Athens, Jul 7 (AP/UNB) — Greeks were voting Sunday in the first parliamentary election since their country emerged from three successive international bailouts still struggling with a crippling nearly decade-long financial crisis.
Opinion polls have suggested Greeks are set to defy the recent European trend of increasing support for populist parties, with conservative opposition party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis a clear favorite to win.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the vote three months earlier than originally planned after his left-wing Syriza party suffered a stinging defeat in European and local elections in May and early June.
Tsipras, 44, hopes to overturn a sizeable gap in opinion polls running up to Sunday's vote. He has increasingly been appealing to the middle class, which has been struggling under a heavy tax burden, much of it imposed by his government.
"It's a crucial battle, we fight it with optimism, we fight it with determination until the last minute," Tsipras said after casting his ballot in central Athens in the morning. "So that the sacrifices and efforts of our nation do not go to waste, so the course of our country forward is not interrupted."
Tsipras appealed to young people to turn up at the ballot boxes and "not leave the crucial decision for their lives and their future to others." The voting age has been extended to 16 for the first time in national elections, provided the voter turns 17 within 2019.
But Mitsotakis, the 51-year-old son of a former prime minister and brother of a former foreign minister, has managed to build a sizeable lead in opinion polls that he has held over the past three years. He pledges to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, modernize the country's notorious bureaucracy and cut taxes, and has fought to shed the image of family privilege.
"Today voters take the decision for their future in their hands," Mitsotakis said after voting. "I am sure that tomorrow, a better day dawns for our nation."
Sunday's vote comes as the country gradually emerges from a brutal financial crisis that saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket, and Greece's economy slashed by a quarter. Greece was dependent for survival until last summer on international bailouts, and had to impose deep reforms, including massive spending cuts and tax hikes, to qualify for the rescue loans.
Tsipras led his small Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, party to power in 2015 on promises to repeal the austerity measures of Greece's first two bailouts. But after months of tumultuous negotiations with international creditors that saw Greece nearly crash out of the European Union's joint currency, he was forced to change tack, signing up to a third bailout and imposing the accompanying spending cuts and tax hikes.
He also cemented a deal with neighboring North Macedonia under which that country changed its name from plain "Macedonia." Although praised by Western allies, the deal angered many Greeks, who consider use of the term harbors expansionist aims on the Greek province of the same name.
While Mitsotakis is the clear favorite to win, the number of smaller parties making it into parliament could determine whether he has enough seats in the 300-member body to form a government. He would need at least 151 to be able to govern without forming a coalition with another party.
Those casting ballots early in the morning were mostly elderly, and some expressed dissatisfaction with the overall political situation.
"Unfortunately, there is no hope. There is no person who fights for the country, only for their glory," said 90-year-old voter Torkom Asatourgian as he cast his ballot in central Athens.
Another early voter, 82-year-old Eleni Alexopoulou-Depou, said she was supporting one of the myriad small parties.
"I don't care which individuals are elected. I'm not asking for something," she said. "I just want a voice that can propose some positive things, even though it won't govern."
Numerous smaller parties are vying to beat the 3% threshold to enter parliament.
They include a new Europe-wide anti-austerity party, MeRA25, founded by Tsipras' first finance minister, the controversial Yanis Varoufakis, who many blame for the dramatic failure of negotiations with Greece's creditors in the first few months of Tsipras' government. Varoufakis very narrowly missed making the 3% threshold in May's European elections.
Another is Kyriakos Velopoulos, a far-right populist TV pundit who heads the Greek Solution party. Velopoulos is widely known for his TV appearances, which he has used to make various sales, including of what he claims are letters written by Jesus Christ.
Greece's extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, founded by neo-Nazi supporters more than three decades ago and which rose to be the third largest in parliament during the financial crisis, saw a major drop in support in the last European elections.
Frankfurt, Jul 7 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of people have been evacuated from a district of Frankfurt that includes the European Central Bank headquarters as authorities prepare to defuse a 500-kilo (1,100-pound) World War II bomb.
City officials called on some 16,500 people to leave their homes in the Ostend area Sunday morning, a few hours before the operation was scheduled to begin. Authorities already moved some people out of a nursing home on Saturday.
