Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rejected his prime minister's offer to resign and asked him to stay on the job Friday after he was caught on tape saying Zelenskiy — a former sitcom star with no previous political experience — knows nothing about the economy.
In a video released by Zelenskiy's office, the president called the situation "unpleasant" but said he had decided to "give a chance" to Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk and his Cabinet.
The furor comes at a fraught moment for Zelenskiy, who has found himself in the middle of the impeachment case unfolding against President Donald Trump in Washington. Trump stands accused of withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country's leader to investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden.
In a Facebook post earlier Friday, Honcharuk praised Zelenskiy as "an example of transparency and decency to me" and added: "In order to dispel any doubts about our respect and trust for the president, I have written a resignation letter and submitted it to the president for introduction to parliament."
The offer to step down was subject to approval by the Rada, Ukraine's parliament. But analysts expressed doubt the resignation would come to pass.
"Zelenskiy doesn't want to dismiss Honcharuk," said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta think tank.
Ukraine's president fears prompting a political crisis in the country by doing it and doesn't want to complicate his relationship with foreign investors and the International Monetary Fund, said Volodymyr Sidenko, an analyst with the Razumkov Center think tank.
"Honcharuk's resignation can destroy the idea of the government's unity and cast a doubt on Zelenskiy's ability to control the situation," Sidenko said.
Earlier this week an audio recording surfaced in which Honcharuk appeared to make disparaging comments about Zelenskiy's understanding of economics. He called Zelenskiy "a layman" in economics and said the president should be better educated about the national currency.
Zelenskiy is a 41-year-old former comedian whose only political experience before his election last spring consisted of playing a Ukrainian president on TV. He starred in "Servant of the People" as a high school history teacher who is propelled to the highest office after his rant against government corruption goes viral.
Honcharuk said that the recording was a compilation of "fragments of recorded government meetings," and he blamed unidentified "influential groups" for making it look as if he didn't respect the president.
"It is not true," the prime minister insisted.
On Thursday, lawmakers from the opposition party Opposition Platform-For Life demanded Honcharuk's resignation, saying he and his cabinet had discredited Ukraine's president and exacerbated the economic crisis in the country. Members of the ruling Servant of the People party said there were no grounds for Honcharuk to step down.
The scandal shows that different political forces have started a fight for the position of prime minister, according to Fesenko, the political analyst. Sidenko blamed Ukrainian oligarchs, saying they are trying to destabilize the country politically because the strengthening of the nation's currency hurts their export-related businesses.
Zelenskiy called for an investigation into the source of the recording, saying, "I demand that in two weeks, as soon as possible, we obtain information on who was recording the tapes."
While Zelenskiy is a member of Servant of the People party and Honcharuk is an independent, it was Zelenskiy who proposed him to the parliament as prime minister.
High on the wall of a German church where Martin Luther once preached, an ugly remnant of centuries of anti-Semitism is now at the center of a court battle.
The so-called "Judensau," or "Jew pig," sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg dates back to around 1300. It is perhaps the best-known of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages, in various forms and varying states of repair, that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Located about 4 meters (13 feet) above the ground on a corner of the church, it depicts people identifiable by their headwear as Jews suckling on the teats of a sow, while a rabbi lifts the animal's tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.
Judaism considers pigs impure, and no one disputes that the sculpture is deliberately offensive. But there is strong disagreement about what consequences that should have and what to do with the relief.
A court in the eastern city of Naumburg will consider on Tuesday a Jewish man's bid to make the parish take it down.
It's the second round in the legal dispute, which comes at a time of mounting concern about anti-Semitism in modern Germany. In May, a court ruled against plaintiff Michael Duellmann, who wants the relief put in the nearby Luther House museum.
Judges in Dessau rejected arguments that he has a right to have the sculpture removed because it formally constitutes slander and the parish is legally responsible for that. Duellmann appealed.
The relief "is a terrible falsification of Judaism ... a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people," Duellmann says, arguing that it has "a terrible effect up to this day."
Duellmann, a former student of Protestant theology who converted to Judaism in the 1970s, became involved in the issue in 2017 — the year Germany marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. He says he joined vigils in Wittenberg against the sculpture and was asked if he would be prepared to sue when it became clear that the church wasn't prepared to take it down.
Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of another church in Wittenberg in defiance of Roman Catholic authorities in 1517, starting the German Reformation. He also is known for anti-Jewish invective, from which Germany's Lutheran church has distanced itself.
Luther preached at the Town Church, now a regular stop for tourists visiting Wittenberg.
When the church was renovated in the early 1980s, the parish decided to leave the sandstone sculpture in place, and it was also restored. In 1988, a memorial was built on the ground underneath it, referring to the persecution of Jews and the killing of 6 million in the Nazi Holocaust.
In addition, a cedar tree was planted nearby to signify peace, and a sign gives information on the sculpture in German and English.
Pastor Johannes Block says the church is "in the same boat" as the plaintiff and also considers the sculpture unacceptably insulting. The parish, he says, "also is not happy about this difficult inheritance."
However, he argues that the sculpture "no longer speaks for itself as a solitary piece, but is embedded in a culture of remembrance" thanks to the memorial. "We don't want to hide or abolish history, but take the path of reconciliation with and through history," he says.
"The majority of the Town Church parish doesn't want this to become a museum piece, but to warn and ask people to remember history on the building, with the original," Block says.
Duellmann isn't impressed. "The 'Jew pig' is not weakened" by the memorial, he says. "It continues to have a terrible anti-Semitic effect in the church and in society."
There are mixed opinions in the church, too. Last year, the regional Lutheran bishop, Friedrich Kramer, said he favors taking down the sculpture from the church wall and exhibiting it in public at the site with an explanation. He doesn't favor putting it in a museum. He praised the 1988 memorial but said it has weaknesses, including a failure to address Luther's anti-Semitism.
