Spain PM Sánchez sets snap election for April

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called a snap general election for April 28, 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…

Skripal poisoning: Bellingcat names ‘third man’ in Salisbury case

A third man has been named as a suspect in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury last year. Investigative website Bellingcat claims that he is Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev, a Russian military intelligence officer. It says he came to the UK at the same time as two suspects alleged to have carried out the March 2018 attack. The website claims the officer travelled internationally under the pseudonym Sergey Fedotov. MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, then 33, were poisoned with a nerve agent known…

Moldovan election prompts Facebook to remove accounts

Facebook says it has removed more than 200 « inauthentic » accounts targeting people in Moldova, some of which were linked to government employees. Moldovans go to the polls on 24 February under a new electoral system. One of Europe’s poorest countries, it is politically split between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions. Facebook said the accounts posted about divisive political issues, shared manipulated photos, and impersonated a local fact checking-organisation. It said 168 accounts, 28 pages and eight Instagram users had been removed. But unlike allegations of election interference in the…

Brexit ‘monster’ urges Dutch to prepare

The Dutch government sees Brexit not as the elephant in the room but as a giant Muppet-style monster lying on a desk. That is the picture tweeted by Foreign Minister Stef Blok, with the warning: « make sure Brexit doesn’t sit – or lie – in your way ». There is a link to an official website where Dutch firms can see the potential impact of Brexit on their business. The Netherlands is among the UK’s top trading partners, and Dutch officials say Brexit could deliver a major blow. There…

Airbus says A380 superjumbo production will end

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has said it will stop making its A380 « superjumbo », the world’s largest passenger aircraft. In a statement on Thursday, the firm said it would end deliveries of the aircraft in 2021. The decision comes after Emirates, the largest customer of the A380, reduced its order. The costly aircraft has struggled to compete with more efficient, smaller models. In a statement on Thursday, Airbus said Emirates would reduce its A380 orderbook from 162 to 123 aircraft. « As a result of this decision we have…

Brexit: MPs to debate next steps

MPs are to debate and vote on the next steps in the Brexit process later, as Theresa May continues to try to get a deal through Parliament. A series of amendments – designed to change the direction of Brexit – will be considered in the debate, which is expected to be a routine procedure. But BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the PM could be facing another defeat. Some Tory Brexiteers are refusing to back the government, she said. No 10 insists Mrs May still plans to hold a vote…

Christophe Dettinger: French ‘yellow vest’ boxer convicted

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…

Spain budget failure puts snap election on the cards

Spain’s Socialist government is widely expected to call a snap general election after failing to get its budget through parliament. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s bill failed after parties from the Catalonia region refused to support it. Their requests for discussions about the region’s right to self-determination had been refused. Before the vote, government sources had warned that a defeat would result in an early election. In the end, 191 out of the parliament’s 350 members voted to reject the government’s budget. Mr Sánchez left the room without making any announcement…

Anti-Semitism: Germany sees 10% jump in offences in 2018

German officials say there was a 10% increase in the number of anti-Semitic offences recorded last year. Crime data, revealed on Wednesday, says 1,646 crimes were linked to a hatred of Jews in 2018 – including dozens of violent assaults. It comes just a day after French politicians spoke out about a sharp rise of incidents in their own country. French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, has warned that anti-Semitism is « spreading like poison ». Over the weekend there were a series of anti-Semitic incidents reported in central Paris –…

Belgium flights cancelled for on Wednesday amid strike

All flights in and out of Belgium have been cancelled on Wednesday due to strike action, the country’s air traffic control has announced. The cancellation began at 22:00 (21:00 GMT) on Tuesday night and will run for 24 hours. Air traffic agency Skeyes said that there was « no certainty about the number of staff in a limited number of key posts ». The only option left was to not allow air traffic, it said. A national strike has been called by three major trade union federations. The agency said…

UK plays down alleged Brexit delay comments

Media playback is unsupported on your device The Brexit secretary has played down a report that Theresa May could force MPs to choose between backing her deal or accepting a delay to EU withdrawal. ITV News said chief UK negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process. But Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said this did not reflect government policy. The government is committed to Britain leaving the EU on 29 March, he added. His comments come…

