Stockholm, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — Polls have opened in Sweden's general election in what is expected to be one of the most unpredictable and thrilling races in the Scandinavian country for decades amid heated debate on immigration.
Sunday's election will be Sweden's first since the government in 2015 allowed 163,000 migrants into the country of 10 million. While far less than what Germany took in that year, it was the most per capita of any European nation. It's highly unlikely that any single party will get a majority, or 175 seats.
The latest opinion poll suggests that Prime Minister Stefan Lofven's ruling Social Democrats will substantially lose seats but still emerge a winner with an estimated 24.9 percent of the votes.
The polls showed far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats would get 19.1 percent of the votes.
Thessaloniki, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras painted an optimistic vision Saturday night of a Greece that has emerged from eight years of financial austerity imposed by creditors and is on the road to economic recovery.
Laying out his economic program for the coming year in a speech at Greece's largest trade fair, Tsipras said he will seek to keep lowering the unemployment rate that peaked at nearly 28 percent in 2013, raise wages and cut some taxes.
And in an unusual gesture for a leftist politician who has spent far more time protesting outside the U.S. Embassy than in meeting with U.S. officials, Tsipras emphasized Greece's close relations with America, calling it "a country with which we are tied in a strong strategic partnership and in common struggles for shared values."
For the first time, a guest, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, addressed the trade fair's Saturday evening gathering, which normally hears only Greece's prime minister set out his economic policy goals.
Ross also noted the closeness of U.S.-Greek ties, and he praised Greece for meeting its defense spending commitments in the trans-Atlantic alliance. "We would like to see other NATO countries fulfill their engagements in the same way," he said.
Outlining his achievements, Tsipras said that 300,000 new jobs have been added in the three years since he took power at the depth of Greece's economic crisis and that the long-declining economy is expected to grow 2.5 percent in 2018.
He said he wants the jobless rate to drop from the current 19 percent to 10 percent over the next five years and Greek debt to reach investment grade within two years. He promised to lower the corporate tax rate, expand welfare spending, provide tax breaks to lure back university-educated young people who migrated, raise the minimum wage and restore collective bargaining on wages. He also promised retroactive pay raises to the police, military and judiciary.
Addressing the contentious issue of further pension cuts committed to by his government under pressure from creditors, Tsipras said he thinks the government's budget surplus targets can be achieved without more cuts in pensions but added that he will discuss this with the EU later in the year.
Greece last month ended its third international financial bailout and now must return to markets that have been rattled by financial concerns and a jump in borrowing rates in nearby Italy.
Earlier Saturday, Ross inaugurated the annual trade fair, with Tsipras at his side. The United States is the featured country at this year's event, hosting exhibits from major corporations including tech giants Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, Google and IBM.
Greek-U.S. bilateral trade totals more than $2 billion annually. Ross said U.S. corporations want to boost commerce with Greece, a long-standing NATO ally that is also in talks to intensify military cooperation with the U.S.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, visited Greece earlier in the week and said he discussed the possibility of expanded base access for the U.S. military in Greece as well as training cooperation.
The cooperation reflects a shift in regional alignments, with Greece's neighbor Turkey seeking closer ties to Russia amid strains in its relationship with the United States.
An estimated 6,000 nationalists protesting Greece's agreement with neighboring Macedonia that ended a 27-year dispute on the latter's name clashed with police along Thessaloniki's waterfront deep into the night. Police also clashed briefly with about 3,000 extreme leftists at a separate demonstration.
Paris, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — More than 18,000 people marched Saturday in Paris as part of an international mobilization to show popular support for urgent measures to combat climate change in advance of a San Francisco summit.
Crowds overflowed a plaza in front of City Hall before marching east to the Place de la Republique, carrying an urgent message that it's up to the public to put global warming at the top of the political agenda.
"Planet in Danger," read some banners.
Activists around the world encouraged "Rise for Climate" protests before the summit taking place Sept.12-Sept. 14. California's governor proposed the event after President Donald Trump vowed to pull the U.S. out of a landmark 2015 climate accord.
The international agreement was negotiated in France, and the French capital's march was more successful than ones held Saturday in other French cities or elsewhere in Europe.
Environmental groups said the organized hundreds of events around the globe Saturday to highlight the issue.
Thousands of people took to the streets of San Francisco, marching about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from the city's piers to City Hall. Demonstrators banged drums, sang and hoisted signs that said "Rise for climate justice" and "Not a penny more for dirty energy." They called for politicians to spearhead a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
Police estimated that 18,500 took part in the Paris march, while organizers put the number at some 50,000.
