Madrid, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — Spanish Prime Minister Pablo Sanchez published his doctoral thesis online Friday to deflect any doubts over its existence and refute allegations of plagiarism raised by media and the political opposition.
A day earlier Sanchez, a Socialist, wrote on Facebook that he considered the plagiarism allegations a "personal attack" by opposition parties in the absence of a "solid political project."
He also threatened to take legal action against ABC newspaper and other media that published stories arguing that passages of his "Spain's Economic Diplomacy, 2010-2012" dissertation had been copied from other researchers' works.
Doctored or exaggerated resumes have backfired in Spanish politics in the past, but academic misdeeds uncovered by the media have led to political turmoil and a string of high-profile resignations in recent months.
They include the conservative former president of the Madrid region and a health minister in Sanchez's cabinet, who both stepped down amid allegations that they had obtained master's degrees at the same private public policy institute in Madrid without apparently showing up for classes or by copying passages of their papers.
Courts in Madrid have opened an investigation and the Supreme Court is separately probing the degree obtained by the current opposition leader, the Popular Party's Pablo Casado, who graduated from the same university.
Media lined up at the library of Sanchez's alma mater in Madrid on Wednesday shortly after another opposition leader, Citizens' Albert Rivera, dared the prime minister to publish his thesis to dispel "reasonable doubts" over its existence. The journalists found a single printed copy that the university wouldn't allow to be copied, and also learned that Sanchez had not authorized online copies.
Amid mounting pressure, the thesis was finally uploaded on Friday to an Education Ministry online directory for academic researchers. The prime minister's office also issued a statement saying the thesis had passed plagiarism tests of two specialized pieces of software used by academics.
Sanchez surprised observers of Spanish politics in June when he succeeded in ousting his predecessor with a vote of no confidence. While he won early praise for leading a cabinet with a majority of women, opening ports to migrants and offering an olive branch to the strong separatist movement in Catalonia, a cabinet member resigned within a week of taking the oath after an undisclosed tax fine emerged.
Sanchez's minority government, with only 84 Socialist lawmakers in the 350-seat lower house of the parliament, has also been marred by erratic policies and increasing criticism, reversing decisions to accept migrants crossing from Morocco, to authorize a sex workers union and, just this week, to halt arm sales to Saudi Arabia.
He lost his second cabinet member on Tuesday when Health Minister Carmen Monton resigned over irregularities found in the way she obtained her master's degree, including chunks of the final thesis copied from websites and other works.
Monton's resignation, and Sanchez's move to publish his dissertation, seemed also aimed at exerting pressure on Casado, whose own degree is under investigation. The PP leader has said he doesn't fear the results of the probe.
A government spokeswoman said on Friday that both Casado and Rivera — whose official resume on the parliament's website had shrunk overnight — "should rise to the challenge" and respond with "transparency" to Sanchez's move. Isabel Celaa, who is also the Education Minister, said the scandal shouldn't stain the name of the country's higher education, stressing that it affects one single institution.
Moscow, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — Russia is ready to consider a request by British investigators to come and interrogate the two men accused of poisoning a former spy, the Kremlin said Friday.
Britain charged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov last week with trying to kill double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok. The Skripals survived the March 4 attack in Salisbury, but a local resident later died after apparently having contact with the poison.
Petrov and Boshirov appeared Thursday on the state-funded RT channel, saying they visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the poisoning. They denied the British claim that they were Russian military intelligence officers, saying they work in the nutritional supplements business.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Friday that Russian authorities will consider Britain's request to interrogate them if it comes. He added that Britain has stonewalled repeated Russian offers to conduct a joint inquiry.
"There is a mechanism of legal assistance regulated by bilateral documents and international law," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. "If we receive a formal request from London, it will certainly be considered by the Russian side in strict conformity with the law."
He added that "from the very beginning, Russia has emphasized its desire to cooperate to clarify the circumstances of what happened in Salisbury and track down the culprits," but "the British side has strongly rejected such cooperation."
Britain has said the attack received approval "at a senior level of the Russian state," an accusation Moscow has fiercely denied.
"Russia's position has remained unchanged and clear — we consider it unacceptable to link the Russian leadership or the Russian state to what happened in Salisbury," Peskov said.
Britain identified the Russian suspects last week and released security-camera photos of them in Salisbury on March 3 and 4.
The surprise TV appearance by Petrov and Boshirov came a day after Putin said Russian authorities know the identities of the two men but insisted that they were civilians and there is "nothing criminal" about them.
The men told RT they traveled to Salisbury on March 3 to see its famed cathedral but were turned back by slush and snow, then returned the next day when the weather was better and spent two hours exploring the "beautiful" city.
The pair were caught on camera at Salisbury rail station on March 4, and minutes later another camera spotted them walking in the direction of Skripal's house — the opposite direction from the cathedral.