More than 70 years after the end of WWII, unexploded bombs are frequently found in Germany and disposing of them sometimes require large-scale precautionary evacuations. The American bomb in Frankfurt was found during construction work last month and officials chose Sunday to defuse it, giving them time to prepare the operation and minimizing disruption in Germany's financial capital.
Madrid, July 6 (AP/UNB) — European cities celebrated LGBTQ pride on Saturday with colorful parades that also became platforms for political demands and a push back against far-right populist parties.
This year's events in London, Madrid and Budapest mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York against police persecution, a turning point in the modern gay rights movement.
The Spanish capital's pride has become one of the largest in the world.
On Saturday, tens of thousands took to the streets in a joyful march that celebrated sexual and gender diversity. Some called for better care for elder LGBTQ people and a nation-wide law that, among other long-running demands, would standardize rights for transgender people across the country.
"Elders without closets," read a street-long white banner carried by protesters marching along Madrid's main artery. Members of the first generation of Spanish gay rights activists were at the front, followed by the colorful parade of floats.
Arny Carrasco, a 67-year-old man from a small town, said he had missed few pride celebrations for the past two decades, but that Saturday's felt "special" for its focus on the elderly.
"The gay community has shown society different ways of relating to each other and it's about time that we don't feel that we need to get back into the closet when we become older," Carrasco said, citing how nursing homes, for example, are ill-prepared to cater the needs of LGBTQ people, especially transgender men and women.
This year's pride in Madrid has also become remarkably political after the uber-conservative Vox party made significant gains in national and local elections.
Officials of the far-right party, whose votes were key in electing a new conservative mayor last month, have proposed moving next year's pride parade out of the city center, while regional leader Rocío Monasterio has said the celebrations "denigrate people's dignity" and include "explicit sexual acts in the streets."
"When a mother, a father step outside with children from their home, they don't have to be exposed to that spectacle," Monasterio told a conservative website last week.
Beatriz Gimeno, a long-time LGBTQ activist and far-left Podemos (We Can) party lawmaker, told The Associated Press that "reactionary" remarks by the far-right were a reminder of how relevant the battle for gay rights remains.
"Faced with attitudes that take us 20 or 30 years back, we need to tell them that we'll take not even one step back," Gimeno said.
In London, hundreds of thousands also poured into the streets of London for Britain's biggest pride parade. Some 30,000 participants, including uniformed police and firefighters, marched while many more lining the streets cheered and waved rainbow flags.
Organizers said they had aimed to increase the event's diversity, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he hoped it would be the biggest-ever Pride parade.
Alison Camps, co-chair of Pride in London, said "it's vital that we remember that Pride is not just one day a year — we must fight for the rights of all members of our community all year round."
In the Hungarian capital, Budapest, thousands also took part in a pride parade that stressed calls for acceptance and the right to live without fear.
Warsaw, Jul 6 (AP/UNB) — Officials in southern Poland say that a woman and her two children have been killed in a gas explosion in an apartment in the city of Bytom. Four other people have been hospitalized.
A spokeswoman for local firefighters, Aneta Golebiowska, said the explosion occurred shortly after 1 p.m. local time in a ground-floor apartment in downtown Bytom. She said that three people died and four people suffered burns and injuries, including a passer-by in the street. Another 17 people have been evacuated from the building where the explosion broke windows and cracked a ceiling.
Seventeen teams of firefighters worked to put out the fire caused by the explosion.
New portal Onet.pl said the fatalities were a 39-year-old woman and her daughters, aged 5 and 7.
Warsaw, Jul 6 (AP/UNB) — Poland's international copper mining company KGHM Polska Miedz says that one miner has been killed and five injured at two separate mines in the country's southwest.
The company said Saturday that a 40-year-old operator of a mining machine was killed by falling rocks in the Polkowice-Sieroszowice copper mine. It also said that following a quake that hit nearby Rudna mine five miners suffered broken bones and bruises and were hospitalized. Both incidents happened Friday night.
The company employs around 34,000 people in its copper and silver mines in Europe and the Americas.