Several hundred people gathered in France's southern port city of Marseille. Several dozen called for an end to the use of fossil fuels outside London's Tate Modern art gallery. Only about two dozen showed up in Barcelona, Spain.
The front-page of France's daily Liberation newspaper featured a call from 700 French scientists for the government to "move from incantations to acts to move toward a carbon-free society."
The language was a reference to French President Emmanuel Macron's use of the phrase "Make our planet great again," a takeoff on Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.
The signing scientists also called for "strong and clear political choices" and said "solutions are available."
The march in Paris, organized with the theme "Change the system, but don't change the climate," was both festive and serious.
One protester, Manuel Bibes, denounced the plastic that inundates daily life. Another, Rodgrigo de la Vega criticized the practice of driving down the road to buy bread.
"There is no Planet B," a sign read.
Presevo, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — The European Union's top diplomat says she's concluded separate talks with the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo but that there has been no breakthrough in normalizing their strained relations.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday after meetings with Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci that she held several rounds of talks but that "difficulties remain."
She says she hopes both leaders will continue discussions and "reach in the coming months a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations, in line with international law."
Mogherini said she would chair further high-level talks in Brussels between the sides later this month.
London, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Britain deepened its diplomatic feud with Moscow on Wednesday, charging two men it says are Russian military intelligence officers with the nerve-agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a double agent who betrayed the service by spying for the West.
But U.K. authorities acknowledged there was little chance Russia would hand over the suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, to face justice in Britain.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the use of a chemical weapon in the city of Salisbury, which left a British woman dead and four people, including Skripal and his daughter, seriously ill, was carried out by officers of the GRU intelligence service and almost certainly approved "at a senior level of the Russian state."
"This was not a rogue operation," she told lawmakers after police released photos of the suspects as they traveled through London and Salisbury before flying back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were poisoned.
Moscow strongly denies involvement in the attack, and Russian officials said they did not recognize the suspects.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the names and images of Petrov and Boshirov "say nothing to us."
British prosecutors said the two were being charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok.
Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service said the U.K. wouldn't ask Moscow to hand the men over because Russian law forbids extradition of its citizens. Britain has obtained domestic and European arrest warrants for the suspects, meaning they can be detained if they leave Russia for another European country.
Neil Basu, Britain's top police counterterrorism officer, conceded it was "very, very unlikely" police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.
But, he said, "we will never give up."
Sergei Skripal, 67, is a former colonel in the GRU who was convicted in 2006 of spying for Britain and imprisoned. He was freed in a 2010 spy swap and settled in the U.K.
Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London, on March 4. They spent weeks hospitalized in critical condition and are now recovering in a secret location for their own protection. A police officer, Nick Bailey, was also hospitalized.
British authorities and the international chemical weapons watchdog say the victims were exposed to Novichok, a type of military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.
Six months after the chemical weapons attack rocked the quiet cathedral city, police released new details about what Basu called "one of the most complex investigations" the force had ever seen.
Police say Petrov and Boshirov, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned. Basu said the passports were genuine but the names were probably aliases, and appealed to the public to help identify the men.
Police revealed that traces of Novichok were found at a hotel in London's east end where the men spent two nights.
Police didn't test the budget City Stay Hotel for Novichok until two months after the attack, but Basu said the tiny quantity of nerve agent found there did not pose a risk to other guests.
Police believe the nerve agent was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and sprayed on the front door of Sergei Skripal's house.
More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, 48-year-old Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after being exposed to the contents.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that Rowley and Sturgess were also exposed to Novichok.
Police are still trying to determine where the bottle was between the Skripal poisoning in March and its discovery by Rowley on June 27. As a result, Basu said, police weren't yet ready to lay charges in the second poisoning, though the two Russians are the prime suspects.
The case, with its chilling cloak-and-dagger details, echoes the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent who died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 at a London hotel. Britain spent years trying in vain to prosecute the prime suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.
A British inquiry concluded that Litvinenko had been killed at the behest of the Russian state, probably with the knowledge of President Vladimir Putin.
Russian defense and security analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said authorization to attack the Skripals had also likely come "from the very top."
"This is a message to the Russian intelligence community and spy community that you do not sell out Putin to the West or there are going to be serious consequences," he said.
Western officials say Russia's intelligence services have grown increasingly aggressive in their overseas activities. Members of the GRU have been indicted in the U.S. for hacking the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
May said Britain and its allies would "step up our collective efforts" against the agency, though she did not name any specific measures.
"There can be no place in any civilized international order for the kind of barbaric activity which we saw in Salisbury in March," she said.
"The Russian state needs to explain what happened in Salisbury," May added. "All we've had is obfuscation and lies."