallat Farjan area in Tripoli, Libya April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili

April 20, 2019

By Ulf Laessing and Ahmed Elumami

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Heavy clashes broke out in the southern districts of the Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday, with shelling audible in the city center, residents said, as the death toll from two weeks of fighting between the country’s rival governments rose to 220.

The spike in violence happened after the White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump spoke by phone earlier in the week with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, who started an offensive against Tripoli on April 3.

The disclosure of the call and a U.S. statement that it “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” has boosted the commander’s supporters and enraged his opponents.

Western powers and the Gulf have been divided over a push by Haftar’s forces to seize Tripoli, undermining calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire.

Despite the offensive, Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) force has not been able to breach the southern defenses of forces allied to the internationally recognized administration based in the city.

On Saturday, shelling was louder and more frequent on Saturday than in previous days and audible even in central districts more than 10 km (6 miles) away from the frontline, residents said.

Both sides claimed progress in southern Tripoli, but no more details were immediately available.

A Reuters TV cameraman visiting the southern Khalat Furgan suburb heard heavy shelling but saw no apparent major change in the frontline.

On Friday, two children were killed in shelling in southern Tripoli, residents said. The fighting has killed 220 people an wounded 1,066, the World Heath organization (WHO) said.

It was unclear why the White House waited several days to announce Monday’s phone call.

On Friday, Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said “a military solution is not what Libya needs.” He said he supported Haftar’s “role in counterterroism” and that Washington needed Haftar’s “support in building democratic stability there in the region.”

On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya at this time.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.

The country has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

While the Tripoli battle continued, municipal elections took place in seven towns, mainly in the south, the election commission said.

The vote is part of elections for local councils across Libya. Security differs from region to region as the country is controlled by rival governments, tribesmen and armed groups.

In western Libya polls in several communities had been postponed a week ago due to the fighting.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Editing by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)

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Extinction Rebellion protest in London
Climate change activists practice yoga on Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion protest in London, Britain April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

April 20, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 700 climate change activists blocking roads at some of London’s most famous landmarks have been arrested over the last six days, police said on Saturday, up from a total given on Friday of more than 682.

The protests, organized by climate group Extinction Rebellion, have for several days disrupted travel through parts of central London, including at Oxford Circus, Marble Arch and Waterloo Bridge.

Extinction Rebellion has called for non-violent civil disobedience to force the British government to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025 and stop what it calls a global climate crisis.

“As of 10:00 a.m. on Saturday … more than 718 people have been arrested since Monday. Twenty-eight people have been charged,” London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

The police reiterated that protests were only allowed to continue at Marble Arch, but have not said if or how they will clear the hundreds of demonstrators from other locations.

On Friday star Emma Thompson joined activists at Oxford Circus, at the heart of one of the capital’s most popular shopping districts, to read poetry praising Earth’s bounties.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Alison Williams and David Holmes)

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French
A protester carries a banner in front of a fire at a demonstration during Act XXIII (the 23rd consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement in Paris, France, April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

April 20, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – Clashes broke out between some demonstrators and police in Paris on the 23rd Saturday of yellow-vest protests after authorities warned that rioters could return to the French capital to spark a new wave of violence.

Dozens of black-hooded demonstrators threw rocks at police forces in the center of French capital, according to Reuters TV footage. Trash cans and a several scooters were also set ablaze.

Police responded by firing tear gas and stun grenades. Some officers also marched toward demonstrators to control the crowd and funnel it to Paris’ Place de la Republique, where they were authorized to demonstrate.

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain Caroline Paillez, Editing by William Maclean)

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FILE PHOTO: India's Supreme Court is pictured through a gate in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: India’s Supreme Court is pictured through a gate in New Delhi, India May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File Photo

April 20, 2019

MUMBAI (Reuters) – The chief justice of India’s Supreme Court, Ranjan Gogoi, on Saturday denied allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward a junior court assistant who worked in an office at his home and that she was subsequently victimized.

“This is unbelievable,” Gogoi, India’s most powerful judge, told a special hearing of the court he called on Saturday so that the allegations could be addressed. “I should not stoop low even in denying it.”

Gogoi said the events showed that India’s judiciary was under “serious threat” and was being destabilized by a larger conspiracy, without elaborating.

“There is some bigger force behind the woman,” he said.

The allegations, dating from October, were carried in full by a number of major Indian online publications on Saturday.

The 35-year-old woman, whose identity has not been publicly disclosed, wrote a letter to all 22 of the Supreme Court judges along with an affidavit detailing her allegations on Friday.

Those included a series of allegations that the woman and her family were victimized by a series of related actions by the authorities, including the termination of her employment, and the suspension of her husband and his brother, who worked in the Delhi police force.

She also says another brother of her husband’s had his Supreme Court job terminated and she also faced a “false and frivolous” bribery complaint, leading to her arrest and subsequent bail.

“Me and my family’s victimization is a consequence of my not agreeing to the sexual advances made by the Chief Justice of India, Justice Rangan Gogoi,” she said in the letter to the judges.

Justice Arun Mishra, who joined Gogoi on the bench for the special hearing, said the allegations were “wild and baseless”.

The court asked the media to show restraint in covering the case to avoid undermining the reputation and independence of the judiciary, though it decided not to issue a gag order.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Swati Bhat; Editing by Martin Howell and Alison Williams)

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