Catalonia independence leaders on trial in Madrid

A dozen leaders of Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid have gone on trial in Madrid, facing charges including rebellion and sedition. If convicted, some could face up to 25 years in prison. The semi-autonomous region of Catalonia held an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, and declared its independence from Spain weeks later. But Spanish authorities declared the vote illegal, and the national government imposed direct rule. Nine of the defendants have spent months in pre-trial detention, and arrived at the court on Tuesday morning under guard. The remaining three…

French media execs accused of cyber-bullying feminists

Several French media executives have been suspended or fired for allegedly co-ordinating online harassment through a private Facebook group. The largely-male League du LOL (League of LOL) targeted women writers and feminist activists among others. Dozens of people have shared their experience of cyber-bullying by the group since it was uncovered by the French left-wing newspaper Libération. Two Libération journalists are among those suspended. One, freelancer Vincent Glad who founded the group in 2009, apologised on Twitter (in French), saying that he now realised that « such practices were unacceptable…

Ukraine official charged over acid killing

Media playback is unsupported on your device Ukrainian prosecutors have charged a high-ranking local official over a deadly acid attack on a prominent anti-corruption activist. The agony of Kateryna Handzyuk, 33, shocked Ukraine. She died from her burns in November, after more than 10 operations. She was attacked in July. Vladyslav Manger, head of the Kherson regional council in southern Ukraine, was charged with organising murder. His lawyer said no evidence had been presented against his client. Five other suspects are in detention. Larisa Sargan, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s chief prosecutor,…

Hungary tries for baby boom with tax breaks and loan forgiveness

Hungarian women with four children or more will be exempted for life from paying income tax, the prime minister has said, unveiling plans designed to boost the number of babies being born. It was a way of defending Hungary’s future without depending on immigration, Viktor Orban said. The right-wing nationalist particularly opposes immigration by Muslims. Hungary’s population is falling by 32,000 a year, and women there have fewer children than the EU average. As part of the measures, young couples will be offered interest-free loans of 10 million forint ($36,000),…

Russia to test cyber-war defences

Russia is planning to briefly disconnect from the internet as part of planning for a future cyber-war. The test will mean data passing between Russian citizens and organisations stays inside the nation rather than being routed internationally. A law mandating technical changes needed to operate independently was introduced to Russia’s parliament last year. The test is due to happen before 1 April but no exact date has been set. Major disruption The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russia’s ISPs to ensure that it can operate in…

Spain Catalonia: Madrid mass protest over talks policy

Thousands are in central Madrid for a protest by centre-right parties opposed to a plan by the Spanish government to ease tension in the Catalonia region. The Popular Party and Cuidadanos (Citizens) called the protest after PM Pedro Sanchez said he would appoint a rapporteur for talks with separatists. They consider the appointment a betrayal and surrender to separatist pressure, and want early elections. 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…

Turkey demands China close camps after reports of musician’s death

Media playback is unsupported on your device Turkey has called on China to close its detention camps following the reported death of a renowned musician from the ethnic Uighur minority. Abdurehim Heyit is thought to have been serving an eight-year sentence in the Xinjiang region, where a million Uighurs are reportedly being detained. A statement from Turkey’s foreign ministry said they were being subjected to « torture » in « concentration camps ». China says the facilities are re-education camps. The Uighurs are a Muslim Turkic-speaking minority based in the…

French ‘yellow vest’ protester loses fingers in violent unrest

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 report. 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…

Nord Stream 2: EU agrees tighter rules for Russian pipeline

Media playback is unsupported on your device EU ambassadors have agreed to toughen regulations on a controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, but they have decided not to back plans that might threaten its completion. Work on the 1,225km (760-mile) Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea is already well under way and is set to be finished by the end of 2019. The EU wants to bring pipelines coming into the bloc under its energy rules. Germany feared that would make the pipeline uneconomic and unviable. In…

Brexit: Theresa May to meet Leo Varadkar for Brexit talks

Theresa May will meet Leo Varadkar to update him on her ongoing efforts to get changes to the Brexit withdrawal deal. The prime minister and taoiseach (Irish prime minister) will have dinner in Dublin on Friday night. The EU has said it will hold more talks with the UK to help the prime minister get a Brexit deal through the Commons The meeting will take place after Mr Varadkar meets Northern Ireland’s main political parties in Belfast. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will also travel to Dublin for talks with his…