If judges do order the sculpture removed, that may not be the end of the story. Block says the church would ask authorities to assess whether it is possible to remove it from a building that is under a preservation order, and more talks with the court would probably follow.
The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a status that it gained in 1996.
Plaintiff Duellmann has little sympathy with the church's preservation order dilemma. He contends that authorities deliberately failed to mention the offending sculpture at the time of the application in order not to endanger it.
Whatever the outcome, Block says he regrets that the case went to court.
"We are not advocates and initiators" of the sculpture, he says. "We are heirs and are trying to deal very conscientiously with this inheritance."
A legal adviser at the European Union's highest court said Wednesday that the bloc's data protection rules should prevent member states from indiscriminately holding personal data seized from Internet and phone companies, even when intelligence agencies claim that national security is at stake.
In a non-binding opinion on how the European Court of Justice, or ECJ, should rule on issues relating to access by security and intelligence agencies to communications data retained by telecommunications providers, advocate general Campos Sanchez-Bordona said "the means and methods of combating terrorism must be compatible with the requirements of the rule of law."
Commenting on a series of cases from France, the U.K. and Belgium — three countries that have been hit by extremist attacks in recent years and have reinforced surveillance — Sanchez-Bordona said that the ECJ's case law should be upheld. He cited a case in which the court ruled that general and indiscriminate retention of communications "is disproportionate" and inconsistent with EU privacy directives.
The advocate general recommended limited access to the data, and only when it is essential "for the effective prevention and control of crime and the safeguarding of national security."
The initial case was brought by Privacy International, a charity promoting the right to privacy. Referring to the ECJ's case law, it said that the acquisition, use, retention, disclosure, storage and deletion of bulk personal data sets and bulk communications data by the U.K. security and intelligence agencies were unlawful under EU law.
The U.K.'s Investigatory Powers Tribunal referred the case to the ECJ, which held a joint hearing with two similar cases from France and another one from Belgium.
"We welcome today's opinion from the advocate general and hope it will be persuasive to the Court," said Caroline Wilson Palow, the Legal Director of Privacy International. "The opinion is a win for privacy. We all benefit when robust rights schemes, like the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, are applied and followed."
The ECJ's legal opinions aren't legally binding, but are often followed by the court. The ECJ press service said a ruling is expected within two months.
"Should the court decide to follow the opinion of the advocate general, 'metadata' such as traffic and location data will remain subject to a high level of protection in the European Union, even when they are accessed for national security purposes," said Luca Tosoni, a researcher at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law. "This would require several member states -- including Belgium, France, the U.K. and others -- to amend their domestic legislation."
The Tass news agency reports that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev submitted his resignation to President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
Russian news agencies said Putin thanked Medvedev for his work. They said that Putin will name Medvedev as deputy of the presidential Security Council.
Putin asked Medvedev's Cabinet to keep working until the new Cabinet is formed.
Spain's first coalition government in the four decades since the return of democracy took shape Monday as 22 Cabinet ministers took their oaths of office.
Questions though remained as to whether the government of two left-wing parties can see out its four-year term as it is a minority administration and confronts an array of vexing issues that could well lead to tensions in the coalition.
Beyond handling separatist tensions in the economically powerful northeastern region of Catalonia and recharging what is the fourth largest economy in the eurozone, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has a tricky task in maintaining the support of his coalition partner, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the anti-austerity United We Can party.
"Either they cooperate or they will open the door to a right-wing coalition supported by the far-right," said Ana Sofía Cárdenal, a political science lecturer with Catalonia's UOC university. "A failure of the coalition would dent the credibility of United We Can and damage the reputation of the Socialists."
Catalonia is, by far, the biggest immediate problem — and one that will demand unity within the government.
Sánchez secured his government last week by two votes, the slimmest majority of any Spanish prime minister in recent decades. He did it thanks to the abstention of 13 members of the pro-Catalan independence ERC party on the promise that he would sit and talk with them about how to resolve Spain's most serious internal issue since the return to democracy in 1978.
The ERC, which has several leading members jailed for an illegal independence push in 2017, insists on self-determination for Catalonia, something the Spanish Constitution and Sánchez rules out.
What the Socialists can legally offer to keep the ERC from voting against the government is still unknown.
On the economic front, Spain is still among Europe's healthy economies, with growth of around 2% in 2019.
The government's chief problem is getting a budget through that will satisfy the European Union, investors as well as fulfilling the social promises it has been made, from raising pensions to increasing civil servants' wages and the basic minimum wage.
And while Spain has reduced unemployment by around a half over the past few years, at 14% it's still double the average across the 19-country eurozone.
Sánchez will be mindful that his first attempt at government last year collapsed when the ERC voted down his 2019 spending plan.
Sánchez and his chief aides will also have a challenge in maintaining the relationship with United We Can, an upstart party that has got many of its votes from the 140-year-old socialists.
When the two parties failed in their first attempt to form a coalition, Sánchez said that neither he nor 95% of Spaniards would be able to sleep at night having Iglesias and his inexperienced colleagues in charge of important ministries. But five months later, Sánchez took many by surprise when days after the Nov. 10 general election he embraced Iglesias on signing a coalition deal.
Both parties lost seats in the last election and possibly sensed that a further slide could see a right-wing government take power in Madrid.
A major sticking point could be Iglesias' support for a referendum in Catalonia. Curtailing abusive house rents and accommodating more migrants are two other demands the Socialists may find hard to meet.
On Monday, Iglesias said he was behind Sánchez's goal of "a government that speaks with many voices but always with the same message."