The men, who appeared to be about 40, claimed they did not know who Skripal was or where he lived.
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, on Thursday derided their claims as "lies and blatant fabrications."
Peskov said he hasn't yet had time to watch their interview and said he didn't know if Putin saw it. He wouldn't elaborate on how long it took the Russian authorities to find the two men, and said that the Kremlin had nothing to do with arranging their interview.
Ljubljana, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — Slovenia's new prime minister used to make people laugh. Handling the disparate demands of his five-party coalition government is unlikely to leave much time for jokes.
Once a satirist who impersonated prominent politicians, Marjan Sarec has taken the helm of a largely centrist government — a rare phenomenon, at least recently, in Central Europe where populists have been on the march from Italy to Poland.
Sarec, who has become Slovenia's youngest ever premier at 40, will face a tough job keeping the minority government afloat. After all, the government's majority in parliament is slim and the right-wing opposition is not going to give Sarec a honeymoon in office.
Enacting too many reforms is not going to be easy in that environment and that could potentially lead to disgruntlement in a country of just 2 million people.
The tight parliamentary arithmetic was evident Thursday when the new government was narrowly endorsed. Only half the 90-member backed the government, just enough to keep away from power the anti-immigrant allies of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Analysts warned it is too early to say whether the elevation of a moderate government spells a turning point in the region.
"At stake now is Europe, more than Slovenia," said Janez Markes, an analyst for the Delo newspaper. "Slovenia at this moment, I hate to say it, is not part of the problem."
The success of the new government could depend heavily on whether Sarec, who gave up a successful acting career when he first entered politics, proves he is up to the task.
Sarec served twice as the mayor of his native Kamnik, in central Slovenia before gaining prominence when he forced a presidential runoff vote last year against veteran politician Borut Pahor.
"It is easier to observe from the side and criticize than to do something," Sarec said Thursday in parliament. "It is time to start working now."
One of the mainstays of Sarec's act was impersonating former prime minister, Janez Jansa, who is now his main right-wing opponent.
With a group of young artists, Sarec hosted a satirical radio show dubbed 'Radio Ga Ga' that was popular throughout Slovenia in the 1990s. Some of his performances show Sarec altering his voice to mock politicians' accents, singing or screaming with a kitchen cloth on his head as an alternative poet.
Saso Hribar, a journalist who worked with Sarec, says he remembers the new prime minister as highly professional and considers him thoroughly prepared for his any of his roles.
"Sarec blew up a good private business when he gave up acting," Hribar quipped.
As the new prime minister, Sarec is certain to face strong opposition from Jansa's Slovenian Democratic Party, which won most votes at June 3 election, but not enough to form the government.
Linked to Hungary's Orban, Jansa "will try to do anything to subvert this government," said Darko Strajn, the head of Alternative Academy think tank.
However, Strajn said Sarec is a political "personality in the making," and his readiness to compromise and his negotiating prowess to form the 5-party coalition, should serve him well.
Berlin, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — Germany's interior minister says Italy has agreed to take back migrants who show up at the German-Austrian border after previously applying for asylum in Italy.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told parliament Thursday that a deal with Italy has been agreed but that it still needs to be signed.
He didn't give further details but he has previously said that in return for Italy taking back previous asylum applicants, Germany would take in a similar number of migrants rescued at sea.
Germany has already signed similar agreements with Greece and Spain.
In June, Seehofer threatened to turn back migrants previously registered elsewhere unilaterally at the border. Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Germany must reach agreements with other countries.
Skopje, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — Western leaders have scheduled more visits to Macedonia ahead of an upcoming referendum that would change the country's name and get it fast-tracked for NATO membership.
European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell plan to be there Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a weekend stop planned. The referendum on changing the country's name to North Macedonia is scheduled for Sept. 30.
If voters back the new name, Greece has agreed to stop blocking Macedonia from joining NATO. The Macedonia name has been a source of tension between the neighboring nations for decades.
Greece has a region named Macedonia, and said the use of the same name by the small former Yugoslav republic to its north could imply a claim to the territory and ancient heritage of the Greek province.
The Macedonian government, led by center-left Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, launched its referendum campaign earlier this week, urging people to support the new name. Zaev negotiated the agreement with the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Macedonia's conservative opposition vehemently opposes the agreement with Greece, saying it was a national humiliation.
The opposition leader, Hristijan Mickoski, reiterated those objections Wednesday but told supporters to vote "with their conscience."
Westerns governments have been vocal in their support of the deal. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, last week to urge voters to support the name change.
At a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mattis told reporters he was concerned about alleged acts of "mischief" by Russia to try to block Macedonia's path to NATO membership.
Russia denies claims of interference, but openly opposes NATO expansion eastward.
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci endorsed the "yes" campaign at a meeting with Zaev, saying the referendum was "an historic moment that needs to be seized."