France recalls ambassador to Italy as diplomatic row deepens

France is recalling its ambassador to Italy for talks after what it said was a series of « unfounded attacks and outlandish claims » by Italian leaders. The French foreign ministry said it was a situation « unprecedented » since the end of World War Two. On Wednesday, France warned Italian Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio not to interfere after he met French « yellow-vest » protesters near Paris. The two governments have also clashed over issues such as immigration. The latest spat began after Mr Di Maio, leader of…

Brexit: May and Juncker talks ‘robust but constructive’

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker have described their talks on changing the Brexit deal as « robust but constructive », in a joint statement. The European Commission President stressed the withdrawal agreement could not be changed, as the UK PM wants. But he said the EU was open to adding words to the non-binding future relations document that goes with it. The two leaders agreed to meet for further talks before the end of February. The EU and UK Brexit negotiating teams are, meanwhile, set to resume their talks. Mrs…

Brussels Nemmouche trial: Suspect ‘was my jailer and torturer’

Two French journalists who were held by Islamic State militants in Syria have given evidence against a man accused of murdering four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014. « I’ve absolutely no doubt that Mehdi Nemmouche, who is here now, was my jailer and torturer in Syria. I knew him as Abou Omar, » said Nicolas Hénin. Ex-captive Didier François agreed. The defendant, 33, denies murdering an Israeli couple, a local worker and a French volunteer at the museum. He allegedly travelled to Syria in January 2013…

Donald Tusk: Special place in hell for Brexiteers without a plan

Media playback is unsupported on your device European Council President Donald Tusk has spoken of a « special place in hell » for « those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it safely ». He was speaking after talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar in Brussels. He said the EU would « insist » on the Irish backstop in any UK withdrawal deal to preserve peace. But he and Mr Varadkar were preparing for the « possible fiasco » of a no-deal…

Brexit risk for UK aid as Swiss cut off from EU funding

Some of the UK’s major aid agencies may be facing a funding shortfall once Britain leaves the European Union. Many had hoped that funding might continue after Brexit, especially if a deal is agreed. Aid agencies in non-EU member Switzerland have regularly received EU funding, based on the strong bilateral ties Switzerland has with the bloc. But an EU letter sent to 10 Swiss non-governmental organisations suggests problems ahead. It explains that as from 1 January this year, Swiss agencies will no longer be eligible for funding. The reason: there…

Belgian minister Schauvliege resigns over ‘school protest plot’

Belgium’s Flemish environment minister has resigned after falsely claiming that security services had told her that children’s climate demonstrations were a plot against her. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren have protested across Belgium for the past four Thursdays. In tears, Joke Schauvliege admitted there was no plot against her but denied lying. She said she had been personally targeted by thousands of text messages. « I couldn’t communicate normally any more, I couldn’t communicate with my family and I let myself get carried away by it, » she told a…

Petra Kvitova: Tennis star tells court of knife attack horror

Media playback is unsupported on your device Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova has testified at the trial of the man accused of stabbing her in her home in the Czech Republic. The tennis star suffered damage to ligaments and tendons in her playing left hand when fighting off an intruder in December 2016. Kvitova had surgery for her injuries and returned to tennis five months after the attack. She testified via video-link to avoid being in the same room as the suspect. In a graphic account of the attack, Kvitova…

Macedonia to sign Nato accession agreement

Nato states are due to sign an agreement with Macedonia, clearing the way for the Balkan nation to become the military alliance’s 30th member. Each Nato member will then need to ratify the accession protocol. Last month the Greek parliament backed a deal ending a 27-year row over its northern neighbour’s name. They approved the name Republic of North Macedonia. Greece had blocked Macedonia’s membership saying the name implied territorial ambitions. The Greek region of Macedonia includes the country’s second city Thessaloniki. Greek lawmakers approved the deal despite widespread opposition…

Pope admits clerical abuse of nuns including sexual slavery

Pope Francis has admitted that clerics have sexually abused nuns, and in one case they were kept as sex slaves. He said in that case his predecessor, Pope Benedict, was forced to shut down an entire congregation of nuns who were being abused by priests. It is thought to be the first time that Pope Francis has acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by the clergy. He said the Church was attempting to address the problem but said it was « still going on ». Sex abuse and the Catholic…