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ERC and Junts: Catalan separatist parties announce preliminary governing deal | Catalonia | Spain

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Three months after Catalans went to the polls in a regional election that delivered a majority to pro-independence forces, two separatist parties on Monday announced a preliminary agreement to create a coalition government. The opposition has called the plan “a repeat edition of a failure.”

The deal was struck by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), a heterogenous party that leans harder than ERC toward unilateral secession from Spain and whose best-known figure is former premier Carles Puigdemont. The journalist-turned-politician is currently living in Brussels to avoid arrest after his involvement in a unilateral breakaway attempt in the region in 2017, when an illegal referendum on the future of Catalonia was held and a unilateral declaration of independence subsequently passed in parliament. Other former members of Puigdemont’s Cabinet who stayed in Spain were tried and found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds, and are serving prison sentences in Catalan jails. This includes ERC president and one-time deputy premier, Oriol Junqueras.

Under the terms of this preliminary agreement, Pere Aragonès of ERC would become the next Catalan premier. Aragonès has already been the acting regional leader since September 2020, when Quim Torra was barred from office by Spain’s Supreme Court over his failure to observe political neutrality rules during an earlier election campaign.

The goal is none other than to serve the country, to govern for everyone and to keep advancing towards the independence of Catalonia

Text of preliminary governing deal in Catalonia

Aragonès and Jordi Sànchez, the secretary general of Junts, gave a news conference in Barcelona later on Monday to provide further details about the plan. No date has been offered yet for the parliamentary session to endorse the new leader, although it is widely expected to be held this week. As for how the Cabinet posts will be shared out, each party will head seven departments.

“The goal is none other than to serve the country, to govern for everyone and to keep advancing toward the independence of Catalonia,” reads the document.

On Monday, the president of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), Salvador Illa – who won the most votes at the February election but not enough for a majority – described the deal as “an agonizing extension of the failure” of the previous ERC-Junts government that led the region. The term was ended early due to constant clashes between the coalition members. In statements to the radio station Cope, Illa said that this new project is “a government for half of Catalonia.”

Separatist leaders on Monday were apologetic for the long delay in finding consensus. For months, ERC and Junts seemed unable to agree on the way independence should be pursued, and each side accused the other of trying to force a repeat election. This would have put at risk the 52% majority that the combined separatist forces obtained on February 14 at an election where turnout was around 25 points lower than in 2017.

Salvador Illa, the head of the Catalan Socialists, in the regional Parliament on May 13.
Salvador Illa, the head of the Catalan Socialists, in the regional Parliament on May 13. David Zorrakino / Europa Press

“We pledge to build a government that will seek to rebuild trust among the citizens of Catalonia,” reads the document, acknowledging social weariness after months of public bickering between these two forces. At one point in early May, ERC said it would try to form a government all by itself; a third separatist party, the small, left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), eventually got ERC and Junts back at the negotiating table to hammer out a text setting out points that everyone could agree on.

May 26 is the deadline for holding the parliamentary session to endorse the new leader, after which a new election would automatically be called. If all the separatist lawmakers – 74 out of 135 – were to vote as one, Aragonès could be successful in the first round. But Junts said it will survey its own party members first to see if they agree.

Junts has accused ERC of abandoning the fight for independence in favor of more pragmatic political routes, while ERC has accused Junts of going after its goals without sufficient support from voters. Relations between both parties, which are already sharing Cabinet posts in Catalonia, have been further strained by occasionally differing views on how best to manage the coronavirus pandemic.

The most successful candidate at this year’s election was Salvador Illa of the PSC, which is the Catalan branch of the Socialist Party (PSOE), but he was unable to attract enough support from other non-separatist parties to craft a working government. Meanwhile, far-right Vox made it into the Catalan parliament for the first time by taking voters away from the center-right Popular Party (PP) and the liberal-right Ciudadanos (Citizens). This latter party won the 2017 election but also fell short of a majority and was unable to form a government.

English version by Susana Urra.

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Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International

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German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.

The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.

“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.

In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.

On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.

Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.

Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.



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Bereaved then evicted by in-laws: Kenya’s widows fight disinheritance | Global development

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Within months of the death of her husband in 2014, Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, from Meru, eastern Kenya, was told that his bank accounts had been frozen, and she had been forced out of her home by her in-laws.

The pregnant 37-year-old was left with no resources to fight back, and returned to her parents’ home. “It was traumatising, and I went into depression for five years,” says Kimathi.

Doreen Kajuju Kimathi
Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, who now volunteers for a widows’ support group. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

Her experience is far from unique. While Kenya protects widows’ inheritance in theory, the patriarchal culture and the influence of colonial legislation that restricted married women’s property rights means the law is often not enforced.

“There is an entire parallel system operating outside succession laws,” says Roseline Njogu, a Kenyan lawyer. “Years of law reform have led us to formal equality, but equality of law doesn’t mean equality of power, and that’s where we get tripped up.”

Human rights groups report that discriminatory practices in marriage limit women’s capacity to own land. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, only 1% of land titles are registered to women, and another 6% are registered jointly with a man.

While children have equal inheritance rights, land is more often passed on to sons, leaving daughters with fewer assets, and making a future wife vulnerable to eviction if her spouse’s family regard the property as theirs.

For young widows such as Kimathi, it can be even harder to hold on to marital property. “You’re considered less entitled to it because you’re expected to remarry,” she says.

But a fightback is under way. Grassroots organisations are emerging all around the country to build community awareness of women’s legal rights. One group, the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO), has offered legal advice and support to nearly 500,000 widows since 2013.

The NGO is trying to address disinheritance at its roots. It works with other groups to increase financial and legal literacy across the country, especially among married couples, encouraging them to discuss finances openly, and to write wills.

Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization.
Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization. Photograph: Courtesy of CTWOO

The founder, Dianah Kamande, says that – contrary to popular belief – most dispossessed widows are middle-class, like Kimathi, not poor. The poor usually have less property, and the rich have access to lawyers.

Kamande says death and estate planning are still taboo topics for many married couples, and that some people obscure their wealth. “Men keep lots of secrets about money from their wives, and trust their mothers and siblings more – who in turn disinherit the wife and children,” she says.

Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa logo
Grassroots groups are emerging to build awareness of widows’ rights. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

The country’s Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority says it has 50bn Kenyan shillings (£347m) in unclaimed assets, and about 40% is money left by people after they die. Concerned by the rising number of unclaimed assets, research by the authority found roughly 43% of Kenyan respondents said they would not disclose their financial assets to anyone – even people they trusted.

“There’s secrecy around financial investments. For many of the people who find out about the assets left by their spouse, it’s a eureka moment,” says Paul Muya, of the UFAA.

Five years after being widowed, Kimathi’s life was still on hold. She had looked into hiring a lawyer but could not afford it. Without access to the family property, it was difficult for her and her son to get by, and she had to rely on help from her parents and sister.

But through the CTWOO, she found out that she did not need a lawyer to access the courts. She filed a claim, and within a year had gained access to almost all of her dead husband’s property. Last year, Kimathi opened a bar and restaurant in Kitui, 110 miles east of Nairobi.

“It was a huge relief to get the money. Being a widow in Kenya is financially and socially isolating, and knowing what that’s like pushed me to help others in the same situation,” says Kimathi, who now volunteers with a widows’ support group.

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

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Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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